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The Primary Textbook:

The Bible

Which Version? Which Age?

by

Earl & Diane Rodd





Christian home educating families recognize the Bible as the first and most important textbook. Since our goal is to lead our children to an understanding of God's Word as taught by the Holy Spirit, we want to use a version of the Bible which they can understand and which is faithful to the Spirit of Truth. This booklet deals with the issues of language, differences in English translations, and readability with consideration of the growth in reading level as our children mature.







The Primary Textbook


The Bible
Which Version? Which Age?




Families Honoring Christ

"But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart
and a good conscience and a sincere faith."

Earl & Diane Rodd
6044 Pine Creek St. N.W. North Canton, OH 44720

Phone: (330) 305-9318

1st edition - July 1997

2nd edition - December 1997

Permission is granted to copy this article for personal sharing
but not for sale or other commercial purposes.



FHC is an Ohio based ministry providing information, encouragement
and fellowship to Christian families, natural and spiritual.




Unless otherwise noted, All Scripture quotations are from the

New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1988,

The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.



Additional copies of this booklet may be ordered from FHC by writing to the above address. The price is on the back cover of this booklet. Please add $1.50 for shipping regardless of the number of copies. A full listing of other books and booklets on related topics is also available from FHC at the above address.

The Primary Textbook


The Bible
Which Version? Which Age?

Introduction

Modern English speakers are abundantly blessed with a wealth of Bible translations for different reading levels and study needs. Compared to other ancient books, the Bible text has been passed down with miraculously little corruption! Therefore, excellent texts are available for translation into English and other languages.

Since all translators face severe challenges in communicating the Truth of God's Word into English and other languages, we encourage all readers to diligently take advantage of the many study aids available such as concordances, interlinear Bibles, and word study books.

The choice of a Bible translation is an important one, but we must remember that the least effective Bible is one which is never read.

Overview

Because the Bible is the first and most important textbook for educating children, we should apply rigorous methods to selection of Bible versions just as we carefully select other textbooks and materials. Bookstores contain many books on Bible translations. Some books, short and long, are academically sound, and some are examples of inferior and dubious scholarship. However, there are many other important issues in addition to selection of an "adult" Bible translation that need to be considered. In our discussion of the Bible as a textbook, we consider the various forms of the Bible shown in the list below. For each form, we briefly list selection factors. We can begin with children's Bible stories.

Children's Bible stories.
Accuracy, theology (children learn theology very early), vocabulary level, use of graphics (pictures, art) consistent with our beliefs.
Children's Bibles.
Accuracy, vocabulary, use of graphics.
Bible in other textbooks.
Accuracy, vocabulary, integration with subject matter.
Limited vocabulary translations.
Accuracy, vocabulary.
Full translations.
Accuracy of text, accuracy of translation, method of translation, language, vocabulary, availability.

Note: Many Christians use Bible commentaries in conjunction with their Bible as textbooks in home education and for personal study. Most of the issues which apply to Children's Bible stories apply to these commentaries as well.

The Issue of Language

Because there are so many translations of the Bible available in English, English speakers focus very heavily on debates about the finer points (important finer points!) of Bible translations. In this debate, we can lose sight of the first principle of Bible translations which is the value of having a Bible in one's native tongue that makes God's will, His written Word, understandable. Testimonies abound of the wonder of people when they first read God's Word in their own language. Servants of the Lord who have labored for long hard years in translating the Bible into a new written language have their reward when they see the joy of native speakers who suddenly understand God's love as they read about it in their mother tongue!

Those who are literate and fluent can easily fail to appreciate the difficulty of understanding what God is saying in His Word for a person reading a Bible which is not in his native tongue. When the Bible is far beyond a person's reading level or vocabulary, the language seems like a foreign language.

The issue of language does not mean that selection of Hebrew and Greek texts and methods of translation are not important, for they are. It does, however, mean that we need to remain sensitive to both the issue of language and the issue of translation method.

The Importance of Reading

A primary goal of education is to teach children to read so that they can read the Bible and receive instruction personally from the Holy Spirit. When parents combine the best methods of teaching reading with a Biblical emphasis, including learning Biblical vocabulary, many children are able to read an adult level Bible early in their lives. Even though actual age will vary considerably from child to child, many children can do this by the age of 8. The FHC booklet, The Importance of Teaching Phonics Biblically sets out a more complete study of this subject.

