New Revised Standard Version

Perennial issue whenever journalists write about religion: Which Bible to quote?

Perennial issue whenever journalists write about religion: Which Bible to quote?

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.

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Why was the sensuous, poetic Song of Songs included in the Bible?

Why was the sensuous, poetic Song of Songs included in the Bible?

THE QUESTION:  Why did ancient Jewish leaders approve the sensuous Song of Songs (a.k.a. Song of Solomon or Canticles) as a book in the Bible?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER: The biblical Song, a remarkably poetic celebration of sexual and emotional love between a man and a woman, won recent praise in The Wall Street Journal’s “Masterpiece” column, which analyzes history’s major works of art. Writer Aliora Katz commented on its cultural value: “In the time of Tinder and casual hookups, [the Song] reminds us that physical attraction and love ultimately point upward to that which only the poets can imagine or describe.”

Admittedly, some of its metaphors fall oddly on the modern ear, for instance “your hair is like a flock of goats streaming down Mount Gilead” (4:1, repeated in 6:5, Jewish Publication Society translation). Readers should realize that the Bible is filled with feelings of protection and warmth toward nature and its creatures, reflecting a  pastoral culture. Yet this long-ago poetry is fully contemporary as it floats among desire, yearning, admiration, reminiscence, boastfulness, teasing, and self-reflection -- for the woman character in the drama as well as the man.

Considered as scripture, the Song contrasts with warnings elsewhere in the Bible about sexual sin. Yet the Jewish sages some 19 centuries ago agreed it was among the writings in the “canon” to be recognized as holy writ. Christianity then carried the Jewish books over into its “Old Testament.”

An evangelical expert, Tremper Longman III of Westmont College, wrote that we have no evidence to tell how the Song’s original readers understood it, and Roland E. Murphy said we cannot be sure why or when Jewish authorities made it part of the biblical canon. But historians generally think the Song was accepted because ancient Jews thought King Solomon himself wrote it, and because they believed its true message was not glorification of sexuality but the spiritual love between God and his people. That’s called “allegorical” interpretation, though the poem itself is not an allegory.

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Say WHAT?!? Did Jesus really teach that slaves should be abused?

Say WHAT?!? Did Jesus really teach that slaves should be abused?

REX’S QUESTION (Paraphrased):

How can anyone believe in Jesus when he was a liar who preached “liberty” yet instructed people to beat slaves?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Rex, and any folks who appear to have influenced his thinking, seriously misread Jesus’ teaching, so it’s worth unpacking why and glimpse how experts advise us to understand the Bible.

Here’s the full question, as posted:

“How is it possible to believe in Jesus when he claimed to ‘set at liberty them that are bruised’ (Luke 4:18) but also gave bruising instructions on how to flog slaves? (Luke 12:47-48)  His first claim is clearly dishonest! His instruction to flog slaves for not knowing what they’re doing is malicious. After all, he also said “God forgive them for they know not what they do’! How can anyone trust a man who lies and contradicts his own instructions?”

If Jesus was deceitful, confused and advocated physical abuse of helpless slaves, yes, he’d be a flawed moral teacher, much less someone for billions to worship as the Son of God. When a passage like this seems puzzling or contradictory, it’s advisable to seek guidance from a couple Bible commentaries in your local library written by solid scholars familiar with the ancient idiom and context.

Rex’s interpretation follows a wooden literalism that makes Fundamentalists look liberal.

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What are the ins and outs -- mostly ins -- of the giant, online Bible Gateway?

What are the ins and outs -- mostly ins -- of the giant, online Bible Gateway?

HEATHER’S QUESTION:

I don’t see the New Revised Standard Version in my biblegateway.com app. Do you have any idea why it’s excluded?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

This specific topic is quick and easy, so the Guy will use the space and occasion to provide broader information about the quite remarkable www.biblegateway.com (hereafter BG), billed as “the most-visited Christian Website in the world” with “more than 18 million unique visitors per month” -- and a must reference stop for journalists and Religion Q&A readers. The heart of things is a free and fully searchable online archive of complete Bible texts in 70 languages. The offerings in English are 53 texts and 14 audio versions (three of these read by the euphonious Max McLean of C.S. Lewis On Stage fame) plus many related features.

On Heather’s point, the main Website posts the New Revised Standard Version, known for its gender-inclusive language. But, yes, the NRSV is not among the text and audio versions accessible for free via the Bible Gateway App for mobile iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android and KindleFire. This is not BG’s doing. Older Bible versions in “public domain” can be used free by anyone but BG negotiates with 27 publishers for licenses that allow posting of newer versions under copyright. The National Council of Churches, which controls NRSV rights, granted BG the Web rights in 2012 but decided not to include a license for the app.

Still, the app’s offerings are extensive, and the ins and outs of the parent Website are almost totally “in.”

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Back-dated: Concerning that RNS report on gay man who sued Bible publishers

Back-dated: Concerning that RNS report on gay man who sued Bible publishers

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following post moved earlier in the day, at which point a reader noted something that I should have noticed right off (but didn't in the small type or the URL) about this piece on the USA Today website. This story is from 2008.

Now, here is one of the mysteries of the Internet. Why do some stories from the past suddenly go viral all over again, leading readers to send us the URLs without noting the time element? 'Tis a puzzlement. Click here for a fine Ed Stetzer online essay on this phenomenon -- including this blast from the 2008 past -- at Christianity Today.

So why confess this cyber-sin and then run this post anyway? Well, because (a) the journalistic content of this post is still, alas, somewhat relevant and (b) because I assume this piece went viral all over again -- which was a mistake, of course -- because lots of people thought this was relevant after the 5-4 Obergefell decision at the U.S. Supreme Court. Is that true? Stay tuned.

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Every reporter knows that there are stories that your editor wants you to write in 450 words or so that simply cannot be handled accurately and fairly in that length.

That could be what is going on with a very strange Religion News Service piece that ran in USA Today, under the headline, "Gay man sues publishers over Bible verses."

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