Four Hundred Years Later: The Bible Isn’t What It Used to Be

Steve Young. Choice. Volume 49, Issue 4. December 2011.

The year 2011 represents the four-hundredth anniversary of the appearance of the King James translation of the Bible-an occasion marked by scholars, publishers, and librarians. But the notion of the Bible as a single book for all times and all places is an illusion, as a trip to any bookstore or library quickly reveals. As if there were not enough choices already, the year has occasioned the appearance of new editions, translations, primary scholarly texts, commentaries on the Bible, and closely related documents. This outpouring serves as a timely reminder for academic librarians to assess their collections. While the sheer numbers of Bibles and books examining the Bible are overwhelming, this review looks at what may be considered essential primary biblical and closely related texts, seeking to focus on academic rather than devotional ones. Commentaries and multivolume sets (such as the Anchor Bible or the New Interpreters Bible) are excluded. This review assumes that well-defined academic collections contain a variety of scriptural translations, academically oriented study Bibles, original language texts, and closely related ancient nonbiblical texts.


Readers should note that a number of Bible translations are marketed by multiple publishers and in a great variety of editions. The “Works Cited” suggests a principal marketer of an edition suitable for academic libraries.

The King James Version

The Bible, having been written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and (for Christian scriptures) Greek, has a long history of being translated into other languages, beginning with the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew texts commonly known as the Septuagint, abbreviated LXX, or the Old Greek.

English translations are commonly referred to by a veritable alphabet soup of initials: the King James Version is thus known as the KJV (or oftener in Britain as the KJB or AV, for Authorized Version). The King James or Authorized Version of the Bible was the dominant English translation from 1660 until recently (the New International Version has been outselling the KJV since the 1980s), but just what are we referring to when we mention the King James Bible? A nineteenth-century examination by the American Bible Society found 24,000 differences among four copies of the King James Bible, the results of printer’s errors and corrections, and ongoing editorial adjustments in wording, spelling, grammar and punctuation. The standard KJV text is a version of the Blayney text of 1769. While the King James Bible is based on underlying texts and scholarship that are four hundred years old, it is still an essential source for understanding the context of the three centuries in which it powerfully shaped culture in the English-speaking world. The best contemporary form of the King James text is that of David Norton’s edited The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible with the Apocrypha, which contains updated spelling and punctuation, and has adopted the paragraph format (instead of each verse starting on a new line) mentioned in the title. However, many will be disappointed by the decision not to italicize English words that do not correspond to Greek and Hebrew words. The Apocrypha (those Greek books not part of the Protestant Old Testament, but included as deuterocanonical in the Catholic Old Testament) and the translator’s marginal notations are included-though both are rarely included in King James Bibles anymore. This text, including an introduction and notes by editor David Norton (English, Victoria Univ., NZ), but minus the marginal notes, serves as the text for the Penguin Classics edition, The Bible: King James Version with the Apocrypha. The original KJV chapter summaries are available only in reprinted editions of the 1611 text reset in roman type in 1833, and reproduced by Hendrickson (Holy Bible: 1611 Edition: King James Version); by Thomas Nelson (The Holy Bible: 1611 Edition: King James Version: A Word-for-Word Reprint of the First Edition of the Authorized Version Presented in Roman Letters for Easy Reading and Comparison with Subsequent Editions); and, with a commemorative essay and list of errata by the University of Leicester’s Gordon Campbell, Oxford University Press (King James Bible). (Elegant but expensive facsimiles of a number of early printed Bibles are available via an antiquarian Bible vendor at High-Quality Facsimile Reproductions.) Of the three Bibles, the Oxford is preferred: the large format (11.3 by 9.1 inches-still smaller than the approximately 15.5 by 11 inches of the original folio edition) makes the text much more legible; in the Hendrickson and Nelson editions, which are smaller, the preliminary materials in black letter are almost unreadable.

Other Translations

By 1660 the King James Bible had squeezed out the other English translations of its day, a number of which are readily available in reproductions, or modern editions, or online. Since the Second World War, the number of English Bible translations has proliferated-even more so with the advent of computer technologies that have made both translation and book production much less labor intensive. New translations appear all the time (at the time this essay was written, at least two translations were slated to appear in 2011, as well as two major revisions of existing translations: the New American Bible-NAB-and the New International Version-NIV). Each religious tradition has its favored translations, and understandings of biblical scholarship and translation philosophies vary even within scholarly circles. Nonetheless, a number of translations stand out based on their general acceptance.

