At church on Sunday, a friend leaned over and asked me what Bible I was using. It happened to be the ESV Study Bible; she asked because of the many (and long) footnotes, margin references, etc., but this is only one of the Bibles that I use on a regular basis.
In my experience, academic types tend to have strong opinions about their Bibles, especially on a few key points. Then again, maybe this is just me:
- Which translation (if any)? Bible translations come in many varieties, with several different translation philosophies governing their production. I’ve known people who use only “literal” or “word-for-word” translations because of a concern for accuracy, and I’ve known people who use only “loose” or “thought-for-thought” translations…because of their concern for accuracy. If you hang out with Biblical studies types, you’ll probably also know a few people who read directly from the Greek and/or Hebrew, even for their personal devotions.
- Good footnotes…? Being academically oriented, we like thorough citations and as much additional information as we can get. And a bogus interpretation or poor reference will turn us off instantly.
- …or no notes at all? Then again, because we know that study Bibles only scratch the surface (and maybe we own several commentary sets as well), maybe we want the source text and nothing else.
- How good is the paper and binding? We’re also the type to mark up our Bibles, especially if we had a strong InterVarsity foundation in manuscript study. The paper has to be good enough to take pencil marks and highlighting. The binding also has to last because we’re going to have the book open quite a bit (aren’t we?). Just this morning, I had a Bible fall apart in my hands because of cheap binding.
Currently, there are two Bibles that I use regularly. I call them “the Odd Couple.” (Okay – actually I don’t call them that, but it would make a good name for them.)
The ESV Study Bible. Some folks have strong feelings about the ESV, both for and against. Quite frankly, I use this Bible because it had just come out when I was in the market for a new study Bible. This is my “bring to church” Bible because, yes, I have it in a Bible cover (with a handle) and use the pockets to carry my notebook and to store the reams of paper that get handed to me each Sunday (bulletins, kid’s Sunday School crafts, etc.). It’s also currently my usual devotional Bible, because the cover includes pockets for a pencil and a highlighter. (By the way, this Bible is so large that I had to get a special extra-large Bible cover, which came with some excellent no-bleed highlighters designed for extra-thin Bible paper. They are basically low-wax crayons, and they work very well.)
Today’s NIV from Urbana 06. The ESV and the TNIV were at the center of a heated debate over gender language a few years ago, and I expect that I’m one of few people to use both translations regularly. (Ironically, I find that they often mirror each other in their use of gender terms.) This TNIV is my “travel Bible” because it’s slim and about the size of a normal trade paperback. Sometimes, I also like to get back to just the text without being distracted by footnotes and commentary. It’s also considerably more comfortable to hold than my ESV Study Bible, which tops out at 2,750 pages.
Over the years, though, I’ve used a number of other Bibles on a regular basis:
- A mass-market “gift” NIV, given to me when I was baptized. It was the Bible I used when being taught inductive Bible study by InterVarsity’s David McNeill. I continued using it even after our dog tried to use it as a chew toy.
- The Quest Study Bible (NIV), my first study Bible. Years later, I met Bob Lowery, who wrote the notes for Revelation. Appropriately enough, he was teaching a class on Revelation at my church when I met him.
- The HarperCollins Study Bible (NRSV), which I used for the OT/NT survey classes at Regent College. We were required to read through the entire Bible, and I wanted to use a translation that I wasn’t already familiar with. This study Bible’s notes focus mainly on textual and linguistic issue in the text, which made it useful for the academic work I was doing.
- A mass-market “gift” King James, given to me when I graduated high school. When I was considering graduate studies in literature, I decided to start reading the KJV more frequently so I would be more attuned to biblical allusions. (By the way, it’s the 400th anniversary of the KJV.)
- The Word in Life Bible (CEV), the brainchild of the late Pete Hammond, a pioneer within InterVarsity on racial reconciliation and faith in the marketplace. This was given to InterVarsity staff at our Graduate and Faculty Ministries staff meetings a few years ago, and for a while it was my “bring to church” Bible. I’m not too crazy about the CEV translation, but the articles in this Bible are amazing. They focus on the role of faith in everyday life and work; the notes frequently refer to the careers of biblical figures using contemporary terminology, which I find helpful. All of the articles from this Bible are available on the Urbana website.
- A slim “pocket-sized” NIV. I was so proud of owning this Bible. I felt like I had finally “made it” as a Christian, because I had seen many speakers and preachers pull out a tiny Bible at the start of their talks. It had to be so small because they carried it all times, right? Therefore they were really holy, right? I hadn’t own this Bible for a week when my book bag got caught in a rainstorm and the once-little Bible swelled up to twice its size, along with my already-massive HarperCollins Study Bible. There’s a lesson in there, I think.
Enough about me. What about you?
Do you have strong opinions about your personal Bible? Which translation(s) do you use? Do you prefer study Bibles or Bibles with only the biblical text?
About the author:
The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.