I know exactly what you are thinking, what is the deal with all the Bible translations? I mean, if the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God, why are there so many versions. If you are like me and had to look up what inerrant means, it means there are no errors in it. You’re welcome. Your question about all the translations is a good one. I grew up in a church that only used the King James Version, then we moved, and our new church used the New International Version (NIV), which made me ask, is there an Old International Version and what happened to it? No, there’s not, and you probably didn’t have that question. After the NIV church, we moved again, and our new church used the New King James Version (NKJV). This one I understood because I read the King James Version and it definitely needed a new version, although I loved to read it with a British accent. For a long time, I assumed that the people of the Bible spoke in King James English with a British accent. Imagine my surprise when I realized the people of the Bible were in the Middle East and spoke Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and a few other languages. Just to clear things up, God does not speak in King James with a British accent.
One day, my mom asked me if I had ever heard of the Amplified Bible. Apparently, extra words are added in brackets to provide emphasis but to let you know the words were not in the original text. Then I saw commercials about the Good News Bible, an easy to read Bible that appealed to the masses because it was written in modern English. I share all of this to say, I’ve wondered the same thing, what is the deal with all the translations? Let me say this before we dive in, the Bible in its original form is the inspired, inerrant word of God. The words written by the original authors, in their original context, is totally inerrant.
There are a few of reasons we have so many translations, but I’m only going to give you two because I think they are the two major reasons. First, there are denominational differences and certain translations are preferred by certain translations. There is an inherent danger here. Translation under the guise of denomination leads to an implicit bias in the text. Some sects, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own translation, the New World Translation, and it is written to line up with their beliefs. In other words, they used their beliefs to shape their translation of the Bible instead of them allowing the Bible to shape their beliefs.
The second reason there are so many translations has to do with the purpose of the translation. I mentioned those commercials I used to see about the Good News Bible. The Good News Bible was originally published as just the New Testament in the 1960s by the American Bible Society, and the whole text was published in the late 1970s. It was written because people needed a Bible that was written in the same language they spoke. Just so you know, Americans in the 1960s and 1970s did not speak King James English. I know that seems like a long time ago, but it’s not quite that long ago. It is now known as the Good News Translation (GNT) and it was written to be the Bible for modern man. Some translations are written to be formal translations, meaning they follow the original language as closely as possible, even if it is more difficult to read. An example of a formal translation is the English Standard Version (ESV). It is written on an 10th grade reading level and is considered more of a word-for-word translation. Other translations are written to be functional translations, meaning they are written to be more easily readable. An example of a functional translation is the New Living Translation. It is written on a 6th grade reading level and is considered more of a thought-for-thought translation.
Why do you need to know this? It is important when you are picking a translation to study that you realize a few things. First, understanding the purpose of the translation will help you understand the wording used in the translation. Second, there are going to be differences in the wording used in the translations, however, not all differences are equal. Difference due to denominational biases or translators forcing the Bible to match their beliefs are dangerous. I would advise you to steer clear of those. Difference that are due to a translation being designed to be more easily readable verses more formal, word-for-word are perfectly acceptable. Lastly, although the Bible is only inerrant in its original form, the major translations available today are very trustworthy when compared to manuscripts from thousands of years ago. I know that the combination of so many translations with so much time passed since the original text can make it feel like a bad game of telephone, but it is important that you know that you can trust what you are reading.
One last piece of advice when choosing a Bible to use as your primary source for study, choose a translation that was done by a large committee or team of translators, not one done by a small group or single individual. My personal favorite is the English Standard Version (ESV), but you have to find one that works for you. I own at least 8 different translations and have access to even more through the Bible app that I use on my phone. A resource that helped me when I was learning about all of the translations and how to study the Bible is Journey into God’s Word by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. It is an easy read with a lot of helpful information and dives a little deeper into the formal vs. functional translations and how to interpret the Bible consistently, so I highly recommend it.
Here’s my challenge for you, download a Bible app if you don’t currently have one. I use the YouVersion app. After you download it, pick a familiar passage of Scripture like Psalm 23 and read it in several translations. Take note of the similarities and the differences between the translations. Ask yourself which translation is the easiest for you to understand and apply. I’d also highly recommend getting a study Bible. They are a great resource because they have footnotes explaining the meaning behind most of the verses you read. I personally use the ESV Study Bible and the NIV Life Application Study Bible. As always, I’d love to talk with you more. Drop me a reply down below.