Guide to Bible Translations – Part Two

04 Mar 2016

Modern Bible Versions

Why so many versions of the Bible? Isn’t one good enough? What’s the difference in a translation and a paraphrase? Here we will attempt to answer these questions and more as we examine the history and basis of the modern translations. For a overview of the ancient versions of the Bible please see our article entitled: Guide to Bible Translations – Part One.

The Bible consists of the old and new testaments. It contains 66 separate books written by forty different writers over a period of 1600 years. The writers had various education levels and lived in varying civilizations and environments. Yet, they all tell one complete and whole story united in the revealing of God’s truth and plan for mankind.

The Bible is the most amazing book ever written in the 5000 year history of writing. It is the most widely circulated book and has had more influence on the world than any other book. History divides time by Jesus’ life (i.e. A.D. and B.C.). The three most important dates on the calendars of most nations are Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. More books are written about Christ than any other of the great men of history. Jesus has inspired musicians, poets, and artists through the ages to produce great works. Shakespeare has been translated into forty-seven languages; Tolstoy into forty-seven; but the Bible has been translated into more than 1100 languages.

Understanding the Bible background

The Bible is inspired. “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NAS) The word inspired means, God-breathed. “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Pet. 1:20-21 NAS) God inspired the writers of the Bible through the Holy Spirit to write His testaments to mankind. David said, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue.” (2 Sam. 23:2 NAS emphasis mine) The apostle Paul said, “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Gal. 1:11-12 NAS)

The Bible is inerrant. That means it is free from error. This applies to to original manuscripts, not translations. The Bible is infallible. It is incapable or error. God is infallible, therefore, His word is infallible. The Bible is authoritative. God’s word is the final authority and source in all matters.

No other book has influenced mankind like the Bible.

Modern translations have sought to update the older language of the Bible into modern English. They seek to transfer the meaning of the scriptures from one language into another. There are two schools of thought for modern translators. One is a literal, word-for-word translation. The other is a thought-for-thought translation emphasizing the meaning over the formal structure of the language. Thus, we have the literal approach or the readability approach. Bible teachers or scholars may prefer the word-for-word translations. The average layperson might prefer the thought-for-thought translations.

Why so many translations?

Because there are a lot of things to consider when trying to transfer meaning from one language to another. Words express ideas and concepts. No language has the total vocabulary to express the infinite possibility of ideas, emotions, or descriptions. Consider nonverbal language, figure of speech, gestures, voice intonation, facial expressions and how to convey the intended meaning of the author during translating. This is quite a challenge given that the meaning of words in a culture can change over time. Slang and cultural changes influence the words society uses to communicate ideas and concepts. Therefore, newer translations are needed to keep up with the ever changing words that society uses to communicate meaning. God and His word never changes (Mal. 3:6, James 1:17). But, our translation of the words into different languages, in order to express God’s message, does change. Also, There have been significant archeological discoveries of older manuscripts and biblical texts. These manuscripts predate some of the ones used to translate certain versions. Hence, the need to develop a new translation or revision in light of the most current manuscripts available.

Which translation is best?

One that is functional in that it expresses the message of God to His people in a clear and accurate way. For the Bible student or layperson it might depend on what you prefer; a more literal translation or a less formal and free flowing translation. Ideally, one should have several different translations and reference between them to gain a better understanding of the meaning from the words.

What is meant by the “canon” of scripture?

The word canon sets apart the 66 books of the Bible as those accepted as inspired by God. Compare this to the books of the Apocrypha, which are not considered canonical or inspired (God-breathed). A book has divine authority based on inspiration and then becomes canon by acceptance as a product from God. Canonization of a book was determined by historical tradition of apostolic decision. “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” (Rev. 22:18-19 NAS) So, we see there is nothing else needed. God has communicated His complete word to us in the 66 books recognized as canon.

What is the Apocrypha?

The Apocrypha [a POCK rih fuh] is a group of early Christian writings of doubtful authenticity, which are not considered canon and therefore not included in modern translations. They were judged as unworthy and not authoritative by the early Christian church. In general, these writings cover the period (200 B.C. – 100 A.D.) between the end of the old testament and the beginning of the new testament. They should be taken with a “grain of salt.” God inspired the Bible and preserved its authenticity and integrity so it alone can serve as a standard and guide for all believers. The Apocrypha is not authoritative (God speaking to His people) but contains stories and legends meant to fill in information for the reader.

What is the Septuagint?

