by Dan Wallace
I have been conducting seminars on the history of the English Bible for the past dozen years. Inevitably, I get questions like, “What’s the most literal translation out there?” “What’s a good study Bible?” “Which Bible is the most accurate?” “What’s a good Bible for a new Christian to get?”
These are excellent questions. I will try to offer some guidelines here for the general English-speaking reader of the Bible, though it will be necessarily brief.
Let me start with two assumptions. First, your native tongue is English. Second, you live in a country whose native tongue—or one of them—is English (e.g., United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand). Obviously, not everyone reading this blog post will qualify, but these are the folks that I am addressing.
There are far more translations of the Bible into English than any other language on the planet. There are historical reasons for this, but we won’t go into them—except to say this: English-speaking countries for the most part have a broadly Christian culture as part of their heritage. To be sure, all are living in a post-Christian age now, but a large part of the heritage of that culture involves the Bible and Christianity. The influence of the Bible on the English-speaking world is absolutely stunning. It permeates almost every nook and cranny of our society, even if not intentionally so. E. D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy (1988) has a 60+ page appendix of words and phrases that every literate American ought to know. It’s amazing how many words and phrases are right out of the Bible and Christian thought.
Or consider the other end of the cultural continuum, pop music. Some of the best known rock songs, especially from the 60s and 70s, have allusions to the Bible and Christianity. Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, for example, speaks of “stairway to heaven” (of course!), “there are two paths you can go,” “our soul… the truth will come to you”; Don McLean’s American Pie: “do you have faith in God?”, “can music save your mortal soul?”, “If the Bible tells you so…,” “while the King was looking down the Jester stole his thorny crown,” “Fire is the devil’s only friend,” “no angel born in hell could break that Satan’s spell,” “the three men I admire most: the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost…”; Steppenwolf’s The Pusher: “God damn the Pusher,” “I’d declare total war on the Pusher man…I’d kill him with my Bible…”
Whether one is a Christian, non-Christian, or anti-Christian, the Bible is a book that has infected our culture and the way we communicate.
So, what’s the best Bible to get? There’s no simple answer to this question. I will instead offer three or four categories of Bibles that every English-speaking Christian should own…
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