Too Many Bibles(?)

I just bought another one. It was so easy, too, given the point-and-click method of purchasing that has taken over my shopping habits for things I drive (cars, golf balls), give (gifts for any and all occasions), and read. Especially the latter, whether hard copy or e-book. What I just finished purchasing a few moments ago was yet another version of the New Testament.

One might well ask the why question here; don’t I already have enough versions to find one that says just what I want it to say, getting around those troubling passages that defy either explanation or a stubborn will? Perhaps some readers may be kind enough to give me a pass on the matter, reasoning that someone who teaches theology for a living ought to be aware of what is on the market. Thanks for that. And oh, what a market it is. For the record, the one just procured is the Kingdom New Testament, a new translation by British scholar N. T. Wright. As I went about making the purchase I decided to peruse for just a moment the variety of translations on offer. Most of them are ones with which I was already familiar, though additions to the list continue to be made. Here is a partial rendering of that list, most of which have the word “Version” at the end, which already sounds like an acknowledgement of other versions: King James, New King James, American Standard, New American Standard, Living Bible, New Living Translation, Revised Standard, New Revised Standard (do we detect a pattern here?), English Standard, Common English, New International, Today’s New International (rather clearly assigning the other one to yesterday), The Message, Jewish Annotated, and (my “favorite” newby on the list) the Restored New Testament, which includes the gnostic gospels of Thomas, Mary, and Judas. One may be forgiven if thinking that adding to the canon is not exactly the same as “restoring” the canon. And all of this is only the English language side of the multifaceted book we continue to refer to as The Bible, the Word of God.

What should we make of all this? Occasionally one may hear the complaint that the proliferation of translations has taken from the church a common language in which to memorize and recite God’s Word. That may be so; but it seems futile to turn things around and settle on a common version at this juncture. Other voices say it is more important that we understand the sense which the original authors conveyed to their readers, which may mean translating words differently to create the same sense in a contemporary audience. As language changes–and it does, and at a more rapid pace than ever before–perhaps our need for new translations continues.

Today’s post is not intended to make a point, but to solicit your experiences with various translations of the Bible. Which do you prefer, and why? What might you suggest regarding the way a congregation might handle the multiple versions that are in use? Is this a problem, or is it a boon to the church? What are your thoughts?