A Reasonable Atheist

a loose buckle on the bible belt

The Atheist Bible Study Project

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were discussing religion, in particular Christianity. We were talking about our experiences in the church and how we became Atheists. We came to the realization that since I grew up in the Methodist church, a relatively liberal denomination, that I actually hadn't read as much of the Bible as my wife had. In all the bible study I had ever been in, the lessons were carefully chosen. So, she challenged me. I needed to read the whole thing. All the way through, cover to cover. So that's what I plan to do. I'm going to be reading the Bible all the way through and posting about it on my blog as I go. I'll be talking about my impressions, and the questions I have as I go. Feel welcome to respond in the comments, atheists and theists a-like are welcome.

Before I start however, I come to an important question. Which version of the Bible to read? There are lots of translations, so it might be difficult to choose. I could go with the most common one, the KJV. I asked an Episcopal friend of mine, and he suggested the New Revised Standard Version, but I'm wary of that, as the NRSV and some other newer translations contain "gender neutral" language, which I feel isn't a very good way to do a proper translation of the text.

So, what Bible should I read? I'd love to hear from Christians and Atheists about which one. I'll try to make a decision soon , because I'm kind of excited (and a little daunted) about starting this project.

12 Responses to “The Atheist Bible Study Project”

  1. # Anonymous Anonymous

    Wow! You are courageous! The Bible. Quite an endeavor. I've added this site to my favorites as I look forward to your experience. I have, in fact, read and studied the book and wish you luck. I would suggest the King James Version if you would truly seek a better understanding of where American Christianity got it's "language".  

  2. # Blogger Dawn

    I plugged the Oxford Annotated NRSV w/ Apocrypha over on The Friendly Atheist. Also, the Good News Bible.

    The Oxford NRSV is dry but has excellent essays, footnotes and careful translations. When it uses geneder neutral terms it's generally a matter of a better translation (from what I gather) rather than any sence of political correctness. It'll give you a bit of a primer on textual criticism as well.

    A good companion and a much easier read is the Good News Bible. This is the one that sits on my bookshelf beside the Kalevala and Greek Myths and that my daughter likes.  

  3. # Blogger Dawn

    I just thought I'd add that a cover to cover reading will probably be boring as all hell in some parts and definitely confusing in others.Much of what's in the bible isn't arranged chronilogically...Prophetic writing is stuck according to the length of each piece!

    I'd get a good guide. And no, I have no idea what a good guide (other than the Ozford NRSV itself *nudge,nudge*) would be. Might want to bum around on some liberal and secular biblical criticism sites.

    On a side note, I'm Anglican. Considering your Episcopal friend's reccomendation I wonder if the NRSV is a communion-wide favourite?  

  4. # Anonymous Jeff

    There are lots of trade-offs for the various bible versions. The KJV was translated (from the original languages) "word for word" which means that the sentence structure is sometimes hard to understand and follow. Others, like the "new living translation" are translated by whole passages. Some would argue that the KJV is closer to the meaning of the original text. I would recommend going to a bookstore with a good bible section and finding one of those 4-translation bibles containing the whole bible with columns in KJV, NIV, NLT, ESV, etc. Spend a little time thumbing through and reading how each version presents the information and pick one you like. Then buy that one. Get a bible with large print. Your eye's will thank you. Have fun reading Leviticus...  

  5. # Anonymous Thinking Ape

    Well this certainly depends on what your project is. Personally, I like to go for what the original writers most likely intended rather than what later editors hope for (i.e. King James hatred for witches found its way into the version commissioned by him).

    I would suggest Bart Ehrman's "The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings : A Reader" published by Oxford University Press (which also goes along nicely with his "The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings).

    Granted, you will not get the Bible in this translation as it has been traditionally given to us. He includes many extra-canonical early Christian writings, which is really a bonus. But if what your looking for is a secular scholar's interpretation, Ehrman's is the one. If you want a more traditional Bible, but one that is accurate, stay away from KJV or NIV.  

  6. # Anonymous Anonymous

    Posted this on Hemant's site too:

    King James Version with Apocrypha. It is the standard text for most modern Bibles and a brilliant piece of literature. I hate reading Bibles that are not KJV because the Bible loses so much eloquence and literary remarkability when it is dumbed down for today's readers. Also, the modern versions change word to alter meanings of phrases to make the Bible seem less ridiculous. For instance, the reference to unicorns in KJV's Job is omitted in many newer versions, replaced by a mule or a horse.  

