Why are there so many Bible Translations? (2 minute read)

Have you ever wondered why there are so many versions of the Bible? Before 1881, the King James version was the only English Bible translation available to readers. Since then, scores of new translations have been printed. Currently, there are more than 200 versions of the Bible in more than 70 languages.

Most people do not read Biblical Hebrew or Biblical Greek. Therefore, there is a need to translate the Scriptures into a language the reader can understand.

In addition, many advances have been made in the understanding and use of ancient words and customs. These need to be reflected in the latest translations.

This begs the question; which translation is the ‘best’?

Let’s look at the three basic approaches that translators use:

Word-for-Word (Formal Equivalence): Adhering to the words and structure of the original language without sacrificing clarity. This gives priority to what the original language says and how it says it. It aims to be a literal translation.
Example: English Standard Version, New King James Version, King James Version and the Amplified Bible.

Thought-for-Thought (Dynamic Equivalence): Prioritising clarity and understanding of the meaning of the original language without sacrificing accuracy. This gives priority to what the text means. It aims to make the text as readable as possible for a modern audience.
Example: The Christian Standard Bible, New Living Translation, the NET Bible and The New International Version.

Paraphrase: This method seeks to reproduce the original meaning of Scripture using modern language and expression to communicate the message of the Bible. In translating a verse, a paraphrase is less concerned with providing an exact English word for each word of the original text as it is with communicating the basic meaning of that verse in an understandable way.
Example: The Living Bible and The Message. Although the examples above are for English Bible translations, the same approaches are used for all languages translated into.

But how do I choose my Bible translation?
Many people find that they need more than one Bible translation and use different ones for different occasions.

First of all, consider how you’ll be reading the Bible:

  • I am new to the Bible: You might like to start with a translation that avoids too much technical language. Look for one described as ‘dynamic equivalent’.
  • I will be reading with other people: Decide whether it would help you to have the same version as everyone else or a different one, so that you can see how different translators have translated the passage you are reading.
  • I want to study a passage in-depth: A translation that focuses on formal equivalence will be most helpful.
  • I want to get a sense of the complexities of the passage and what translators have wrestled with to create their translations: Read a range of translations, choosing at least two formal equivalence translations, together with commentaries and study bible notes.

The good news is that, while languages and translations may change,
the message of the Bible is timeless and unchanging. ‘New’ translations are a
testament to our growing understanding of Biblical languages, and for the reader,
it is a great opportunity to engage with the life-giving Scriptures in a fresh way.