Does it really matter what translation of the Bible we read?
Have you ever wondered why there are so many translations of our English Bible? Are you curious about how we got them or which translation is the best?
If you’ve never asked these questions, you should. It’s a fascinating story and one that I would like to talk about today.
When I first became a Christian I was only aware of one version of the Bible, the King James version. As far as I knew at the time, that was the only English translation that existed.
As I began to study God’s Word through the years, I began to realize there were many translations, yet it wasn’t until years later that I discovered the importance of understanding the differences in these translations.
“When it comes to studying Scripture, few things are as important as how the Bible has been translated.”
First, it’s important to understand the basic steps of how God’s inspired word got from His appointed authors into our hands today.
There were four basic steps involved in this process:
Step 1: God spoke to human authors.
Step 2: The human authors wrote down what God spoke to them on scrolls.
Step 3: The original scrolls were meticulously copied and recopied by scribes.
Step 4: Translators worked to translate the ancient biblical scrolls into Latin and then eventually into English.
Next, it’s important that we understand the differences in the various English translations that are available today.
There are 3 basic types of translations:
1. Formal – A word for word translation that strives to interpret the original scrolls word for word. (ESV, NASB, HCSB)
2. Functional – A thought for thought translation that strives to interpret the original scrolls in a more common, everyday language. (CEV, GNB, NLT, Living Bible, Message Bible)
3. Paraphrase – A commentary translation that strives to restate or explain an English translation using different words. (the Living Bible, The Amplified Bible)
Thirdly, it’s important to understand how the various translations came into being:
At the risk of persecution, even death, translators throughout history remained committed to making God’s Word available to common readers. Below is a condensed overview of how God’s Word has been translated through the years:
In A.D. 400: The original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic scrolls were translated into Latin.
In 1380: John Wycliffe translated the Latin version of God’s Word into the first English translation and suffered persecution for doing so. This Bible was revised in 1388 and became the primary English version used for 200 years.
In 1526: William Tyndale translated the New Testament into English based on the original Greek manuscripts rather than using the Latin translation. Because of Tyndale’s desire to provide common people with the ability to read the Bible, he was executed and burned. Over the next 75 years, the English Bible was translated and revised in order to make God’s Word accessible to people from all walks of life.
In 1604: King James I authorized the translation of the whole Bible for use in the churches in England, which became the first version of the King James Bible.
In 1885: American scholars began to realize the need to return to the original scrolls for the basis of their translations and over the next 60 years, the ERV, the ASV, and the RSV were added to the array of translations.
In 1947: Ancient Scrolls were discovered in the Qumran caves near the shore of the Dead Sea southeast of Jerusalem. The contents of these scrolls, known today as the Dead Sea Scrolls, were soon identified as ancient copies of the Hebrew Bible and other Jewish religious writings. Approximately 225 of the scrolls found were biblical texts representing every book of the Old Testament except for the book of Esther.
“The ‘Dead Sea Bible’ is the oldest group of Old Testament manuscripts ever found—at least a thousand years older than the traditional Hebrew texts from the early medieval period that have been the basis of all modern Bible translations.”
In 1971: Scholars produced the New American Standard Bible, utilizing the latest discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which quickly became one of the more popular word-for-word translations today.
In 1982: The King James version was updated into a more common English language, The New King James Bible, while still being based on the underlying Greek texts that translators used for the original King James Bible.
When choosing which translation of the Bible you want to read consider using one that is written in your modern language, that is based on the original Hebrew and Greek text and is appropriate for your own particular purpose at the time. In addition, consider reading several reputable translations, which will open your eyes to a greater understanding of God’s Word.
Which translation of the Bible is your favorite to read from?