When it comes to Bibles, I have a very difficult time with staying grounded. First of all, I am a collector and a consumerist, I love to look at new or used Bibles, and I love to buy them for my collection. I am especially a sucker for new study Bibles or translations that I will never use. A couple of years ago, I started reading the Catholic Bibles Blog, and the author, Timothy McCormick, made a commitment to stick with one Bible for one year. It was called OBOY (One Bible, One Year). When I first read about Tim’s effort, I was very impressed, and I wanted to follow it myself, but it simply didn’t happen.
Unfortunately, I love to bounce around. Not only do I love to experiment with different Bibles in my collection, but I also love to use different translations for different purposes. I also love to mix translations. For example, if I love one part of a verse in the NKJV, and the other part in the NIV, I may mix the two together. I am frequently tempted to just use digital Bible applications, because they allow me to use any Bible I could possibly want. However, there is something much more appealing about using a traditional book.
My Bible-addiction comes with some problems:
First, I have noticed that my Bible habit can really drain my bank account. If I was a comfortable, middle-class person, this would not be a problem. Unfortunately, I make pennies from ministry, and my secular job is pretty low-income. It would greatly help me if I could focus upon using the Bibles that I have instead of spending tons of money on the new editions that I come across.
Second, my mixing and matching of versions has lead to confusion. Instead of having one version memorized, I have a bunch of KJV; a little NKJV, NRSV, NLT, and NIV; and a little of my own paraphrases. It becomes very difficult to quote Scripture to people now. In addition, since I don’t have any one edition of the Bible memorized, I frequently become lost. I know that I read something, but I don’t know where I read it. I am not the best with numbers, so I cannot simply remember chapter and verse, but I can remember where in the physical book it is located.
Third, I have noticed that it sends the wrong message to people. One of the people involved in my ministry commented recently that I also have a different Bible. I realize now how that might seem to people. It could come across that I don’t read the thing very often; it could come across that I don’t familiarize myself with it; it could come across that I am just a collector instead of a reader. It simply doesn’t come across that I am grounded in the Scriptures. It comes across that I am just a buffet Bible reader — picking and choosing as I want.
I have a friend who passed away several months back, Alan Kreider. He was a prominent Mennonite scholar and church historian. He had a Bible that deeply impressed me. It was an old 1991 New Oxford Annotated Bible in the New Revised Standard Version. It was the only Bible he used from when he first got it until his death last year. It was an amazing Bible to look at. The spine was completely missing and replaced by tape, and every page was filled with his personal notes from years of teaching at universities and seminaries. In addition, he had so much of the Bible memorized thanks to the fact that he used one standard translation for so long. In addition, he carried that Bible with him everywhere in a backpack. It was deeply humbling.
Something I want in my own personal and pastoral life is the same Bible that Alan had. There are a million benefits to sticking with one Bible consistently. I remember back to when I first met Alan at church. We started talking about his Bible, and I explained my reading habits. The first thing he asked me was, “How do you memorize it?” He’s right. It is next to impossible to truly remember anything when you constantly bounce around. Not only is it difficult when you bounce between versions, but it is also difficult when you you bounce between editions. Our brains understand printed text as a physical object, and we remember text like we would topography. We learn from books better when we stick to one physical edition.
In addition, it is simply nice to have a Bible that I can call my Bible. It would be wonderful to have something that I am truly familiar with, and attached to. It would be wonderful to have a specific Bible that I can pass along to someone I care about in a few decades. There is an obvious beauty and sentimentality in that.
So, as I go into 2018, I would like to commit to an OBOY (One Bible, One Year) challenge. The goal, however, is to commit to that one Bible enough that I can use it for several more years, perhaps longer. My maternal grandfather (a Presbyterian elder) has been using the same Bible for about 50 years now. Then there is my late paternal grandmother (a Presbyterian deacon), who used the same Bible from the 1970s until her death. I am not sure that I can commit for that long, but I would love to try.
With this commitment comes a host of questions, however. Which canon (Protestant, Catholic, etc.)? Which translation? Which type of Bible (e.g. study Bible, reference Bible, text Bible)?
For me, I would probably stick with the Protestant canon of the Bible (66 books). This is the Bible that I tend to use the most, but technically, my churches do appreciate the Apocrypha. A Bible with the Apocrypha, or a Catholic edition, would be perfectly acceptable.
Translation, however, is a difficult question to answer. When it comes to memorization, and committing to a single Bible for an extended period of time, only one Bible comes to mind: the Authorized King James Version. No other translation has the staying power, the beauty, or the majesty. Today’s ESV or NLT might be out of print in six months when the new edition is released. The downsides, however, lie in the age of the KJV. While wonderful, there are places where we simply no how to translate the underlying texts more correctly, and there are places where the KJV can be so archaic that people have difficulty understanding it. A balance might exist in versions such as the RSV, NRSV, or NKJV. They are modern, but not too modern, and they are unlikely to be updated.
Regarding which translation I should use, my heart and my head come to different conclusions. My heart screams to use to the KJV. It is simply timeless and majestic. You could almost say romantic, if one can have romantic feelings for a book. My head, however, says to use the NRSV. All of my churches use the NRSV as a standard text; it is very ecumenical and comes with the Apocrypha; I have several NRSV study Bibles and commentaries; and it is standardized but not archaic.
As for which editions I should choose from, I think I would want a balance. A text Bible would have too little. I love to have some extra reference materials. At the same time, some study Bibles are too much. They are so packed with material that they are difficult to comfortably use. I would probably want a basic, ecumenical study Bible or a reference Bible.
I am still not sure which direction I will go with my OBOY challenge, but these are the things that I am currently pondering. I would love to hear any thoughts from whoever happens to read this blog.