If everyone in a Community Bible Experience is using the NIV, how can they become aware of valid alternatives for translating specific passages?

Q. The Books of the Bible uses the text of the NIV translation. I agree that the NIV is one of the best overall translations. 

But as some of the conclusions of my studies, I think there are some places where I think they translate the text in a poor way. I accept that translation will always involve interpretation, but I think that in some cases, the translators have misunderstood what the text meant and in some cases it is simply unclear what the authors meant, but the translators made their best guess among a range of possibilities. 

What do you do when you run into these situations when discussing such texts when reading big chunks in community?

Participants in a Community Bible Experience in western Ireland. Photo courtesy CBE Facebook page.

I personally consider the NIV to be the most accurate and readable translation available in English today.  But I acknowledge that no translation of the Bible can convey every possibility of meaning that’s present in the original languages.

As you say, sometimes a range of possibilities is present in what an author says, and translators must make a choice among these possibilities.  When they do, English readers miss out on the others.  Beyond this, translation necessarily requires a tradeoff between wording and syntax in Greek and Hebrew and meaning in English.  Different translations will favor one or the other in any given case, with different results conveyed to readers.

Ordinarily, one of the best ways to overcome this difficulty is to make sure that a group of people who are reading and studying the Bible together are using a number of different translations.  People will typically speak up when their Bible says something different from someone else’s, and this helps the group appreciate the various ways that words or phrases could legitimately be translated.

But there’s also great value, in an activity like a Community Bible Experience, in having everyone use the same translation.  As they each “read big” using The Books of the Bible and then come together to share their observations and reflections, they’ll be drawing on a shared experience of the Scriptures that will allow them to connect with one another quickly and deeply.

So how can the liabilities of a single translation be overcome in a situation like this?

For one thing, typically a whole church will do a Community Bible Experience together, and when they do, the messages in worship will be coordinated with the readings.  This provides an ideal opportunity for the preacher to point out and explain any places in that week’s readings that have a range of meanings that one translation alone can’t bring out.  (This presumes that preachers will prepare well and study the Scriptures in the original languages, or at least use resources that help disclose their meaning!)

Beyond this, it’s ideal to alternate “read big” experiences of the Bible with “go deep” experiences.  After spending several weeks reading through a big chunk of the Scriptures, it’s good for a church or similar group to go back and study one or more biblical books within that chunk for an extended period of time, before reading through another big chunk together.  And in that time of more detailed study, it’s natural for people to explore other ways that biblical words and phrases can be understood.

In fact, one of the original ideas behind the Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series was that they would make a great “next step” for groups that did Community Bible Experiences.  The guides are based on the NIV (it’s a privilege to be able to use such a great translation), but in many places they explain the range of meanings implicit in a biblical word or phrase and suggest alternative ways of translating it.

So the “go deep” season of study that ideally follows a “read big” season can, like preaching during a Community Bible Experience itself, provide an opportunity for people to move beyond the necessary limitations of a single translation, without losing the advantages of using that translation for their readings together.

Do we need to use The Books of the Bible with these guides?

Q. I have a Bible I like and am used to using. I’d prefer not to have to buy a new one to use these studies. And I am fairly certain the members of my small group might feel the same. How can I use your studies with a traditional Bible?

Your concern is perfectly understandable. We anticipated it, and that’s why we designed these guides so that they can be used with any kind of Bible. Each session is typically devoted to a natural section of a biblical book, and as the instructions at the beginning of the guides explain, “You’ll be able to identify these sections easily because they’ll be indicated by their opening lines or by some other means that makes them obvious.”  In fact, since the sessions go sequentially through biblical books, in each new session you can just pick up where you left off the last time.  So even with a traditional Bible, you’ll get much of the benefit of approaching the biblical books through their own natural structures rather than through the later artificial additions of chapters and verses. You don’t need to get a whole new Bible just to use these guides.The Books of the Bible

That much said, you will definitely have the best experience with these study guides, and in your small group discussions, if you do use The Books of the Bible.  Without chapters and verses, the Bible reads like the collection of books it really is.  I invite you to to give this way of reading Scriptures a try–I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised!  (You can find out more about The Books of the Bible by reading this Wikipedia article.  You can download and preview several biblical books from the edition here. To find out how to order a copy, see this post.)

I think you’ll quickly adjust to reading and discussing the Bible without using chapter and verse references. You’ll find that this is much closer to the way you’d discuss any other book, for example, in a book club.  You’ll discover that you can refer to places in the passage descriptively (“When Nicodemus first arrives . . .”) or by quoting short phrases (“When he says, ‘We know that you are a teacher who has come from God . . .'”). It doesn’t take long to catch on.

I wish you and your small group a great experience, whatever Bible you use with these guides. (But I definitely encourage you to check out The Books of the Bible!)