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Studying the Word: 2011 Survey of Bibles and Bible Reference

By Ray Van Neste | Associate Professor of Biblical Studies and Director of the R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.

The biggest news in books and Bibles this year has been the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version. Many today fail to recognize the pervasive, worldwide impact this one translation has had as it became the book of the English empire just as that empire spread to the ends of the earth, taking with it the KJV. The publication of this translation is one of the keys being led by it. Quite appropriately several books have been published this year on the King James Version.

King James Version

First, Oxford published a mammoth King James Bible: 400th Anniversary Edition which is beautifully done with leather binding and gilt edges. This is the original text which differs from our modern versions of the KJV significantly.

Donald Brake's Visual History of the King James Bible: The Dramatic Story of the World's Best-Known Translation (Baker) provides many nice photographs and illustrations. David Norton and Gordon Campbell are two of the leading authorities on the KJV, and they both have written helpful summaries of the production of this translation. Norton's The King James Bible: A Short History from Tyndale to Today (Cambridge) is brief; Campbell's Bible: The Story of the King James Version (Oxford) is more engaging, also tracing areas in which the KJV has had significant influence.

Several new books focus on the influence (primarily literary) of the KJV. Jon Sweeney's Verily, Verily: The KJV—400 Years of Influence and Beauty (Zondervan) is at the popular level and is an easy, fun read. More scholarly but no less engaging are David Crystal's Begat: The King James Bible & the English Language (Oxford) and Robert Alter's Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible (Princeton). Crystal's chapters each focus on a phrase that has come from the KJV into regular English usage. Alter focuses on several American authors showing how the KJV Old Testament in particular shaped their styles. His chapters on specific authors are dense, but the introductory chapter is some of the best material on the KJV.

My favorite among these books is Leland Ryken's The Legacy of the King James Bible: Celebrating 400 Years of the Most Influential English Translation (Crossway). Ryken discusses some of the story of the production of the KJV, then focuses on what has made the translation great, drawing out lessons for Bible translation today.

Study Bibles

C.S. Lewis Bible (NRSV; Harper Collins) is not a thorough study Bible in terms of having notes throughout the text. Rather, it collects quotes from Lewis' writings (which are imminently quotable and insightful) and places them appropriately throughout the Bible. In spite of a pretentious introduction by Douglas Gresham, this is a useful devotional resource.

The Andrews Study Bible (NKJV; Andrews Univ. Press) is an attractively done, thorough study Bible written from a Seventh Day Adventist perspective. It contains book introductions and extensive notes. The notes are theologically conservative, more Arminian and egalitarian. I don't think it can rival the ESV or the NLT Study Bibles, but it is nicely done.

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