(Link to Part 1, the Short List)
I want to emphasize that the absolute best and easiest thing you can do to increase the quality and frequency of your Bible study is to supplement your KJV with a different translation. This is almost a silver bullet for increasing understanding, appreciation, and enthusiasm. You can do it with a free app or website, or go old-school and buy hardcover. I do both.
In the lists below, I’ve starred the really important stuff.
However, personal study out of a non-KJV Bible is also something that strikes many Mormons as unfaithful or not allowed. So let’s begin with some books and articles on…
The Bible in General, the KJV, and How It Became the Official LDS (English) Bible
- Alister McGrath, In the Beginning: the Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture.
- This is a fun, easy read about the story of the King James Version. I’ve written about some fun things I learned from this book here. For example, did you know that the language of the KJV was already archaic when published in 1611?
- David Norton, The King James Bible: A Short History from Tyndale to Today
- That title is self-explanatory. Norton does much more heavy lifting in his fairly technical A Textual History of the King James Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2005).
- The King James Bible After 400 Years: Literary, Linguistic, and Cultural Influences.
- I include this collection of essays largely because of two particular ones. First is “The King James Steamroller” which is just a fantastic title. The second is by Paul Gutjahr, non-LDS author of the Book of Mormon: A Biography, who writes on “the dethroning of the King James Bible in the United States.”
- BYU’s Religious Studies Center has put many of its books online, including one on The King James Bible and the Restoration. It includes some very good articles on Bibles, translation, usage, etc.
- Royal Skousen, “Through a Glass Darkly: Trying to Understand the Scriptures” (BYU Studies PDF)
- A linguistics prof at BYU, Skousen looks at several ways the KJV is confusing or ambiguous.
- *Me, “Why Bible Translations Differ: A Guide for the Perplexed” Religious Educator 15:1 (2014): 31-65.
- I highlight examples of General Authorities using other translations, then exampine four categories of reasons for differences in Bible translation, make extensive study suggestions, and discuss the relevance of the JST and Book of Mormon text for our understanding of the Biblical text.
- A 2-page handout on the KJV and translations by me. This summarizes part of my paper above.
- Lincoln Blumell (a notable upcoming BYU scholar with a Brill publication)- “A Text-Critical Comparison of the King James New Testament with Certain Modern Translations” in Studies in the Bible and Antiquity
- Blumell compares the KJV with modern translations.
- *Grant Hardy, “The King James Bible and the Future of Missionary Work” (Dialogue version), (earlier version from BCC)
- Hardy is a history/religion professor on the east coast and a member of his stake presidency. He’s published some very good stuff in Meridian Magazine, but also several relevant books, including Oxford Press’ Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide and the forthcoming Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon.
- Hardy argues that other denominations are leaving the KJV behind, for good reason, and that LDS dependence on the KJV is becoming counter-productive. I agree with him. Notably, several missions now have access to an app with multiple Bible translations, but I don’t think this has been integrated into missionary training at all.
- See several reviews as well as Q&A with Hardy at Times&Seasons, intro, review 1, review 2, 12 questions part 1, part 2.
- Robert Alter, Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible
- Alter is a professor of literature and Hebrew at UV-Berkeley, and does great work. I’ve recommended many of his books before and will again. He recently finished his complete translation/commentary of the Hebrew Bible, and also has a forthcoming book on Bible translation.
- *Philip Barlow, Mormons and the Bible (Oxford)
- In a very important study, Barlow examines how Latter-day Saints starting with Joseph Smith have interpreted the Bible in a variety of ways. Barlow, now at the Maxwell Institute also authored an article tracing how the KJV became the official English Bible translation,* “Why the King James Version?: From the Common to the Official Bible of Mormonism.”
- Responding in some ways to Barlow and Hardy is Ronan Head, “Unity and the King James Bible.”
- New Revised Standard Version or NRSV
- English Standard Version or ESV
- As a revision of the RSV, this is a sibling translation to the NRSV, and both are descendents of the KJV. I have very strong feelings about the ESV Study Bible edition: avoid it.
- New English Translation or NET Bible
- While you can buy one in print, it’s great advantage is the thousands and thousands of comments explaining the translation. It would be long if complete in print, but their study website is quite useful. It’s still useful in spite of being recently revised in a more theologically conservative Protestant direction.
- There are many many other translations out there which I probably wouldn’t recommend, but I’m going to single out the NIV. Don’t read it.
