Sharpening Your Tools
Choosing a Bible to Read and Study
by David Churchill

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 • “Why are there so many kinds of Bibles?”

     Have you ever asked, or been asked, these questions?  “Why are there so many kinds of Bibles?  What are some of the differences and how do they matter?  Are there any Bibles that are bad to use?  What do I need when I buy a Bible?  How should I choose which to use?
     Walk into almost any discount store or general bookstore and you’ll probably find anywhere from two to twenty of what appear to be different Bibles in a variety of bindings, editions, and versions.  Walk into a religious bookstore and that number could easily approach 100 or more in an colorful assortment of sizes and covers, and with included study “aids” ranging from none to hundreds of pages.
     Many so-called “study Bibles” claim on their covers to target specific groups of readers such as men, women, husbands, wives, parents, children, teenagers, scholars, beginners, and even occupations such as teachers, students, policemen, firemen, pastors, lay-ministers, pilots, and various branches of the armed forces.  Promotional claims vary from “soul-winner’s edition,” “how to share Jesus,” and “how to get saved!” to “for new Christians,” “daily devotional,” “life- study,” and “believer’s study Bible,” to “topical”, “analytical,” and “new & improved, easy-to- read version.”
     On top of all that, there are the so-called “Protestant” editions and the denomination-specific editions published by the Catholics, the Mormons, the Jehovah Witness, and others.
     Why are there so many kinds?  Let’s look briefly at some of the several reasons, and along the way I’ll share the guidelines I use in selecting Bibles to read & study from.

• “What are some of the differences and how do they matter?”

• Versions -- Translation vs. Paraphrase
     A Bible “version” simply identifies someone’s particular effort to create either a translation or a paraphrase of the Bible.
     According to the dictionaries I keep in my office, to “translate” something basically means to “move” or “bring” that something from one place to another.  For example, “the professor translated his lecture notes from his office to the classroom.”  Therefore, a Bible translation results from translating or moving the wording from the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic languages directly into a wording of English, Spanish, German, etc.  Essentially, a translated version offers what the Scriptures actually say, but in the reader’s own language. The “King James Version” is a familiar example of a translated version and dates back to 1611.
     According to my dictionaries, a “paraphrase” is an “expression of the same thing in other words” of something said or written … a form of interpretation or explanation in one's own words.  For example, “the professor presented his interpretation of the author's intent by paraphrasing the novel.”  (Granted, I do understand that many people often use “interpret” and “translate” interchangeably when talking about expressing thoughts across languages, but the difference between the two words is both real and important.)  Therefore, a Bible paraphrase results from interpreting the Bible and substituting that explanation into the place of Scripture — someone replacing the Bible’s words with his own words thinking to help clarify the meaning or to make easier-to-read.  Essentially, a paraphrased version offers opinions by its author about what the Scriptures meant to say.  Some paraphrases are created by interpreting an already existing translation, such as the popular “Living Bible” completed in 1971 was interpreted from the “American Standard Version” of 1901, and are clearly identified as paraphrases.  Paraphrases can also be created by closely attaching the interpretative process to the translation process, as in the case of the “Good News Version” completed 1974 & revised 1993 and as in the case of “The Living Translation” completed in 1996 & based upon the paraphrase “The Living Bible.”  Unfortunately, many of these paraphrases are incorrectly titled and promoted as “translations” which confuses and misleads many consumers.  Fortunately, some like “The Message” completed 2002 are honestly identified and promoted as paraphrases.
     In general, a revised version is based upon an existing version, but has adjustments reflecting changes of word usage in our modern languages or reflecting changes in translation procedures.  For example of a revised translation, the “New American Standard, Updated” version completed in 1995 is a revision of the “New American Standard” version completed 1971 which in turn was a revision of the “American Standard Version” completed 1901.
     Guideline #1:  Use a translated version for your daily reading and routine meditation.
     In theory, if we all could spend a few years learning to read the ancient Hebrew and the Greek languages used to write the Bible, then we wouldn’t need anyone to tell us what the original writers wrote — we could read it for ourselves.  But, in practice, that’s not very realistic for most people … nor is it necessary.  By reading a reasonably accurate translation and by applying some common-sense discretion while we read, with practice we can reliably harvest the original writers’ intended meaning … as we can with almost any other translated book of today or the past.
     However… if you seek a difficult, but rewarding challenge AND if you have the opportunity, ambition, and persistence to learn the language, … then do get hold of a copy of the Greek New Testament, a good textbook on Koine Greek (the Greek of the New Testament), and a good lexicon (like Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon or Mounce’s Analytical Lexicon).  Many times I’ve found that if I’m having trouble understanding a difficult passage in English, examining the Greek text will help clear away much of my confusion.  (Occasionally when I am discussing a passage, you may hear me mention that some Greek word literally means such and such … like “the Greek word ‘eis’ literally means ‘into’” … and then point out how that knowledge helps me understand the passage more clearly.)
     Guideline #2:  Use paraphrased versions either sparingly as a source of commentary or else avoid them entirely.
     I discourage people from using a paraphrased version for daily Bible reading because it’s not really a copy of the Scriptures, but rather only a copy of someone’s opinions on the Scriptures.  Please understand what I’m saying.  Personally, from time to time I enjoy reading good commentaries because sometimes learning how other people understood a particular passage can help me understand that passage better for myself.  And, as you know, I frequently share with other people my comments and opinions about Bible passages.  But, I strongly feel and firmly believe that it is deceptive, fraudulent, and unchristlike for anyone to disguise a book of religious commentaries by presenting it as a book of the Scriptures.  Since a paraphrased version is such a book, then I have to consider it as being deceptive, fraudulent, and unchristlike.  For me, reading the Bible is an issue of trust, and paraphrased versions are far, far, far from being trustworthy.

