Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119.105).
When your words came, I devoured them: your word was my delight and the joy of my heart. (Jeremiah 15.16, cf Isaiah 55.10-11).
All scripture is inspired by God and can profitably be used for teaching, for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy. (2 Timothy 3.16).
Having used various translations over the years, my advice is as follows:
- For clarity and accuracy use a modern translation. These are based on a much greater understanding of ancient languages. Archaic language can be hard to follow and tends to obscure the word of God.
- Avoid paraphased translations, such as the Good News Bible or the New Living Translation. They can be useful for clarifying difficult passages but they are not suitable for serious study. Simplification of biblical language often results in corrupt renderings.
- Many translations have been amended to accommodate inclusive language. Most Bibles published after the 1970s are of this kind, and even ones that were faithful translations have now been reissued in gender-neutral editions, for example the New International Version, 2011 edition. The New Jerusalem Bible (1985) and the Revised New Jerusalem Bible (2018) are radical revisions of the more conservative Jerusalem Bible and incorporate inclusive language. The most extensive use of this innovation is in the New Revised Standard Version (1989).
- Of the modern translations still widely used, those that are mostly free of inclusive language are: Revised Standard Version (1952, 1971); Jerusalem Bible (1966); New International Version (older editions); New King James Version (1982) and the English Standard Version (2000).
The influence of liberal theologians on Bible translation and exegesis is considerable. This makes selecting a study Bible tricky, and the same applies to Bible commentaries. This is made more difficult due to the scarcity of religious bookshops where one can browse and get advice.
I recommend the following study Bibles:
Life Application Bible (NIV edition); NIV Study Bible; ESV Study Bible.
The ESV Student Study Bible is also worth considering, especially if you are studying the Bible at college (pre-university) level or simply want a non-scholarly annotated Bible for everyday use.
There are various one-volume commentaries as well as those published in several volumes. My own preference is for the Bible Speaks Today series, published by IVP. These are detailed without being too academic. A good one-volume commentary for daily use is The Bible Reader’s Companion by Lawrence Richards (David Cook, 1991).
My advice is to find a well-stocked religious bookshop where you can spend time browsing and selecting the best material for your needs, whether it be spiritual reading of the Bible or serious study. Most translations are available in a variety of editions, sizes and bindings, including pocket editions to carry around.
In addition there are numerous Bible handbooks and dictionaries. Some study Bibles and supportive material promote a particular brand of theology, for example liberal, Calvinist, Roman Catholic. Unless you are looking for a specific theological slant I would suggest you seek a more neutral approach.
A concordance of Bible words is another useful tool to have handy but not all versions of the Bible have a dedicated edition. The excellent Find What You Believe (Thomas Nelson, 2013) combines the best features of a concordance and dictionary with more than 80,000 entries.
If you are new to the Bible, I suggest the following sequence to start you off:
- The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, chapters 5 to 7)
- The Gospels of Mark and Luke
- The Acts of the Apostles, chapters 1 to 12 to give you a flavour of the early church
- The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians
- The First Letter of Peter
Good introductory works on reading the Bible are:
Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart How to Read the Bible Book by Book: a Guided Tour. Zondervan, 2014.
Richard Foster Life with God. Hodder & Stoughton, 2008.
Alec Motyer A Scenic Route Through the Old Testament. IVP, 2016.
I recommend these texts to anyone who wishes to embark on a study of the Bible or refresh their knowledge of it:
Lion Handbook to the Bible, edited by Pat and David Alexander. Lion Hudson, 5th edition, 2017.
John Drane Introducing the Old Testament. Lion Hudson, 3rd edition, 2011.
John Drane Introducing the New Testamemnt. Lion Hudson, 3rd edition, 2010.
Online and subscription daily Bible readings, prayers and reflections
Sacred Space – http://www.sacredspace.ie
Bible Reading Fellowship – http://www.brf.org.uk
Bible Alive – http://www.alivepublishing.co.uk
Catholic Online – http://www.catholic.org