Perhaps the difference between Bible versions is a simple question, but one in which it is very complicated to answer. First of all, you must consider what are you going to be doing with the Bible version you want. Here the difference between devotional reading, public reading in a church service, Bible study, or using your Bible in witnessing on the street makes one version perhaps better than another version.
Secondly, what is your reading skill level, and your education? For people that are educated, most of the Bibles are readable and understandable. For some people with poor reading skills, like children and people who speak English as a second non-native language, some Bibles are very difficult to understand, and finding any Bible for these people that they can understand is a challenge.
Thirdly (not in order of importance here, just presentation), we must emphasize the importance of fidelity to the original Scriptures. Unfortunately the King James only people have muddled the waters of Bible versions to such an extent that it is difficult to find your way any more. Basically if their position is that if it is not the KJV 1611, then it is a heretical Bible. Their reasoning is that first we must believe that the KJV is the only truly inspired Bible (English, foreign language, or even Greek or Hebrew), and then after that, they prove their point by comparing all the changes and differences from their KJV which obviously (at least to them) means a Bible version with changes from the KJV is heresy.
This circular reasonings is extremely dangerous, and it extends well beyond the Bible versions issue to all of their preaching, teaching, practice, and doctrine.
Having said that, we should analyze the different Bible versions understanding their differences (strengths and weaknesses) as well as their history and desired goals. Some translations were never meant to be accurate, because they are more like brief commentaries, and they point of existence is to present a different translation from what has already been presented (i.e. the KJV). So they are supposed to read different because that is their purpose, to shed some additional light on the text.
But the faithful Christian should also beware of putting a lot of emphasis, importance, and especially using these versions that are really just paraphrases of the Word of God. For their desire to present a different point of view, or to use different phraseology, the biblical meaning is often twisted, clouded, or just completely lost.
Equally we need to accept that some of the older versions of the English Bible have the same problem. The phraseology, grammar, vocabulary, and general meaning is not accurate. The King James Version today is often accused of this, which is probably valid to some point. The KJV was originally translated by King James’ translators because the Bible of the day were confusing, inaccurate, and in general not acceptable in transmitting the true biblical meaning of the original text to the people of that day.
Balancing “Literalness” against “Understanding”
All of this boils down to this, what we want is to be as literal as possible, yet retaining a good clear understanding of the text in good English grammar, syntax, vocabulary, etc. of our day. We do not want a translation that is so literal and “stuck” on Greek and Hebrew grammar and syntax that it is not very understandable. For our KJV readers, this was THE problem of their day that motivated them to make a new version, the KJV. All the Bibles of their day were translated out of the Latin Vulgate, using poor English (for their day) but sticking rigidly to the Vulgate as much as possible in a translation that was in English and not Latin. The KJV broke completely from that theory of translation to go back to the original Greek and Hebrew for their sources documents, and at the same time that they wanted accuracy and literalness with the original texts, they wanted readability in “modern” English (for their time period). This was the original thinking and goal of the KJV translation.
The best procedure for an obedient Christian is simply to use a very literal version of the Bible as a general rule, and when he comes across a passage that he doesn’t really understand what it is saying, compare his literal version with other literal versions, and if that doesn’t help, then start looking at other versions of the paraphrase type. Actually, it is better after a brief point of departure, to go to good sound Bible commentaries to see how they explain the verse. The use of Bible paraphrases is very dangerous, because understanding the passage by reading their translation many times makes their wording “stick” in our minds instead of the literal words.
Inspiration touches the literal words of the text, and the obedient Christian should not seek to manipulate the text to make it “more comfortable to him.” This is the danger in using Bible versions that are paraphrases, the people who use them many times well understand what the literal versions mean on these difficult passages but they seek some version that is more “easy” on them doctrinally speaking. For example, a woman who believes it is perfectly acceptable for her to be a woman pastor and preacher will not like the “literalness” of the KJV in 1 Timothy 3 when it sets out the requirement for the pastorate to be A MAN OF ONE WOMAN. She prefers a more paraphrased version that will give the sense of marital faithfulness, without using the specific words which absolutely require that the pastor be masculine. If you don’t understand exactly what “a man of one woman” means, then it is helpful to see a paraphrase to understand that this phrase means marital fidelity. But if you take that “thought” (dynamic equivalence), and use it in such a way as to excuse your disobedience, and allow a woman to be a pastor, or a co-pastor (husband and wife), then you have violated clear teaching of Scripture. The chapter division between 1Timothy 2 and 3 should not be there. The end of 1Timothy 2 begins the requires for the pastorate with a general broad sweeping statement, that the woman should not teach, administrate, or otherwise “overlord” or take authority over the man. That is the context of the pastoral requirements, beginning with an exclusion of all women from positions of authority, government, teaching, or preaching. Using a paraphrased translation, some people clearly construct unbiblical conclusions from the text, well knowing that the literal words of this passage would teach the opposite of what they seek. This is simply extreme sinfulness, and many people who use paraphrased versions are mostly of this type of thinking, that is, neo-evangelicals, people who want to twist and turn what they say the Bible teaches away from the truth of Scripture to what they particularly want to believe.