• Translation methods
     Word-for-word translating attempts to literally express each word of the original language into our own language and aims to preserve the original word order and sentence structure as much as possible.  Also known as “complete equivalence” or “formal equivalence,” this method seeks to preserve accurately all of the information in the text, while still presenting it in a readable form.  A few versions of this type of translation are:  the “King James Version” of 1611;  the “New King James Version” 1982;  the “American Standard Version” 1901;  the “New American Standard Version” 1971 & 1995;  the “Revised Standard Version” 1952; the “Reina Valera” 1909 & 1960;  the “Las Biblia de las Americas” 1986.
     Thought-for-thought translating, sometimes called “dynamic equivalence” or “functional equivalence,” attempts to have the same impact on modern readers as the original had on its own audience by interpreting the thought of the original language and rendering in understandable idiom — at least, that’s the theory of the principle.  In practice, however, because of its required interpretative nature, this method easily produces passages that are the translators’ commentaries or paraphrases instead of being translated texts.  For example, a word-for-word phrase such as “Behold, I gave you cleanness of teeth” might be presented as “you were hungry.” or “you skipped dinner” or “see here, I brushed your teeth for you”  or “notice I withheld food from you” — all depending upon the translator’s interpretation of the phrase.  A few versions of this type of translation are:  the “New International Version” 1978;  the “New Revised Standard Version” 1990;  the “New American Bible” 1970, 1986, 1992;  the “Simple English Bible” 1980.
     You can identify a version’s translation method by checking the preface page or the “About this version” page, usually located at the front of the book.  Some versions, such as the Holman Christian Bible, may claim a mix of both methods (which to me still puts them under the “thought-for-thought” category).  Please note that some versions which are essentially word-for-word translated do use a few thought-for-thought techniques for a few passages or words … some more so than others — for example, the New American Standard Version is essentially a word-for-word translation, but compared to the 1971 version, the 1995 update applies a couple more thought-for-thought guidelines making it overall the slightly less literal of the two versions.
     Some Bible retailers offer charts comparing the different versions, their translation methods, and their background information (such as publisher, project sponsors, production goals, etc.).
     Guideline #3:  Use a “word-for-word” translated version for daily reading and routine meditation.
     In Habukkuk 2:3, I read “
Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.”  How do the just gain their faith?  Romans 10:17 tells me, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  If I want to have a genuine faith, then I need to be reading what the word of God genuinely says and I need to be understanding it for myself.  Therefore, I want to be reading a “word-for-word” translation of the Bible.
     Guideline #4:  Use so-called “thought-for-thought translations” either sparingly as a source of commentary or else avoid them entirely.
     My problem with using a “thought-for-thought” translation for my regular reading is two-fold.  1) I really cannot afford to steer my faith astray by basing it on a paraphrase of God’s word, and the risk of paraphrasing is very high with this method of translating.  2) The ability to correctly translate the words of a passage is separate from the ability to correctly interpret (i.e. understand & explain) the meaning of a passage.  My understanding the meaning of any particular passage is my own personal responsibility.  Therefore, I need a translator only to tell me the passage — I don’t want a translator to explain that passage to me, especially if that person forgets or refuses to let the Bible interpret itself.  If a translator really thinks an explanation of a passage is critical for me to read the passage with understanding, then that explanation should be in a footnote or in some form that lets me distinguish the interpretation from the translation.  (Please don’t misunderstand me.  I am not saying I have no interest in how good translators understand passages they’ve translated.  I’m saying that I have no interest in substituting what is merely man’s opinions into the place of God’s Scriptures.)

