Recommended Bible Translations for Historical Study

Solid scholarship backs up the latest Bible translations

The Biblical World
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Fortunately for anyone who loves biblical history, libraries and bookstores have plenty of Bible translations suitable for study, along with a wealth of other resources to augment and explain biblical accounts. Here are some recommendations for beginning texts:

  • The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, New Revised Standard Version, Third Edition (Oxford University Press, 2001). ISBN-10: 019528478X ISBN-13: 978-0195284782."The Annotated," as it's known to scholars and readers alike, is the reigning monarch of scholarly Bible translations. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) was prepared by an editorial board of some of the world's best biblical scholars and many of the errors of previous translations were corrected. The latest Oxford Annotated edition was updated with some 40 maps and diagrams that line up with the text to which they refer, giving readers images as well as words. An updated index is keyed to the 3rd edition's page numbers rather than to its annotations, which makes it immensely easier for the reader to locate text and study materials.
    • Readers should be aware that the NRSV often is criticized by evangelical scholars for its alleged "liberal" bent, particularly its gender-inclusive language. Furthermore, the NRSV is a Bible in the Protestant tradition, even though it includes apocryphal texts not present in other translations (see NIV).
  • The Jewish Study Bible, Featuring the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation (Oxford University Press 2004). ISBN-10: 0195297512, ISBN-13: 978-0195297515.Many Christians might question why they'd need a Jewish Bible as well as a Christian translation. The answer is simple: a Jewish Bible presents the Hebrew scriptures in their traditional sequence: Torah (the Law, also known as the five books of Moses); Nevi'im (the prophets); and Ketuvim (the writings). In addition, from a historical study aspect, this edition provides profound insight into the way that Jewish scholars have interpreted their scriptures down through the centuries. Also included are some two dozen essays on interpreting the Jewish Bible, particularly how the scriptures have been used during various periods of Jewish history.
    • While not necessarily germane to biblical history, this volume also reviews Jewish mystical and philosophical traditions, which can have an effect on historical events.
  • NIV Bible (The New International Version) (Zondervan, 2010) ISBN-10: 0310949858, ISBN-13: 978-0310949855.The New International translation of the Bible had its genesis in the Revised Standard Version, the earlier translation of today's New Revised Standard Version. As mentioned earlier, evangelical Protestants were dissatisfied with the RSV because it introduced new translations that didn't follow evangelical traditions. For example, Isaiah 7:14, often was translated from Hebrew as "a virgin shall conceive and bear a son," which Christians took as a prophecy of Jesus' coming. However, the RSV and subsequent NRSV both translate the passage as "a young woman shall conceive and bear a son," which evangelicals see as denying the Christian doctrine of Jesus' virgin birth. Aside from the theological debate, the NIV, which is the best-selling Bible version today, uses older New Testament texts in Greek just as the RSV and NRSV do, making it a useful translation for biblical history provided one remains aware of its evangelical bias. In addition, the NIV leaves out the Apocrypha, books written between the eras of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament that were not included in the official canon of the Christian Bible. The apocryphal texts have much of historical interest, particularly the accounts of the Maccabean revolts against the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, that led to the establishment of the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty
  • The Oxford Catholic Study Bible Second Edition (Oxford University Press 2006) ISBN-10: 0195282809, ISBN-13: 978-0195282801.This Bible, a New American Bible (NAB) translation, offers a frame of reference consistent with the Catholic faith. The volume contains a highly praised Reading Guide, along with margin notes, a 15-page glossary, 32 pages of maps and articles on biblical history and archaeology, along with essays on how the Catholic Church interprets the Bible, the challenges of biblical translation and an index to study materials.
    • In addition to credible translations of the Christian and Jewish Bibles, additional resources such as the following have proved helpful:
  • The Biblical World: An Illustrated Atlas, edited by Jeane-Pierre Isbouts; (The National Geographic Society, 2007) ISBN 978-1426201387.As expected from NatGeo, this stunning coffee-table volume is bursting with text, maps, illustrations, photographs, artworks and pictures of artifacts, along with timelines to help place events and trace cultural developments. Biblical history fans could spend hours poring over its pages.
  • The Harper Collins Visual Guide to the New Testament, edited by Jonathan L. Reed; (HarperOne, 2007) ISBN 978-0060842499.Reed is one of the foremost world authorities on early Christian history. This and his earlier volume, Excavating Jesus (see below), are crucial interpretative resources for biblical history study.
  • Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts, by John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed; (HarperOne 2001), ISBN 978-0060616342.In this intriguing text, Reed the archaeologist joins Crossan the biblical scholar to evaluate and explain the significance of what they consider the 10 most important archaeological finds of biblical history. Interestingly, they start with a controversial find, the James Ossuary, which claims to be the first artifact to document the historical existence of Jesus Christ.


Part I: Problems of Bible Translation

You Respond: How Do You Decide Which Bible Translation to Use

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Your Citation
Astle, Cynthia. "Recommended Bible Translations for Historical Study." Learn Religions, Aug. 26, 2020, Astle, Cynthia. (2020, August 26). Recommended Bible Translations for Historical Study. Retrieved from Astle, Cynthia. "Recommended Bible Translations for Historical Study." Learn Religions. (accessed May 29, 2023).