Translator Bias and Prejudice in their translation.
Now what I have presented above is a good start, but here we need to deal fairly and clearly about translator “bias” and “prejudice”. “Bias” means that before examining the evidence, you have made up your mind FOR a position, doctrine, or group. Prejudice is the opposite, before examining the evidence you have decided AGAINST of a group, doctrine, or position. Before we allow the extremists to fill our head with great accusations of bias and prejudice, let’s just settle the issue by saying that this is not a particular group issue, but every translation has a lot of bias and prejudice, and we just have to accept a lot of that in our Bibles. King James gave directions to the KJV translators to have a prejudice for using the ecclesiastical words of Anglicanism as well as showing a bias towards the Bishop’s Bible phraseology.
From Sources: Lewis’ History of the English Bible and The Men Behind the KJV by Gustavus S. Paine
“1. The ordinary Bible, read in the church, commonly called the Bishop’s Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the original will permit.”
“2. The names of the prophets and the holy writers, with the other names in the text, to be retained, as near as may be, according as they are vulgarly used.
“3. The old ecclesiastical words to be kept; as the word church, not to be translated congregation, &c.
“4. When any word hath divers significations, that to be kept which has been most commonly used by the most eminent fathers, being agreeable to the propriety of the place, and the analogy of the faith.
“5. The division of the chapters to be altered, either not at all, or as little as may be, if necessity so require.
“6. No marginal notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek words, which cannot, without some circumlocution, so briefly and fitly be expressed in the text…
“14. These translations to be used when they agree better with the text than the Bishop’s Bible, viz. Tyndale’s, Coverdale’s, Matthew’s, Wilchurch’s (The Great Bible), Geneva.”
What is interesting is that these men were Anglican, so they had a bias to the Anglican view of things, but Anglicanism of this century had a definite bias against Catholicism, which King James specifically favored the Bishop’s Bible (Catholic, and officially approved by the Catholic Church). Number 4 speaking to “the most eminent fathers” which had to have been Anglican churchman. Yet stating a bias towards Anglicanism, and in a sense toward Catholicism a bit, they still wanted to maintain a freedom from bias and prejudice as expressed in number 6, which in these marginal notes, previous Bible translations had expressed certain particular doctrines of groups. It should be pointed out that both the Great Bible and the Geneva Bibles were the most popular Bibles, and it took the KJV 100 years to outgain the popularity of these two, especially the Geneva Bible.
Dealing with translator bias and prejudice.
So bias and prejudice in some way enter into the translation’s of God’s word. How do we deal with it then? First of all, we must always be wary that it may exist, it does exist, and put on a mental defense to detect and recognize it when it happens. Because of this it is very important to “get a feel” for a translation, and by understanding the doctrinal perspective of the translators, to be looking out for his particular doctrinal prejudice and bias. For example, Charles Russell, the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, had a strong reaction against the doctrinal teachings of Presbyterianism (some would say extreme Calvinism) and he just could not accept the Calvinist doctrine of perdition. Perdition is simply the counterpart of Calvinist teaching on election. Election is that God has chosen before the world all those who will be saved, and perdition is that equally God chose before the world all who would be damned to hell, and that nobody is in control or responsible for their eternal destiny except God. Nobody can change their eternal state, and nobody is responsible for it either except God.
Russell’s rejection of this Calvinism caused him to form his own group, which took on a lot of Miller’s (a Baptist preacher) prophetic teaching character. But within Russell’s creation of a new religion, he definitely was antagonist to the doctrines of heaven, hell, the trinity, and Jesus as being fully God. In the New World Translation which the Jehovah’s Witnesses have produced, they made a feeble attempt to change their version from what the Scriptures literally say in Greek and Hebrew to be something more sympathetic to their doctrines and beliefs. This is translator bias and prejudice at its worse. Passages that present the divinity of Jesus like John 1, and Colossians 1:15-17 are manipulated and words are inserted that are neither in the Greek, nor are understood by the Greek text. These alterations are in no Greek manuscript, they are not valid forms of translating the Greek words in the text, nor in any way should they be in our Bibles. But these passages in the Bible are extremely clear teachings of the eternity, divinity, and deity of Jesus Christ, therefore the Jehovah’s Witnesses seek to remove these clear problems to their theology by altering the Bible rather than seeking to believe the truth of God.
This is a great problem, and basically, the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is a work which hasn’t even begun yet. There are literally thousands of places where the deity of Christ comes through in passages, and as these passages are used against the JW doctrine, the WatchTower will have to malign these passages also. How sad. Basically any true Bible believer simply has to reject this version completely from use, except for those who witness to Jehovah’s Witnesses, which would use this version to see how the JW would react to the clear plan of salvation.
