Why are there so many Bible translations?


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #1

As a devout Christian, I attend a strict conservative church that only approves of the KJV, which is fine with me as I don’t mind it at all, but I have a youth leader who obsessed with the conviction that the KJV is the only pure Word of God and that the NIV, NLT, NASB, and all the rest are slowly corrupting the Word of God by their “copyrights” and their omission of certain verses. He also disapproves of the constant “new versions” of the Bible like how the NIV translation has four editions. I remember him telling me once that to copyright a Bible translation it must be changed by at least ten per cent of the original. I took him at his word for the longest time and looked at everyone who quoted scripture from anything but the KJV got an accusatory glare or disapproving look from me, but once I did some research, I started to change that conviction and have come to the conclusion that my youth leader may have been looking for only “facts” that supported his view on Bible translations. My question is, what is the best or most accurate Bible translation, and why? Is there certain Bible translations that we should avoid altogether? How come there is so many English Bible translations in the first place?
I look forward to an answer and hope to show this to my youth leader and get his opinion, thank you.


Are modern study bibles interpreted from corrupted manuscripts?
(Jimmy Sellers) #2

The one we do tomorrow. I say this not to be cute but because of the treasury strove of unprocessed ancient documents that have yet to be processed. Having said that I don’t fear that in the unprocessed documents someone will find a “TheoNukem” (my word for Christ destroyer) the message will not change if anything we will have a better understanding of the text and its context in the culture of its day.

My thoughts. :grinning:


(Warner Joseph Miller) #3

Hey there, Isaiah!! My name is Warner and although I know you’ve been on CONNECT for almost a month, now…I figured to extend a proper ‘hello’ to ya from me! So…HELLO!!:wave:t6::grinning:

Thanks, so much, for the question you asked. Definitely a valid and common one. With all transparency, I’ll say upfront that I respectfully disagree with your youth leader. As a youth minister myself, I can definitely relate to the desire to build and instill good study practices to the youth and young adults in our care. In my opinion, having good Bible translation is just one part of developing good study habits – for they encourage accurate understanding, which leads to accurate exegesis which then leads to orthodoxy which leads to orthopraxy. None of this is possible without the Holy Spirit’s leading and guiding, of course. But to your question(s), here’s my bit:

So, in short, the Bible was originally written in the languages of Aramaic and Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). When translating them to English, you have translations that endeavor to translate word for word OR translate the thought or meaning. Most attempt to do some mashup of both. As any multilingual speaker will tell you, when attempting to translate from another language – specifically a more “complex” language – to English, word for word…certain words and pbrases may not translate as clearly as desired and what was intended can potentially get lost in translation. However, when translating the thought or meaning, what’s intended can potentially be more clearly understood. I hope that makes sense. There are certainly benefits to both. However, it’s also certainly helpful that you know what you’re getting when you pick up a specific translation. Both translation-types require a bit more digging if you want to get the fullest original meaning and intention.

For example, although my preferred default translation is the English Standard Version (ESV) – which would be considered a lean toward a more literal translation – I often use multiple translations when I study and/or prep for a talk. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) as well as the King James (KJV) and New King James (NKJV) would also be considered more literal versions. Versions like NLT (New Living Translation) or HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible) or NIV (New International Version) are among the ones that translate to thought or meaning. With all of those versions, they’re increasingly trying to use language that is more “common” and accessible.

I hope that helped a bit. If you can, try to get your hands on a parallel Bible. These are books that have – side by side – multiple translations…sometimes up to 4. But yeah…hope that helps.


(SeanO) #4

@O_wretched_man That is a great question. The first Bible my Dad handed me was NKJV - the Thompson chain reference Bible. And I still have Scripture memorized in the King’s English.

