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What are the different methodologies used to translate the original texts into English?

Today there are three general philosophies of Bible translation in use. The first has been called "formal equivalence" or "word-for-word" translation.  According to this theory, the translator attempts to render each word of the original language into the receptor language while seeking to preserve the original word order and sentence structure as much as possible. The second philosophy is known as "dynamic equivalence" (sometimes referred to as "functional equivalence"). The goal of this translation theory is to produce in the receptor language the closest natural equivalent of the message expressed by the original-language text—both in meaning and in style. Such a translation attempts to have the same impact on modern readers as the original had on its own audience.  The third philosophy is called paraphrasing. To paraphrase is to restate something (for the sake of clarity) in different words than the original author used.

The "formal equivalence" or "word-for-word" translation philosophy attempts to render each word of the original language into the receptor language and to preserve the original word order and sentence structure as much as possible.  While this produces an English Bible which is tied more closely to the original text and is less prone to contemporary subjectivity, it often produces a translation that is unintelligible or void of meaning (in places) for the modern reader with little or no background in ancient Middle Eastern idiom and thought patterns. Many modern readers also consider these translations "choppy" or abrupt since the sentence structure is closely tied to the original language rather than our modern English.

The prevailing philosophy of several of the newer Bible versions is "thought-for-thought" rather than "word-for-word" translation emphasizing "dynamic equivalence" rather than the "essentially literal" meaning of the original text.  Of course, to translate the thought of the original language requires that the text be interpreted accurately and then be rendered in easily understandable idiom for the modern reader. The goal of any thought-for-thought translation is to be both reliable and easily readable, (though word-for-word versions also strive for this when possible). A "thought-for-thought" translation is of necessity more inclined to reflect the interpretive opinions of the translator and the influences of contemporary culture, though not nearly as much as a paraphrased version.

In preparing a paraphrase version the author/translator seeks to clarify the original message of the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek text in different words than the original author used. But whenever the author's exact words are not used, there exists the very real possibility the translator, however honest, may provide the English reader with an idea that the original writer never intended.  This is because a paraphrase is not only guided by the translator's skill in simplifying ideas, but also by what he or she believes the original author meant to say, and by his or her own personal theology and world view.  For this reason paraphrase versions should only be read along side a more literal translation but never used alone for serious Bible study.

Every translation is at many points a trade-off between literal precision and readability, between "formal equivalence" in expression and "functional equivalence" in communication. This is the challenge faced by all translators and biblical scholars.  The challenge faced by modern English readers is to choose which version is best for them and their intended reading or study plans.  In general, it is best to (1) read more than one Bible version, (2) be aware of the translation philosophy each version uses, and (3) don't get hung up on all the versions.  Find two or three you like and start reading.

 

Personal Recommendation:  Short of learning Greek and Hebrew, I recommend choosing a literal translation (ESV or Updated NASB) to ascertain what the original text actually says, and then balancing your reading with a more dynamic translation (NIV or NRSV) to ascertain what the text in question actually means.  However, keep this in mind: just because a particular translation is literal does not mean the actual meaning will be clear or evident.  In fact, often the reverse is true!   In cases like this, short of consulting a commentary or two, I like to read the NLT in the hope of gaining fresh insight into what the original writer was trying to convey to his audience.  If all this is confusing to you, you are not alone!  If you're one of those people who want to keep it simple and only read one Bible you can't go wrong with the NIV.

 

The history and translation philosophies of several Bible versions are listed below to help make your choice of a new or additional Bible version easier and more informed.  Feel free to explore the version histories and chart below for more information.

 

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What are the main differences between the many different English Bible versions?

Because no translation of the Bible is perfect or acceptable to all groups of Christian readers, and because discoveries of older manuscripts and further investigation of linguistic features of the text continue to become available, numerous translations of the Bible have proliferated for centuries.  Just since the publication of the Revised Standard Version in the mid 20th century over twenty-six English translations and revisions of the whole Bible have been produced.  In addition, twenty-five other translations or revisions of the New Testament, alone, have populated the bookshelves of Christian bookstores during this same time.  Choosing a new translation can be a daunting endeavor for many Christians. To aid in this task, the histories and translational philosophies of several of the more recognizable versions are provided below along with a quick reference chart.

Though I do have my own personal preferences I have resisted recommending any particular version(s).  Since I don't sell Bibles, you may notice my "rankings" differ slightly from the opinions of Zondervan and the International Bible Society (IBS).  Much of the material included below comes directly from the translators or publishers notes found in the front of each version.