Our discussions of Bible stories, limited vocabulary Bibles etc. in this booklet are not meant to provide an excuse to delay proper instruction in reading the English language. These tools are for use with children who cannot yet read at all or who cannot yet read an adult level Bibles with good comprehension (e.g. The New American Standard Bible is 12th grade reading level - many students can comprehend it well by age 10 and can read it with assistance, such as in family devotions by age 8 or as dictation practice, even earlier, around age 6).

Some families choose to develop skills in reading the 17th century English of the King James Bible. We have not chosen this path because, in our opinion, the skill does not have general applicability to other areas of life for most students.

Reading the Bible

When a Bible, no matter how good the quality of translation, sits on a shelf unread, the owner is NOT edified by God's Word. Furthermore, one who chooses the sin of unbelief rather than salvation is not saved by the quality of the translation he has read. King James himself is an example. He was trained in Hebrew and Greek and in the Wycliffe and Tyndale Bibles, predecessors to what is now known as the "King James Version." Yet, King James, a homosexual, was a wicked, selfish king who distorted Bible verses as a way to establish his philosophy of the King as God to the people. He would have read the new translation (The King James Version) after its completion but did not repent of his unbelief.
Note: For an extensive biography of King James I, see the Book, James I: The King as Fool by Otto Scott, available from Ross House Books, PO Box 67, Vallencito, CA, 95251.

Forms of Bibles

Now that we have established several basic principles, we will turn to a discussion of the various forms of the Bible available to English speaking Christian home educating families.

Children's Bible Stories

Children's Bible stories can be an important way to begin a life long habit of regular Bible reading. At their best, children's Bible stories provide young children with a thorough knowledge of the history (stories) in the Bible. As Paul says in Corinthians, the stories are there for examples to us:

I Corinthians 10:11
11. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

Thus they are very valuable.

At their worst, children's Bible stories are blatantly unfaithful to the Spirit of Truth, and some are little more than pretty pictures with half-truths. Writers of Bible stories often seem compelled to alter the truth. Perhaps some writers have never read the Bible and write from movies they have seen! Others may feel children are too immature to handle the reality contained within the Bible. God's Word declares otherwise.

II Timothy 3:16
16. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;

We have taken some Bible story books and crossed out whole paragraphs and written in what the Bible actually says!

Excessive use of pictures can lead children, who are very impressionable, to believe theological aberrations based upon an artist's misconceptions.

Children's Bibles

Children's Bibles more closely follow the whole Bible than Bible story books do. The purpose of these Bibles is to provide more substantial content than Bible story books while maintaining understandability for younger children. These translations can allow younger children to participate in family Bible reading earlier in life.

Bible in Other Textbooks

Bible portions are included in some reading textbooks. We especially like Rod & Staff readers because of the faithful use of Bible passages as reading practice. This teaches children as soon as they learn to read that the Bible is an integral part of education. Furthermore, children using these books will have a sound knowledge of the major Bible portions by grade 4 level.

Limited Vocabulary Bibles

We place limited vocabulary Bibles into a separate category from full translations because the goals of the translation are different and the method of translating is therefore necessarily different. We can easily forget that some groups of people have limited vocabularies. To them, the common English translations are not their native tongue. Such people include children, as well as adults, who have never learned to read well. A gradual progression of limited vocabulary Bibles until a mature reading level is reached has sometimes been necessary for accurate comprehension. Thus, there is a place for limited vocabulary Bibles. Examples of such Bibles are the modern translation published by the American Bible Society (published with different names - the original was called the Good News Bible ) and the New Life Bible . These translations are sometimes criticized for their failure to use certain theological key words, but such criticism misses the point of the translation. We especially like the New Life Bible because it is VERY clear and because it contains a glossary in the back which gives a list of limited vocabulary phrases consistently used for different words such as justified ("made right with God") or propitiation ("paid for our sins with His own blood").

We have had the experience of seeing the Bible come to life for children with limited educational backgrounds when we used the Good News Bible . Yes, there are limitations to such translations, but there are also severe limitations to a Bible translation which is beyond the reader's reading level!

For our children, we can accelerate their ability to read a full vocabulary Bible by using the best methods of teaching reading and by using the Bible regularly so that they learn the vocabulary most often used in the Bible.

Any of us with an advanced reading level (e.g. 12th grade+) can read full translations (e.g. NASB, NKJV, NIV) without difficulty caused by reading level. We find it difficult to appreciate the problems presented by this reading level to someone, for example, with a 6th grade reading level. To us, a translation with a 12th grade reading level and one with a 6th grade reading level are equally easy to read. However, to someone with a 6th grade reading level, the difference is very real.