What is important to understand about Bible translations is that they are based on the original Greek / Hebrew / Aramaic manuscripts (we also have NT manuscripts in many other languages). When translators translate Greek into English - they have a few choices of how to go about it (see below):

1 - word for word - literally translate the words
2 - thought for thought - try to keep the ideas the same but use the appropriate words in English - think of trying to translate an idiom like ‘its raining cats and dogs’ into a language where that expression is not used or understood. That could be very confusing - so instead of word for word you translate it as a thought they can understand - ‘its raining very hard’ or ‘its pouring’
3 - paraphrase - a paraphrase is a very, very loose translation that attempts to convey the same basic idea but may use different thoughts to do it - it is not what you would want to use for Bible study - consider how ‘The Message’ translates Psalms 1:1 -

How well God must like you—
you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon,
you don’t slink along Dead-End Road,
you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College.

If you are doing Bible study, you would not want to use a paraphrase - I think a paraphrase can be helpful to help us think about a Scripture passage in a new way and to help it sink in - as long as we are careful not to get our doctrine from it. Thought for thought is probably the best for daily use. I debate whether word for word is really useful - at that point it would be better just to learn Greek and do it properly, because it is very easy to make wrong conclusions using word for word or word meanings. All languages require context to understand properly. That said, some of the translations considered more ‘word for word’ truthfully use some thought for thought as well - ESV for example - they just try to stick as close to word for word as they can.

Gordon Fee’s book has an entire chapter on understanding Bible translations and I cannot recommend it enough. It really contains a lot of great advice on how to read the Bible and how to understand translations.

The King James Only Controversy

Here is an article and a book that will help you understand why the controversy exists and how to understand the need for new translations. I do not fully agree with the tone of the author of the first article, so I provided a second on gracious engagement. The issue has in part to do with the fact that the KJV uses the Byzantine texts and the newer translations use older, more reliable Alexandrian texts - but the KJV proponents argue these texts are not reliable.

“Most of the Byzantine texts used by the King James translators come from the 11th and 12th centuries. We have since discovered many older and more reliable manuscripts, which are closer to the original writings of the Bible authors. By comparing the earlier manuscripts to the later ones, we can see how the flourishes and additions of scribes can corrupt a text over time, leading us to believe that many of the “Alexandrian manuscripts” are closer to the originals and the majority of Byzantine texts altered. If the controversy were truly a textual issue, one wonders why the Greek scholars in the KJV camp have not come up with a modern English translation based on the texts they deem “inspired.” The textual issue is actually a smokescreen which hides the true reason for rejecting modern versions: any update of the KJV is considered tampering with God’s Word.”

How We Got the Bible

F. F. Bruce’s classic book is a great resource for understanding in more detail how we got our Bible.

Useful Tool - NET Bible

The NET Bible is a translation with notes where the translators have made decisions - it is out of Dallas Theological Seminary. Pretty good resource - even though I do not always agree with their interpretations of tricky passages or sometimes even their notes on those passages.

May Christ grant you wisdom as you study. Feel free to ask more questions.


Original Biblical writings
Who to believe in this day of deception?
(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #5

Thank you! I’ll bring this to my youth leader and see what he has to say (who knows, maybe I can convince him to join RZIM Connect!).


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #6

Hello! Yes that does help, thanks!


(SeanO) #7

@O_wretched_man I am glad the materials were useful! It would be wonderful if your youth leader joined Connect. The only caution I would provide is that if your youth leader feels very strongly about this issue, be sure to approach them with humility and grace. May Christ grant you wisdom in this matter.


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #8

I’ll talk some sense into him, for sure… just kidding🙂
We often have “discussions” on the bible after we have youth that can last for awhile, especially if we disagree! I’m usually the one to remind him that God loves everyone, even if they don’t necessarily agree with him on everything, but it’s all in good nature. He knows where I stand (on the solid rock, of course!).
I know what you mean and will take it to heart, thanks!


(SeanO) #9

@O_wretched_man Excellent - good to hear you have a history of cordial disagreement. May the Lord grant him humility to consider another viewpoint as well.


