Thursday, April 16, 2009

10 really good bibles you may not know about

Brown and Comfort Interlinear Best Formal NT Translation
A fantastic bible for those people who want a literal translation. Most interlinears are essentially reading assistants to the Greek. But Brown and Comfort managed to do the impossible create an interlinear that is accurate and yet reads as smoothly as a standard formal translation. Which means that you can actually read it verse by verse like you would a "normal bible" and thus have the most accurate formal translation of the NT bar none. The Greek and the NRSV are presented on the same page for those wanting more or less formal respectively. Even better this book is smallish, "pocket sized" so it can fit comfortably along with a bible right in a bible case for people who want to use a mainstream translation and "check the greek" in a portable format. In keeping with that goal, it covers textual variants in the Greek (generally from UBS commentery) that lead to translation variants in the translations for the KJV, NKJV, RSV, NRSV, ESV, NASB, NIV, TNIV, NEB, REB, NJB, NAB, NLT, HCSB, and indicates where they offer the alternatives in the margin. In other words this formal pairs with any of the mainstream bibles quite well. This one is a gem, and it's cheap (like $12) a no brainer purchase.

The Unvarnished New Testament by Andy Gaus Best Dynamic NT translation
By completely breaking with tradition Gaus manages to preserve the meaning of the Greek. I am continually frustrated by how bad most translations are. Bible translation has a 1600 year history that quite often works as a weight more than buoy. The New Testament is a Greek first century book written for other first century people about first century topics. Most bibles aim to "close the gap" obliterating the Greekness of the NT, including dynamic translations. Gaus doesn't. Gaus shows you what you read if you read Greek fluently. The books read wonderfully smoothly since there is no attempt at maintaining any semblance of formal translation. At the same time preserving the mysticism, philosophy and theology of the underlying Greek better than any bible I know of. He accomplishes exactly what dynamic translation aims for. There aren't many reviews on the web but google books has half of it online.

Jewish Study Bible (NJPS) OT Study Bible
NJPS is 2000 pages on just the old testament read the way conservative or reform Jews would read the bible. This is one of the Oxford study bibles but aimed at a Jewish not a Christian audience. The translation is the NJPSV (New Jewish Publication Society Version) which was influential on the NRSV's translation. Besides the copious notes it includes 200 pages of essays and tables for further understanding. It has solid scholarship with the focus on the OT. Books are remarkably clearer without having to read back into the text Paul. So for example the commentery on Ezra focus on rabbinic authority and the roles of various types of religious officials and how this would play out in Jewish history. A fantastic alternative set of notes for anyone reading the OT.

Oxford NEB study bible
Best 2nd bible; REB: Best Mediating Translation
The NEB (wikipedia article) is my favorite 2nd bible. Dodd (the lead translator) does fantastic stuff in bringing out alternate shades of meaning of verses that the King James Version didn't capture. The NEB has been criticised for being "incautious" and it is. It is a version always worth checking to see how it handled various complexities. The NEB does a nice job as a mediating translation. In the end though the NEB was trapped by being a little of a lot of things: meant for liturgical use so it couldn't be to free, meant for easy reading so it couldn't be too accurate. But Dodd is brilliant and it shows. The Oxford Revised English Bible is a newer variant of the NEB which is a bit more conventional and thus suitable as a first bible in many ways the best mediating translation available. It is considered too British by most Americans but I have yet to have any trouble with it. The REB also reads outloud exceptionally well, making it a very good liturgical/preaching bible.

New Interpreter's Study Bible (NISB) Best all around Study Bible
This is an NRSV study bible with apocrypha First off the NRSV is an excellent formal translation, the standard translation English language biblical scholarship. It is also the standard for the mainline churches. The NISB (New Interpreters Study Bible) however presents areas where the NRSV was too conservative and focus a lot on translational differences so you end up with a very good translation commentary. It offer insights on historical critical textual commentery that most other study bibles would never mention for theological reasons or because they consider them "too advanced" It also has an excellent exegesis from a Liberal Christian perspective, addressing theological issues the way the Reformed Study Bible or MacArthur Study Bible would (but far more true to the text IMHO). This truly is the best "all in one" package you can buy, especially if you want a single volume study bible that isn't talking down to you or preaching to you.