Full Translations

In English, full translations include Bibles translated from Hebrew and Greek manuscripts and Bibles translated from other English translations (e.g. The Living Bible - a paraphrase). While in English we have a wealth of translations from Hebrew and Greek, people in other language groups often do not. While we may properly prefer a translation from original languages, a member of some other language group may be delighted to have a translation into his own tongue which came from an English translation rather than from the Hebrew and Greek text.

Typically, Wycliffe Bible translators and other missionary translators translate from English focusing their efforts on understanding the language they are translating into. They do try to draw on their Bible training, which includes teaching on the subtleties of Hebrew and Greek meanings, to faithfully communicate the sense of the passage. A literal translation is not always accurate. For example, take the phrase "washes whiter than snow" referring to cleansing from sin. For a tropical language group, there may not be a word for snow. Perhaps, the color white has an evil connotation in the language. These are real examples which have challenged missionary translators to find how to express the truth of the Word in the native language as the Holy Spirit guides them through the cultural and theological discrepancies.

In order to understand these issues, we recommend that families read articles or books by missionaries who have performed translation work. The challenge, expressed by Charles Long in his book, From Vietnam With Love was to make the translation "speak Jarai", Jarai being the name of the language. (This excellent book is published by Christian Publications. Charles Long now pastors a church in Raleigh, North Carolina where we were members some years ago.)

In the next section, we will deal with several separate issues.

  1. Hebrew and Greek manuscript selection. In some cases, among the various ancient Hebrew and Greek versions available, there are differences. The translator must decide which version he believes is most faithful to the original inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Translation method and goals.
  3. The extent to which the translation is in the "native tongue" of various potential readers.

Manuscripts

The selection of Hebrew and Greek manuscripts to use in translating the Bible to English requires extensive knowledge of those languages as well as archaeology and history. Thus, most of us must read the opinions of scholars on this subject and decide "Whom will we trust?"

Thankfully, the Bible has been better preserved in original languages than any other ancient writing! There are 100s if not 1000s of fragments of various parts of the New Testament dating to the 3rd and 4th centuries. Some portions of the Old Testament (e.g. Dead Sea Scrolls) date to before the time of Christ. Most other ancient writings are based on small numbers of copies (sometimes a single copy) from the 9th century or later.

We will not discuss Hebrew manuscripts in detail. Numerous books are available for the serious student. Most debate in contemporary English speaking Christian circles revolves around the New Testament. There are two major sets of manuscripts found in two different geographic areas. The chart below provides an abbreviated comparison of important differences.

旼컴컴컴컴컴쩡컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴커 \ MANUSCRIPT NAME \ 냐컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴캑 쿑actor\ 쿥ESTERN 쿞OUTHERN \ "RECEIVED TEXT" "ALEXANDRIAN" \ "TEXTUS RECEPTUS" 쳐컴컴컴컴컴탠컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴탠컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴캑 쿒eography 쿎onstantinople 쿌lexandria (Western Turkey) (Northern Egypt) 쳐컴컴컴컴컴탠컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴탠컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴캑 쿥hy Some 쿞cholars through 쿚ldest texts (1) 쿞cholars 쿪ges used these. 쿛refer 쳐컴컴컴컴컴탠컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴탠컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴캑 쿥hat Some 쿙ot oldest. 쿥estcott and Hort, (2) 쿞cholars 쿏o not include 쿾rimary scholars in 쿏on't Like 쿹atest 퀃he 1800s, of 쿪rcheological 쿭ubious character. 쿭iscoveries. 쳐컴컴컴컴컴탠컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴탠컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴캑 쿟ranslation쿖ing James Ver(3)쿙ew American 쿙ew King James Standard (4) (5) 쿙ew English 쿙ew International 쿌mplified etc. 읕컴컴컴컴컴좔컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴좔컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴컴켸
Note: (1) Even though the Western texts include the oldest texts known, there is debate over whether the oldest are more faithful to the original. Many manuscripts are found in what are probably the "garbage" cans of synagogues (remember that early Christian congregations were often Jews). The questions arise, "Are these manuscripts so well preserved because they were inferior copies and therefore not worn out from use?" Or perhaps, "Were these excellent versions thrown out by persecutors?"
Note: (2) Westcott and Hort were two scholars who were primary researchers in putting together the southern texts. The character of these men has been called into question by many writers. If they were the only men to ever support the work on the southern texts, we would have reason to question the use of these texts. However, other leading scholars who are strong committed Christians have also supported the southern texts as better representing the true original text.
Note: (3) The King James Bible, completed in 1611, was compiled by a group of largely Puritan scholars. Thankfully, the immoral King James had little to do with the translation even though he "authorized" the work. This Bible is based largely on the work of Wycliffe and then Tyndale, men who risked their lives to put the Bible into the native tongue of English speaking people at that point in history. Prior to these English translations, the Bible used in England was not Greek or Hebrew but Latin, a language only some Catholic priests and the well educated could understand.
Note: (4) The New American Standard Bible was originally translated from the Southern texts. However, the Lockman Foundation, who sponsored the translation, sought to include the Western text version in marginal notes. Passages which are in only one version are included in the text with a footnote indicating that the passage is not in all texts.
Note: (5) The New King James Version, as the title indicates, is an attempt to use the same manuscripts and translation principles as the original King James Version. The "New" refers to use of modern English words and grammar and exploitation of current scholarship concerning the meanings of some difficult words.

