A recent item by GetReligion colleague Bobby Ross posed this perennial issue facing journalists and others writing about religion: “Which Bible to quote?”
News articles had quoted Eugene Peterson’s The Message -- one man’s popular paraphrase and not quite a Bible -- and the New King James Version, a conservative fave that was an odd choice for a piece about liberal Protestants.
Once upon a time the (original) King James Version from 1611 sufficed. Its wordings were familiar to a broad swath of English readers, indeed often memorized. Though the King was Protestant, generally similar verbiage appeared in Catholicism’s old Douay-Rheims translation (1609), and even moreso in the Jewish Publication Society’s The Holy Scriptures (1917).
Today, however, a dozen or more modern options are in regular use, thus creating our tricky problem. Ross, who like The Guy is an Associated Press alum, noted that the wire’s influential Stylebook offers ample guidance about the Bible but doesn’t address how to decide which version to quote. “Please help me out here, friends,” Ross asked, so the ever-friendly Religion Guy responds herewith.
When The Guy was teaching an adult Bible class recently, one participant brought along The Message. Its differences with standard Bibles sparked some pointed discussions. Such personal paraphrases -- also including Kenneth Taylor’s The Living Bible and J.B. Phillips’s elegantly British New Testament in Modern English -- are useful for private study and devotions. But they’re not really Bible translations, so a more literal version should also be consulted for comparisons.
Likewise, in most situations writers should cite a Bible closer to the original text that expresses the consensus from a panel of experts.
Obviously, if a person is quoting a Bible passage verbatim you’ll go with that wording, even if it’s a paraphrase.