Monday, August 31, 2009

Book Review: The Expanded Bible

This was an interesting book review. How do you go about reviewing not just the most pivotal piece of literature in human history but also the Word of God? Needless to say, it ain't like the other reviews. So, I'll stick to giving you my thoughts on what makes this version of the New Testament "different" from other translations.

First thing to notice is that it is only the New Testament and not the whole Bible. The official title is "The Expanded Bible: New Testament." This does not, in any way, detract from it at all, though. The hardcover edition is as thick as most full Bibles are. The print on the pages is very manageable, even a little larger than in novels of the same size. So, it seems impractical (from a consumer standpoint) to have all of the Old Testament and the New Testament in a single volume that would be 10+ inches thick.

Ok, the key to the Expanded Bible is that it provides inline information to the reader in order to facilitate a better understanding of the text. The information that is included in the Scriptural text varies in type and function. Always set off by brackets, [], the inline information ranges from alternate translations of words or phrases, the literal translation of a word, other "traditional" phrasings of he text, or comments and commentary about the text.

As an example, here is 1 Corinthians 13:12 from the Expanded Bible:
•It is the same with us [LFor...]. Now we see •a dim reflection [obscurely; or indirectly], •as if we were looking into a mirror [Tthrough a glass darkly], but then we shall see •clearly [Lface to face]. Now I know only a part, but then I will know fully, as •God has known me [LI am fully known].

In the Scripture quote above we can see most of the types of inline information. Here's the breakdown of what it means. Anything contained in [ ] is the extra information. The information pertains to the word or words that precede it starting with the "•" character. Where there are simply one or more words inside the [ ], they are meant as alternate meanings for the marked text. For example, "a dim reflection" in the above Scripture could be replaced with "obscurely" or "indirectly".

The L character indicates that the information in the [ ] shows a literal translation of the marked words/phrase. The T character is telling us that the information in the [ ] is a more traditional translation of the marked text. The traditional translations are most often from the King James Version.

Not shown in this verse is the use of commentary. This sort of information is marked with the C character within the [ ]. Let's look at Acts 17:19 for an example of that:
They got Paul and took him to •a meeting of the Aeropagus [CAres (Greek name) or Mars (Roman name) was the god of thunder and war; the council of Aeropagus was the oldest and most prestigious court for intellectual and moral matters], where they said, "Please explain to us this new idea you have been teaching."

The Expanded Bible is based on the New Century Version (NCV) of the Bible. The NCV is, in turn, derived from the International Children's Bible (ICB). The ICB came from the work done trying to create an easy to read and understand translation of the Bible for children. This sort of translation follows a different path than do several of the "mainstream" Bible translations. Instead of trying to do a "formal", or literal, translation of every word from the original language to English, the ICB and NCV (and therefore the Expanded Bible) use a "functional", or meaning-based, translation style where the concepts and idiomatic meaning of words and phrases are often used in the English translation. These versions also attempt to avoid any vocabulary that does not normally occur for the non-theologian reader (The ICB targets a 3rd - 5th grade reading level).

This functional-equivalence approach and vocabulary choice have been criticized by some. One argument is that certain key concepts that are central to Christianity are glossed over or left out altogether. Eugene Peterson's "The Message" is another translation that has caught flak for this as well.

All that being said, the inclusion of the additional information in The Expanded Bible helps overcome some of these issues. The inclusion of the information inline with the text makes it readily available to the the reader and helps to illuminate several key sections of the text where one translation may have used word choices that were harder to understand or were easy to gloss over without understanding the impact.

I thin that the Expanded Bible makes for a good additional translation that could help when studying the Bible. It could also work as an introductory Bible for folks that are new to it and might struggle with some unfamiliar "theological" vocabulary found in many mainstream Bible translations.

Per the recent FTC ruling, I am required to tell you that I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in return for publishing my review.