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Choosing a Bible

By Published On: March 14, 20180 Comments on Choosing a Bible


Question & Answer

Q: By Ginny from Canada
What Bible translation would you recommend for a progressive?
A: By Rev. Gretta Vosper
 Dear Ginny,

I am fortunate to work with a congregation that challenges me to choose readings for each Sunday that are not from the Bible. We use texts that offer us the opportunity to explore major issues related to being human. They come from ancient and modern literature, poetry and pop culture, movie scripts and love letters. As long as they are worthy of the people who will receive them, and fall within the purposes of our gathering – to ground ourselves in the interconnectedness of life, to be guided in our choices by love, and to grow in wisdom – we can read it.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t read the Bible. Each week, I read its lectionary passages and find within them a theme I use to create the Sunday Gathering. The passages I read, however, are not for that Sunday; they are for the following year. I work a year ahead so I can create resources for clergy who use the lectionary but wish to explore non- or post-theistic themes.

Many of my peers use the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) because it is the updated version of the classic Revised Standard Version (RSV) upon which many of us grew up. Published in 1989, the editors recognized that much misunderstanding had entered into the interpretation of the text because English is inherently biased toward the masculine. In order to mitigate such abuse of the text, all references to humanity are gender-neutral. So it is really one of the better “inclusive language” texts despite it continuing to provide exclusively male language in references to God. At the very least, I would recommend that you not read anything that hasn’t managed to get to a place of gender neutrality with respect to humanity.

Oral reading of any sort in any setting, unless done by someone with excellent reading skills, can be snore-inducing. There is nothing compelling about something badly read. But when you start with a text that is already verbally challenging, you may as well provide several minutes of silence. That is the NRSV from the pulpit. It is wooden, difficult, and uninspiring. Whether you are looking for a book to read to your congregation in Sunday services or a book to inspire you with the depth and breadth of the skill and wonder of the biblical poets and authors, I would invite you to steer clear of the New Revised Standard Version.

Not surprisingly, given that it began as the result of explorations of how English is both read and heard, the Contemporary English Version (CEV) avoids the challenges the NRSV falls into. You might call it the Good News Bible (GNB) for subsequent generations despite the fact that it has no official relationship to the GNB and none of the GNB’s iconic line drawings. It, too, provides gender-neutral language except for references to God. I have used the CEV since it was first published in 1995, finding it easier to share orally and easier to consume privately. Indeed, it is written for a lower reading level than the GNB and miles below the NRSV. But don’t let that make you feel stupid. You’re not. You simply want to enjoy reading something written for people two thousand years ago. Keeping that simple is one of the hardest things to do.

The CEV, my favourite, is now over twenty years old. There may be newer, more engaging versions available. If you really want to read the Bible, explore and find something that you will satisfy you. These few tests will help you find a version you’ll want to go back to over and again: look several versions up online to see what the principles guiding the writing were, specifically, if they included gender neutrality – that’s an easy test of contemporary sensitivities; choose a passage (not a favourite) and read it in as many versions as you need to find one you like then check out your favourite passages. If you like your favourites even in the new version, you have found a new friend. If not, keep looking.

Reading the Bible is a pastime in which an enormous amount of time is invested. Your time is limited. Choose what you read wisely. And if it is a Bible, make it a good one.

~ Rev. Gretta Vosper

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author

The Rev. Gretta Vosper is a United Church of Canada minister who is an atheist. Her best-selling books include With or Without God: Why The Way We Live is More Important Than What We Believe, and Amen: What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief. She has also published three books of poetry and prayers.

These Q&As are brought to you by Progressing Spirit, an inclusive and pioneering exploration of Theology, Spirituality and Current Events. Sign up here to receive free weekly Q&As in your inbox.

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