Versions of the Bible to Explore
The reason there are many versions of the Bible is that there are very many manuscripts. For instance, there are approximately 10,000 Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts, 5,800 Greek New Testament manuscripts, and over 19,000 copies in Aramaic, Coptic, Latin, and Syriac languages.
The oldest papyrus fragment is at the John Rylands Library of Manchester University in England, called P52—the fragment dates between AD 100 and AD 150.
What Are the Different Versions of the Bible?
The English language has changed significantly over time since the King James Version of the Holy Bible was published. As a result, many Christians find it daunting to understand the words and may be intimidated by the KJV’s foreign-sounding terms. However, you can be thankful because many versions of the Bible are out there with more up-to-date wording. These include:
King James Version
The King Bible Version (KBV), also known as the Authorized Version of the Bible, is a word-for-word translation of the Holy Bible. It was published in the 17th century at the request of King James 1 of England. The King James Version (KJV) has been reprinted regularly, and the spelling has been updated. Many people have used the King James Bible version over the years, making it the most essential book influencing modern English. Often, it’s helpful to read and study this Bible version alongside a more recent translation.
New King James Version (NKJV)
This Bible version was published in 1982 by Thomas Nelson and was planned to be a modern expression of the original King James Version. The aim was to create a translation that observed the word-for-word integrity of the KJV but was easy to read and understand. As a result, this modern translation does a fantastic job of highlighting the best parts of the KJV.
New International Version (NIV)
This has been the best-selling Bible translation in recent years because its translators focused on readability and clarity. They did a fantastic job of portraying the thought-for-thought meaning of the original language in a manner that’s understandable today. However, many people have criticized recent New International Version (NIV) translations, including a current version called TNIV that uses gender-neutral language. Zondervan published it, and it seems to have struck the right balance in the 2011 version, which includes gender-neutral terms for human beings, including using the word “humankind” instead of “mankind,” but doesn’t change the masculine language that refers to God in the Scripture.
New Living Translation
The New Living Translation was first published in 1966 by Tyndale House, and it’s a thought-for-thought translation that’s quite different from the NIV. However, when you read it, it feels informal–it’s like you’re reading another person’s summary of the Biblical text.
Holman Christian Standard Version
The Holman Christian Standard Bible version is a new translation published in 1999. It’s revolutionary because it aims to bridge the gap between thought-for-thought and word-for-word translation. Essentially, the translators primarily used word-for-word, literal translation; however, when the meaning of certain words wasn’t clear, they adopted thought-for-thought translation. This resulted in a Bible version that’s true to the integrity of the text but still compares well with the New Living Translation (NLT) and New International Version (NIV) in terms of readability.
Christian Standard Bible Version
This is an update of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, an original translation from Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. It was published in 2017. Its publishers, many of whom are from evangelical and conservative church traditions, aimed to balance thought-for-thought and word-for-word translation and ensure the translation was as close as possible to the original wording while focusing on clarity.
New American Standard Bible
The New American Standard Bible (NASB) version was published in the 1960s. It’s a perfect example of a word-for-word or formal translation of the Bible in English. It’s perhaps the most “formal” type of translation available today. Thus, it’s a fantastic version to use in Bible study when you’re concerned with the form of the original Greek and Hebrew texts. The most recent version of the NASB was published in 1995.
Contemporary English Version (CEV)
This Bible version features meaning-based translation in a contemporary style using the common language. It’s intended to be understood when you read and hear it out loud, not when you read silently. It’s one of the best Bible versions for children, youths, and new Bible readers unfamiliar with the traditional church and Bible words. This bible version was initially published in 1995 and revised in 2006.
English Standard Version
This Bible version was first published in 2001 and revised in 2016. It’s a revision of the Revision Standard Version, the 1971 edition. In recent years, it has gained popularity among Protestant churches.
Good News Translation
The Good News Translation (GNT) is also known as the Good News Bible or Today’s English Version. It was one of the first meaning-based translations of the Bible into English. It was first published in 1976 and updated in 1992. This Bible version presents God’s message in a level of English that many people in English-speaking countries can understand. As a result, it’s widely used in less formal worship services and youth Bible study groups.