  < Formal Equivalence                               Dynamic Equivalence                                                 Paraphrase >
 
   Word-for-Word
                                      Thought-for-Thought                                                  Interpretive

     
Interlinear   ESV         KJV                    NAB    Jerusalem                                            CEV                                   TLB
                         NASB             NKJV                                                             NIrV                                    NLT                     Message  
                                      ASV               RSV         NRSV            NIV         NEB                                                  TEV
 


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The King James Version  KJV
Gender Inclusive Language? No
Reading Level: Grade 12

Publisher: Various (Public Domain)

Completed: 1611
 

This is undoubtedly the most venerable of the English versions, though certainly not the first.  It was named after King James I of England who initiated the work.  It was a revision of several earlier translations which all stemmed from the work of William Tyndale who was martyred in 1536.  Tyndale's English version became the foundation for the Coverdale Bible (1535), the Thomas Matthew Bible (1537), the Great Bible (1539), the Geneva Bible (1560) and the Bishop's Bible (1568). Over fifty scholars worked on the project, which started in 1607 and finished in 1611. It was dedicated to King James with these words:

   

"To the Most High and Mightie Prince, Iames by the grace of God King of Britaine, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, &c.  The translators of the Bible wish Grace, Mercie, and Peace, through Iesvs Christ our Lord."

 

"The King James Version, known in England as the Authorized Version because it was authorized by the king, has become an enduring monument of English prose because of its gracious style, majestic language, and poetic rhythms. No other book has had such a tremendous influence on English literature." (Comfort, pp. 48-49)  Also included in the original 1611 version of this thoroughly protestant bible were the thirteen books of the Apocrypha, extensive notes from the translators to their readers, monthly prayer calendars, a table and calendar for expressing the order of Psalms and Lessons to said at morning and evening prayer, and a table of special holy days to be observed throughout the year.  Most of these features have long been dropped from modern printings.

 

It is now known that earlier translators had access to few ancient manuscripts and many late ones with questionable scribal revisions.  By the middle of the nineteenth century, the development of Biblical studies and the discovery of many more ancient manuscripts than the KJV was based on made it manifest that many of the serious defects in this version needed to be corrected. In addition, many English words in the KJV had become obscure while others could not be traced back to the earlier manuscripts.  Hence a new revision was undertaken in 1881.  Yet, despite these discoveries and the advances in Biblical studies, the KJV has found a permanent place in the reading and worship of many "King James Only" churches even today.

 

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The American Standard Version  ASV

Gender Inclusive Language? No
Reading Level: Not Established
Publisher: Thomas Nelson & Sons

Completed: 1901

 

A revision of the King James Version was begun in 1881 and completed in 1885 by a group of American and British scholars who could not agree on several "points of difference."   This new revision was simply called the Revised Version of 1885.  Most of the points of difference had to do with certain words chosen to update the more archaic words.  One of the more notable points ( upon which even some American readers did not fully agree) was the use of the title "Jehovah" in place of the titles "LORD" and "GOD" printed in small caps.  To appease the American scholars, who agreed to let their British counterparts have the decisive vote since they had taken the initiative in the work, an appendix of American preferences was hastily created to be included somewhere in the revision.  In 1901 the American Standard Version was printed incorporating the American preferences into the text. The ASV was soon copyrighted to prevent changes to the American preferences.

 

Despite its age the ASV  is still a very readable, yet literal, translation with the benefit of a great lineage. This translation well served the American church until it was supplanted by the Revised Standard Version in 1952. Interestingly, the use of the title "Jehovah" was abandoned for the more familiar titles of  "LORD" and "GOD"  in the RSV translation.

 

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The Revised Standard Version  RSV
Gender Inclusive Language? No
Reading Level: Not Established
Publisher: Harper & Row

Completed: 1952

 

The International Council of Religious Education held the 1901 copyright to the American Standard Version and authorized a new revision to the ASV in 1937. The council appointed a committee of 32 scholars to have charge of the text of the ASV and to undertake inquiry as to whether further revision was necessary. The committee deliberated for more than two years before deciding a thorough revision was warranted.  The New Testament was subsequently published in 1946; and the entire Bible with the the Old Testament, in 1952.

 

The principles of the revision were specified in the preface to the Revised Standard Version:

 

 "The Revised Standard Version is not a new translation in the language of today. It is not a paraphrase which aims at striking idioms. It is a revision which seeks to preserve all that is best in the English Bible as it has been known and used throughout the years. It is intended for use in public and private worship, not merely for reading and instruction. ... We are glad to say with the King James translators: "Truly (good Christian reader) we never thought from the beginning that we should  make a new Translation, nor yet to make of a bad one a good one. . . but to make a good one better"

The RSV was well received by many Protestant Churches and soon became the standard text of many churches and denominations.  However, most evangelical and fundamental Christians did not receive the Revised Standard Version well—primarily due to the Council's construal rendering of one verse, Isaiah 7:14, "Therefore the Lord , Himself will give you a sign, Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" -RSV.  Previous English versions always translated the Hebrew word "almah" (5959) as "virgin" in anticipation of the future birth of Christ (Matt.1:22-23).  Interestingly, the Septuagint, an early Greek translation of the Old Testament produced sometime between 285-247 B.C., used the word "parthenos" (3933),  the same word used in Matthew and elsewhere in the New Testament and always understood as the word "virgin." 