• Major committee translations vs. translations by single denominations, small groups and individuals
     Some translation projects involve large groups or major committees of people (from several different churches and denominations) checking and double-checking each other work.  The wording of each passage of the translation requires exact agreement among the several translators assigned to that passage as well as a general agreement from the other project translators.
     These committee versions usually tend to be more true to the original text because of the fact of having so many people translating & proofreading each passage.  Although not always totally fool-proof, the system of checks & counter-checks does help safeguard the integrity of the text by preventing any single individual or small group from deliberately or accidently inserting their own personal or doctrinal bias.  (In other words, they all help keep each other honest.)  For any mistaken bias to affect the text, it would have to be very widespread accepted among most or all the project members or else stipulated as a project guideline.
     In contrast, versions produced or published by single denominations, small groups or individuals have no such safeguards.  Generally speaking, such versions typically tend to be less true to the original text, often to the point of qualifying as paraphrased versions.  While much of this deviation is somewhat unintentional, some is quite deliberate and even boldly promoted.  In particular, versions produced by any single denomination (1) tend to have project guidelines forcing the published text along with its accompanying study aids & explanations to support that denomination’s doctrines and (2) are subject to the approval of the denomination’s leadership, thus reversing the proper roles of authority.  (As God’s word, the Bible tells us what to teach.  If anyone starts telling the Bible what to teach, then they are tampering with God’s word — seems to me, that’s something He might not take kindly to.)
     Guideline #5:  For daily reading and routine meditation, use a “committee” translated version.
     Guideline #6:  For enhanced reading & mediation, use several translations to compare wording.
     Greek and Hebrew words don’t always have an exact fit into English.  And often, as in English, the original word’s meaning is affected by how the word is used.  Several English words may each have a certain sense or flavor of usage that could legitimately convey some of the sense and flavor of the original.  Then the translation committee must choose which English word they agree approaches most closely to the original word’s usage and meaning.  Therefore, different, but similar words might be correctly used to express the same word in different translations or even in different locations in the same translation.
     For example, our English words “awesome” and “aw(e)ful” have the same definition, but we often use one as having a more positive sense and the other more negative.  Likewise, “good,” “fair,” “wonderful,” “great,” “excellent,” “ok,” and “nice” have subtle similarities and differences in English that a translator would need to consider carefully before using.
     As another example, according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, there are three Greek verbs commonly translated as our English verb “to judge.”  Two words have the flavor of “to discern” or “to examine” and the other “to condemn.”  Suppose my regular translation used “judge” in a particular passage and I wanted to be more certain which meaning of judge the author intended. Looking in other “word-for-word” translations of the same passage, I might find “judge,” “discern,” “examine,” “measure.”  By comparing these four choices used by different translations, I gain a better appreciation of how the author used the original word in that passage and the meaning he intended to communicate.
     Guideline #7:  Avoid versions produced or published by a single denomination, small group or individual.
     Limited exceptions:  (1) When researching the church doctrines of a denomination that has “translated” its own version of the Bible or its own study edition of an edited “approved” version, or (2) when discussing Bible teaching with a member of such a denomination.  Then I find it useful to have a copy for reference purposes and for making myself familiar with the other person’s perspective.  However, I still refrain from depending upon such a version when developing my own understanding.