The Message Bible
This Bible version was published in 2002 in an attempt to produce Scriptures that align with the Modern language. The late Eugene Peterson wrote this Bible as a paraphrase of the previous versions. Unlike the New Living Translation, this Bible version doesn’t try to translate verses word-for-word into English. Instead, it merges Bible verses together, indicating a section, phrase, or paragraph as verses 1-5 or 7-10.
This rendering aims to create a Bible that aligns with modern language. It’s ideal for ordinary Christians because it’s written in plain language, which is easy to read and understand.
Click here to learn how to pick the Bible for you.
How Did the Bible Come To Be Translated Into Different Languages?
Originally, the Bible wasn’t written in English. Instead, it was written in ancient languages like Hebrew and Greek. However, because only a few people speak those languages today, translating the Hebrew Bible into modern languages was necessary so that many people could read and understand it. There are many goals translators strive for when translating the Bible into English and other languages.
- Accuracy: A translation must reflect the original language as closely as possible.
- Clarity: A translation that’s produced must be readable and understandable.
- Be natural: The bible translation must read in a way that most people naturally speak.
- Appropriate for the intended audience: The language used will vary based on the target audience.
No matter how translators choose to meet these goals will influence the translation produced. And every translation team or translator will have different opinions on the best ways to achieve these goals.
Why Do Different Versions of the Bible Exist?
With different translation philosophies and so many manuscripts, there are over 50 main versions of the Bible today. If you count revisions, then there are hundreds of Bibles.
Another reason there are different versions of the Bible is that, over time, the English language has changed drastically. Old English sounds different from modern English. Some Bible readers may get confused when reading specific passages, and some words have changed meaning.
For instance, in the King James Version, 1 Corinthians 13 uses the word “charity” instead of “love.” However, today, the word charity means something different than it did in the 17th century. Today, we use the word “charity” when talking about an organization or the act of being generous.
2 Timothy 2:15 is another excellent example. KJV says, “Study to show thyself approved.” While the modern NIV says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved.” In the past, the word “study” meant to do your best, not to learn new things.
Click here to learn what Bible evangelicals use.
What Are the Key Differences Between Different Versions of the Bible?
Over 60 English-language Bible versions are available today. We can divide Bible versions into three major categories: meaning-to-meaning or thought-for-thought, word-for-word, and paraphrased. Typically, a Bible version will explain the approach used to prepare it on the introductory pages.
The word-for-word Bible versions closely follow the Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek texts. The KJV and modern edition, the NKJV, are word-for-word translations.
The accuracy of a Bible version is of utmost importance. While the KJV has some mistakes in creating sound philosophies, the first versions must be more liberal, like the KJV or NKJV.
Thought-for-thought Bible translations are also valuable as they present the Scripture more easily. For instance, Hebrews 2:17-18 of the New King James Version, when describing why Jesus came to live among humankind as a flesh-and-blood person, says: “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things concerning God, to make propitiation for the sins of human beings. For in that, He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to help those who are tempted.”
The NIV, a thought-for-thought Bible version, says: “For this reason, he has to be made like his brothers in every way so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
The NIV explains the point clearly for most Bible readers today, while the NKJV directly translates the original language. Thus, a modern thought-for-thought version can often help when the text isn’t clear. The Good News Bible, Revised English Bible, and New Living Translation are other popular thought-for-thought Bible versions.
A thought-to-thought Bible version is also helpful when conveying the point of ancient figures of speech, like idioms that may not make sense today. For instance, a modern phrase like “kick the bucket” might not be around centuries from now, and translators translating it might have to use the word “die” instead–a thought-for-thought translation. Ancient Greeks and Hebrews had such expressions; a thought-to-thought translation is beneficial.
Thought-to-thought Bible versions use up-to-date language. Therefore, they’re easier to read and understand–however, they aren’t the best choices for establishing philosophy because sometimes they involve interpreting what the original writers wanted to say.
Paraphrased Bible versions, like The Message and The Living Bible, are also helpful. They aim to make the Bible easier to read and understand in modern language.
But you must be careful with these Bible versions because the authors exercised substantial “poetic license” when interpreting Biblical passages and terms according to their personal religious philosophies.