Bibles, whether they are bare translations or annotated editions, vary in their contents. In general, the contents are determined by whether they are produced for Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Jewish communities. All Bibles contain the Jewish scriptures of the Hebrew Bible (known to Jews by the Hebrew acronym Tanakh), but the Christian ordering of the biblical books differs. Christian Bibles refer to the Jewish scriptures as the Old Testament, and conclude with a prophecy of the coming Messiah, whereas the Jewish Bible ends with the edict allowing the Babylonian exiles to return to the land of Judah. Among the major Christian traditions, all Christian Bibles also include the New Testament (originally written in Greek), but differ somewhat in the contents included in the Old Testament. Catholic scriptures include the deuterocanonical books, which Protestants call the Apocrypha. These books were part of the Septuagint, which became the Bible of early Greek-speaking Christians, but they were not included in the canon of Rabbinic Judaism. Orthodox churches recognize a slightly larger deuterocanon than Catholics. These Orthodox additions are included in the “expanded Apocrypha” included in scholarly editions of The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha: Revised Standard Version, Containing the Second Edition of the New Testament and an Expanded Edition of the Apocrypha (1977), edited by Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger, and The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books: New Revised Standard Version (1989). These are sometimes called “ecumenical Bibles.” (This article will refer to the books not included in Protestant canons as Apocrypha merely for brevity’s sake, not to make a judgment about their scriptural character). What follows are some of the most significant translations among the various faith traditions.

Mainline Protestant Translations

The previously mentioned 1989 Holy Bible, known as the NRSV, is the direct successor of American revisions of the King James Bible, particularly the 1952 Revised Standard Version (RSV), titled The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version Containing the Old and New Testaments, Translated from the Original Tongues. Both the RSV and NRSV are copyrighted to the National Council of Churches, and have been the Bibles most common among mainline Protestant (that is, the “historic” denominations, as distinct from more recent twentieth-century Evangelical) denominations. The NRSV also tends to be the preferred translation among academics in public colleges and universities. Its translation philosophy was to produce a translation “as literal as possible, as free as necessary.” The RSV rankled conservatives in the 1950s by blurring the connections between Old Testament “prophecies” and their New Testament “fulfillments.” Likewise, the NRSV was unsettling to many Evangelicals in its translators’ decision to translate passages in ways that were “gender inclusive” when appropriate. Thus, for example, “brothers” is often translated “brothers and sisters” when the translators judge the author to be addressing both men and women, with a footnote indicating the Greek word is “brother.” The translation team included Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish scholars, and the NRSV is available in editions for Protestants, Catholics, and “with the Apocrypha” (i.e., the expanded Apocrypha/deuterocanonical books grouped separately from the Protestant Old Testament, usually between the testaments). Other translations popular in mainline denomination circles include the New International Version (NIV) (see below); and occasionally The Revised English Bible, the British update of The New English Bible with the Apocrypha, the latter of which is appreciated for its literary style. A new translation by primarily mainline scholars, as well as a handful of Catholic and Jewish translators, is the Common English Bible (CEB).

Evangelical Translations

New International Version (NIV) and New English Translation (NET)

Evangelical distrust of the Revised Standard translation led an Evangelical counterpart of the American Bible Society, the International Bible Society, to sponsor an Evangelical translation, The Holy Bible: New International Version, Containing the Old Testament and the New Testament, which appeared in 1978. Known as the NIV, this translation was the first to outsell the King James Version, and has become a standard among evangelical Christians. The 2005 revision, titled The Bible: Timeless Truth in Today’s Language: Today’s New International Version, and marketed as the TNIV, followed the consensus of recent translation theory on inclusive language, and was widely criticized by segments of the Evangelical market for capitulating to political correctness. However, the translation itself has received high marks among many Evangelical scholars for its clarity and accuracy. Nonetheless, in response to this criticism, the major update released earlier this year, Holy Bible: New International Version, backtracks somewhat on the inclusive language. Furthermore, with the 2011 revision, the TNIV terminology will be discontinued, and no market distinction will be made between the old NIV and the 2011 NIV. (At present, some Web sites that permit viewers to compare multiple translations, such as, are making available all three texts of the NIV. Whether that will continue remains to be seen.) While esteemed in Evangelical circles, and commonly used in mainline traditions as well, the Apocrypha is unavailable in NIV Bibles, which makes them less suitable as a choice for academics who include apocryphal materials in their courses and research. Nonetheless, many quality commentaries and scholarly materials depend upon the NIV as the translation of reference.

The Net Bible: A New Approach to Translation, Thoroughly Documented with 60,932 Notes is an interesting scholarly work that grew out of an informal meeting of conservative scholars at the Society of Biblical Literature in 1995. Many of this Bible’s translators are associated with Dallas Theological Seminary, a fundamentalist Evangelical school noted for its dispensationalist theology. The translators sought to take advantage of the capability the Internet affords to disperse and annotate the biblical text. They have made their translation freely available online at The translation’s nearly 61,000 notes explain the choices the translators had to make in their particular renderings of the original language text. Many of the translators’ notes are on the order of, for example, eliminating the word “and” in conformity with the conventions of modern English usage. But other notes are more substantial: text critical notes explain manuscript variations or conjectural emendations of the text, whereas study notes offer explanations of contextual, theological, or cultural factors in the text, or in interpretations of the passage. This makes for a transparency about the translation process that is unusual among Bible translations. While Greek and Hebrew words are given in the notes, they are transliterated as well, so the text is accessible to those unfamiliar with biblical languages. The translations themselves vary in literary quality but are willing to be distinctive in word choice: sometimes they come off as fresh, sometimes as clunky. The decision to begin translating the Apocrypha is a welcome one, although only a few of the shorter apocryphal texts were available at the time this essay was written. The included maps are also distinctive: they consist of labeled, full-color satellite images (which, of course, show contemporary topography, not that of biblical times).

