Some six years ago (and it seems like three times that, believe me), I noticed an unassuming septuagenarian in a church gathering. She was holding a parallel KJV-NKJV Bible. I had never seen one of those before. Now, I generally like parallel Bibles, but that particular pairing boggled the mind. No, actually it doesn’t. We humans do lots of silly things. The marketeers who conceived and then published this essentially useless parallel KJV-NKJV product must have been mere marketeers, not exegetes or literary interpretation experts or even pastors.
Some of the KJV’s poetic language is nice, and using it for comparison can be helpful. The KJV was actually great in its time, but that time is long past. These days, using the KJV and NKJV for study or interpretation (as opposed to poetic/oral reading here and there) is like choosing to walk along a river on huge boulders that block your way, then hopping over to a parallel set of boulders with a little groove etched in them, and essentially not knowing where you’re going or even where the river is anymore. Instead, we ought to choose a path beside a level stream, right there with the flow of the language.
Why not use versions that have incorporated changes in language in order to communicate in the present day? We ought not to use language that’s 400 years old willy-nilly or with blinders pulled over our eyes, such as with certain churches that proudly carry banners proclaiming they are KJV-only. And why not use versions that have employed recent archaeological finds?
I sometimes use a parallel “text comparison” function in my Bible software. There’s a parallel that I find helpful. I’ve chosen these versions for this purpose:
ASV 1901 | CSB | ESV | ISV | MSG | NET
NASB95 PARA | NEB | NIV2011 | NJB | NRSV | RSV
A couple of these are admittedly a bit unwieldy in certain respects, but most of them are decades old, not four centuries old. These translations may not be “all over the map” in some estimations, but I do find a helpful smattering here. Three or four mechanical ones, one loose paraphrase, some widely used standards, some middle-of-the-road, and a couple that are off the beaten path.
When I originally wrote about having seen the parallel KJV/NKJV, a distant relative took me to task, essentially saying it was none of my business which Bible someone read. I do affirm that any Bible is better that no Bible at all, but in this era, if there are multiple versions available to a person, the choice ought to be something other than the KJV. For those who feel they only want “literal” translations, I would say this: all translations make interpretive decisions. Every single one of them. No “perfect” “literal” translation exists; when one undertakes to compare different versions, the process tends to aid in interpretation.
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For the last 2-3 months, an opportunity has been brewing for me to facilitate/lead a small group. It soon became clear that it made sense for me to co-facilitate with Roy, and we are set to dig into the JohnGospel. Roy and I don’t know each other well, but every indication says that we could be friends. He reached to me, having noticed something I said in a meeting. In a sense, I think he was comparing my “take” on Bible study to that of the common person. Later, I reached to him, and we’ve talked a little. We both have a great interest in actually studying our scriptures instead of things superimposed on them . . . which brings me to more comparisons.
The acronym REACH serves as an outline for a “Bible study” that’s being used by other small groups in this program.
Receive the gospel
Enlist in the body
Abide in His presence
Contribute to His cause
Heed His commands
While the material found therein appears “scriptural” in that it refers to scripture “verses,” it is more theological than scripture-based. In other words, it starts with theological concepts or topics and looks for “scripture verses” to attach to them. That’s backwards. Christian clichés and fluffy discussion questions might on the surface be relational and might serve general, devotional purposes, but they don’t often pay the right kind of attention to scripture texts. REACH’s usage of scripture texts doesn’t compare well to responsible, contextual readings.
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As Paul wrote in the letter we call “2nd Corinthians,”¹ “You are our letter.” I don’t think Paul was making the point that living is more important than reading or studying texts, but he did seem to have the idea that the proof was in the pudding, i.e., whatever he had written to those Corinthian Christians should have been displayed in their lives. It still serves well for us to realize that we are living ambassadors, although we are not necessarily carrying any documents with us at all. We are “texts,” in a sense, and it’s good to ponder the potential comparison of (a) what people read in us and (b) what they read in scriptures.²
Leaders of established, Google-searchable (I can’t say “Yellow Pages” anymore, as I did here, nearly 8 years ago) churches almost always write, or at least reuse, texts about their identity and beliefs. The “what we believe” explanations from websites and brochures and pamphlets and signs do communicate things, enabling the shopper to “compare.”
Seen in the best possible light, the very best creeds strike me as a nod to what is expected of the creed-makers. Passersby/visitors/searchers have come to expect these “belief” statements, so councils and boards and pastorates compose creeds. I mean, if you can’t find “what they believe” on their website, maybe they’re not a real church, right? Para-church organizations also feel compelled to create such statements; the best ones are brief, simply pointing the reader to God, the scriptural texts, and possibly a basic philosophy or raison d’etre. Other creeds are verbose, appearing to offer unrequested rebuttals to yet other creeds. When a creedwriter reads something in another church creed, in a theology book, or on a website that he doesn’t agree with, he might feel the need to assert the contrary position—you know, for comparison’s sake.
I’ve never seen a single church creed-text that was above scrutiny, as I compare them to the messages contained in our scriptures. Personally, I become dejected at the suggestion that I must agree with a board or a pastor (who might be less informed or studied than I) on certain points. He might well be a better “living letter” than I am, but that doesn’t help me in dealing with a creed.
¹ Likely, “2nd Corinthians” would be at least the 3rd letter to them, because 1st Corinthians 5:9 refers to a previous letter.
² For a time in my life, I had these symbols on my cars. I realized that there were times my actions on the road didn’t speak well of inner peace or grace, or ambassadorship for the Lord, or following Him in any sense, so I did the easy thing: I stopped putting them on my car!