Whole books have been written on the differences in these texts. The differences are of two kinds:

  1. Minor differences in words in a sentence. There are about 200 "important" such differences. Some writers maintain that there are consistent theological differences in these differences. We disagree. Earl carefully worked through all 200 differences using the King James Bible and New American Standard Bible. The list came from a popular writer on the subject and was provided by a pastor. Earl discovered that:
  2. Passages missing from one manuscript. For example, the ending of Mark and the story of the woman caught in adultery are not in all manuscripts. Nearly all translations provide a marginal note explaining this.

We are aware that men we respect as Christians seeking the truth disagree on which texts are the better. Thus we praise God for how minor the differences truly are. We suggest that families possess different translations and use them for study rather than reading books that cast doubt and suspicion towards God's promise to watch over His word.

Translation Methods and Goals.

There are three major methods of translation. They are:

  1. Paraphrase. Aims for readability at the expense of usability to carefully compare word usage and details of passages. Paraphrasing is also susceptible to bias according to the theology of the translator. Examples: Living Bible.
  2. Sentence or thought translation. In this method, each sentence or thought is translated as a whole. The goal is providing good English sentence structure and language flow while faithfully preserving the meaning. This method is also susceptible to bias according to the theology of the translator. It also is limited in usability for careful word study and passage comparison. Examples: New International, New English, Good News Bible (which is intentionally limited in vocabulary to a 6th grade reading level), Phillips.
  3. Word by Word translation. Aims for careful, precise translation suitable for Bible word study and passage comparison. This method can produce awkward English. Examples: King James and New King James, New American Standard.

Note: The Amplified Bible is in a separate category and is unique. The Amplified Bible is essentially the New American Standard Bible with many extra synonyms provided in parenthesis to help the reader understand the subtleties of the Hebrew and Greek words.

Many who read only from the King James Version also rely heavily on the Amplified Bible for study and clarification.

Any translation presents many challenges. If we understand some of the challenges, we can better understand a personal preference for a particular translation. Particular challenges include:

Additional Notes (Imbedded Commentaries)

While not part of the translation, some Bibles come with extensive notes added. The Geneva Bible was perhaps the first to contain imbedded doctrinal commentary (see note). The Schofield Bible is a widely used example. The Open Bible is a modern example. These imbedded commentaries are subject to the same limitations as other commentaries - they are works of men. Commentaries right in the Bible itself places a "man and his teaching" between the reader and the Holy Spirit who is The Teacher and Guide into all Truth.

Wycliffe Bible Translators have set a standard that they do not include imbedded commentaries. Their goal is to accurately translate the Scripture and then allow the Holy Spirit to teach the heart of each reader.
Note: Some authors have written that one thing which motivated King James to authorize the new translation was his dislike for the commentaries in the Geneva Bible which provided justification for subjects to disobey the King.

Readability and "Native Tongue".

The ability to understand the Bible is obviously crucial! We all need to be compassionate in understanding the difficulty another person has in understanding the Bible when it is not in his native tongue and/or beyond his reading level.

Understandability is affected by several factors:

  1. The extent to which the text is the "native tongue" of the reader with respect to the base language (e.g. English versus Spanish) and dialect (sub- groups of a language).
  2. The level of vocabulary. Are the words within the speaking and reading vocabulary of the reader?
  3. Sentence length and complexity.
  4. Sentence structure and word order. This is really an aspect of dialect ("native tongue").

Some authors have published comparisons of "reading" levels of different translations. Such reading level comparisons must be examined carefully. For example, if the measurement technique measures only sentence length and word length (a common technique), care must be taken to consider other factors such as vocabulary. For example, measuring only sentence and word length might show that a Bible in Spanish is easier to read than a modern English Bible!