The RSV has since been been updated by the translators of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) which was completed in 1990, however the "young woman" still remains. Not withstanding this controversial issue, the RSV is a literal, yet very readable, bible translation.

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The New English Bible  NEB
Gender Inclusive Language? No
Reading Level: Not Established
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Completed: 1961, Updated 1970

The New English Bible is a collaborative effort by biblical scholars of several European Protestant churches.  In May 1946 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland received an overture from the Presbytery of Stirling and Dunblane, recommending that a new translation be made in the language of the present day. Their desire was for a completely new translation with a contemporary idiom rather than traditional biblical English. The General Assembly met twice more in conference to approach other churches with the task.  At the next conference delegates of the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, and the Methodist, Baptist, and Congregational Churches met and [again] recommended that a completely new translation be undertaken.  At a second conference in 1947 representatives of the University Presses were included.  By the third conference in 1948 the Presbyterian Church of England, the Society of Friends, the churches of Wales and Ireland, the British and Foreign Bible Society, and the National Bible Society of Scotland joined in the effort.  Since the publication of the NEB the Roman Catholic Churches of England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland have joined in the effort as sponsors.

The NEB is basically a dynamic equivalence translation.  The translating was done by three panels drawn from scholars of British universities to deal, respectively, with the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, and the New Testament. A fourth panel of trusted literary advisers was to scrutinize the translation for English style. A  Joint Committee issued general directions to the three panels involved in translation (Old Testament, Apocrypha, and New Testament) in pursuance of the aims which the enterprise had in view.  Individual translators were invited to submit drafts of a particular book which were then circulated to the other panel members for verse-by-verse review.  Particular renderings were accepted after  a "common mind" was reached in each case.  The resultant drafts were then submitted to the panel of literary advisors who again scrutinized them verse-by-verse in order to render each in the proper tone and level of language due the particular section [genre] of Scripture.  The final form of each draft was then submitted to a Joint Committee for final scrutiny before publication. 

This translation is strong, vibrant, and reflective of modern British prose. The book introductions reflect contemporary scholarship and there are limited footnotes throughout to guide the reader.

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The Holy Bible (Confraternity Version)
Reading Level: Not Established
Publisher: Catholic Book Publishing Co.
Completed: 1963

This Catholic translation was produced by members of the Catholic Biblical Association of America under the patronage of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. The aim of the Confraternity was to incorporate in this [new] edition of the Holy Bible the very latest Official Catholic translations for the United States. The books of 1Kings-Esther and 1-2 Machabees were taken from the Douay Version.  The New Testament was a fresh revision of the earlier Challoner-Rheims version. Also contained in this version are the Apocryphal books, introductions to each book of the Bible, and extensive Catholic study notes on various passages. This edition was dedicated to St. Joseph "the patron of the Universal Church" and is sometimes called the Saint Joseph Edition of the Holy Bible.

Among the many distinctive features of this bible are: the complete Encyclical of Pope Pius XII, "On the Most Opportune Way to Promote Biblical Studies," a complete general introduction, a modern poetic format for the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Canticle of Canticles [Song of Solomon], special photographs of the Holy Land, and chapter and sub-headings.

This translation is very abundant in used books stores and is an easily obtained source for understanding Catholic doctrines and the biblical texts used to support them.  While the translation itself is fairly free of Catholic bias the study notes in many places are definitely kept inline with Catholic tradition even when the biblical text clearly argues against it.  The reader will also notice that certain Catholic doctrines like prayer for the dead and purgatory are supported only in the Apocryphal books and nowhere in the universally accepted sixty-six canonical books of the Protestant bible.

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The Amplified Bible
Reading Level: Not Established
Publisher: Zondervan Publishing House
Completed: 1965, Updated 1987

Since the Bible was originally written in the Middle East in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, over a period of about 1400 years, there are shades of meaning found in the ancient texts that simply can't be rendered in a strictly literal (word-for-word) translation into modern English. Beginning with the 1901 American Standard Version as a reference text,  Dr. Frances E. Siewert, and 12 other translators began over 20,000 hours of research in order to carefully select additional words by which to convey the hidden nuances of the original languages in a modern English "readers" Bible. The additional "amplification" words are offset from the regular bible text by means of [brackets] or (parentheses) which can sometimes make for abrupt reading.