• Comparing editions
     Most versions come in a variety of editions, often from different publishers.  Some editions are published by printing houses interested simply in making God’s Word available to people while many other editions are published by groups promoting a particular church or doctrine.  Of course, the sales-income potential can also be a powerful motivator when publishing Bibles.
     Basic editions of a version limit themselves to the translated or paraphrased text, a bare minimum of footnotes & cross-references, perhaps a few pages of maps, and perhaps a few pages of a Bible-words dictionary and/or concordance.  Aside from these, and aside than chapter & section headings, there are no extensive supplemental materials.  Generally speaking, basic editions tend to be cheaper to buy, although pricing is affected by the binding (paperback, hardback, leather, etc.) and the size of the printing.
     On the other hand, study editions have much larger assortments (often hundreds of pages) of maps, charts, outlines, concordances, Bible-dictionaries, and commentaries.  Some editions prefer to weave these aids in and among the Bible text.  Others prefer to position the related aids at the beginning and end of each Bible-book or in distinct sections clearly separating the aids from the Scripture text.  Like the reference materials in any other area of study, some are both useful & helpful for the sincere Bible student while many must be carefully weighed and sifted to separate truth from fiction, but most are better qualified as garden fertilizer than as reliable study aids.
     As we mentioned earlier, many so-called “study Bibles” claim on their covers to target specific groups of readers or specific purposes of usage.  Such claims are usually marketing ploys to increase sales for the publishers or else to promote the writings of particular authors.  Likewise, much of the variety of decorated bindings are simply marketing efforts to appeal to the various customer concerns & interests.  And some edition-styles (such as the “magazine” and “comic book” presentations) really have nothing to with study aids or even cultivating proper respect for the Bible, but are simple expanding a commercial product line into new market niches whose consumers previously lacked interest in the product.
     As we pointed out earlier, the versions in a few editions have been deliberately adjusted in *translating* to present the sponsoring group’s view.  As an extreme example, one main-stream denomination actually forbids its members to read any version of the Bible except for versions that it has officially approved (i.e. “corrected”) the wording and commented upon to avoid mis-interpretation (i.e. any understanding that disagrees or disaproves of that denomination’s teachings).  Some so-called “study” editions leave the translated text untouched, but then provide so much extra material & commentary alongside the Bible text that the reader is hard-pressed to distinguish whether his understanding came from reading Scripture or from reading the so-called “aids.”
     Guideline #8: For daily reading and meditation, use a basic edition of your preferred translation… for enhanced meditation of a particular passage, also read the same passage from your second choice of translation.
     For my daily Bible reading, I want only God’s word to influence my thinking as I meditate upon what I’ve read.  Remember Romans 10:17, “
faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
     Therefore, if I can only afford to purchase one Bible to read and study, then I want to purchase a basic edition with no added study aids or only a very small amount.
     The size of the printing affects your reading comfort level.  For my daily reading, I prefer the “Giant Print” or “Large Print” basic editions — it’s not huge print compared to other reading materials, but it is much larger and easier for me to read than the usual small-to-tiny print in Bibles.
     Guideline #9: For expanded study, first reference a trust-worthy study edition in your second-choice translation, and then if possible, also reference one in the same translation you use for daily reading.
     If I can only afford to buy one good study edition, then guidelines #6 and #8 suggest to me that I might want to get it of the version that was my second choice.  That way, between my two bibles I’ll be able to compare wording when I want to study a passage more deeply.
     Guideline #10: Before purchasing any Bible-study materials, ask the people you know (who study the Bible regular and seem to be good at it) what they use.
     Like I said earlier, most available materials out there labeled as “Bible study” are just garden fertilizer — I’m not trying to be mean here, but am just stating a plain and simple fact — and a lot of that fertilizer is sold by adding it between the covers of Bibles.  Eventually, you’ll buy some and then realize it’s no good.  But, hopefully, by asking around first, you can keep your wasted purchases to a minimum.
     Guideline #11: Develop some tests for yourself to use when evaluating study materials for purchase.
     When I’m considering to purchase any Bible-study materials, I first look through them briefly to see how they handle certain subjects and topics.  In general, I usually check out baptism, how to become a Christian, miracles, inspiration & authority of the Bible, deity of Christ, and hermeneutics (i.e. bible-study skills & principles).  My thinking is that if the materials are off-track about these basics I do know about, then they are probably off-track about the stuff I don’t know about.  On the other hand, if they seem solidly reliable about the basics, they’re more likely to have some reliability about the other stuff, too.
     Guideline #12: If you own a computer, get hold of a good Bible collection on CD- ROMs or downloadable from the Internet.
     For much less than the price of a leather-bound high-end printed study edition of one version, you can get a digital collection with anywhere from four to twenty & more versions available on a single CD with concordance and word-search features.  Most also have Bible dictionaries, and several commentaries often including entire sets of works by famous denominational founders & teachers such as John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, Matthew Henry, etc.  Some collections have “locked” Bibles and books that require paying additional fees for the codes to unlock them.  Unfortunately, as with printed collections, only a few of these supplemental materials will be genuinely helpful to the sincere Bible student.
     If a collection has multiple Bible versions I want to use, I like being able to do word searches across the different versions at the same time and being able to compare on screen the same passage in several versions.
     While some Bible collections can cost as much as $100 or more, many can be had for less than $50.  A digital Bible collection I highly recommend is called the Berean Bible.  This bare-bones collection (Bibles only) is provided by its publisher as shareware for free distribution and is Windows-compatible.  The basic texts are provided for one Spanish word-to-word translation (LBLA -- Las Biblia de las Americas) and eight English versions, including the three word-to-word translations I use the most for my own bible reading / study and lesson preparation… NASB -- New American Standard Bible, 1995rev.; NKJV -- New King James Version; and ESV -- English Standard Version.  You may download an executable installer copy of the Berean Bible here.]
     For use online, several websites, such as, provide extensive collections of both English and foreign language versions.

