Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Why are there so many different Bible translations?

Often times an individual will decide they need a new Bible. Maybe the one they have had since childhood has worn out or they just are ready for a change. A person decides to go to their local bookstore to buy a new Bible and they are quickly inundated with numerous different translations to choose from. King James Version, New King James Version, New International Version, New American Standard version etc. The shopper wonders to him/herself, “why are their so many different English Bibles?” A person may assume that all English Bibles are the same, but they learn quickly that this is not the case. This post will provide a couple of reasons why this is so.

Reason #1 - The Constantly Changing English Language. 

Below is a quote from the King James Bible (Hebrews 1:2) from the year 1611. 
“Hath in these last dayes spoken vnto vs by his Sonne, whom he hath appointed heire of all things, by whom also he made the worlds”
This not way English sounds today, the language has changed over time. As language continually changes, there will always be a need for newer translations. Words will often change meaning. Publishers are aware of this, so new translations are always being formed. The Bible has not changed, but the language it has been translated into has. 

Reason #2 - Philosophy of Translation

Different translations are designed to meet different goals. Most would say that they desire a literal word for word translation. The sentence structure in Greek or Hebrew, however, is different than English. Because of this difference, translators have to decide how “literal” they want to translate a passage.

Another consideration when forming a Bible translation, is the level of readability. At times, when striving for accuracy, readability will suffer. Some translations are written at level for children and others are written for the highly educated. 

Translations will differ depending on whether or not they are a “paraphrase”. A paraphrase is more or less a summary of a passage into English rather than a true translation. Each type of translation has its place, and thus there are many different English Bibles.

Which Bible Should I use?  (Taken from a previous post)

A quick google search for a "Bible Version Chart" will give one a basic understanding of the different versions and their philosophy of translation (some philosophies of translation are better than others for study).

When seeking out an English translation for personal study, I recommend a version that is accurate (preferably a word for word translation) and readable (preferably in modern English).

You have  3 different types of translations (In order from most accurate to least). 
  • 1. Word for Word
  • 2. Thought for Thought 
  • 3. Paraphrase. 

I only recommend "Word for Word" translations. "Thought for thought" and "paraphrased" Bibles are great for comparisons, but not for deep study of the Word. The most popular Bible in America is The New International Version. The NIV claims to strive for "a balance between word for word and thought for thought". Although a very popular translation, one would be better served using a "Word for Word" translation as their primary study Bible and save the others for casual or personal devotional type reading.

The most common "Word for Word" translations in use today are the King James Version (KJV), New American Standard Version (NASB), New King James Version (NKJV), English Standard Version (ESV) and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). One would not be doing themselves a disservice in choosing any of these translations. 

Of the "Word for Word" translations available, the three I recommend (in this order) are: 
  • 1. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) (1995 Update). 
  • 2. The English Standard Version (ESV).
  • 3.The New King James Version (NKJV).
    • (These 3 versions successfully balance accuracy with readability).

Due to its older English, I do not usually recommend the King James Version to new Bible students and I have not spent enough time in the Holman Christian Standard Bible to offer a recommendation as of yet.

My primary study and preaching Bible is the New American Standard Bible, which I will often cross reference with the English Standard Version. - These versions are the ones I will usually give to a new Christian or recommend for a person to purchase (The New King James in a very close 3rd).
Side Note: I recommend that you also familiarize yourself with the many free electronic tools available today. You can download many great Bible apps for your smartphone (this way you can study wherever you go). I have an ESV app on my iPhone by Crossway publishers that is free and very easy to use. There are many other apps that contain multiple versions.  When on my computer I will often use or These sites are free and contain all of the common English versions plus dictionaries and more.

Remember the best Bible is the one you read! Spend time in the Word of God... it will change your life. 

By Cliff Sabroe