You can consult paraphrased Bible versions to better grasp the story but don’t rely on them to establish doctrine. That’s because paraphrased Bible versions are inadequate sources for accurately documenting the meaning of any Biblical text.
What Is the Most Popular Version of the Bible?
According to statistics by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, these are the most popular Bible versions in the United States:
- New International Version
- English Standard Version
- New Living Translation
- King James Version
- Christian Standard Bible
Religious affiliations and denominations largely influence Bible sales and popularity. So, for instance, the most famous Jewish Bible version won’t compete with the rankings of a larger audience.
Another study published in 2014 by The Center for the Study of Religious and American Culture shows that Americans read various Bible versions as follows:
- King James Version (KJV) 55%
- New International Version (NIV) 19%
- New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 7%
- New American Bible (NAB) 6%
- The Living Bible 5%
- All other Bible translations 8%
What Is the Oldest Version of the Bible?
Today, the Bible can be found in many languages. However, it was initially written and preserved in two ancient languages. The New Testament was originally written in Greek, while the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. The oldest translation of the Bible into English dates back over five hundred years ago, when William Tyndale printed the New Testament in 1524.
However, centuries before Tyndale translated the Bible into English, two older versions existed in Latin. One version was The Latin Vulgate, a translation into ‘common’ Latin. It was completed in 383 C.E. by Jerome. This Bible version was translated directly from Hebrew, and today it’s popularly called The Vulgate.
But there’s an older version in Latin that was used for centuries by Christendom. That version is called The Old Latin Vulgate or Itala, which has existed since AD 157. In his writings that date around 200 C.E., Tertullian, the Church’s father, cited many Latin quotes directly from The Old Latin Vulgate. This original Latin Bible version was used for nearly a millennium until Latin stopped being a common language.
Parts of the Old Testament in Hebrew date back hundreds of years further than Latin or Greek versions. Further, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which existed from as early as 168 B.C., confirms that Hebrew was the language used by Jews during the time of Jesus Christ. This discovery helped determine the integrity and preciseness of Hebrew scribes in accurately recreating manuscripts throughout the decades.
The oldest versions of the Bible available today are millennia-old. The Masoretic text, written in Hebrew, became the standard approved Hebrew text in 100 AD. It existed before the writing of the New Testament and was confirmed by the Dead Sea Scrolls around 168 B.C. It was used as the authorized Hebrew Old Testament when the Biblical canon was established.
How Has the Bible Been Translated Over Time?
The Bible has been translated into hundreds of languages from the Biblical languages of Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek. As of 2022, the Bible had been translated into 724 languages, with the New Testament having been translated into over 1,617 languages, and some parts of the Bible have been translated into 1,248 languages.
Early translators translated Biblical texts into Gothic, Syriac, Latin, Ge’ez, and Slavonic languages. In the Middle Ages, Jerome’s 4th-century Latin Vulgate Bible version was predominant in Western Christianity.
Textual variations in the New Testament include omissions, errors, changes, additions, and alternate translations. Sometimes, different translations have been inspired by doctrinal differences.
The Bible as a whole wasn’t translated into the English language until the Middle English period. John Wycliffe’s English translation of the Bible dates back to 1382. Portions of the Bible were initially translated from the Latin Vulgate into Old English by a few scholars and monks. Many of these translations were primarily in the form of interlinear glosses or prose. There were only a few complete translations during this time. Many of the books of the Bible were read as separate texts because they existed separately. Bible translations typically included the author’s commentary on passages and the literal translation.
Aldhelm, who was the Abbot of Malmesbury and Bishop of Sherborne between 639 and 709, is thought to have translated the book of Psalms into Old English.
Between c. 672 and 735, Bede translated the Gospel of John into Old English shortly before his death.
In the 10th century, a translation of the Gospels into Old English was made in the Lindisfarne Gospels. This was mainly characterized by word-for-word gloss insertion between the lines of the Latin text by Aldred, who was the Provost of Chester-le-Street. This is the earliest known extant translation of the Gospels into English.
The Wessex Gospels is a complete translation of the four Gospels into a West Saxon dialect of Old English. That translation was produced in 990, and it’s the first translation of the four Gospels into English with no Latin text.
Abbot Aelfric translated scores of the Old Testament into English in the 11th century.
