(Maybe) The First Review on Bibles

I LIKE taking note of special dates.

It was the 10th of January of the year 2000 when I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. I was in the second grade then. Though I was studying in a Christian school and eagerly attending my Born Again Christian church’s Sunday School, though I knew Jesus multiplied lunches and calmed big waves, I never really knew what it meant to experience Jesus in a personal way. But that day, in my Christian Living class, I believed in Him, together with 30 other students. Every year since then, I would celebrate my spiritual birthday every January 10.

It was the 3rd of December of the year 2006 when I bought my first Bible. I still remember the excitement while I was saving up for it, and the joy as I bought it over the bookstore’s counter. After the purchase, I got my best friends to write a letter for me at the back of it, to give the Bible a sentimental value.

It was the 25th of December of the year 2010 when I bought my second Bible. The Bible is an indirect holiday gift from the parents—indirect because they only gave me money; I bought the Bible myself. My first Bible is still in good shape, but it is heavy for travel, so I decided to buy a travel-friendly Bible as my Christmas gift.

It is the 27th of February of the year 2011, and today I will be writing a review about five different versions of The Holy Bible. I am not sure if anyone has already done this kind of review before—I’m the first, most probably. There are various ways on how one can approach this review; as for me, Psalms 23 will be my point of reference in determining which version is the best.

The New International Version (NIV) is the fruition of Howard Long’s vision of “the need for a translation that captured the truths he loved in the language that his contemporaries spoke.” Long is an engineer in Seattle who, despite being a devotee of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, became frustrated because the version cannot connect with his friends. NIV is a completely original translation of the Bible as it was based on the best available manuscript in the original languages of the book.

I’ve been using the NIV for the longest time—my first Bible is in NIV—and for me, it is the suitable version for people who just started or who are trying to start reading the Bible. It is contemporary in the sense that it got rid of the KJV’s “thou’s” and “thee’s”, but the simplicity of the words can help anyone understand the verses better.

In the NIV, Psalms 23:1-2 says, “The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.” The role of a shepherd is clearly defined in these verses. God, as the Great Shepherd, will provide for us, His herd of sheep. A shepherd will only bring the flock to greener pastures for more grass to eat.  He also leads them to places where there is an abundant supply of water, or else they will go thirsty. The Lord is the same. He wants the best for us, His children. It is a great assurance to understand that there is no famine or scarcity when you are in the Lord.

Eugene Peterson’s goal in coming up with The Message (MSG) version of the Bible was to “capture the tone of the text and the original conversational feel of the Greek, in contemporary English.” He wrote the MSG straight out of the Greek text without looking for other English translations. The original books of the Bible were not written in formal language, and so the MSG strives for the spirit of the original manuscripts so that the reading process becomes engaging and intriguing at the same time.

The MSG can be a fun and enjoyable read because the words are just so spontaneous and free, very out-of-the-box. However, the only problem I have with this version is that I can’t use it for my quiet time without having to refer to another version of the Bible. Sometimes the words do not exactly capture the very essence of the message that is being portrayed. Another issue I have with this version is the verse numbers which have been left out for the reason that they were not included in the original manuscripts. For this, navigation through the MSG is a lot harder.

Psalms 23:3 (MSG) says, “True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.” There is intimacy in these words, but one cannot help but wonder what David means with “you let me catch my breath” until he refers to another version, say, NIV, and find that it actually means “he refreshes my soul.” Big difference, isn’t it?

The New Living Translation (NLT) is “based on the most recent scholarship in the theory of translation.” It is the response to the challenge of creating a text that would make the same impact in the life of the contemporary readers in the same way that the original text had for the early readers. The NLT translated entire thoughts instead of just words into “natural, everyday English.”

My second Bible is in NLT, and so far it has been a great read for me. The words are not as rigid as the NIV, nor as carefree as the MSG—it is the perfect mix of the two. I think the best way to describe it is to think of the NLT version as if it is a novel: you would want to read it all in one seating.

Psalms 23:4 of the NLT version says, “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.” In other versions, the valley is Death, but in the NLT, all you need to know of the valley is that it is the darkest. Even in the darkest, there is no need to fear because God is walking with you, by your side. The words are simple yet poignant, as if they are straight out of a love letter.

The rendering of the grammar and terminologies is the goal of the New American Standard Bible (NASB). It seeks no compromise to the literal translation of the original Greek and Hebrew texts. The tradition of the NASB version of the Bible has been to reveal “what the original manuscripts actually say—not merely what the translator believes they mean.” The NASB has the reputation of being the most accurate English Bible translation.

I only read verses from the NASB whenever a pastor uses them in his/her sermon during our Sunday Services. It may be a favorite for evangelists since it is known to be the most accurate translation—no fancy sentences, no wordplay, just God’s Word and the power of its message.

Psalms 23:5 (NASB) says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows.” There is straightforwardness in David’s words. What does it mean for the Lord to prepare a table before us in the presence of our enemies? It means abundance in the midst of trouble. During the time of the psalms, the anointing of leaders is done by means of pouring oil in the head of the person, as in what happened to David when he was appointed king next to Saul.

The New King James Version (NKJV) is the updated, modernized version of the original King James Version. The translators made it a point to retain “the purity and stylistic beauty” of the original version. In translating it, recent research in archaeology, linguistics, and textual studies were applied.

I have a love-hate relationship with this version of the Bible. I love it because it is so poetic and ardent—it has its way with words that touch the heart of the reader. However, I am not so fond of its Old English, as is the English in the original King James. I’m all for lyrical, expressive verses, but when they’re too old school, it doesn’t appeal so much to me.

The last verse in Psalms 23 (NKJV) says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” There is great certainty in the usage of the word “shall” in this verse, especially when the line started with “surely.” Goodness and mercy will definitely follow me all the days of my life. I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever because that goodness and mercy that is everlasting can only be found in him.

It was the 22nd of July of the year 2010 when I received a Bible as a gift from a friend. I just realized how much I like the NLT version of the Bible, because I have two Bibles with that version with me. However, as much as I like reading the NLT, I believe the most universal version of the Bible is the NIV. When you want to go deeper into your relationship with God, you would want to have a deeper understanding of His Word. With the simplicity and brevity of the said version, cross-referencing is not necessary, thus, quiet time and Bible-reading will be worry-free!

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