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Saturday, April 5, 2008

What’s With All The Different Bible Translations?

photo by geishaboy500

What a potpourri of abbreviations and acronyms! KJV, NKJV, NIV, NASB, ESV, NLT, NRSV, TNIV…. Whew! Why are there so many of them? And how’s a person to navigate through which translation to use?

The reason for the proliferation of versions is often so a publishing company can take advantage of marketing the world’s best selling book. It comes down to copyright issues. You can’t issue a Bible that some other publishing company is already selling.

The King James Bible was pretty much the Bible du jour until the mid-1900s. As our language culture changed it became more and more difficult for people to understand Old English (I have my opinions on that, but I’ll leave that soap box for another day). So publishing companies began hiring Bible scholars to translate biblical texts into more contemporary language.

Because of our moving around our family has visited a wide range of churches and has been exposed to a bunch of different translations. Just when I thought I’d be able to follow along in my Bible, the pastor would whip out a different translation. Not that it threw me that much, but it astounded me how many different ways there were to say the same thing.

I won’t offer a recommendation for a specific translation. Our family has several different versions, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes we use them for different purposes, depending on our study. I would definitely be aware, however, of Bibles that neutralize God (calling Him by a non-specific, generic name like the Master or the Great One), ones that change the deity of Christ (calling Him the servant of God as opposed to the Son of God), or those that have feminized the Lord out of political correctness (don’t even get me started).

I would also be aware that different publishers, in their quest to offer their own translation, may change or even omit certain words in order to contemporize their version. What is phrased in one Bible may not come across exactly the same in another. It is my understanding that no Bible is perfect in its translation due to the nuances of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages found in the original texts.

I found a website that offers what appears to be a pretty objective listing of a variety of Bible translations. Ken Collins’ site lists both advantages and disadvantages, a short description of how the particular translation came about, as well as a disclaimer for the word ‘standard’, which is found in many Bible titles. It should prove helpful for navigating through the confusion.

Utilize your favorite Christian bookstore and speak to a knowledgeable salesperson about the versions they carry. Look through them to get a feel for the language. Speak to your pastor about his recommendations, borrow one from your church library or a friend, and try it on for size. I’ll go so far as to say to stick with a major mainstream translation, and you should be OK.
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