- Why? Well, it’s pretty flawed, and especially when we come to Paul, Evangelical bias is clear.
- See Kevin Barney’s blogpost.
- Also N.T. Wright’s view, from his book Justification.
I must register one strong protest against one particular translation. When the New International Version was published in 1980, I was one of those who hailed it with delight. I believed its own claim about itself, that it was determined to translate exactly what was there, and inject no extra paraphrasing or interpretative glosses. This contrasted so strongly with the then popular New English Bible, and promised such an advance over the then rather dated Revised Standard Version, that I recommended it to students and members of the congregation I was then serving. Disillusionment set in over the next two years, as I lectured verse by verse through several of Paul’s letters, not least Galatians and Romans. Again and again, with the Greek text in front of me and the NIV beside it, I discovered that the translators had had another principle, considerably higher than the stated one: to make sure that Paul should say what the broadly Protestant and evangelical tradition said he said…. I do know that if a church only, or mainly, relies on the NIV it will, quite simply, never understand what Paul was talking about. This is a large claim, and I have made it good, line by line, in relation to Romans in my big commentary, which prints the NIV and the NRSV and then comments on the Greek in relation to both of them. Yes, the NRSV sometimes lets you down, too, but nowhere near as frequently or as badly as the NIV.
- Jewish Annotated New Testament
- This is the NRSV with commentary from a Jewish perspective, the same Jewish scholars who produced the Jewish Study Bible I refer to so often in my posts. It’s insightful but can be challenging, and some of it I disagree with. A second edition came out in 2017 with greatly enlarged essays and comments.
- Footnotes to the New Testament for Latter-day Saints, by Kevin Barney, John Gee, and others.
- Available in hardcover, or free pdf. It’s the KJV with footnotes, like an LDS Study Bible, basically. This was originally to be published in hardcover by Covenant years ago, but they underwent a change in direction and backed out. Now it’s free.
These tend to be a little quirkier since they are produced by individuals, but no less interesting or useful.
- *Thomas Wayment’s New Testament: A Translation for Latter-day Saints (A Study Bible)
- I still haven’t gotten my hands on a copy, but initial reviews are positive. This may be a useful gift for someone who is interested in a non-KJV, but not entirely comfortable with it yet.
- N.T. Wright, Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation which is extracted from his very accessible New Testament for Everyone commentary (sample of translation and commentary).
- I’m a fan of Wright. You’ll see more mention of him. His translation is very modern, (British!) colloquial, and catchy, and his commentary practical, non-technical, and short.
- David Stern, Complete Jewish Bible and accompanying Jewish New Testament Commentary (sample of translation and commentary)
- Stern is a Messianic Jew (i.e. a Christian) residing in Israel. Among other things, his translation changes names and terms back to their Hebrew versions, so that John becomes Yochanan, Jesus Christ becomes Yeshua the Messiah. His commentary differs notably from the JANT above in several ways: single author vs. committee; believer in Jesus vs. uh, non-messianic Jews; less specialized vs. more specialized (that is, Stern has deep study, teaching, and a MA +graduate work, but his PhD is in Econ. The JANT authors are all PhDs in Religion, NT, Judaism, etc.)
- J.B. Phillips- A colloquial translation that captures some of the feeling, particularly in Paul’s letters, which were meant to be read out loud. New Testament only, free online.
The Greek Text(s) and Tools
If you want to understand the Greek textual/manuscript basis for differences in translations, these are your two resource.
- Philip Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (See samples at Logos link below.)
- Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament.
- Metzger was huge in Greek NT Studies. Published by the United Bible Society, this is similar but a bit more technical and Greek than the Comfort volume above. He authored other notable books, including The Bible in Translation: Ancient and English Versions, and The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (coauthored with Bart Ehrman, who was Metzger’s student).
If you want to play with the underlying Greek, let me be clear; DO NOT USE STRONG’S CONCORDANCE and don’t trust anybody who claims an understanding of meaning based on it. It’s outdated, and was never intended as a dictionary to begin with. Instead, get the free version of Logos, the free KJV, and invest in this resource. (Link to Logos version.) You can jump directly from a KJV word into an essay about its meaning in the New Testament and Greco-Roman literature. I model this in a screencast, here. I buy everything possible in Logos. This can still be useful in paper, but you may need to use Strong’s as a bridge to figure out what Greek word to find where.
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