• “Why you need” determines “what you need”

     What motivates you as you select and purchase a copy of the Bible?  As we noted earlier in this series, if the Bible really is from God, then He had a purpose in providing it to us to read.  Therefore, if we are going to study the Bible as God’s Word, then we should read looking for His message and His meaning of the message, and not for what we (or someone else) want to think His message is or means.  In particular, we want to cultivate the salvation God is offering us.
Show me Your ways, O LORD;  teach me Your paths.  Lead me in Your truth and teach me,” David expresses this idea in Psalm 25:4-5, “for You are the God of my salvation;  on You I wait all the day.
Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses,” David then goes on to describe in verse 6-11 what else he appreciates about God’s salvation, “for they are from of old.  Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions;  according to Your mercy remember me, for Your goodness’ sake, O Lord.  Good and upright is the Lord;  therefore He teaches sinners in the way.  The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way.  All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth, to such as keep His covenant and His testimonies.  For Your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my iniquity, for it is great.
     Notice David’s motivations here — he wants God’s instruction, God’s truth, God’s generosity, and God’s mercy.  Very strong incentives for a person to study God’s Word.  Very strong incentives for a person to obtain God’s Word in as pure and unaltered a version as he can get it.

     So, … what versions do I personally use the most?
     For my regular Bible reading, I prefer the New American Standard Bible (NASB); the New King James Version (NKJV) of 1982; and the English Standard Version (ESV).  All three are very literal word-for-word translations done by major committees.  All three are fairly easy to read with the reading level of the NKJV at about 8th-grade, the NASB at about 11th-grade, and the ESV at about 10-grade.  (I also like using the printed NKJV because the translator’s footnotes seem to me more objective when informing about significant variations in the New Testament Greek manuscripts.  More on that below.)  I mainly use the digital Berean Bible collection which provides quick and searchable access to the basic texts of all three translations. My main printed copies I use when away from my computer are a giant-print NKJV basic edition, a giant-print NASB basic edition, a hard-bound study edition of the ESV, and a bilingual edition with the NASB and the Las Biblia de las Americas (LBLA) of 1986.
     When NASB of 1971 was still readily available, it was my preferred choice to use because of its exceptionally literal translating.  While the NASB, Updated revision of 1995 is slightly more dynamic and slightly less literal, it’s still a much more reliable translation than most other versions currently published.  For the Spanish-speaking, the LBLA and the Reina-Valera (RV) version of 1960 appear to me reliable translations and I recommend those when asked, but I also admit my opinion is based on very limited study.
     For additional printed study editions, I have a “Nelson Study Bible” of the NKJV and the “Dickson New Analytical Study Bible” of the King James Version.  The Dickson’s 800+ pages of study aids have been exceptionally reliable and useful.  I’ve also had a couple others that I enjoyed and misplaced over the years, but when I find them I’ll use them again, too.
     While I do have printed editions of several other English and foreign language versions for reference as the need arises, I usually access them online at
     One other source I've used in the past to obtain digital copies of various Bible versions and translations is the Internet site “”.  Several of the popular Bible versions in various languages are available as well several versions that are not longer in print or otherwise hard to locate.  Also available is a huge selection of modules with comentaries, dictionaries, maps, and other religious writings. To buy such a collection in printed form for yourself would literally cost thousands of dollars, but almost all of these resource modules are free of charge to use with the e-Sword application.  This application is available for Windows computer, Apple computers, iPad, and iPhone. The user interface is similar to the “Living Word Bible Collection.”  This so.

     Here's a brief review of our 12 suggested guidelines for selecting a Bible for daily reading and study:
     Guideline #1:  Use a translated version for your daily reading and routine meditation.
     Guideline #2:  Use paraphrased versions either sparingly as a source of commentary or else avoid them entirely.