Pre-Nicene New Testament: Fifty-four Formative Texts Atheist bible of choice
This is the NISB on steroids. The skeptical themes recur over and over, Price's (the translator) goal is clear to shake the New Testament "loose from the mummy-bands of familiarity". This bible is designed to make you see the bible as a textual critic does, densely loaded with every possible theory out there. If you want one compact volume of all that the harshest of critics of traditional Christianity have to offer, this is your book. This bible tosses out any sort of conventions starting with pairing every canonical bible book with a non canonical book addressing a similar theme. It organizes the books by schools and geography: so Galatians, Luke and Acts appear together far apart from Mark and Matthew.
The characters in the bible are treated as literary constructs put in by various authors to address theological objectives. John is treated as a response to Mark not a biography. The exegesis on Barnabas from Acts comes from the Epistle of Barnabas.
The translation of the texts is superb. Price has worked hard to reconstruct from a wide range of texts missing verses in fragmentary materials and doubtful sections (possible interpolations or redactions) are given in italics. Footnotes are placed strategically and provide a very illuminating commentary on the text. There is a survey of higher criticism of the Bible at the end that is very helpful to the reader. A reader of this book can see the influence of Greek and Egyptian thought on these new testament texts.There is nothing like it out there. Earl Doherty review

The Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters by Elaine Pagels: Best Heretical Bible
This only covers the 7 authentic Pauline letters and Hebrews. It also only translates those verses that Pagels has something new to say on. So this is not an all in one by any means. What it is however is closest you could come to getting a study bible written by Valentinus, Heracleon, Naassene... In places she retranslates the text to show subtle meanings relative to middle/neo-Platonism that aren't apparent in most English language translations. And then the notes address how 2nd century Gnostic-Christians read this text. This book offers a view point you really can't get anywhere else in this clear and condensed a form. See the online preview. There is also a similar book for John, The Johannine Gospel in Gnostic Exegesis.

Scholars Version Gospel
Contains about 20 gospels and nothing else. Focus on preserving the tone, the feel of the underlying Greek. Most bibles are designed to have a uniform tone, but the bible itself is a small library not a book. The individual books feel very very different. Also it is one of the few references bibles that cross reference with gospels like Thomas (Greek and Coptic), Egerton gospel (1st century fragmentary gospel), gospel of Peter... It also includes a full version of Q and Signs. Genuinely original in its handling of many complex translation issues (example). If you have gotten this far in the review you probably would like this book. Don't let the "Jesus Seminar" label throw you off, this is serious scholarship handling complex issues well. The people who wrote this translation are the foremost experts in the world on the gospels.

New International Greek Testament Commentary
Exegetical Commentary of Choice
Truly breathtaking. Addresses theological themes as well as to the details of the historical, linguistic, and textual context. This text presents virtually every alternative, with the scholarship behind it. Reading NIGTC is like listening in on the debates of an evangelical translation committee. NIGTC is rightly considered the most technical commentary series produced by evangelicals and it is the conservative answer to the Anchor Bible Series. It is available from Logos as part of their scholar packages.


ElShaddai Edwards said...

CD - thanks for putting this list together. It's a fascinating collection! I'll be interested to read more about Gaus...

CD-Host said...

El --
Glad you liked the list. I just added a link to google books for Gaus so you can see about 150 pages of Gaus as a sample. I think you would like both of the top 2. It was nice being able to write about the bibles / translations I generally personally use. I'm thinking of doing a follow up on 10 good features of mainstream bibles.

ElShaddai Edwards said...

Thanks for the new Gaus link - I just had to time to skim it, but Mark for sure reads very differently! I'll look forward to digging deeper.

Anonymous said...

The fact that you put Bobby Price's book up and highly applaud it makes your list laughable

Try something with Bart Erhman, not Price; he's not even heard of by most scholars, and represent a fringe. That's the reason most people do not know his work because what he has to offer are not really good.

CD-Host said...

Anon -

Well I assume this is a hit and run style post. I'm a big fan of all the Walter Braur people, which both Price and Pagels are in additional Ehrman. Of course most of these bibles are based on the critical work Ehrman did in the 1990s so in some sense he is heavily represented. So I'd say I have that covered. If you mean his best sellers well they don't fall under the "you may not know about".

And yes Price is fringe. That's how I describe it, "harshest critics".