  7. # Blogger Jeremiah

    Dawn is right, in that a cover to cover reading might be both boring and confusing!

    But the International Bible Society has just finished a project to put the books of the Bible in a much more chronological and easier to understand order. They used the TNIV translation from Zondervan. They've also removed the verse/chapter numbers, and gone back to one column of text per page. It reads more like a book, but it's still a pretty darn good translation.

    If you were going to do a cover to cover reading, I would recommend this particular Bible. You can find more info on it at http://thebooksofthebible.info/main.php.

    I wish you well in your endeavor!  

  8. # Blogger Helen

    I strongly recommend choosing a translation in today's English. Reading it is a big enough task as it is without choosing a version in English that's about 400 years old.

    If you want to know what expressions in our language come from the KJV, look on a quotes site rather than reading the whole KJV in hopes of finding them.

    The KJV isn't 'better' - it's just the first English one.

    About gender neutral - the more 'traditional' translations tend to be too biased towards male language. They use 'men' when the original language word is 'person'.

    Anyway some specific suggestions:

    If you want a new, quite accurate, word for word translation (except it might say 'men' where the original says person) - the ESV

    If you want one that is very fun and lively but takes some creative license - The Message

    If you don't mind dynamic equivalence (phrase for phrase translation rather than word for word) - the TNIV, which is the NIV but made a bit more gender-accurate, without going as far as translations that change singular to plural to avoid the gender issue.

    Or...get whichever you like :)

    Oh, don't feel you have to read it in order. Better to skip the boring bits and keep going than give up when you get to a long genealogy or section of the law, if your goal is to read most/all of it.

    Anyway good luck with this project :)  

  9. # Anonymous Hugo

    I can highly recommend taking a look at "RealLivePreacher"'s video clips, where he attempts to give a friend that said he would like to read the Bible but doesn't really know how, some advice. He has an excellent discussion of the various translations, amongst other things.

    His collection is at: http://www.reallivepreacher.com/readthebible

    I have them listed at http://thinktoomuch.net/2007/03/18/ancient-religious-texts/, the potential advantage of my post is that it includes short comments on what each clip addresses.

    If you do take a look at the clips, please let me know what you thought of them. (Here, or as a comment on my post.) I think they really are pretty good. Pity he censored himself in one of the clips - the last one, I think.  

  10. # Blogger Indefual

    The NRSV is a good translation--my professors allow it for use in religious studies classes. There are some places where it adds the female half of the sentence when it shouldn't be there, but others take it out when it should. It's hard to know.

    In truth, all Bible translations are equally bad. (Some translations are more equal than others, however.) Choose the one that's easiest to read. NRSV or NIV works. (NIV is the most used, but also extremely end-times and fundamentalist.) The New Jerusalem Bible is scholarly and an easy read. But it's Catholic and has a few extra books in it.

    For most purposes I use the World English Bible. It's a copyright free modern Bible translation. You can't buy it in book form, yet. And it's not completely finished.

    I'd suggest NRSV.  

  11. # Anonymous Anonymous

    When I was in seminary, we were required to use the RSV, as it was considered the most "accurate" translation. It's also rather dry at points. If you want accuracy over readability, try the RSV or NRSV. If you'd like both accuracy and readability, try a parallel bible with several translations side-by-side. The advantage to this is that you'll get to see how much license translators take, and perhaps discern their biases.  

  12. # Blogger Jessica

    Hi! Just stumbled across your blog, and want to follow your thoughts.

    biblegateway.com has a TON of different translations in completion on their website. All for free. You should check it out and decide for yourself which one fits what your doing best before purchasing.

    If you want straight readability, rather than an academic bible, go for The Message. You'll find yourself saying, "Okay, wait, I've GOT to find out what that says in the for real bible!! It's a modern day rendering of the Bible by a man named Eugene Petterson. Very readable and fresh.

    No one in evangelical circles considers it to be the "inspired" Word of God but it's is the one I go for when I'm reading longer passages for devotional purposes, and it'll communicate big picture and overall message.

    You can also get The Message in a parallel bible that has a more formidable bible in the same book for reference. Might be a good compromise.  

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