I recently had someone ask me a great question. “Why are there different versions or translations of the Bible and which one should I use?” Great question! At first thought one would wonder why there are so many versions in English alone. We all understand different languages so people of every nation can understand the Bible but why are there so many in English? Let’s get something straight from the beginning. There is only one Bible and God is its author. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Bible is profitable to help us grow closer to God and know His will for our lives.
Let’s get a brief overview of how we got the Bible into English in the first place. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew with some Aramaic and the New Testament in Greek. These were the modern languages of that day. Now, if we all could read and understand these languages there would be no need for an English Bible. Since we don’t want Scripture to be “all Greek to us” we need it in our own language. The Bible was written to be applied and understood personally for the average person and not just for the scholars and elite. Even though God Himself created the language barriers in Genesis 11, He desires us to know His Word. He entrusted and inspired His Word to be written by the Holy Spirit’s direction over the course of 1,500 years, on three different continents, with over 40 different authors, in a collection of 66 different books.
There are over 14,000 manuscript copies of the New Testament that date back as early as 130 AD which means we can be sure what the original writers intended to say by comparing them. Yet out of all of these manuscript copies, the original translators remained faithful to the original meaning. Translations happened originally into English by William Tyndale around 1526. He had a great thought: that people who spoke English should be able to read the bible for themselves. What’s the point if you can’t understand it? Tyndale acquired a copy of Martin Luther’s German New Testament and was inspired to translate the Greek Bible into English. Another example would be the New American Standard Bible that took over 10 years to translate by 45 scholars and was finished in 1962. The King James was done in 1611 and New King James in 1982. Each translation translates from the original languages and manuscripts but was done for an intended audience.
Before 1881 you could read any translation in English you wanted as long as it was the King James Version. The KJV is great but most people today would have to use a dictionary as they read it because it uses language typical of 1611. Also, 300 words in the KJV no longer mean the same thing today that they did in 1611. Someone actually told me, “If it was good enough for St. Paul, it should be good enough for me” when speaking about the KJV. Funny, Paul didn’t have KJV. What did people who spoke English do before KJV? I’d recommend the NKJV for those set on KJV. A very literal and more readable and understandable translation would be the NASB. It uses less archaic words and the translators were more conservative theologically as they desired to adhere as closely to the wording of the original manuscripts as possible. It and the ESV are probably the best word-for-word translation available today. I do most of my personal study and sermon study out of the ESV while I read the NIV, NLT, and Amplified. The NIV (1978) is a great phrase-for-phrase translation and the scholars were more conservative in their theology. I’d stay away from the New World Translation as it is the worst translation in English as it twists and has tons of errors. A good daily Bible I suggest would be the NIV or NLT. A good in-depth study Bible would be the NASB or ESV. Whatever translation you get – read and apply it!