New King James Version (NKJV), New Living Translation (NLT), and English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible: The New King James Version, Containing the Old and New Testaments appeared in 1982 as an updating into contemporary English but was conservative in the kinds of changes it made to the King James text. In particular, this translation keeps the Greek text that was used by the King James translators in the seventeenth century as their preferred text for the New Testament. Thus, the textual New Testament scholarship of the last four hundred years is relegated to the footnotes. This has led to its adoption by some fundamentalists and Evangelicals who are suspicious of modern eclectic texts. (An eclectic text is a text of the New Testament Greek that does not conform to any actually existing manuscript. Instead, editors make judgments on a case-by-case basis as to what the best reading is for a particular passage to determine what the original Greek may have been.) Because this text is closer to what text critics call the Byzantine textual tradition, it has been adopted in Eastern Orthodox circles; for example, it serves as the text in The Orthodox Study Bible (see below).

Another translation of note is the 1996 Holy Bible: New Living Translation, a completely new translation financed by profits from Kenneth Taylor’s The Living Bible of the 1970s. This has gained a strong foothold among nondenominational churches, and illustrates the fruitfulness of “functional equivalence” (also called “dynamic equivalence”) translations, i.e., those that seek to translate “thought for thought” rather than “word for word” (i.e., “formal equivalence”). The distinction between functional and formal equivalence in today’s translation practice is one wherein a translation falls on a spectrum, rather than being a matter of either/or. Such functional approaches to translation are generally useful, but have limited usefulness in academic settings. Because they try to make clear to modern readers the meaning of the text, such translations tend to decide for readers what the meaning of obscure or multivalent texts is. Thus they often reveal the theological and other interpretive commitments of the translators.

In contrast to the dynamic equivalence of the New Living Translation, Evangelicals in mainline denominations have maintained a fondness for the Revised Standard Version, and others have sought a more literal translation than the NIV. Out of this need, the Holy Bible: English Standard Version of 2001 appeared as a renovation based on the 1971 second edition of the Revised Standard Version, titled The Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments: Revised Standard Version. The nicely designed ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version has gained ground among Evangelical seminaries since its appearance in 2008. Oxford University Press published an ESV text titled The English Standard Version Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with Apocrypha in 2009. Like some of the NRSV Apocrypha, it is largely an updating of the RSV expanded Apocrypha.

Catholic Translations

The New American Bible is the official Catholic modern English translation produced in the wake of the Second Vatican Council; it appeared in 1970. The year 2011 marks the appearance of the revised edition (NAB-RE), New American Bible: Translated from the Original Languages with Critical Use of All the Ancient Sources. News accounts have indicated that the revised edition replaces “booty” with “spoils,” thus ending inquiries by mischievous pupils in Catholic schools as to whether the Israelites ever shook their plunder after battle. The NAB is notable for its book introductions and textual annotations, making it an inexpensive stand-in for an annotated study Bible. While Catholic doctrine guides the content of some of the notations, the scholarship is firmly in the camp of historical-critical methodology. Like the Revised English Bible, The New Jerusalem Bible of 1985 has impressed many with its readability and literary style. (J. R. R. Tolkien was among the editors of the original The Jerusalem Bible, published in 1966 under general editor Alexander Jones.) For academic use, avoid editions marked “Readers Edition” or “Standard Edition,” as these leave out many introductory materials and explanatory footnotes.

Orthodox Translations

As yet no complete English translation of the Bible has emerged from the Orthodox churches, though the New Testament translation of the “Patriarchal Text” of 1904-the official Greek text of the New Testament for most Orthodox Christians (which closely resembles the “Received Text” that lies behind the King James and New King James Bibles)-appeared in late 2010, and is available at the EOB (Eastern/ Greek Orthodox Bible) Web site. For Orthodox Christians, the Old Testament is the Septuagint. The Septuagint, an early pre-Christian Greek translation of the Bible, was the de facto Bible for Greek-speaking Jews, and became so for early Greek-speaking Christians: most often the New Testament quotations of the Bible appear to draw on the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew text. However, the EOB New Testament carefully notes differences between the Patriarchal Text (that is, the text approved by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople) and other Greek texts, including the “Critical Text” of text-critical scholars.

A New English Translation of the Septuagint: and the Other Greek Translations Traditionally Included under That Title, edited by Albert Pietersma and Benjamin Wright, is a scholarly translation of the Septuagint produced by the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies, based on the best critical texts available. In contrast to the EOB (and the St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint of The Orthodox Study Bible reviewed below), it is not designed as a translation for church usage, but rather for an educated audience interested in biblical traditions other than their own. The translators have taken the NRSV translation as a point of comparison. Thus comparing the two translations highlights the convergences and divergences of the Greek and Hebrew texts (where the Hebrew is available). As an academic critical translation, this is a very useful tool for investigating the relationships between the early Hebrew text, its Greek translation, and the Hebrew text that eventually developed into the Masoretic (classical medieval rabbinic) text.