Specific Difficulties in Language

This section describes some specific difficulties in the language of the King James Bible. These comments are provided as examples of challenges inherent in Bible translation and language. These comments are not meant to prove that one translation is "better" than another. It is a straightforward task to find the translation difficulties in any translation. Finding problems in one translation does not, however, prove that some other translation is free of problems! We have read books and articles making convincing condemnations of various modern translations. We have also read equally convincing condemnations of the King James Version. Remember the Proverb:

Proverbs 18:17
17. The first to plead his case seems right,
Until another comes and examines him.

  1. Some words have changed meanings or are little known. Examples are:
  2. Some passages have very difficult syntax for modern English speakers. Examples are:
  3. Doctrine can be corrupted by use of archaic word meaning. The worst example we know of is the doctrine of healing. The King James uses the English word "grief" in Isaiah 54 :4. The Hebrew word is the common word for "sick" and is translated "sick" many other places. This problem has been copied in virtually all modern translations.
  4. Miscellaneous challenges. All translators must decide how to approach difficult questions. Each translation has its strengths and weaknesses. One example is the treatment of two Greek words sometimes called "hell". According to Vincent's Word Study, (published in the 1800s) Vol I, p40, the KJV does not distinguish between Gehenna and Hades. Gehenna is associated with fire, and Hades is the place of departed spirits regardless of moral condition.

Our Opinions

We use the following:

Because the King James Version has many strong points and because many English speaking Christians use it, we feel we should offer some comments on why we do not use it. Again, these may be more or less applicable to you or your family.

We have avoided the New International Version because, in our view, it often seems willing to sacrifice faithfulness to the original languages to conformity to modern western culture. The NIV has the goal of using modern English, which lacks ways to express concepts not prevalent in our culture. The language often flows very well, but in some instances, the impact of the language is softened. One example is the use of another word for "hosts" as in "Lord of Hosts." The Hebrew word is a military word meaning "army". In the NIV, this is more often translated "God Almighty" which softens the meaning (e.g. Psa 84 :8, II Sam 6 :2, II Sam 7 :26).

Conclusion

We feel that many Christians are close to paranoia over Bible translations and the enemy has used these differences to divide, devour, and destroy relationships within the Body of Christ. This ought not to be. This fear causes accusations, innuendo, slander and lies to abound because there is no sure foundation of faith in the words of Jesus who said,

John 14:16
16. "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever;
17. that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

The Holy Spirit is the One who God has designated on earth as the Guide into all truth. We continue to believe that God is watching over every translation and will expose those which are blatantly deceptive. We have heard of Jehovah Witnesses who came to salvation while reading their "New World" translation (generally a reasonable modern translation except for several notable alterations, which are clearly marked, designed to conform the Bible to their doctrine). We have seen new converts "outgrow" a simpler translation when there were ready to handle a more mature language style and vocabulary.

Translations that are trendy, worldly and erroneous will not replace those that are accurate and truthful. Every new translation causes uproar and if the uproar is inspired by the Holy Spirit, that translation will not be profitable. There have often been erroneous and even blasphemous translations. The Gospel According to Thomas has been around for over a thousand years but very few believe it contains the truth. The Catholic Church inserted the Apocrypha (extra books) as inspired, but the Jewish canon never included these books as inspired. Thus most students of the Bible see them as history books like Josephus or Cato but are not inspired or infallible. Thomas Jefferson's translation does not impress many because of its omissions are blatant and obvious. It is the role of the Holy Spirit to guide us into Truth. When we rely upon Him, He will be faithful to keep us sound in faith and in love.

John 16:12
12. "I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
13. "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.

Next Steps - Practical Pursuit

Our first step is to submit ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ so that we can start our pursuit of the Bible with a renewed spirit full of faith. We then submit our time and energy to the reading and study of the Word of God believing that the Holy Spirit will be our teacher and that the Bible prophecy "His laws will be written on our hearts" will be truly fulfilled in us. At this point, we can consider the issues raised in this booklet and determine which Bibles we will use for our children and ourselves.

The next step for personal study and in teaching our children is using a concordance and word study books to search out the truth of the Bible.

The third step may include books on Biblical Culture, but these must be used with caution. Commentaries and books on Biblical culture are heavily dependent upon the author's personal view of theology and doctrine and may contradict what the Holy Spirit is trying to teach.

I Timothy 1:5
5. But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

II Timothy 2:15
15. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

Copyright by Earl & Diane Rodd