How Has the Bible Influenced Language and Literature Throughout History?
The Bible’s influence on English is both stylistic and thematic. The Bible has provided many authors with Scriptural themes and attuned their literary style. Thus, Oscar and Bunyan Wilde imitated the simple, repetitive, and rhythmic style of the Bible. Further, sentiments, ideas, and even phrases have been regularly borrowed from the Bible for secular and religious writings. John Ruskin, for example, was fond of packing his materials with biblical quotes.
Many phrases and idioms from the Bible have become part of the English language. Often, they’re used in conversations and writing, even by those who have never read the Bible. These phrases include ‘arose as one man,’ ‘clear as crystal,’ ‘a broken reed,’ and ‘the sweat of his face.’
John Wycliffe was the first person to translate the Bible into English in the 14th century. Later, William Tyndale took the Bible translation to another level, producing modern English.
Many idioms and proverbs used in the modern language are gifts from the Bible. The Bible has enriched the English language and literature immensely, so much so that a proper evaluation is practically impossible. Common phrases used in modern English from the Bible include “a law unto themselves,” “moth and rust,” “the man of sin,” “the eleventh hour,” “wash one’s hands off,” and other familiar scriptural allusions and phrases.
From Tyndale’s Bible translation, we owe “peacemaker,” “long-suffering,” “the fatted calf,” “stumbling block,” “mercy seat,” “scapegoat,” “day spring,” and “filthy lucre.” From the Coverdale Bible, which was published in 1535, Modern English has borrowed the phrases like “loving-kindness,” “tender mercy,” “avenges of blood,” and “valley of the shadow of death.” We use many of these phrases today without knowing their source.
From Geoffrey Chaucer to modern-day authors and poets, the Bible’s influence is quite discernible in poetry and literature. Chaucer borrowed the material from some of his tales and writings from the Bible. Even Edmund Spencer, who wrote The Fairy Queen, used Bible references in her work. In the 20th century, the poetry of Dylan Thomas, William Butler Yeats, and T. S. Eliot was full of Biblical references. Practically, the Bible’s influence is evident through the use of “th” in words like “hath,” “hateth,” “loveth,” and “giveth” as a literary style. Also, you’ll find the use of old past tenses like “clave,” “gat,” and “brake” instead of “clove,” “got,” and “broke” in poetry written by Alfred Tennyson, William Morris, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Further, in Modern English, the Bible has influenced using Scripture proper names as appellatives to designate people’s character. For instance, “David and Jonathan” is often used to mean “any pair of committed friends,” and “to raise Cain” means to behave in a disruptive or rowdy manner.
How Do Different Religious Traditions View the Bible?
The Bible is a compilation of religious Scriptures or texts deemed holy in Christianity, Catholosism, Samaritanism, Judaism, and other religions.
Among Muslims, the books believed to have been revealed by God in the Quran are the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospel. The Quran mentions that the Torah, Psalms, and Gospel books were revealed by God just like the Quran was revealed by God to Muhammed, the last prophet and messenger of God according to Muslims.
Muslims view the Bible or some parts of it to have been changed and interpolated with time while believing the Quran is the final, unchanged, and preserved God’s word.
Buddhism, on the other hand, denies the existence of the Bible. Buddhists believe that Jesus Christ didn’t rise from the dead. Thus, they deny that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God.
What Is the King James Version of the Bible?
The King James Version is also known as the King James Bible or the Authorized Version. It’s the earliest Modern English translation of the Bible for the Church of England. It was commissioned in 1604 and published in 1611 under the sponsorship of King James I of England. This Bible translation profoundly influenced the English literary style and was accepted as the standard English Bible between the mid-17th and early 20th centuries.
The King James Bible has 80 books, including 39 books in the Old Testament, 27 books in the New Testament, and 14 books in the Apocrypha.
The New Testament of the King James Version was translated from the Textus Receptus. But most of the book of Revelation was translated from the Latin Vulgate. The Old Testament was primarily translated from the Masoretic Hebrew text, while the books of Apocrypha were translated from the Greek Septuagint.
Several versions of the KJV were produced between 1611 and 1769. However, the 1769 edition is the most popularly cited version of the KJV.
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