Why Are There So Many Versions of the Holy Bible?

What do you mean there are many different versions of the Bible?   I thought there was just one Bible.  That’s true, but a visit to any bookstore that sells Bibles or to an online Bible seller shows that there are many different translations available.  I think it would be helpful to understand a little bit about why that’s the case.

Translation Necessary

The Bible didn’t originally come in the English language, it was first written in two different languages. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew (with a few portions in Aramaic). The New Testament was written in the Greek language.  So, unless you are able to read Greek and Hebrew you are going to need a translation.

Translations have been around for a very long time.  As a matter of fact there is a translation that is older than the completed Bible itself.  After the Old Testament was written and before the New Testament was even started.  During the time just before Jesus came on the scene, many Jewish people had ceased to use the Hebrew language.  Instead, like most of rest of the Roman world, they were using Greek.  So a translation was made from Hebrew to Greek.  It was called the Septuagint.  Often, when the Old Testament is quoted in the New, it is from this translation.

So it shouldn’t disturb us that we’re using a translation of the Bible.  Even Jesus and His apostles were familiar with and most certainly used this translation of the Old Testament. They didn’t consider it a handicap to use a translation of Scripture and neither should we.

Languages Change

Through the passing of time languages come into and fall out of use.  That, of course, necessitates translations being made. What we just saw with the Jews of Palestine in Biblical times and the Hebrew language falling into disuse is a perfect example. Sometimes, though, the same language changes enough over time that a particular translation may become difficult to read. That has happened in English.

The primary English translation of the Bible for many, many years was the King James Version (KJV).  It was first translated in 1611.   The English language has changed a lot in 400 years.  And although the KJV has been revised a number of times through the years, many people find it difficult to understand

Starting late in the 18th century various “modern speech” translations began to be made.  From about the middle of the 20th century until the present day, there has been a veritable explosion of English translations.

Translation Philosophy

Another reason for the multiplicity of Bible versions has to do with translation philosophy.  There are two principles at work in translation that are in tension with each other; one is accuracy, the other is readability. By accuracy we mean how close to word-for-word literal the translation is.  It just isn’t possible to be 100% word-for-word because of the many differences in languages; sentence structure, vocabulary, idioms, figures of speech, and so on.  As a matter of fact, the more word-for-word a translation is, the more difficult it is to read and understand.

By readability we mean making the translation as easy to read and understandable as possible.  While this is a worthy pursuit, it possesses an inherent problem.  In order to be such, it requires more interpretation and explanation.  Remember, the goal is not to end up with and interpretation of God’s word, but with God’s word itself.

So, very often new translations are the result of an effort to make a more understandable or a more accurate, but readable, translation.

So, these are some of the reasons why there are so many translations of the Bible available.

Now, you may be wondering which one is the best.  After all, not all translations are created equal.  For some thoughts on that very idea, just CLICK HERE.  Also, you may be wondering how one should go about selecting a Bible.  There’s more to it than just picking out which translation you prefer.  For that discussion, CLICK HERE.

God bless,

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  1. […] of the Bible.  Though we may be able to understand why that is the case (for a discussion of that CLICK HERE), we’re still left with trying to figure out which of these is the best […]

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