New Age Modern Versions
We must address the King James Only movement and their assertion that all modern Bible versions are “New Age” based. First of all, the fact that one Greek mansucript has a certain wording and another doesn’t does not decide the “rightness” or “wrongness” of a textual variant.
Rev 22:18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:Rev 22:19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and [from] the things which are written in this book.
I hate to be the one to spoil these people’s parties, but the Bible equally pronounces a curse on anyone who “adds to” as well as “takes away” from the Scripture. The KJV position is simply, our version is inspired just like the originals, and none of the other translations have that same inspiration. So we are the standard by which you compare what is right and what is wrong. If it isn’t exactly like the KJV, then it is in error. In one tract I saw, they give the defense of the KJV as a listing of modern versions where “words are left out”. What if the KJV inserted words that just simply weren’t in the originals? They completely fail to tell us why their version is inspired more than the originals, equal to the originals, or why that version has an authority than all the others lack.
This again is a bias towards their version which is just not acceptable to an honest and obedient Christian. There are textual variants in the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, and to deal with them this way is dishonest and dangerous. The KJV has a reference towards Anglican theology, and because Anglicans baptize babies, the word baptizō is transliterated (passed from one language to another letter by letter almost) to baptize, when the translation is clearly “immerse”. “Bishop” and “Apostle” likewise were well established ecclesiastical offices in the Roman Catholic Church that the Anglican church carried over from Catholicism to their version of things. In the New Testament, no bishop was ever seen exercising power over any church but his own local congregation, and this is simply a term that they prefer because it is easier to teach a denominational hierarchy by using “bishop” instead of “supervisor” like the term should be translated. As for “apostle”, this is the concept of “missionary”, not regional manager. Paul greatly respected the Corinthian Church’s autonomy from him, even to the point of their silliness in having him write and ask for letters of authority from the local church in order to come or minister or communicate with their people. This issue simply won’t exist if Paul established the church as local members of his ecclesiastic denomination. So here, there is some bias and prejudice in the KJV.
In most of the modern versions, there will be some bias and prejudice coming through from time to time, but also, the integrity of the translation committee or individual responsible is also seen in some versions. The KJV has some bias towards Anglican doctrine, but it is remarkably little on a whole. Even some Catholic versions are basically free from this bias and prejudice. What we would mark as a bad translation is when the translator obviously chooses words or phraseology to protect or defend his particular religious views, when the Greek or Hebrew manuscript behind the translation doesn’t warrant those changes. Everybody will translate the Greek word “theos” as God, and if that is applied to Jesus, then that is the correct way to translate it. This is not a bias, but honesty and integrity (which the Jehovah’s Witness version greatly lacks).
So it is very important to know the doctrinal background, point of view, bias, and prejudices of the translators. It also is important to know or be able to check the Greek and Hebrew words and grammar behind the English translation.
Locating a Bible version in its “literalness” or “paraphrasing”.
At this point it is very important to understand where a translation stands as far as trying to be as literal (yet understandable) as possible, or where it takes a lot of liberty in the words it chooses to use in representing a passage. I think the people here do a better job at charting the Bible versions, so I will refer you to them.
I will reproduce their charts because sometimes these links disappear on me, so I want to have this in this post before it disappears.
|NASB New American Standard Bible (1971; update 1995)AMP Amplified Bible (1965)ESV English Standard Version (2001)RSV Revised Standard Version (1952)KJV King James Version (1611; significantly revised 1769)NKJV New King James Version (1982)HCSB Holman Christian Standard Version (2004)NRSV New Revised Standard Version (1989)
NAB New American Bible (Catholic, 1970, 1986 (NT), 1991 (Psalms)
NJB New Jerusalem Bible (Catholic, 1986; revision of 1966 Jerusalem Bible)
|NIV New International Version (1984)TNIV Today’s New International Version (NT 2001, OT 2005)NCV New Century VersionNLT New Living Translation (1st ed. 1996; 2nded. 2004)NIrV New International reader’s VersionGNT Good News Translation (also Good News Bible)CEV Contemporary English VersionLiving Living Bible (1950). Paraphrase by Ken Taylor. Liberal treatment of ‘blood.’
Message The Message by Eugene Peterson (1991-2000s)
English Bible Translation Comparison chart
Translations not identified in previous list
OIV Oxford’s Inclusive Language Version – revision to NRSV to be more gender neutral and politically correct.
GW God’s Word to the Nations. Translation/paraphrase by William Beck. Little known.
REB Revised English Bible
Additional Reference Sites
I would highly recommend that you visit these pages which divide the different Bibles according to literal (word-for-word), thought-for-thought, and paraphrase.
(Note in wikipedia.org, the link is to a general article on Bible versions, and you should search for each individual version for separate articles on a particular version.)