One of the most important — and useful — Bible study tools that you can own is a parallel Bible. What is truth in the Bible? As you are probably aware, the original documents of the Bible (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) were not written in the English language — or any other modern language. Most likely then, if you read the Bible today you read it in a translation (although there are some people who can read it in its original language form). A parallel Bible is simply an arrangement of the Scriptures where the text of the Bible from different translations are printed side-by-side in parallel columns going down each page.
The usefulness of a parallel Bible should be obvious: by printing the text of the Bible from various translations in parallel columns, you can very easily compare and contrast the wording among these different translations. Why should you bother to do that? Don’t most translations of the Bible translate the text using basically the same words? Not necessarily — sometimes different translations of the Bible translate the text of Scripture with a very different meaning.
For example, in Genesis 1:2, where some Bible translations speak of “the Spirit of God” hovering on the waters, another translation uses the phrase “divine wind”. Bible translators may choose to bring out the meaning of certain words and phrases in a way that differs from other translations.
Through the use of parallel Bible, you can be alerted to those places where Bible translators have chosen to handle the Bible text in a very different way — and this can be a clue that a particular text may have other meanings — meanings that you need to explore further in your own personal study.
Types of Parallel Bibles
Most parallel Bibles are available in one of two formats: one arrangement will be of the New Testament (Christian scriptures) only. Parallel New Testaments will typically feature the text of up to 8 different Bible translations. When you have the book open, 4 of those translations will be placed on the left-hand page, and the other 4 translations will be placed on the right-hand page, and the text will flow in a synchronized manner, so that all of the text for a particular New Testament passage will be found on the same 2-page spread. This arrangement allows you to read across both pages to compare the wording of each Bible translation for a single passage of Scripture.
The other type of parallel Bible will be printed as a complete Bible — both the Jewish and Christian scriptures (Old Testament and New Testament). As there is much more material to be presented in a complete Bible, publishers typically will feature either 2 or 4 different Bible translations. Parallel Bibles that present 2 different translations will typically have the text printed in two columns going down each page. If a parallel Bible makes use of 4 different translations, then the same passage will be printed across a 2-page spread, with 2 different translations of the same Bible passage on each facing page.
Choosing a Parallel Bible
Choosing a parallel Bible is largely a matter of personal taste. Different Bible publishers have different collections of translations grouped together as a parallel edition. You should investigate the different types of parallel Bibles or parallel New Testaments that are currently in print — make a note of the different translations that are featured. Many out-of-print parallel Scriptures are also available for purchase from outlets that specialize in the sale of out-of-print or used books.
For maximum benefit, try to choose a parallel Bible that offers maximum contrast. For example, you may wish to choose a parallel Bible that features a very conservative, literal translation alongside of more popular modern Bible translations and paraphrases. Another choice would be to compare translations produced by groups that are theologically conservative with translations that have been produced by a more theologically diverse group of people.
Another popular choice is a parallel Bible that features only two different translations — for example the venerable King James version, paired alongside of a more modern translation. If you attend a church or study group where a more traditional translation is used, you can use a parallel Bible to follow more easily in a translation that is more understandable to you.
How to Use a Parallel Bible
Using a parallel Bible is quite simple — simply read the text, and compare the wording on a verse-by-verse basis. When you spot a translation that is significantly different, underline or highlight the words and phrases that are different from the ones you find in the others. If you do this early on when you are studying a Bible passage, then you can investigate those particular Bible verses further and find out why those the translators chose to use those different words. What was their understanding of the text — what meanings did they see that others missed (or chose to ignore)?
The Advantage of Computer Bible Study Software
If you have Bible study software installed on your computer, you will probably be at a distinct advantage if you want to compare and contrast different translations of the Bible. Most computer Bible study software will allow you to select various translations of the Bible and display them for you automatically in parallel columns on your computer screen.
One of the great advantages of using this software is that you can change the translations that you wish to compare — you won’t be limited to the selection that is provided for you by a book publisher. Using this software, you can construct your own “personal” the parallel Bible, comparing the translations that are most important to you. Some Bible study software programs even display the words using special highlighting colors, which identify words and phrases that are different, further enhancing your study.
It was the ancient Church father Augustine who said that a comparison of various translations of the Bible was most useful for discovering the meaning of the scriptures. If you will choose a good parallel Bible and use it regularly in your own Bible studies, you will soon see that he was right!