(Sven Janssens) #10

I don’t have really anything to add it, since I’m just learning from this topic.
a. I love the question since that is so important to understand where translations come from and how to use them. We actually have the same issue here in Belgium/Holland(Netherlands) in the Dutch version of the Bible and all different translations.

b. It makes me think about the relationship you must have with God and how to be led by the Holy Spirit to understand what the Bible really talk about. I read a couple of time the translation of “the though or meaning” which would become an interpretation of what is written down.
To be honest, I am such a freak :slight_smile: LOL … when it comes to translation. When a guest speaker comes to our church and shares his message in a foreign language that I understand and some times we have someone translation they way he thinks it is being said, his interpretation … it gets me going through the roof. :slight_smile: . I have heard really good preaching that were lost in translation. :frowning:

In light of this I believe there is lot’s and lot’s of prayer needed before even considering translating translating the scriptures. Those are not just words on a peace of paper. A word can mean another thing just in a different setting.

I have no knowledge of Greek or Hebrew at all, but I go through texts and lexicons to find out what it says and my goodness … I want to know what God really has to say through the Bible.

A lot of courage to those who put all their work in translation in something as important as the Bible.
Bless them.

And again, thanks for the topic. Helps a lot :slight_smile:


(SeanO) #11

@Sventje I am glad you have found this topic useful and I agree that someone translating the Scriptures must do so prayerfully and after years of study. Translation is really about conveying to a new audience in a new language the same meaning understood by the original audience in the original language. So there are 2 very fundamental questions that have to be answered:

1 - What did this text mean to the original audience?
2 - How can I convey the same meaning to a new audience?

If we look at the image below, the green hexagon is the original language and culture in which the meaning has been embedded. The first step is to understand that meaning clearly and then convey it accurately in the receptor language and culture, represented by the orange hexagon.

Now, if you do not know Greek or Hebrew, there may be a better way to go deeper into God’s Word than looking up words in a lexicon. One way is by using a parallel Bible. For example, here is a link to Bible Gateway with three common translations - NIV, ESV and KJV (since we are talking about it). You can read how three different teams of translators handled this particular passage. That can help you understand a bit more about possible ways of interpreting the original Greek or Hebrew.

If you want to have some notes on passages that were hard to translate from the Greek/Hebrew, you can use the Net Bible. This Bible is maintained by Bible scholars at Dallas Theological Seminary and you can see what they were thinking when they translated the passage. I do not always agree with them, but they do a great job of giving you notes on possible translation issues.

The Lord bless your studies!


(Sven Janssens) #12

@SeanO these are great resources and I will surely make good use of it.

I am questioning a lot about the bible, not to question it by itself, but I like things to be accurate in the sense of being truthful.
If the truth is even a little bent then the entire context might change to something completely different.

That’s is why I had that first question posted, and I have more of those :slight_smile:just to get several points of views on the Bible subject. About who decided that the bible is complete? What do certain verses mean in context of the bible being the bible etc …

I don’t question Gods Word, I don’t question the salvation or the heart of it. On itself I do not really question the Bible, but just like want to know more about it and how it is founded and all that. … :slight_smile:

Thank you so much for sharing those resources.


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #13

I’ve been meaning to ask, but kinda forgot when pondering your responses to my question: which translation(s) would you recommend for personal Bible study, and why? As I have previously mentioned, I’m currently using the KJV, but I’ve been struggling on certain passages, especially in the book of Hebrews. I’d like to know, if possible, what translation do you prefer when personally studying the Scriptures.
Thanks for the recommended resources and for answering my questions!


(SeanO) #14

@O_wretched_man Personally I generally use the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) - not because it is the best, but because I think it is both trustworthy and written in English that is very easy for me to understand. In fact, when memorizing the Bible I have found this translation to use words that I might have chosen myself, so it is very natural for me. So for Bible reading I usually use the HCSB.

But generally people like the New International Version (NIV) - it is often considered easier to read. If you are struggling through Hebrews, that may be a good choice. The English Standard Version (ESV) is a very popular translation, but I do not think it is the most readable personally.