Dr. Siewart's work was reviewed by a committee of translation experts for accuracy before the Amplified New Testament was published in 1958.  The full Amplified Bible was later published in 1965.  Many have come to use this translation as their second Bible, comparing it to their conventional translation in order to gain additional insights into the Scriptures.  For this limited purpose the Amplified Bible is fine.  However, the very real danger of "semantic abuse" exists when a reader comes to believe that one ancient Hebrew or Greek word can actually have within it the full semantic range of  the additional words included in the Amplified Bible's palate of alternatives.  This translation should never be used to develop or argue ones' doctrine or theology.

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The Jerusalem Bible

Reading Level: Not Established
Publisher: Doubleday & Company

Completed: 1966
 

The Jerusalem Bible was published in England in 1966.  The Catholic translators had two objectives in mind when creating this work, "...the need to keep abreast of the times, and the need to deepen theological thought" [from the preface]. The study helps in The Jerusalem Bible were translated from the earlier French edition, La Bible de Jérusalem, whereas the text of the American edition was translated from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages with reliance on the earlier pioneering work of the School of Biblical Studies in Jerusalem, Israel.

 

The Jerusalem Bible includes the Apocrypha and contains many study helps such as book introductions, extensive notes, tables of weights and measures, and eight pages of maps.  The English text is "considerably freer than other translations, such as the Revised Standard Version, because the translators sought to capture the meaning of the original writings in a 'vigorous, contemporary literary style'" [from the preface] (Comfort, pp. 81-82).  Not long after publication a "Readers Edition" was introduced. This edition had the same complete text as the original although the study notes and introductions were greatly abridged to "relieve the average reader of burdensome detail while retaining necessary and helpful information..." [from the preface].

 

As with the Confraternity Version and the  NAB,  the translation itself is fairly free of Catholic bias while the study notes in many places are definitely kept inline with Catholic tradition even when the biblical text clearly argues against it.

 

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The New American Bible  NAB
Reading Level: Grade 6.6
Publisher: Thomas Nelson Publishers

Completed: 1970, Updated 1991

 

Not to be confused with the New American Standard Bible (NASB), The New American Bible is the official translation of the Roman Catholic Church, published under the direction of Pope Pius XII.  The NAB was "translated from the original languages with critical use of all ancient sources by members of the Catholic Biblical Association of America, sponsored by the Bishops' Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine" [from the cover page]. This is the first American Catholic Bible to be completely translated from the original languages. This translation was a collaborative effort on the part of some fifty biblical scholars—not all Catholic—and was over twenty-five years in the making.  The NAB has short introductions to each book of the Bible and concise marginal notes sowed sparingly among the text.

 

The translation has been described as "simple, clear, and straightforward... It is good American English, not as pungent and colorful as the NEB. [New English Bible]. Its translations are not striking but neither are they clumsy. They seem to be more conservative in the sense that they tend not to stray from the original." [Kubo and Specht].  Today the NAB is the best-selling translation for American Roman Catholics.

 

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The Living Bible
Reading Level: Grade 8.3
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Completed: 1971

 

"In 1962 Kenneth Taylor published a paraphrase of the New Testament Epistles. ... The entire Living Bible was published in 1971. .. Using the American Standard Version as his working text, Taylor rephrased the ASV into modern speech so that anyone—even a child—could understand the message of the original writers.

The Living Bible, rather than being a new translation in the strict sense, is a compilation of several earlier paraphrases published by Tyndale House under the separate titles of  Living Letters, 1962; Living Prophecies, 1965; Living Gospels, 1966; Living Psalms and Proverbs, 1967; Living Lessons of Life and Love, 1968; Living Books of Moses, 1969; and Living History of Israel, 1970.  In the preface to The Living Bible Taylor explains his view of paraphrasing:  "... to say as exactly as possible what the writers of the Scriptures meant, and to say it simply, expanding where necessary for a clear understanding by the modern reader."

 

Though many modern readers have greatly appreciated the fact that The Living Bible made God's Word clear to them, Taylor's paraphrase has been criticized for being too interpretive. But this is the nature of all paraphrases.  To paraphrase is to restate something in different words than the original author used. But whenever the author's exact words are not used there is the very real possibility the translator, however honest, may be giving the English reader an idea that the original writer never intended.  This is because a paraphrase is not only guided by the translator's skill in simplifying ideas, but also by the lucidity of  what he believes the original author meant to say, and by his own personal theology and world view.  Where the original language is unclear the personal theology and biases of the translator becomes his guide, along with his sense of logic and reasoning. If this is not the case then the original text is left to stand without any clear meaning.  However, this is also the case, albeit to a lesser degree, for anyone who translates the Scriptures regardless of their stated interpretive model.