Jewish Translations

In 1985, the Jewish Publication Society published Tanakh: A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures according to the Traditional Hebrew Text; in 1999, it published a second edition, titled JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh: The Traditional Hebrew Text and the New JPS Translation. “Tanakh” is an anagram for the three sections of the Jewish Bible: Torah (Instruction or “Law”), Nevi’im(Prophets), and Kethuvim (Writings). The Tanakh is an essential Bible for any collection, as it avoids the tendency in most Bible translations to read Christian understandings anachronistically into the Jewish texts. Of course, this translation does not include what Christians call the New Testament (and, by implication, this is not the “Old” Testament), and it follows the traditional Jewish order of scriptures. This translation gives preference to the Hebrew and Aramaic of the Masoretic Text, i.e., the traditional text of the Jewish Bible as standardized in the Middle Ages (and brought up to date in the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, the standard scholarly Hebrew text; see below). However, footnotes add clarifications from the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls when the Hebrew is uncertain or obscure, and often point to major differences between the traditions. Unlike The Holy Scriptures according to the Masoretic Text, the earlier Jewish Publication Society publication of 1917 (sometimes called the Old JPS, making the newer versions the New JPS or NJPS), this translation has avoided the tendency to sound like the King James Bible. Numerous traditional but unwarranted renderings of the Hebrew are given in the footnotes as “Others ….” This translation is available in English and in Hebrew/English editions (although the small font makes the Hebrew, especially the vowel points, difficult to read).

Study Bibles

Study Bibles are a flourishing industry. This section highlights a few of those that are primarily academic as distinct from devotional in nature, although a balanced collection will take care to include Bibles that speak for and to various constituencies.

Ecumenical Study Bibles

The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) has long established the standard for academic study Bibles: the first edition appeared in 1962 with the RSV biblical text, as [The Oxford Annotated Bible]: The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version Containing the Old and New Testaments, edited by Herbert May and Bruce Metzger. The Apocrypha was annotated in the 1965 Revised Standard Version of The Oxford Annotated Bible, with the Apocrypha, also edited by May and Metzger. Their previously mentioned 1977 RSV, The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, is still in print, for those who prefer that translation. The NOAB is now in its “fully revised” fourth edition as The New Oxford Annotated Bible: With the Apocrypha, edited by Michael D. Coogan et al. Indeed, the annotations are now more numerous and detailed, and take into account recent scholarship. For example, where earlier editions confidently identified sources in the Pentateuch according to the “documentary hypothesis,” the third and fourth editions now take into account the qualifications and nuances of recent evaluation of the hypothesis, speaking of strands or streams of narrative tradition rather than authors of documents. The supplemental essays are among the best brief summaries of many of the issues of contemporary scholarship available in this form. The fourth edition has benefited from notations in The Jewish Study Bible, edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, which itself used the NOAB as a starting point for its notes and essays. Essays are grouped by categories labeled General (“Translation of the Bible into English”); Interpretation (“The Hebrew Bible’s Interpretation of Itself,” “The New Testament Interprets the Jewish Scriptures,” “Contemporary Methods in Biblical Study”); Cultural Contexts (“The Persian and Hellenistic Periods”); and Tables (“Timeline,” “Parallel Texts”). Included are recommended translations of ancient texts, a glossary, an index to the study materials, maps, and-not included in the cheaper college editions-a brief concordance. Overall, this is the academic study Bible of choice for nonsectarian institutions, followed closely by the revised edition of The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, edited by Harold Attridge.

Next to the NOAB, the most highly respected study Bible among mainstream and secular biblical scholars is The HarperCollins Study Bible, a product of a broad range of scholars in the Society of Biblical Literature, the largest nonsectarian biblical studies academic society-both in North America and internationally. In general, the essays preceding the biblical text are briefer and less numerous than their NOAB counterparts, e.g., “Strategies for Reading Scripture,” “Israelite Religion,” “The Greco-Roman Context of the New Testament,” “The Bible and Archaeology,” and “Archaeology and the New Testament.” However, no introductions to each of the main sections of the Bible appear (i.e., to the Pentateuch, Wisdom Literature, and the Gospels), although brief introductions are included for most books (but traditional units-Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and Ezra-Nehemiah-share an introduction). All in all, while skimpy on essays and contextualization, this is a volume with reliable annotations that make it a useful Bible for college students in a variety of educational institutions.

Based on The New Interpreter’s Bible (1994-2004), a respected multivolume commentary, the annotated Bible titled The New Interpreter’s Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, edited by Walter Harrelson, shows its roots as a text designed for pastors. The essay sections address the topics of Protestant biblical theology, including the reliability, authority, inspiration, and interpretation of scripture, although the contributors come from a variety of traditions. However, what set this Bible apart are the nearly onehundred excurses interspersed throughout the textual annotations. Topics include key issues of interest to contemporary readers: suicide; women in Luke and Acts; two flood narratives; the Israelite conquest of Canaan; “No one comes to the Father except through me”; holy war; anti-Semitic interpretations of Isaiah; and more.

