For at least 15 years, I’ve had two go-to Bibles, or as I like to think of them, “green Bible” and “blue Bible.” First came my blue Bible, the New International Version (NIV) of my Protestant upbringing. Then, back in college, I added my green Bible, a New Living Translation (NLT) “Promise” Bible that highlights every promise God makes in Scripture. The NIV is a bit more academic and formal, speaking to the traditionalist in me, while the NLT feels more like a letter from a friend, with its folksier, more down-to-earth tone.
As far as I was concerned, these two translations covered all my biblical bases, and I had “closed the book” on the need for any other. After all, these Bibles had served me well, traveling with me all over the world, comforting me in my darkest days, inspiring me, and drawing me closer to God. But recently, after a Marie Kondo-style cleaning purge of our living room, both of my Bibles went missing. For days, I was unable to do my daily Scripture reading with my usual, comfortable NIV or NLT.
Forced to find an alternative, I turned to my husband’s New American study Bible. Truthfully, though he’s had it for ages—and though it’s the U.S. Church’s choice for Mass readings—I’d never picked it up because I assumed, with its enormous heft and the word “study” in its name, it would be dry and boring. (Plus, I had my own Bibles, Greenie and Bluey, thank you very much.) But as the days went by and I began to read this “white” Bible, I found my daily devotionals reinvigorated. The accidental misplacement of my two dog-eared, tried-and-true volumes turned out to be just what I needed to get out of my Bible bubble—and discover that switching translations can offer much-needed spiritual refreshment.
For anyone who’s a daily Bible reader or grew up in a churchgoing home, there may come an occasional sense of—let’s be honest—monotony when it comes to Scripture. I sometimes wonder exactly how many times I’ve heard the story of the prodigal son, or the visitation of Mary, or Noah’s ark in my 30-plus years as a Christian. Divinely inspired though these passages may be, our human brains can become a bit numb to them when we read or hear the exact same versions over and over.
For this reason, rotating a new translation into my devotional practice has brought me a fresh perspective. A differently worded version of a parable or Old Testament story can paint a new visual picture in my head, making the passage come alive again. Even just one deviation in syntax can expand the meaning of certain verses. I had always heard the fruits of the Spirit, for example, as a litany of nine set-in-stone virtues, but I’ve recently learned that some translations replace “goodness” with “generosity” or “patience” with “forbearance.” These slight differences in connotation get me thinking: How can I show generosity, rather than just follow a set of rules? How can I “forbear” with trials, instead of just waiting them out?
A different Bible translation may also come with its own organizational structure, dividing chapters into sections or subheadings. These have alerted me to details of context or history I’ve missed in the past. Like—wait, what?—there’s a Sermon on the Plain as well as a Sermon on the Mount? After picking up a Bible with different chapter labeling, I now know that Luke records Jesus’ famous discourse as happening on plain, or “a level place”—something I had never heard before.
Additionally, reading a Bible with commentary for the first time has provided several “aha” moments. I never really considered, for example, how remarkable it was in first-century Palestine for a male religious leader like Jesus to have female disciples—until I read about this in the study Bible’s footnotes. Details like these make the person of Jesus all the more fascinating.
Even with all a new translation has brought to my faith life, I still happily return to my good old green and blue Bibles. (Yes, I found them. It turns out my kids had put them somewhere I never would have thought to look.) Simply having time away from these versions allows me to jump back in with fresher eyes. There’s no one best translation of the Bible, and I’m thankful to draw upon multiple versions for inspiration. Regardless of which one I choose, Scripture is always “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12)—or “double-edged sword”…depending on your translation.