     Guideline #3:  Use a “word-for-word” translated version for daily reading and routine meditation.
     Guideline #4:  Use so-called “thought-for-thought translations” either sparingly as a source of commentary or else avoid them entirely.
     Guideline #5:  For daily reading and routine meditation, use a “committee” translated version.
     Guideline #6:  For enhanced reading & mediation, use several translations to compare wording.
     Guideline #7:  Avoid versions produced or published by a single denomination, small group or individual
     Guideline #8: For daily reading and meditation, use a basic edition of your preferred translation… for enhanced meditation of a particular passage, also read the same passage from your second choice of translation.
     Guideline #9: For expanded study, first reference a trust-worthy study edition in your second-choice translation, and then if possible, also reference one in the same translation you use for daily reading.
     Guideline #10: Before purchasing any Bible-study materials, ask the people you know (who study the Bible regular and seem to be good at it) what they use.
     Guideline #11: Develop some tests for yourself to use when evaluating study materials for purchase.
     Guideline #12: If you own a computer, get hold of a good Bible collection on CD- ROMs or downloadable from the Internet.

• One more thing, … comparing the manuscript sources

     So far, we have …  (1) discussed most of the significant differences among the Bibles available in stores;  (2) shared the guidelines I consider when purchasing a Bible for daily reading and deeper study;  and (3) mentioned which versions I use most and why.  One more distinction among Bibles that might interest some of you is the source of the manuscripts used when translating, especially for the New Testament.
     The three main groups of NT manuscripts that translators examine are (1) the Textus Receptus (or Received Text), (2) the Alexandrian Text, and (3) the Majority Text.  As I understand it, the Textus Receptus manuscripts are what scholars have been studying for centuries and were used to translate the King James Version of 1611, while the Alexandrian Text manuscripts were discovered during the late 19th – early 20th centuries and generally are dated as being older than the Textus Receptus.
     Some Bible versions, such as the New King James Version, do an excellent job with footnotes indicating significant differences between the three Texts.  Most offer no mention of these differences.  However, a few others may indicate, for example, that some word or sentence is “omitted in the better texts,” usually referring to the older Alexandrian Text.  Unfortunately, this can be somewhat misleading by implying that the word or sentence never existed in the older manuscripts, which then causes the reader to question the reliability of the passage.  The real fact of the matter is that these old documents are very delicate and quite fragile and have experienced a lot of damage over the years.  While a few “omitted” items may have been added by a few copyists over the years, oftentimes the questionable “omitted” word or sentence is missing because the document actually has a hole or even a piece of fabric torn off where the word or sentence or even the whole section had been!
     Personally, I try to avoid undue bias or prejudice about the three Texts.  As I understand it, they are in general agreement overall aside from a few minor passages and the missing-words issue mentioned above.  I cope with the differences between the Texts partly through my choice of versions.  The New American Standard Bible is based upon the Alexandrian Text, and has very few footnotes about manuscript differences.  The New King James Version is based upon the Text Receptus and has the useful footnotes I mentioned earlier — in fact, I’ve sometimes anticipated how the NASB might read simply by looking at the NKJV footnotes.  
[dgc:  After first posting this article, I did come across a NKJV pew edition (an edition intended for use in the church pews) that lacked these translators’ footnotes.  Likewise, when I discussed this article with someone who regularly uses an older NASB edition, he was surprised that my current copy of the NASB was lacking such footnotes because his copy has several useful translators’ notes about manuscript differences.]
     For those of you who want to know more about the source manuscripts, I’ve included below a selection from the preface of the New King James Version.  
[This selection is provided in compliance with the NKJV’s quotation guidelines, and is identical between the electronic and printed editions I have (except whereas the electronic edition here mentions “Popup Notes,” the printed edition mentions “Footnotes”).]