What you may try doing is reading the NIV / ESV / HCSB online - maybe read the first few chapters of Hebrews in each - and see which one is most readable for you.

This book may be of interest if you really wanted to dig deeper into the differences. But I think those three translations are generally considered fairly reliable.


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #15

I will definitely look into that, thanks!


(SeanO) #16

@O_wretched_man Sure thing - hope it was helpful. Let us know which translation seems best for you - that information may be helpful to others who read the thread. And feel free to continue the conversation. The Lord guide your study.


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #17

Yes I will try to do that when I get to it, thanks.


(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #18

is there a translation I should avoid? Maybe a translation that you wouldn’t recommend (one that gets misinterpreted easily)?


(SeanO) #19

@O_wretched_man I would say the best approach is to choose a few Bibles you know are good and stick with those. There are so many translations it is probably easier to identify a few good ones than to try to avoid certain translations. There is some concern (see John Piper article below) over the TNIV because it tries to use gender neutral language and maybe takes that a bit far, but Piper mainly recommends ESV / NASB.

So, my advice is to choose a few good translations and stick with those and if you are unsure about the meaning of a particular passage than look at a few good ones in parallel and check out the NET Bible to see if there are any notes. I personally enjoy the poetic nature of the NKJV and The Message sometimes, but I would not go to those translations if I were trying to discern the meaning of the text - rather, I would go check out a few of the more word for word equivalents and check the NET Bible notes.

Some people would say to avoid translations like ‘The Message’ which are not at all word for word and much more meaning focused, but I really think they can add something of value to our study as long as we do not try to lean on them for our theology.

I’ve included a few articles I thought were useful below as well. Hope that helps.

Deep Bible Study: ESV / NASB / HCSB / NET Bible

Reading Large Chunks: HCSB / NIV 2011 / NLT

More Poetic: NKJV / The Message


(Desiree Lanzino) #20

Hello, everyone!
I have read the third edition of Fee and Stuart and echo @SeanO as to it’s helpfulness on this topic. Up until a year and a half ago, the NIV was my normal read; however, something changed my view point on this, so I thought I would share my experience.
In March of 2016, I went to Israel with a group of Christians and we had a Palestinian Christian guide (Hani). While visiting Tel Megiddo, we could see Mount Tabor in the distance and Hani reported to us that this is where the Transfiguration took place. I was blogging about my trip on Facebook each night and a good friend asked about Mt Hermon as the site of the Transfiguration, so I went to Hani the next day and asked for clarification. He said that the interpretation is taken from the Greek, which said that Jesus went with Peter, James, and John to a high solitary mountain. While Hermon is the highest, only Tabor stands alone.
Here are some versions of Matthew 17:1…
KJV: And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,
TLB: Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John to the top of a high and lonely hill,
NIV: After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
NKJV: Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves;
ESV: And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
While the KJV and TLB support Hani’s view, NIV, NKJV, and ESV attribute the solitariness to the persons, not the mountain. If you think about it, why would the author need to reiterate that the four of them went alone when he mentions that it was just those four? That would be redundant. It makes sense that the solitariness was meant to signify the characteristic of the mountain. According to Hani, Tabor is the only one to stand apart; all other mountains are part of mountain chains.
Geography might not matter much for us here, and it certainly doesn’t change the fact that Jesus chose three disciples to witness his Transfiguration, but the detail is meaningful and important for identifying which mountain this occurred on, which Hani took very seriously and I imagine the author did, as well.
I write this to say that since then, I regularly have 4 versions that I read: NIV, KJV, ESV, and TLB. While I know that there are reports that the versions are in the high 90th percentile similar, it does give me pause to wonder what may be getting confused in the translations.
I pray I have made my point clearly and humbly (my hands are shaking and I profess not to have great knowledge of this subject and certainly do not want to come across as if I do). And I hope my comments have been appropriate for this thread and add to it.
Grateful to God for his community of believers and that he has called each of us by name. Blessings