I remember one day when I was in Seminary in Fort Worth, TX I was driving along a street and stopped at a red light when a man walked up to the window to offer me a track. I always take them, because I don’t want the person to feel bad. I told the man I was a seminary student and he said, “Good, you need to read this” and the light turned green so I moved on.
“Maybe he was confused”, I thought. Maybe I should have said I was attending, “Bible School” instead of seminary so he would know I was already a Christian. It was a simple black and white tract with a little bit of color; Obviously cheap to produce. I saw a picture of a Bible on the front and quickly opened it. Soon I found out this was a “KJV Only” tract. It was a tract espousing how the King James Version of the Bible is so “perfect” that it was in fact better than the original language text and therefore, the King James Version of 1611 should be considered the “perfect” and only acceptable Bible for Christians.
I am going to be polite as to not offend any potential KJV only readers out there. The purpose of this blog is to encourage Bible reading, not debate Bible versions. In case you don’t know, I have been working on an original languages translation of the Khmer (Cambodian) Bible with a team for more than five years. I have studied and read extensively on Bible translation theory and understand intimately the essence of Bible translation. I have even written several academic papers on the subject of Bible translation.
In my generation, most of us from Christian families grew up without the KJV Bible being the only Bible in the house. Yes, both my parents used KJV, but I remember early on my father switched to NKJV and NASB (see the end for Bible names). I grew up primarily reading the NIV. Over the last ten years I have begun to use more and more Bible translations in my person study.
You may wonder why I use many Bible translations. Am I unsure in my faith? Actually, the contrary, I am so sure of my own faith that I know reading other Bible translations only confirms and strengthens my faith. I have one solid belief: reading the Bible is of little benefit if I don’t apply it to my life. Therefore, the number one issue for a Bible version, for me, is understandability and clarity. I actually moved my son to a different school because the teacher was using KJV in 2nd grade. Is it because I don’t like the KJV? Not at all! It is because he couldn’t understand what he was being told to memorize, and frankly, I couldn’t either! What use is that?
Honestly, nearly every Bible version you find in a bookstore is the cumulative effort of dozens, if not hundreds, of the world’s top Bible scholars. The quality of translation will be good no matter what translation you use. Any of them would be sufficient for your Bible study.
One thing I will tell you is that every Bible translator, or Bible publisher, has their own “preferences” or “bias” which they follow. This is why you need to read the preface of the Bible. The preface will usually explain the “bias” of the translation team. Languages are all very complex and dynamic. Both Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Greek are not the Hebrew and Greek spoken today because both of the languages have changed dramatically. This makes translation very difficult and always requires the translators and publishers to take certain stances on how they will translate certain phrases and words for their own consistency. Some want to try and follow Greek words closely, one by one. Which of course is not possible; but they try. It is their preference. They often break English grammar rules for the sake of following Greek words and Greek grammar. Examples of this are the NASB and ESV which are quite popular today.
Another “preference” is to translate each Greek word and phrase so that is reflected in correct and modern English. English grammar rules are followed so that the reader can clearly understand the words and phrases without having to take a course in Greek. Two good examples are the NIV and NLT. The NLT has become a very popular translation and may even pass the NIV in usage (which is the most popular Bible today). The NLT is one of my favorites. I like the NLT because it makes the verses come alive to me. It makes me hungry to read more. The hungrier I am for the Bible, the more I apply it to my life. Previous to the NLT I spent a lot of time reading the “New Century Version” which has as a “bias” of using a vocabulary of only 1600 English words so that those who only know basic English (i.e. English as a Second Language) can still understand it clearly.
How often do you read your Bible? Do you only grab it and dust it off for Sunday? If you are like me you probably don’t even carry a Bible to church on Sunday anymore because we can carry several versions in our cell phones! (I recommend www.gobible.jolon.org for use on basic cell phones) If I am preaching I take my printed Bible though. It is easier to read and it makes me look more important! Others don’t read their Bible because they simply cannot understand it, or it is too hard to read. If you find yourself falling asleep when you read your Bible, it may be time to check out a different version. A new version will help to spice things up. I even read “The Message” but because it does not have verse numbers I usually read it with another Bible next to me so I can compare where I am because sometimes the phrases are so colloquial it is tough to follow the story from what I am used too.
So, the purpose of this blog is to encourage you to read your Bible more. If you find you aren’t reading it much. Spoil yourself! Buy another one this week which is a different translation that what you have previously used and begin reading. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you apply everything you read to your life!
Categories and Names of Common English Bible Translations:
Strictly Literal Translations
- New American Standard Bible (NASB) Published 1971 and revised in 1995.
- English Standard Version (ESV) Published 2001.
- King James Version (KJV) Published 1611, numerous revisions, last official revision in 1769
- American Standard Version (ASV) Published 1901
- New King James Version (NKJV) Published in 1982 (revised from KJV)
- Revised Standard Version (RSV) Published 1952 and revised in 1989.
- New American Bible (NAB) Catholic version published in 1970
- New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Published in 1952, revised from the American Standard Version of 1901 which was revised from the KJV.
Dynamic Equivalent Translations
- New International Version (NIV) Published in 1978 and updated in 1984
- New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) a 1985 revision of the old Jerusalem Bible
- Revised English Bible (REB) Published 1989 and revised from the New English Bible of 1970.
- Today’s English Version (TEV) Published 1976, updated in 1992
- New Living Translation (NLT) Published in 1996
- Contemporary English Version (CEV) Published in 1995
- The Living Bible (LB) Published in 1971
- The Message (MB) Published the New Testament in 1993 and complete Bible in 2002
Just for fun:
- Did you know the 1611 King James Bible included the Apocrypha (The additional Catholic books)?
- Did you know essentially the KJV was copied from the Wycliffe Bible? (Some 80-85% of the verses are identical)
- Did you know in English speaking world, more than 50,000 versions of the Bible have been published (not copies, versions!).
- Did you know, it used to be common, for preachers to use their own personal translations of the Bible which they translated from Greek and Hebrew?
- There has been 7.5 Billion Bibles printed in the world! (More than the number of people)
- The entire Bible is currently available in more than 450 languages in the world.
- The New Testament is available in approximately 1,500 languages. In many of the languages, it is the only book available in that language!