The Old Testament Text
     The Hebrew Bible has come down to us through the scrupulous care of ancient scribes who copied the original text in successive generations.  By the sixth century a.d. the scribes were succeeded by a group known as the Masoretes, who continued to preserve the sacred Scriptures for another five hundred years in a form known as the Masoretic Text.  Babylonia, Palestine, and Tiberias were the main centers of Masoretic activity;  but by the tenth century a.d. the Masoretes of Tiberias, led by the family of ben Asher, gained the ascendancy.  Through subsequent editions, the ben Asher text became in the twelfth century the only recognized form of the Hebrew Scriptures.
     Daniel Bomberg printed the first Rabbinic Bible in 1516–17;  that work was followed in 1524–25 by a second edition prepared by Jacob ben Chayyim and also published by Bomberg.  The text of ben Chayyim was adopted in most subsequent Hebrew Bibles, including those used by the King James translators.  The ben Chayyim text was also used for the first two editions of Rudolph Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica of 1906 and 1912.  In 1937 Paul Kahle published a third edition of Biblia Hebraica.  This edition was based on the oldest dated manuscript of the ben Asher text, the Leningrad Manuscript B19a (a.d. 1008), which Kahle regarded as superior to that used by ben Chayyim.
     For the New King James Version the text used was the 1967/1977 Stuttgart edition of the Biblia Hebraica, with frequent comparisons being made with the Bomberg edition of 1524–25.  The Septuagint (Greek) Version of the Old Testament and the Latin Vulgate also were consulted.  In addition to referring to a variety of ancient versions of the Hebrew Scriptures, the New King James Version draws on the resources of relevant manuscripts from the Dead Sea caves.  In the few places where the Hebrew was so obscure that the 1611 King James was compelled to follow one of the versions, but where information is now available to resolve the problems, the New King James Version follows the Hebrew text.