 

Even with this charge against it, The Living Bible has been very popular among English readers worldwide with over 40 million copies sold. However, as in the case of The Amplified Bible, it is best used as a second Bible read alongside a more literal translation (NASB, NKJV, NRSV, or NIV). A paraphrase should never be used to develop or argue ones' doctrine or theology.

 

The Living Bible was updated and pretty much replaced by the The New Living Translation (NLT) in 1996. 

 

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Today's English Version  TEV / GNB
Previously Known as The Good News Bible

Gender Inclusive Language? Yes

Reading Level: 7.2
Publisher: American Bible Society
Completed: 1976, Updated 1992

Today’s English Version is a new translation that does not follow the traditional vocabulary and style found in the standard English Bible versions; rather, it attempts to set forth the biblical content and message in an everyday, natural form of English.  The aim of this Bible is to give today's reader maximum understanding of the content of the original texts.  Linguistically, the TEV is a translation meant for those unfamiliar with religious jargon.

Previously known as the Good News Bible, this work was an early attempt at dynamic-equivalence translation. Its editors did not try translating what was literally written; they instead tried translating meaning. In this endeavor the TEV translators only partly succeeded, tending at times toward commentary. The TEV's rewording of the original texts, although making the text more readable, often adds/injects inaccuracies into the original message of the biblical writers. In the 1992 revision, gender-neutral language was paraphrased too much, neutering some passages that refer specifically to males.  The translators had noble intentions but because of its many inaccuracies, the TEV is a very poor translation and is not recommended as a study Bible even if used alongside a more literal translation. 

Despite this version’s grave shortcomings it remains fairly popular and is widely distributed through sales channels such as Avon and Wal-Mart.

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The New American Standard Bible  NASB
Gender Inclusive Language? No
Reading Level: Grade 11.3
Publisher: Various, under the supervision of the Lockman Foundation
Completed: 1971, Updated 1977, 1995

 

Recognizing the value of the American Standard Version (1901), The Lockman Foundation, a nonprofit Christian corporation based in La Habra, California, and committed to evangelism, felt an urgency to update the ASV by incorporating recent discoveries of Hebrew and Greek textual sources and by rendering it into a more current English vernacular. Beginning in 1959 the foundation organized a team of thirty-two scholars (16 NT and 16 OT) to prepare this new translation.  More than 25,000 hours of research went into the New Testament alone. The 32 scholars set out to produce a literal translation ... "in the belief that such a translation brings the contemporary reader as close as possible to the actual wording and grammatical structure of the original writers" [from the preface].  When it was felt that a word-for-word literal translation was unacceptable to the modern reader "a change was made in the direction of a more current English idiom" [NASB Principles of Translation].

 

The NASB represents a modern conservative, literal approach to translation. While this translation followed the principles used in the ASV, the NASB should be viewed as a new translation rather than an update of the ASV.  In contrast to the ASV the title "Jehovah" was dropped for the titles "LORD" and "GOD"  printed in small caps.  In contrast to the RSV the English word "virgin" was reinstated for the Hebrew word "almah" in Isaiah 7:14, with "maiden" set off in the margin as an alternate translation.

 

The New American Standard Bible received a mixed response when it was published. Some critics applauded its literal accuracy, while others sharply criticized its language for hardly being contemporary or modern. In places it reads rather stiffly and the sentence structure is choppy and abrupt compared to the ASV or RSV. 

A 1995 update made several important refinements with regard to the original NASB: 1) It no longer uses "Thee" and "Thou" in reference to Deity; 2) phrases have been smoothed out; 3) words that have changed meaning have been updated; 4) verbs that have a wide range of meaning have been updated to better account for their use in the context; 5) punctuation and paragraphing have been formatted to fit today’s standards; and 6) notes about the ancient manuscripts have been revised to include more new and interesting facts.

 

Today the New American Standard Bible is rightly respected as a good study Bible that accurately reflects the wording and sentence structure of the original languages.

 

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The New International Version  NIV
Gender Inclusive Language? Some
Reading Level: Grade 7.8
Publisher: Zondervan Publishing House
Completed: 1978

 

"The New International Version is a completely new translation of the Holy Bible made by over a hundred scholars working directly from the best available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. It had its beginning in 1965 when, after several years of exploratory study by committees from the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), a group of scholars met at Palos Heights, Illinois, and concurred in the need for a new translation of the Bible in contemporary English" [from the preface].

 

Responsibility for the new version was delegated by the Palos Heights group to a self-governing body of fifteen, composed mainly of biblical scholars from colleges, universities, and seminaries.  In 1967, the New York Bible Society (now known as the International Bible Society) generously undertook the financial sponsorship of the project.  The scholars worked many years and in several committees to produce an excellent thought-for-thought translation in contemporary English for private and public use. The New Testament of the New International Version was published in 1973, and the entire Bible, in 1978.

