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January - February 2021

FINDING A BIBLE THAT REFLECTS THE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN FAITH

The Orthodox Church gave us the Bible: the Apostles wrote it down, and the Councils of the Church Fathers decided which books were in, and which books were out. It is therefore up to us to read it - everyday, as listed on every Church calendar.

But where do we start? With so many translations in the English language, how do we find a Bible which is a good translation, which is also mainstream and simple enough for most people to understand? A recent correspondent wrote the following question, and a priest gives his reply:

Q: My kids are grown up now and, even though they can speak and read (their heritage language), having the Gospel in English would most likely be much easier for them to understand and to grasp. I found out there are numerous Bible translations in English and that they differ in style and sometimes in text too. Being afraid to give my kids a wrong spiritual food, I hope you would help me to make a good decision. What translation of the New Testament would you recommend to a young (20-something year-old) person?

A: This is a very important and worthwhile question. As you mention, you are faced with a multitude of translations in the English language, most of which are distorted in some way because of one type of Protestant theology or another. By far the best translation in English is the original King James Version (KJV): the language is elevated and beautiful, and in only two places is the theology a bit "off" (this is missed by most readers, and is easily corrected, and is a linguistic error), compared with the other English translations, which have literally hundreds of distortions.

The challenge of the KJV is, for some people, the level of language is challenging. If your kids don't mind reading something challenging, this is certainly the way to go. If they are already disinterested in reading, the KJV will be an uphill journey for them, and you may want to try something like the Revised Standard Version (NOT the New Revised Standard Version), which although not perfect, is probably the only other major English translation I would recommend.

If one chooses to go with the RSV, one should find a simple RSV translation - NOT the NRSV (the "New" RSV), nor the Catholic RSV (although it does contain more books of the Old Testament Canon, while the RSV only contains the Protestant Canon). Ideally, if you can find an "RSV with Apocrypha" (that's what the Protestants call the Old testament books they do not accept, which we Orthodox do), then you will be getting more for your money, as well as a complete Bible, although most of these Old testament books are rarely read.

In short: RSV with Apocrypha, not the other RSV versions.

There are other Orthodox translations, such as the Third Millennium Bible, and the two volume New Testament from the Old Calendarist group at Dormition Skete in Colorado. Both of these have their strong points (the Dormition Skete version has great commentaries at the back from the Church Fathers, useful for priests writing sermons!), however both use language translations that are unusual, and foreign to the ear of English speaking people. (The Colorado version has also been criticized for introducing its own theological ideas, outside Orthodox teaching). For these reasons, while both might be good for reference, neither is recommended for daily study or reading.

Many Orthodox people will recommend the Orthodox Study Bible, which uses the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible. This version updates some outdated words which are difficult to understand, and is not a bad translation. The original Orthodox Study Bible just included the New Testament and Psalms, along with some "commentaries", which were designed by the publishers to appeal to evangelical Protestants who might be inquiring into the Orthodox Faith. The problem with these commentaries is, they removed anything which might have offended Protestants: references to the Mother of God, anything serious about the saints, commemoration of the departed souls, etc. For this reason, the original Orthodox Study Bible (New Testament and Psalms) is to be avoided.

Years later, a new version of the Orthodox Study Bible was published, containing both Old and New Testaments. This revised all the commentaries, and included better references from the Church Fathers. While the materials included in it are not always strong, it is satisfactory, and not as objectionable as the original version. It would certainly not be a first choice, if your family has access to a priest who can teach them an Orthodox view of the Bible, but if this is all they have, it might be satisfactory.

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