J.B. Phillips

Perennial issue whenever journalists write about religion: Which Bible to quote?

Perennial issue whenever journalists write about religion: Which Bible to quote?

A recent item by GetReligion colleague Bobby Ross posed this perennial issue facing journalists and others writing about religion: “Which Bible to quote?

News articles had quoted Eugene Peterson’s The Message -- one man’s popular paraphrase and not quite a Bible -- and the New King James Version, a conservative fave that was an odd choice for a piece about liberal Protestants.

Once upon a time the (original) King James Version from 1611 sufficed. Its wordings were  familiar to a broad swath of English readers, indeed often memorized. Though the King was Protestant, generally similar verbiage appeared in Catholicism’s old Douay-Rheims translation (1609), and even moreso in the Jewish Publication Society’s The Holy Scriptures (1917).  

Today, however, a dozen or more modern options are in regular use, thus creating our tricky problem. Ross, who like The Guy is an Associated Press alum, noted that the wire’s influential Stylebook offers ample guidance about the Bible but doesn’t address how to decide which version to quote. “Please help me out here, friends,” Ross asked, so the ever-friendly Religion Guy responds herewith. 

When The Guy was teaching an adult Bible class recently, one participant brought along The Message. Its differences with standard Bibles sparked some pointed discussions. Such personal paraphrases -- also including Kenneth Taylor’s The Living Bible and J.B. Phillips’s elegantly British New Testament in Modern English -- are useful for private study and devotions. But they’re not really Bible translations, so a more literal version should also be consulted for comparisons.

Likewise, in most situations writers should cite a Bible closer to the original text that expresses the consensus from a panel of experts.  

Obviously, if a person is quoting a Bible passage verbatim you’ll go with that wording, even if it’s a paraphrase.

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Common modern dilemma for readers: Which Bible should I use?

Common modern dilemma for readers: Which Bible should I use?


I am no longer sure which Bible to use. I currently have the New American Standard Bible. How accurate is this? What are your thoughts on the New English Translation? 

Note: This is a direct response to our immediately preceding Religion Q & A : "Why were some verses removed from the New Testament?"


There are so many different English translations in today’s alphabet soup of a marketplace that Dale’s dilemma is common. Other responses to the August 16 Religion Q & A show there’s considerable anxiety out there, but the Religion Guy reassures readers they can rely upon any of the modern mainstream translations. That includes Dale’s NASB and NET. Not to say there aren’t important variations in wording that today’s Bible readers should know about and ponder, so it’s good to have a couple or three translations handy. And one blessing of our Internet age is that you can compare 52 English translations, verse by verse, at that familiar website -- www.biblegateway.com.

Loose paraphrases like “The Living Bible,” “The Message,” or J.B. Phillips’ elegant “The New Testament in Modern English” are valuable for fresh thinking and enjoyable reading. But they aren’t Bibles. Then we have actual Bibles that are not paraphrases but lean toward “dynamic equivalence” translation that aims at clear comprehension and flow of thoughts. That’s an OK choice but serious students and seminarians, at least, should own a translation with more literal renderings of the original Greek and Hebrew such as Dale’s NASB (more on that version below).

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