 

"The translators of the New International Version sought to make a version that was midway between a literal rendering (as in the NASB) and a free paraphrase (as in The Living Bible). Their goal was to convey in English the thought of the original writers. ...  This version has been phenomenally successful.  Millions and millions of readers have adopted the New International Version as their 'Bible.' Since 1987 it has outsold the King James Version, the best-seller for centuries—a remarkable indication of its popularity and acceptance in the Christian community" (Comfort, pp. 79-81).

 

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The New King James Version  NKJV
Gender Inclusive Language? No
Reading Level: Grade 9.0
Publisher: Thomas Nelson Publishers
Completed: 1982

 

The New King James Version (1982) is a revision of the earlier King James Version of 1611, called for primarily due to three circumstances: (a) the acquisition of older biblical manuscripts than were available to the KJV translators, (b) further investigation of linguistic features of the text, and (c) changes in preferred English usage. Yet, from the preface, "In harmony with the purpose of the King James scholars, the translators have not pursued a goal of innovation."

 

The NKJV retains the elegant literary style and poetic flow of the KJV, but is easier for modern readers to read and understand.  It is very easy to read along side the original KJV text due the commitment of the translators and editors to achieve "complete equivalence with the original version while considering the history of usage and etymology of words in their contexts."  This translation is a much more literal translation than the NIV, but actually reads much easier if you are used to a King James Version Bible. However, for new readers it is somewhat choppy because it maintains 17th century sentence structure.  All-in all it's a good translation, well suited for both study and devotional reading, and has gained a margin of popularity for public reading and citation in many Christian circles.

 

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The New Revised Standard Version  NRSV
Gender Inclusive Language? Some
Reading Level: Grade 10.4
Publisher: Zondervan Publishing House
Completed: 1990

In 1989 a multi-denominational, interfaith team of 32 United States scholars completed yet another revision of the RSV (1952), resulting in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) which was published in 1990. The resulting version is scholarly, contemporary, and dignified, with simplified language and concern for inclusive rendering of pronouns for human beings.

In the preface to the NRSV, Bruce Metzger, chair-person of the revision committee, writes: "The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible is an authorized revision of the Revised Standard Version, published in 1952, which is a revision of the American Standard Version, published in 1901, which, in turn, embodied the earlier revisions of the King James Version, published in 1611. ...This new version seeks to preserve all that is best in the English Bible as it has been known and used throughout the years.  It is intended for use in public reading and congregational worship, as well as in private study, instruction, and meditation."

 

According to the International Bible Society this new version ranks somewhere between the literal word-for-word translation of the NASB and the verse-by-verse translation of the NIV.  This version's inclusive language, its rendering of Isaiah 7:14, and its association with the RSV will never allow it to be very popular with the evangelical or fundamental wings of Christianity.  Be that as it may, this translation strikes an appealing balance in that it is refreshing and easy to read while not straying far from the literal meaning of the original texts.

 

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The Message
Reading Level: Grade 4.8
Publisher: NavPress
Completed: 1993

 

The Message, published in 1993 by NavPress, is a free, highly colloquial and interpretive paraphrase of the New Testament by Eugene H. Peterson. An earlier form of the book of Galatians appeared in 1988 under the title, Traveling Light.  The Psalms and Proverbs were later completed and subsequently followed by the OT Books of Moses.  A complete Bible is due out sometime in 2002.

From the Introduction: "This version of the New Testament in a contemporary idiom keeps the language of the Message current and fresh and understandable in the same language in which we do our shopping, talk with our friends, worry about world affairs, and teach our children their table manners. The goal is not to render a word-for-word conversion of Greek into English, but rather to convert the tone, the rhythm, the events, the ideas, into the way we actually think and speak."

Since this is a paraphrase the same caveat and recommendation that comes with the Living Bible also applies here. It is best to use this paraphrase as a second Bible, comparing it to a more literal translation (NASB, NKJV, NRSV or NIV) in order to gain additional insights into the Scriptures. A paraphrase should never be used to develop or argue ones' doctrine or theology.

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The Oxford Inclusive Language Version

Gender Inclusive Language? Yes
Reading Level: Not Established
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Completed: 1995

 

The New Testament and Psalms: a New Inclusive Translation, was published in 1995 by Oxford University Press.

 

"This new inclusive translation of the Bible not only reflects the newest scholarly work on the most reliable manuscripts available, it also reflects and attempts to anticipate developments in the English language in regard to specificity about a number of issues such as gender, race, and physical disability. ...

 

Inclusive translation is the effort to replace or rephrase all gender-specific language not referring to particular historical individuals, all pejorative references to race, color, or religion, and all identifications of person by their physical disability alone, by means of paraphrase, alternative translation, and other acceptable means of conforming the language of the work to an inclusive idea.