Jewish Study Bible

As mentioned above, The Jewish Study Bible (JSB) is built on the annotations and essays in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Additional essays and amplifications of the annotations, along with book and section introductions by Jewish scholars, highlight the text. Although the annotations mention important interpretations by Christians, the volume gives considerable attention to rabbinic observations and interpretations, as well as connections to Jewish ritual and life. Section divisions of the Torah for Sabbath readings are labeled, and a table of Sabbath readings for both Torah and their accompanying prophetic readings is included. A glossary of terms related to the Jewish Bible, both rabbinic and historical-critical, is included as well. A series of essays address Jewish interpretation of the Bible within the Bible itself, and in early, rabbinic, midrashic, medieval, postmedieval, and modern periods. Other essays address the Bible in various contexts-in the synagogue, in liturgy, in mystical and in philosophical traditions, and in Israeli life, along with Jewish women’s scholarly writings on the Bible. Further essays address topics such as canonization, the Masoretic Text, biblical poetry, and historical and geographical backgrounds. While its contributors share an appreciation for the insights of historical-critical methodologies that are essential to modern scholarly approaches to the Bible, in its essays and its verse-byverse commentary the JSB reminds readers that the Bible is a Jewish book. In short, this is an essential addition to all academic libraries.

Catholic Study Bibles

Traditionally, Catholic Bible translations include explanatory material, and since the Second Vatican Council that material has included not only theological explanation of the Church’s teaching, but also mainstream scholarly materials. For editors of Catholic study Bibles, that means including both the official introductions and notes that are part of the translation, as well as the appropriate distinctive materials of the particular study Bible. The Saint Mary’s Press College Study Bible thus includes two introductions to each of the sections and books of the Bible: those of the edition’s contributors and those of the New American Bible (NAB) translation. The latter is clearly labeled, although in practice readers will sometimes think they are reading the same thing twice, given some overlap in content. This Bible is geared toward Catholic students at Catholic colleges or perhaps in Catholic campus ministries: the additional essays interspersed throughout the biblical text take the reader’s Catholicism as a given, and tend to try to make sense of and reinforce the Catholic identity of college-age students.

In contrast to the Saint Mary’s Press College Study Bible, the second edition of Oxford’s The Catholic Study Bible, edited by Donald Senior and John Collins, keeps the study aids distinct from the text and notes of the NAB. A 525-page “reading guide” precedes page one of the Bible, offering general and introductory essays (e.g., on biblical texts and their background; the Bible in Catholic life; biblical history and archaeology; Catholic interpretation of the Bible) and running commentary on each of the biblical books; these add greater scholarly detail than the NAB’s own notations. While it is a nuisance to keep flipping back and forth between the reading guide and the Bible text, an unobtrusive referencing system links each chapter of the biblical text to its corresponding page number in the reading guide. The reading guide features the work of established, widely published mainstream Catholic scholars. The notes are descriptive and the tone is detached, spelling out the results of historical-critical methods common to scholars of various faith traditions. The volume sometimes explains Catholic positions but never takes them for granted, making it not inappropriate for reading by non-Catholics. This work is especially recommended in academic settings with a need for a nondevotional Bible that includes the deuterocanonical/Apocryphal texts excluded from Protestant Bibles.

The Orthodox Study Bible

As mentioned above, the English translation of the Eastern/Greek Orthodox Bible is not yet complete. Traditionally American Orthodox churches have tended to use the King James Version, and in recent years the New King James Version has become popular because the Greek text behind the New Testament is close to that of the Patriarchal Text, the official Greek Orthodox New Testament. The Orthodox Study Bible, prepared under the auspices of the Academic Community of St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Elk Grove, California, adopted the NKJV for the New Testament. For the Old Testament, it produced the previously mentioned St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint, with Deuterocanon, although it frequently follows the NKJV when there are no differences between the Greek and Hebrew text. The study Bible itself includes notations that emphasize the principle doctrines of Orthodox theology, especially the presence of the Trinity in the Old Testament text, and links to the teachings of the Greek Fathers (the early Eastern theologians). Unfortunately, it includes no quotations from the fathers. Additionally, numerous short essays give a conservative Orthodox perspective on various topics. For example, near the section on the Ten Commandments and thus the prohibition of graven images, an article titled “Images and Imagery” justifies the Orthodox veneration of icons. The notes and book introductions ignore critical scholarship, honoring instead traditional views of authorship and dating of biblical books, for example. This Bible is decidedly committed to enhancing the faith of English-speaking Eastern Christians, but does serve to offer a perspective not available in other Bibles.