The New Testament Text
     There is more manuscript support for the New Testament than for any other body of ancient literature.  Over five thousand Greek, eight thousand Latin, and many more manuscripts in other languages attest the integrity of the New Testament.  There is only one basic New Testament used by Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox, by conservatives and liberals.  Minor variations in hand copying have appeared through the centuries, before mechanical printing began about a.d. 1450.
     Some variations exist in the spelling of Greek words, in word order, and in similar details.  These ordinarily do not show up in translation and do not affect the sense of the text in any way.
     Other manuscript differences such as omission or inclusion of a word or a clause, and two paragraphs in the Gospels, should not overshadow the overwhelming degree of agreement which exists among the ancient records.  Bible readers may be assured that the most important differences in English New Testaments of today are due, not to manuscript divergence, but to the way in which translators view the task of translation:  How literally should the text be rendered?  How does the translator view the matter of biblical inspiration?  Does the translator adopt a paraphrase when a literal rendering would be quite clear and more to the point?  The New King James Version follows the historic precedent of the Authorized Version in maintaining a literal approach to translation, except where the idiom of the original language cannot be translated directly into our tongue.
     The King James New Testament was based on the traditional text of the Greek- speaking churches, first published in 1516, and later called the Textus Receptus or Received Text.  Although based on the relatively few available manuscripts, these were representative of many more which existed at the time but only became known later.  In the late nineteenth century, B. Westcott and F. Hort taught that this text had been officially edited by the fourth-century church, but a total lack of historical evidence for this event has forced a revision of the theory.  It is now widely held that the Byzantine Text that largely supports the Textus Receptus has as much right as the Alexandrian or any other tradition to be weighed in determining the text of the New Testament.  Those readings in the Textus Receptus which have weak support are indicated in the side reference column as being opposed by both Critical and Majority Texts (see “Popup Notes”).
     Since the 1880s most contemporary translations of the New Testament have relied upon a relatively few manuscripts discovered chiefly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Such translations depend primarily on two manuscripts, Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, because of their greater age.  The Greek text obtained by using these sources and the related papyri (our most ancient manuscripts) is known as the Alexandrian Text.  However, some scholars have grounds for doubting the faithfulness of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, since they often disagree with one another, and Sinaiticus exhibits excessive omission.
     A third viewpoint of New Testament scholarship holds that the best text is based on the consensus of the majority of existing Greek manuscripts.  This text is called the Majority Text. Most of these manuscripts are in substantial agreement.  Even though many are late, and none is earlier than the fifth century, usually their readings are verified by papyri, ancient versions, quotations from the early church fathers, or a combination of these.  The Majority Text is similar to the Textus Receptus, but it corrects those readings which have little or no support in the Greek manuscript tradition.
     Today, scholars agree that the science of New Testament textual criticism is in a state of flux.  Very few scholars still favor the Textus Receptus as such, and then often for its historical prestige as the text of Luther, Calvin, Tyndale, and the King James Version.  For about a century most have followed a Critical Text (so called because it is edited according to specific principles of textual criticism) which depends heavily upon the Alexandrian type of text.  More recently many have abandoned this Critical Text (which is quite similar to the one edited by Westcott and Hort) for one that is more eclectic.  Finally, a small but growing number of scholars prefer the Majority Text, which is close to the traditional text except in the Revelation.
     In light of these facts, and also because the New King James Version is the fifth revision of a historic document translated from specific Greek texts, the editors decided to retain the traditional text in the body of the New Testament and to indicate major Critical and Majority Text variant readings in the popup notes.  Although these variations are duly indicated in the popup notes of the present edition, it is most important to emphasize that fully eighty-five percent of the New Testament text is the same in the Textus Receptus, the Alexandrian Text, and the Majority Text.

Popup Notes
     Significant explanatory notes, alternate translations, and cross-references, as well as New Testament citations of Old Testament passages, are supplied as popup notes.
     Important textual variants in the Old Testament are identified in a standard form.
     The textual notes in the present edition of the New Testament make no evaluation of readings, but do clearly indicate the manuscript sources of readings.  They objectively present facts without such tendentious remarks as “the best manuscripts omit” or “the most reliable manuscripts read.”  Such notes are value judgments that differ according to varying viewpoints on the text.  By giving a clearly defined set of variants the New King James Version benefits readers of all textual persuasions.
     Where significant variations occur in the New Testament Greek manuscripts, textual notes are classified as follows:

1. NU-Text
These variations from the traditional text generally represent the Alexandrian or Egyptian type of text described previously in “The New Testament Text.”  They are found in the Critical Text published in the twenty-seventh edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament (N) and in the United Bible Societies’ fourth edition (U), hence the acronym, “NU-Text.”
2. M-Text
This symbol indicates points of variation in the Majority Text from the traditional text, as also previously discussed in “The New Testament Text.”  It should be noted that M stands for whatever reading is printed in the published Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text, whether supported by overwhelming, strong, or only a divided majority textual tradition.

The textual notes reflect the scholarship of the past 150 years and will assist the reader to observe the variations between the different manuscript traditions of the New Testament.  Such information is generally not available in English translations of the New Testament.¹
     1.The New King James Version, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1998, c1982.

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      © David G. Churchill; used by permission. rev:060805-110827-161119
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