 

This new, inclusive translation has used the New Revised Standard Version as the starting point. The NRSV, based on the latest biblical scholarship available, has gone a long way toward greater specificity in regard to human gender. This new, inclusive translation, however, goes beyond the NRSV to include people of every race, people of every class, people with disabilities—so that all may hear the New Testament and Psalms speaking directly to them. Also, this translation, in contrast to the NRSV, uses inclusive metaphors for God" (from the General Introduction)."  From the notes on the presentation page: "Language applies equality to all human beings, particularly when referring to people with physical disabilities, those held in slavery or servitude, references to Judaism and the Jews in New Testament times, and language referring to the Deity." (Emphasis added)

 

Many scholars believe the Oxford translation has violated basic translation principles in its attempt to make the Bible "politically correct." These scholars maintain that in changing the basic meaning of terms and concepts in the original languages, the Oxford Version has sacrificed accuracy in order to be more attractive to contemporary readers.  Spread the Word Ministries is in agreement with this criticism.

 

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The Contemporary English Version  CEV
Reading Level: Grade 5.4
Publisher: American Bible Society
Completed: 1995

Work on The Contemporary English Version was begun in 1984 by the American Bible Society. The New Testament was completed in 1991 and the full Bible in 1995.  In general, this translation employs natural and uncomplicated English.  The CEV comes with a array a bible study resources including book introductions, brief outlines, special articles, maps, and more—all designed to draw the reader into the text and instill a love for reading the Bible.

The mandate for the ABS translation team was to craft a translation that was biblically accurate, reader friendly, and understandable— even for first-time Bible readers. Among special concerns were ease of reading without sounding "childish," comprehensibility when read aloud, modern formatting, quality of style, and literary value. An international, interdenominational group of over 100, including translators, English language experts, and biblical authorities [comprised] the CEV translation team" [from a Thomas Nelson brochure].

In order to attain these goals of clarity, beauty, and dignity, the translators of the Contemporary English Version carefully studied every word, phrase, clause, and paragraph or the original.  Then with equal care, they struggled to discover the best way to translate the text, so that it would suitable both for private and public reading and for memorizing" [from the preface].

To date, little public use of this version has been observed and it is impossible to know how many use this version for private reading.

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The New Living Translation  NLT
Reading Level: Grade 6.3
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Completed: 1996

 

The New Living Translation is a dynamic equivalence translation (thought-for-thought) based on the work of 90 biblical scholars and a smaller team of English stylists. These scholars and stylists went back to the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek seeking to produce the closest natural equivalent of the message in natural, contemporary English. The scholars, from various theological backgrounds and denominations, were involved with the goal that the NLT be exegetically accurate and idiomatically powerful. The result was a readable translation that employs vocabulary and language structures commonly used by the average English speaking person.

"Most significantly, the New Living Translation is not a paraphrase but a translation. Every verse has been carefully compared to the most reliable editions of the Hebrew and Greek texts in an effort to make a translation that accurately conveys the meaning of the original texts" (from the Preface to the review copy of Romans).

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The New International Reader's Version  NIrV
Gender Inclusive Language? Yes
Reading Level: Grade 2.9
Publisher: Zondervan Publishing House
Completed: 1996

 

The New International Reader's Version (1996) "is a new Bible version developed to enable early readers to understand God's message. Begun in 1992 and co-sponsored by the International Bible Society and Zondervan Publishing House, the New International Reader's Version is a simplification of the New International Version (NIV), today's most popular translation of the Bible. " (from the NIrV "Sample Booklet").

 

The NIrV was designed to make the Bible clear and understandable to early readers, and can be read by a typical fourth grader. For this reason, it is also of value to the millions for whom English is a second language. It intends to be distinguished by five fundamental characteristics—readability, understandability, compatibility with the NIV, reliability and trustworthiness. It is intended to serve as a natural stepping-stone to the NIV when the time is right.

 

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The English Standard Version ESV
Gender Inclusive Language? No
Reading Level: Grade 8
Publisher: Crossway Publishing
Completed: 2001

"The English Standard Version stands in the classic stream of Bible translations that began nearly 500 years ago with William Tyndale's New Testament, was continued by the King James Version, and was later carried forward by the American Standard Version and the Revised Standard Version."—from the Bible's cover.

"The English Standard Version translation is founded on the belief that the words of the Bible are the very words of God. The translations committee was chaired by J.I. Packard and relied on the work of more than 50 biblical scholars, as well as the input of a 60-member, multi-denominational Advisory Council.  The ESV is an "essentially literal" translation that seeks (as far as possible) to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on "word-for-word" correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original."—Adapted from the publishers website.