Evangelical Study Bibles

Numerous study Bibles-too many to adequately survey here-are available that represent an Evangelical perspective. Many of these blend scholarly commentary with devotional application; others defend conservative positions in the name of apologetics. The selection here of two being representative of the genre is not meant as a judgment on those not mentioned. The attractive and informative NIV Archaeological Study Bible comes from Walter Kaiser and Duane Garrett, faculty from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Its page layout is striking-designed to resemble ancient parchment, the text includes numerous color photographs of sites, archaeological artifacts, landscapes, texts, and inscriptions. Brief essays and short articles (about 500 in all) offer selections from ancient texts (a prayer to the god Marduk), descriptions of biblical sites (Sumer; the location of Eden), evaluations of artifacts (ancient synagogues), and discussion of biblical difficulties (the Septuagint text of Jeremiah; prayers for the dead). The notations mention critical scholarship, but usually side with traditional positions affirming the reliability or accuracy of the biblical narratives. Nonetheless, this is an appealing and very informative conservative, Evangelical, annotated Bible, especially appropriate for conservative Protestant institutions. As with most Evangelical Bibles, an edition containing the Apocrypha is not available.

The 2010 HCSB Study Bible, Holman Christian Standard Bible is a translation produced by primarily Southern Baptist, Evangelical, and fundamentalist scholars. It seeks to be more literal than the New International Version, while avoiding the awkward, wooden results that can sometimes tarnish overly literal translation techniques. This study Bible is heavily annotated and does not hesitate to give definitive interpretations. Photographs, charts, time lines, and illustrations are numerous. Distinctive to this volume are numerous text boxes offering transliterations and short word studies of significant Hebrew and Greek terms such as adam (human being) and hamartolos (sinner). Historical-critical scholarship is viewed dimly: the documentary hypothesis is believed to result from a skepticism that assumes “that God does not exist and/or that the Bible is just a human book”; the unity of Isaiah is affirmed; the differences between the synoptic gospels are no problem. This is a Baptist Bible: it includes plans for reading the Bible completely in one or three years, and suggestions for a fifty-two-week schedule for memorizing key scriptures. A topical concordance includes entries that cite passages on topics and subtopics. For example, on “dancing,” the concordance lists scriptures’ two views of dancing: “praising God with” and “example of sinful.”

Hebrew and Greek Texts

In addition to various translations and study Bibles representing the best scholarship and a diversity of approaches to the Jewish and Christian scriptures, academic libraries will benefit from a variety of primary texts.

Hebrew Texts

The standard text behind all modern translations of the Jewish Bible and the Christian Old Testament is the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS), edited by K. Elliger and W. Rudolph. It is based on the Leningrad Codex, a thousand-year-old complete manuscript of the Jewish Bible. The text includes critical apparatus citing manuscript variants with the Septuagint and other early witnesses. The BHS is the fourth major edition of a critical text, completed in 1977. The fifth edition is being released in fascicles as the work progresses. Five have been released so far, the first of which is Biblia Hebraica Quinta, General Intro and Megilloth (BHQ), edited by J. de Waard, P. B. Dirksen, and Y. A. P. Goldman. The BHQ will mark a big improvement on the BHS in two areas. First, BHQ will offer better handling of the marginal textual notes (masorah); second, it will feature extensive material with critical detail drawn from the Dead Sea Scrolls (see below).

The previously discussed JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, now in its second edition, is a duallanguage Bible of the Hebrew text and the English JPS Tanakh translation in parallel columns. The Hebrew text, however, is quite small, especially in the pocket edition, which measures a mere six by four inches. However, it is handy to have the English with the Hebrew text. Additionally, the Hebrew Bible is available in a 2008 reader’s edition titled A Reader’s Hebrew Bible, edited by A. Philip Brown II and Bryan W. Smith. The distinctive feature of this Bible is the presence of a running glossary at the bottom of each page, giving brief translations of all Hebrew words that appear less than one hundred times in the Bible. Furthermore, proper nouns that occur fewer than one hundred times are printed in a gray font. This Bible makes reading the Hebrew text much easier for those who have not mastered Hebrew vocabulary (although, of course, knowledge of grammatical forms is necessary). An appendix gives a glossary translating words that occur more than one hundred times.

Greek New Testaments

The scholarly Greek texts of the New Testament today are critical, eclectic texts. That is, they collate the thousands of differences in manuscript texts and make that information available to readers, and seek to reconstruct a text that takes the best readings from many different manuscripts to create a text that is not found in any single manuscript. The standard critical text is that of two different Greek New Testaments. The fourth revised edition of The Greek New Testament, edited by Barbara Aland et al., and the twenty-seventh revised edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece (known as Nestle-Aland), edited by Eberhard Nestle et al., are the same Greek text, but they differ in their critical apparatus. The Nestle-Aland text is more appropriate for close technical comparison of manuscript variations and has a more concise format, but it takes more getting used to than the UBS text. For most students, the UBS text is preferable, primarily because it offers a simple method of comparison of textual variants: when manuscript readings differ, the editors pick the best reading and assign that reading a grade of A, B, C, or (very rarely) D. An A means the evidence strongly supports the chosen reading over the variants in the footnotes. A grade of C or D means the reading that is closest to the original is more or less a toss-up.

