I have been asked recently and am often asked why there are so many versions of the Bible. I thought I would just throw up a blog post here for everyone to see and get my perspective on the matter. The answer is really two fold.
1. There are many versions of the Bible because it is a translated book.
The Bible was written in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Most of us are unfamiliar with these languages and therefore need a translator of some sort. (By the way this is why often times you hear different “versions” of the Bible referred to as “translations”). It would be rather weird and expensive for us to get a translator every time we sat down to read or hear the Bible.
So we have “translations” or “versions” of the Bible. Someone somewhere (usually several scholars working together) produced a “translation” of the Bible into English. Generally speaking they all say the same thing. However, translation is a tricky business. Words are not always equal and sometimes translators struggle to put a Greek or Hebrew thought into coherent English and some choose some words over others.
Then you also have to account for the audience for whom you will be translating. I sometimes have to “translate” what I am saying in English to my less articulate 5-year-old. When it comes to the Bible, translation theory also plays a big part. Are translators going for a “word for word” translation or a “thought for thought” translation… in other words which has more importance, the actual words of the Bible or the thoughts/ message, or both?
So in large part we have several “versions” or “translations” of the Bible because translators are going for different things. The New American Standard (NASB) folks are going for a more conservative “word for word.” The New International Version (NIV) folks are going for a “thought for thought” kind of translation. Then there are versions like The Message and the New Living (NLT) that are more like “paraphrases.” A paraphrase is like a retelling in simpler language. Like when I retell my thoughts to my daughter in a way that she will understand them.
2. Translations are Copyrighted.
The second reason that there are so many versions of the Bible is quite simply publishing companies copyright their translations. Rightly or wrongly whoever produces a translation of the Bible owns rights to that translation and can control how it is printed and used. Rather than pay money to use another publishing company’s translation or jump through the hoops of securing rights to use another companies translation on a project, many have assembled a team of scholars and developed their own translation. For example The Message (Nav Press), The New Living Translation (Tyndale) and the New Century Version (Thomas Nelson) though different versions of the Bible are all geared toward the same type audience.
The fact that their are a variety of translations of the Bible isn’t really a bad thing. In fact it can be helpful to read two or three translations of a passage to get a good grasp on the meaning of a difficult passage of scripture. I hope this helps.
Personally I use the English Standard Version (ESV) the most, but I do have copies of several other translations as well.