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Thursday, July 27, 2006

church Bibles

Of the myriad of English Bible versions which have ever been produced, only a few have risen to the level where they would be considered church Bibles. By a church Bible I mean a Bible which is used as the pulpit and/or pew Bible in a relatively high percentage of churches.

The KJV is the first church Bible that many of us who relate to this blog are familiar with. There were, of course, church Bibles before the KJV but only a small percentage of people today are familiar with them. Among them were the Wycliffe Bible, Great Bible, Geneva Bible, Bishops' Bible, and Douay-Rheims (a Catholic version). The Tyndale New Testament was influential; Tyndale was executed before he or his followers could complete the Old Testament. Many of the Tyndale wordings were retained in the KJV.

Since the KJV's publication in 1611, the following have attained to the status of being widely used church Bibles, at least in the U.S.:
  1. RSV
  2. NASB
  3. NIV
  4. NRSV
  5. NAB (a Catholic version)
  6. The Holy Scriptures (1917 JPS, Jewish translation)
  7. Tanakh (1985 JPS Jewish translation)
The ASV may have been used as a church Bible, but I think it was mostly used for personal Bible study.

The NWT, of course, is the Bible version most widely used in services of Jehovah's Witnesses, although Jehovah's Witnesses often study other Bible versions. The ESV is being adopted by some individual congregations as their church Bible. Perhaps some denominations [one candidate would be the Presbyterian Church (PCA)] will encourage use of the ESV as their church Bible. The HCSB is probably used as a church Bible in some Southern Baptist churches.

I am not so familiar with which versions have been treated as church Bibles in the U.K. Perhaps Peter Kirk or others could comment. I know that candidates for U.K. church Bibles would be the English Revised Version (1881), the NEB, and its successor the REB.


At Thu Jul 27, 07:30:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

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At Thu Jul 27, 10:07:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I wonder if church Bibles will start to become a thing of the past. The last two churches I've been a member of use chairs instead of pews with the desire to use the "sanctuary space" for other activities during the week. With the chairs, there's no rack for hymnals (also having a lesser presence) or church Bibles.

I have noticed that our Sunday School classrooms have extra Bibles. Some of these seem to be Bibles that have been left over the years, and others were for various uses such as Bible drill. These "classroom Bibles" at our church tend to be either KJV or NIV.

At Fri Jul 28, 03:03:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I don't have recent experience of a wide range of churches in England, but NIV seems most popular and RSV was some years ago. I think some churches use NRSV, and I have seen NKJV as well. ERV was never popular in churches. NEB was for a time, and it and REB may still be used in some less evangelical churches. My own church has gone for TNIV but I don't know of any others which have - we replaced TEV/GNB which we had chosen perhaps 25 years ago at a time when our congregation was generally not very well educated.

My church has chairs, not pews, and attempts to solve the lack of rack space problem by having the Bibles put out on the chairs every Sunday morning and collected up after the service. The slightly unfortunate consequence is that many of the Bibles end up on the floor, which doesn't do much for their physical state and might well offend some people.

At Fri Jul 28, 11:35:00 AM, Blogger Ian Myles Slater said...

For those unfamiliar with Jewish practice, it may be worth pointing out that the equivalent of a congregational Bible is more likely to be a Chumash -- "Fiver" -- containing the (Five Books of) Torah divided into its traditional cycle of readings, with the assigned prophetic portions accompanying each reading either interspersed or appended; usually, but not always, with the "special portions" for Holy Days. There is a normally a commentary, and in American practice the volume is usually bilingual, in English. (I have seen older versions that contain the traditional Targum, although in libraries, not actual use.)

Major services are constructed around Torah and prophetic (Haftarah) readings (using a chant mode), and the volume serves a liturgical purpose, as well as homiletic and educational ones, since those with at least a nodding acquaintance with Hebrew can try to follow the reader(s).

At one time the old "Modern Orthodox" volume, "The Pentateuch and Haftorahs: Hebrew Text, English Translation, and Commentary" by Dr. J.H. Hertz, re-issued in 1937 with the JPS 1917 translation as the base text, was very widely used (particularly in the expanded edition of 1960). But it has been very widely displaced by more modern, and more movement-oriented, Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative-sponsored volumes during the last twenty-some years, the latter two using the New JPS translation in some form. (Several other recent Torah translations (Fox, Friedman, and Alter) lack the Prophetic readings, and sometimes the Hebrew text, needed for use as a Chumash on a regular basis.)

At Fri Jul 28, 01:29:00 PM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

I have attended many churches in Oklahoma and Iowa (my two places of residence during my life time) and I have noticed that quite frequently the Bible being used in the pulpit or by a teacher of some sort is not that used by a majority of the congregation members.

For the pulpit, I usually see the KJV, NKJV, NASB, NLT, and NIV.

For the "pew"/congregation members, (and I do look!) I usually see the NIV, KJV, NKJV, NASB, NLT, and Living. Now, an interesting thing that I notice with many congregations is the widespread use of study Bibles. Many people bring their study bibles to church and meetings, while I prefer to carry a text bible or one of my wide margin bibles with my own notations.