For readers who are less interested in performing their own evaluation of variant readings, and who have yet to master their Greek vocabulary, two valuable reader’s editions of the New Testament are available. Now in its fourth revised edition, The UBS Greek New Testament: A Reader’s Edition, edited by Barbara Aland et al., uses the standard critical text (UBS4/ Nestle-Aland 27). It offers a contextappropriate translation at the bottom of the page for all Greek words appearing fewer than thirty times in the New Testament, as well as a grammatical parsing for many of the more difficult verb forms. Of the two reader’s editions, the UBS and Zondervan’s (discussed below), the UBS is much easier to read because the translations are listed in columns in this edition. However, the larger font and the use of columns for the translations make this a larger book than the Zondervan edition.

Like the previous entry, the second edition of A Reader’s Greek New Testament, edited by Richard Goodrich and Albert Lukaszewski, offers a running gloss at the bottom of each page suggesting English translations for terms that occur fewer than thirty times in the New Testament. The greatest drawback to this edition is that the translations are listed in a paragraph format, one word after another. This is not a problem for Zondervan’s A Reader’s Hebrew Bible, since the English and Hebrew alphabets are quite distinctive. However, in Greek, readers will encounter difficulties in moving from the Greek text to the translation and back without losing their place in one or the other; thus, the column format of the UBS edition is preferable. Also, the Greek text here is essentially that underlying the 1978 The New Testament: New International Version and the 2005 The Bible: Timeless Truth in Today’s Language: Today’s New International Version, although differences with the standard UBS text (as well as citations from the Old Testament) are noted below the translation apparatus. On the plus side, A Reader’s Greek New Testament gives more options for translation than the UBS edition does; although the font is smaller, it is still quite readable. In addition, unlike the UBS edition, this one is available in a single volume, together with the previously discussed A Reader’s Hebrew Bible, as A Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible, edited by Michael Goodrich et al., making the entire Protestant Bible available in the original languages to beginning and intermediate language learners. (A combined volume of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and the Nestle-Aland New Testament is available as Biblia Sacra Utriusque Testamenti Editio Hebraica et Graeca. This includes the critical materials of each volume as reviewed above, but without the translation helps of the Zondervan Reader’s Bible.)

As is evident from the above reviews, for well over a century scholars have been concerned to establish a New Testament Greek text that would match as closely as possible that written by the original writers. Recent work has sought not only to establish the original text, but also to note how the text has differed in various locations and time periods, and to make such texts easily available electronically. A recent product sponsored by the Society of Biblical Literature brings together two classic nineteenth-century scholarly texts of the New Testament, the text behind the NIV, and the Byzantine (traditional Eastern) text, noting their variants and convergences, to establish a new critical text that in over 500 instances differs from the UBS/Nestle-Aland text-the Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (SBLGNT), edited by Michael Holmes. Not only is the SBLGNT available in print, it is freely available online, and in computer software form, from the respected scholarly publisher Logos Bible Software.

Ancient Texts Related to the Bible

Two landmark archaeological discoveries of the 1940s have irreversibly changed the contemporary understanding of the Bible: the discovery of 2,000-yearold scrolls in a number of caves in the Judean Desert west of the Dead Sea, and the unearthing of papyrus books written in Coptic in Upper Egypt at Nag Hammadi. The former, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, include sectarian religious texts as well as important Hebrew biblical texts and commentaries, mostly copied in the two to three centuries preceding the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The latter, known as the Nag Hammadi Library or less precisely as Gnostic scriptures, date from the second through fourth centuries and were hidden away in the late 300s. Knowledge of both collections is not only necessary for contemporary understanding of the Bible, but each has captured the modern cultural imagination.

The Dead Sea Scrolls consist not only of biblical texts, but also of commentaries, retellings and Aramaic translations (Targums) of the texts, and sectarian documents relating to the (likely) Essene community at Qumran and various apocalyptic and wisdom texts. These texts are important primary sources for understanding the state of the biblical texts in the first century and for contextualizing the developments within Judaism and Christianity at that time. The most widely used translation is that of Géza Vermès, somewhat mistitled The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English. It does not include translations of the thousands of fragments of texts that have not been identified, of course; but also (like most other translations) it does not include translations of the biblical texts found at the sites. The biblical texts from the Dead Sea collection are available in The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, which offers translations of all biblical scrolls and major fragments. The resulting text is not a complete Bible, but merely what remains of a complete Bible: although among the scrolls all the Hebrew biblical books (except Esther) are represented, the fragmentary nature of most of the materials is striking. This translation highlights the relationship to other biblical texts by italicizing and footnoting differences between the Qumranic texts and the Masoretic and Septuagint renderings, making it especially useful to students of all levels.