The Septuagint [SEP tuh jint] is perhaps the oldest Bible translation in the world. It originated in Alexandria, Egypt. Alexander the great founded this city in 331 B.C. A Jewish community lived in Alexandria, but after a few generations there, they had forgotten their native language. They had adopted the Greek language that Alexander the great had established. A group of seventy Jewish scholars translated a version of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the old testament) into biblical Greek for the people. The Septuagint comes from the Latin word septuaginta, which means, seventy (LXX). This is very important because these seventy scholars knew and used both languages expertly. It is like a Greek commentary of the old testament written by experts of that time period. The Septuagint was used by the early Christians and gentiles, and it is the official version of the old testament used in the Greek Orthodox Church.

What is a paraphrase Bible?

It is not a translation from the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts or a codex. It is a restatement of a translated text giving the meaning in another form. “In other words,” the author/editor of a paraphrase Bible may not be a linguistic scholar with training in the Hebrew or Greek. He takes a version of the Bible and restates it in his own words (hence the term paraphrase). One must be very careful with these kinds of texts. Some can be very inspiring, others can be full of doctrinal errors. Several religious cults develop their own “version” of the bible in order to promote theirteachings. Buyer beware! You should be able to trace the translation back to which codex or manuscript was used, as well as, know the credentials of the translators.

What is an interlinear Bible?

It is a Bible printed with two different languages usually on alternating lines or with one language inserted between the lines of the other. An example is the English-Greek interlinear New Testament.

What is a parallel Bible?

It is a Bible printed with two, or sometimes more, versions side by side in one volume for easy comparison.

Into all the world

“And He said to them, go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15 NAS) “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.” (Matt. 24:14 NAS emphasis mine)These two verses are the basis for all missionary work in the world today. My friend, a day is coming when God’s word will be translated into every language in the world, and then the end shall come! There are several Bible agencies and organizations that are dedicated to this very task. I urge you to pray for and support these efforts. The Jesus film project, Wycliffe Bible Translators, the United Bible Societies, and the American Bible Society are several worth exploring.

By studying, memorizing, and knowing the Bible, you will know God’s will for your life.

Now that we understand the need for so many modern translations and the background of them, what follows is a guide to the major modern English translations. This should suffice as a general reference. For a more detailed look at the translations see our List of Modern Bible Versions.

King James Version and derivatives

The Revised Version and its derivatives also stem from the King James Version.

KJV20- King James Version -Twentieth Century Edition Jay P. Green

NKJV- New King James Version

KJ21- 21st Century King James Version

MKJV- Modern King James Version

AKJV- American King James Version

Dynamic equivalence and paraphrases

TLB- The Living Bible

GNB- Good News Bible

CEV -Contemporary English Version

GW- God’s Word

NLT- New Living Translation

MSG- The Message

New English Bible and derivatives

NEB- New English Bible

REB- Revised English Bible

New International Version and derivatives

NIV- New International Version

TNIV- Today’s New International Version

Revised Version and derivatives

RV- Revised Version (British)

ASV- American Standard Version

RSV- Revised Standard Version

NASB- New American Standard Bible

NRSV- New Revised Standard Version

ESV- English Standard Version

WEB- World English Bible

Catholic translations

Knox- Knox’s Translation of the Vulgate

JB- Jerusalem Bible

RSV-CE — Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition

NAB- New American Bible

TLB-CE  –The Living Bible – Catholic Edition

NJB – New Jerusalem Bible

CCB -Christian Community Bible

NRSV-CE  –New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition

CPDV -Catholic Public Domain Version

Other translations

Fenton- The Holy Bible In Modern English (by Ferrar Fenton)

MNT- A New Translation (by James Moffatt)

AAT- An American Translation (by Smith and Goodspeed|)

BV- Berkeley Version

AMP- Amplified Bible

Knoch Concordant Literal Version (by Adolph Ernst Knoch)

MLB- The Modern Language Bible (New Berkeley Version)

LITV- Green’s Literal Translation (by Jay P. Green)

CJB- Complete Jewish Bible

TMB- Third Millennium Bible

AB- The Apostles’ Bible

HCSB- Holman Christian Standard Bible

CAB- The Complete Apostles’ Bible

The Literary Bible (by David Rosenberg)(Old Testament Only)

ISV- International Standard Version

EOB- Eastern / Greek Orthodox Bible

The Cotton Patch version (various portions of the New Testament done by Clarence Jordan)

NET- New English Translation


JD Wilhite

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