Oh, an interesting thing that I have noticed is an increased use of Parallel Bibles during meetings. I met a nice old man that has been bringing and using his parallel bible for quite some time as his primary reading and study bible.

When it comes to the study Bibles, I often see the Rainbow system, Thompson Chain-Reference, and Nelson study bibles.

Oh, as a side note, you don't see many goatskin / calfskin bound bibles. Which is funny, because that is almost all that I have, perhaps I spend too much money on Bibles? How does one repent of this type of covetousness? :D
This of course only applies to the places that I have been (neighborhood of 10 churches).

Oh ya, I gotta say it, but despite the fact that I have never actually seen a single person use the God's Word translation in a church, I use it all the time (and love it!), and study from it sometimes as well (with other translations by its side).

One last "oh yah". I have not seen it personally at any of the churches that I have attended, but reportedly the NET Bible is being adopted in some churches as the pulpit/pew bible. This would be an interesting experience, as you would hope that the congregation would be quite knowledgeable. (I envisage an entire congregation of textual critics with glasses, patches on their suitcoat elbows, and more dentures in attendance than the state of Iowa has corn, or that Wisconsin has cheese, or that... never mind.)

At Fri Jul 28, 03:34:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Ian, your description of Jewish practice reminds me that in many Christian traditions lectionaries are in use. This includes parts of my own Anglican tradition, although my own church does not use a lectionary. Christian lectionaries can be rather like your Chumash, except that of course they include readings from the New Testament as well as the Hebrew Bible.

The Anglican 1662 Book of Common Prayer comes with a full set of Gospel and Epistle readings (but none from the Old Testament) for every Sunday of the year and for major feast days. I think this is based on KJV, although the Psalms in the same Prayer Book are from Coverdale's translation. More recent Anglican prayer books follow a similar model, but in at least one of them, the 1980 Alternative Service Book, the readings are from an eclectic mixture of Bible versions, and included Old Testament readings. This book has now been phased out and replaced by Common Worship, in which there is no fixed set of lectionary texts, only list of passages to be read and guidelines on which Bible versions are suitable; there is also an interesting commentary on the lectionary. There is, however, a Common Worship psalter, although use of it is not mandatory - and I know nothing more about it as my church does not use it.

At Fri Jul 28, 06:03:00 PM, Blogger Ian Myles Slater said...

A good point. To clarify: the excerpts from Prophetic books (which include some Christians usually describe as Historical; Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) are reasonably described as lectionaries, not unlike those in the Book of Common Prayer (which, as an English major, is in any case my immediate point of reference!).

But a Chumash has the Torah texts strictly in their Biblical order, which is how they are read in the prescribed annual cycle; the readings for holy days, and additional readings on specific Sabbaths and weekdays during festivals, which depart from that order, are supplemental, and usually identified by use of a table. (One can, in fact, find a comprehensive table of readings in most Jewish Bible editions, including the various JPS translations; particularly in bilingual format any of these would be a usable, if awkward, substitute for a dedicated volume.)

This arrangement is sometimes difficult to recognize. Many editions put the weekly Prophetic passages *between* the weekly Torah portions (for example, Hertz, and the 1947 "Soncino Chumash" -- see below), instead of appending them to each book (as in Plaut), or putting them all at the end of the volume. The first practice makes for ease of use during the service, but otherwise one seems at first glance to be jumping about quite unpredictably. (The relationship of some selections to the Torah portions they supposedly illuminate is notoriously opaque, providing opportunities for ingenious commentators!)

The 1960 expanded edition of Hertz has an even more complicated appearance, since it added the extra-cyclical Prophetic readings for Holy Days and special Sabbaths in an appendix. Hertz had not provided his own commentaries to these reading, and the publisher excerpted them from its own "Soncino Books of the Bible" volumes. The same series included a competing Chumash with only Hebrew texts of the Special Haftorahs; but the publisher presumably had decided that Hertz was the established congregational favorite, anyway.

(I refer here to the 1947 volume mentioned above, "The Soncino Chumash: The Five Books of Moses with Haphtaroth. Hebrew Text and English Translation, with an Exposition Based on the Classical Jewish Commentaries," edited by The Rev. Dr. A. Cohen. Cohen's collaborators are less uniform in their approach than Cohen; and its snippets from the great commentators are often more intriguing than enlightening; but it is still worth consulting.)

At Sat Jul 29, 04:11:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Ian, thanks for your further comments.

I am by no means an expert on the Common Worship lectionary, but, apart from certain festivals, it does in general go through biblical books in order, with separate cycles for gospels, epistles, Old Testament etc - but some parts are omitted. It doesn't hop around in the same way as your readings from the Prophets, while not being as strictly cyclical as your Torah readings.

At Sat Jul 29, 10:31:00 AM, Blogger Ian Myles Slater said...


Actually, before getting distracted by the details, I was mostly pointing out that a formally adopted "Congregational Bible" as such is less likely to be found in a Synagogue than is a bilingual Torah-with-additional-excerpts, usually with commentary. And that this is mostly for reasons of liturgical practice.

At Sun Jul 30, 02:53:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

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