The texts discovered at Nag Hammadi comprise the thirteen codices discovered at that site in 1945, along with a number of closely related associated texts, such as some discovered in the nineteenth century as well as the recently discovered Gospel of Judas. The recent Nag Hammadi Scriptures, edited by Marvin Meyer, replaces the third revised edition of The Nag Hammadi Library in English, edited by James M. Robinson, as a widely available authoritative translation of these materials. These texts give readers, for the first time, primary documents from marginalized voices among the early Christians, labeled heretics and Gnostics by their more orthodox contemporaries. The most famous of the texts is the Gospel of Thomas, a collection of sayings of Jesus, some of which may draw on oral tradition going back to the first century, but passed on independently of the traditions used in the canonical gospels. Other texts offer insight into gender roles in early Christianity and its sectarian subcommunities. This translation contains book introductions and footnotes that feature notes on the translation, and helpful interpretative and contextual information as well. Furthermore, The Nag Hammadi Scriptures contains an epilogue of brief essays on four “schools of thought” represented in the Nag Hammadi writings: Thomas Christianity, Sethian and Valentinian Gnosticisms, and Hermetic religion. Included is an index of proper names (excluding modern names, and broadly conceived to include personifications such as “Love,” “Humanity,” “Nous,” and “Power”) used in the texts themselves, but not one for themes or scripture references and allusions. Finally, a useful addition to The Nag Hammadi Scriptures is Bentley Layton’s The Gnostic Scriptures: A New Translation with Annotations and Introductions. This supplements the above text because of its excellent, detailed index of names and subjects, scriptural index, helpful maps and charts, and its inclusion of translations of heresiological texts of Saints Irenaeus and Epiphanius.

Other Extrabiblical Texts-Jewish

While the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi texts have garnered the most attention in the late twentieth century, a number of extant contemporaneous works bearing on the Bible exist, some known since antiquity, some discovered in modern times. An excellent collection of texts from the intertestamental period is James Charlesworth’s edited The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Reprinted as part of the Yale Anchor Bible series, this standard work gathers apocalyptic texts and testaments in the first volume, and legends and expansions of the Old Testament accounts, wisdom, liturgical and hymnic texts, prayers, and Judeo-Hellenistic fragmentary texts in the second volume. Some slight overlap exists with some Dead Sea materials (the Book of Enoch, for example). These texts were widely read around the turn of the Common Era, and are important primary ones for biblical scholarship.

Whereas apocalyptic and wisdom texts proliferated in the period between the testaments, the destruction of the Temple and the razing of Jerusalem in the year 70 led to dramatic changes in Judaism. Following the destruction of Jerusalem, the nascent Christian movement became increasingly Gentile in character. Meanwhile, the Judaism represented by the rabbis focused on its investigation of and observation of the Torah-the instruction of Moses in the first five books of the Bible, not only in its written form, but in the Oral Torah passed down, tradition has it, from Moses through the elders and prophets to the rabbis. That oral tradition came to be collected in the Mishnah, the earliest layer of what became the Talmud. The most famous section of the Mishnah, the Pirke Avot (“chapters of the Fathers”), recounts that the purpose of the Mishnah was to build a fence around the Torah, hence, to interpret the Torah in such a way that its regulations might be observed. Thus, the Mishnah concentrates the legal traditions in the Torah. The most recent translation of the Mishnah into English, The Mishnah: A New Translation, is that of the prolific rabbinic scholar Jacob Neusner. It is more literal and follows the syntax and style of the Hebrew more closely than Anglican scholar Herbert Danby’s 1933 translation, The Mishnah.

Other Extrabiblical Texts-Christian

Just as in the early centuries of the Common Era the Jewish canon took its final form and the rabbis shifted to the formation of what would in time become the Talmud, likewise in the first and second centuries Christians wrote and came to recognize the contours of what would become the New Testament. The Gospels, the Letters of Paul, the Acts of the Apostles, and some of the Catholic Letters were recognized as scripture very early and very widely. Other letters and the Book of Revelation were slower to gain unambiguous universal acceptance. Only a few texts, based on their valued teaching and antiquity, were esteemed enough to be considered scriptural in some circles, and these come primarily from among the writings known as The Apostolic Fathers: I Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, and, perhaps, the Didache. Nonetheless, most of these were lost for a long time, only to be rediscovered in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and finally in the nineteenth century with the discovery of the Didache in 1873. While these texts were rather arbitrarily gathered together, they do represent an important set of second-century texts that are significant primary sources for scholars. Two excellent recent translations have appeared with Greek and English texts on facing pages. In the “Loeb Classical Library,” Bart Ehrman’s edited and translated The Apostolic Fathers has replaced Kirsopp Lake’s century-old translation of the same title. Michael Holmes’s third edition of The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations has an even older pedigree, being a revision of J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer’s 1891 translations. Both have useful introductory and bibliographic materials and scripture indexes; Holmes’s includes an index of subjects and authors.


While there are many other primary textual sources for the study of the Bible, such as the first-century texts of the Jewish historian Josephus and the Jewish philosopher Philo, the texts cited in this essay differ from those in that they present themselves as sacred texts in theme and style. In the process of its development as a sacred text between two covers, the Bible itself changed from scroll to codex, from anthology to book, but the illusion that it has ever been a single text with a single configuration and content quickly melts as one looks at its history. As we move further from the hegemonic allegiance to the King James Bible to the polymorphic text that is the Bible today, we see that the idea of the Bible as a single text is in part an accident of a particular time in American and British culture. The Bible itself always has been a library, and libraries are never static things. They live and breathe and change over time. So do their Bible collections.