How to Read the Bible: Part 3

by Fr. Thomas Hopko

Gospel book iconSo people do have this question:

How do we do that? How do we read it? How do we understand it? How do we use it? What should we do? What kind of concrete advice can you give us?

So what I’d like to do right now is just to give some advice. People have asked me, so I’ll answer. I can only tell you what I think. Maybe other folks would give you different answers. In fact, I’m sure that certain people would, even certain other Orthodox people might give you other answers. But these are the answers that I would give, and I would just ask you to consider them and ask other people their opinion, too. Ask the advice of every person you meet. Then, of course, sort the advice carefully and make your decision and do what you believe [that] you need to do. But this is what I would tell you.

First of all, you have to read them. You can’t have an opinion about the Scriptures unless you read them. And it’s not enough to read them. You’ve got to study them. You’ve got to read them over and over and over again your whole life long. Reading Scriptures daily, reading Scriptures regularly is simply part of [living] a Christian life, certainly for those who are literate, and I believe virtually all of the listeners of Ancient Faith Radio are literate: you all know how to read. We have to read. We have to get the holy Scriptures and read it.

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Now, the next thing I would say is… People ask,

“What would you recommend, Fr. Tom, for Americans and generally English-speaking people about reading the Scripture, those who don’t know any other languages or don’t know them well enough or familiarly enough to use them for Bible reading? But if you were recommending a Bible, what would you recommend?”

I’ll tell you what I would recommend, personally: the Old Revised Standard Version translation into English. The Old Revised Standard Version, not the New Revised Standard Version. I would not recommend the New Revised Standard Version to anybody; I think it’s simply terrible. It’s rewritten so much for political correctness that it actually distorts the meaning of Scripture; you just can’t trust it.

I also would definitely advise against reading paraphrases, things like Living Bible or Good News for Modern Man or something, where they simply… [with] incredible, I would say, boldness, even some sense madness, of people just rewriting the Bible in colloquial form, rewriting the Bible as, like, modern jargon. We can’t do that. This is the holy word of God, and it was written in Hebrew, written in Greek, and we have to honor that and try to make as perfect a translation from those languages into English that we can possibly have.

Now, translation, of course, is a tricky business, and it’s a debated business, but in my opinion, we still have to have a translation. I personally think—maybe it’s just because I’ve used this all my life—that the Old Revised Standard Version, the Oxford Annotated,with the annotation, with the notes, is still the best to read, in my opinion. Why? Because it’s a real translation, first of all; it’s not a paraphrase. Secondly, it doesn’t seem to have any theological tendencies, like some translations do. For example, there are Evangelical translations or translations done by Evangelicals, like New International or Varsity or whatever, and there are translations done by Roman Catholics, old Roman Catholics, like the Douay-Rheims version.

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In any case, in my opinion there’s lots of translations in those translations; there’s lots of places in those translations where the theological bias and prejudice of the translators comes through in the text. For example, in some of the old Roman Catholic texts, every time it said “sin,” they translated the word “guilt.” Well, sin is sin and guilt is guilt, and those are two very different things, you know.

In some of the Protestant ones, they would even add words. I always remember the addition to the Prologue of St. John in the Living Bible, where it said,

“The Law with its rigorous justice and merciless demands came through Moses and the grace came through Jesus.”

Well… to say that the Old Testament Scripture and the law of Moses had rigorous demands and merciless justice is simply slander. It’s just plain not true. Besides the fact that those words are not in the text itself.

Even the Old Revised Standard has some places where it’s inaccurate, where it says that

“we will suffer exclusion from the face of God,”

where “exclusion” is not in the Greek text. It says

“we will suffer from the face of God.”

So we’ve got to know that when we’re using translations, we’re at the mercy of the translations and of the translators, so none of these are going to be perfect.


About Fr. John A. Peck

Director of the Preachers Institute, priest in the Orthodox Church in America, award-winning graphic designer and media consultant, and non-profit administrator.
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