The ESV also carries forward classic translation principles in its literary style. Accordingly it retains theological terminology—words such as grace, faith, justification, sanctification, redemption, regeneration, reconciliation, propitiation—because of their central importance for Christian doctrine and also because the underlying Greek words were already becoming key words and technical terms in New Testament times.  This translation stands in the great line of the English Standard versions, but in contrast to the RSV and NRSV the English word "virgin" is used for the Hebrew word "almah" in Isaiah 7:14 with no alternate rendering noted.

In the area of gender language, the goal of the ESV is to render literally what is in the original. For example, "anyone" replaces "any man" where there is no word corresponding to "man" in the original languages, and "people" rather than "men" is regularly used where the original languages refer to both men and women. But the words "man" and "men" are retained where a male meaning component is part of the original Greek or Hebrew. Similarly, the English word "brothers" (translating the Greek word adelphoi) is retained as an important familial form of address between fellow-Jews and fellow-Christians in the first century.

According to the publisher, it is ideally suited for in-depth study of the Bible. Indeed, with its emphasis on literary excellence, the ESV is equally suited for public reading and preaching, for private reading and reflection, for both academic and devotional study, and for Scripture memorization.

Already some are calling for this version to replace the NIV for public reading while others are making it their first choice over the NASB as literal, in-depth study Bible.  At this point it is too soon to tell what impact this version may eventually have in the Christian community.

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Why do most Protestant Bibles have only 66 books while Catholic Bibles have more?

All Protestant and Catholic Bible versions include the same twenty-seven books of the New Testament. Catholic tradition allows seven additional books to be added to the thirty-nine books Protestants consider to be the Old Testament. This puts the Protestant Bible at a total of sixty-six books, while the Catholic Bible contains seventy-three. (Protestant scholars differ in the way they number these books [7-14], mostly due to opinion as to their division and titles). Protestant scholars consider these books to be inter-testamental literature, referring to the 400 years of silence between the book of Malachi and the coming of John the Baptist.  As inter-testamental literature these disputed books are included in some Protestant Bibles for historical reference, but they are not considered to be canonical (that is, not considered to be of the same inerrant and inspired quality as the other sixty-six books of the Bible). For this reason these seven books are left out of most Protestant Bibles.

The disputed books are all Jewish in origin.  The Catholic designations for these books are:

          Tobit
          Judith
          1 Maccabees
          2 Maccabees
          Wisdom
          Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)
          Baruch

Catholic Bibles also differ in length due several additional stories added to the book of Daniel and six additional chapters added to the book of Esther. Protestant Christians refer to the additional books and amendments as the "Apocrypha" (A Greek word meaning "hidden").

The story of how this difference of opinion came about takes over 16 centuries to unfold.  When Aramaic replaced Hebrew as the language of the common people many Jews could no longer read the scriptures in Hebrew.  This development promoted the production of Aramaic translations for use in the synagogues. In addition, many Jews living outside of Palestine came to speak Greek, rather than Hebrew.  By the time of the early days of the Church there came to be two versions of the Old Testament in use by the Jewish people. The Old Testament in Hebrew/Aramaic was used in Palestine.  This version did not contain the seven books in dispute.  The Old Testament translated into Greek was read by the Greek speaking Jews living outside of Palestine.  This Greek version (known as the Septuagint or LXX) had come to contain the seven books in dispute. These additional books were rejected from the Hebrew Old Testament at the Jewish Synod of Jamnia in about 90 A.D.  Christian usage and opinion would remain somewhat ambiguous until the 16th century.

In the late 4th century A.D. St. Jerome translated the entire Bible into Latin. His translation of the Old Testament was from the Greek Septuagint version which contained the seven additional books. St. Jerome's translation, known as the Vulgate, was accepted by the [Catholic] Church and became the official Latin translation of the Bible. 

In the 16th century, Protestant reformers made their own translation of the Bible into German. Their translation of the Old Testament was from the Hebrew, not the Greek, version. In addition, the reformers did not regard these seven books to be of the same inspired nature and authority as the other thirty-nine Old Testament books. So the Protestant Old Testament, like the Hebrew/Aramaic version, lacks the seven books contained in the Greek and Catholic Old Testaments. The disputed books were officially included in the Catholic Old Testament by the Council of Trent (1546), but the reformers admitted them only for questionable historic value or personal edification.  The Westminster Confession (1647) sums up the position of the Protestant churches in regard to the disputed books with these words:

"The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings." Chapter I., Article III.

For an in-depth study of the formation of the Old Testament canon I strongly suggest the book The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, Roger Beckwith, Eerdman's Publishing Company, © 1985.

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Bibliography for the Bible Version Section:

The Complete Guide to Bible Versions, Philip W. Comfort, Tyndale, © 1991.
So Many Versions?, Kubo and Specht,  Zondervan, © 1993

 

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