WHY ARE THERE SO MANY DIFFERENT TRANSLATIONS OF THE BIBLE? BY MIKE PRAH
There are literally hundreds of different translations of the Bible into English. The many translations can be confusing to some. The Bible was originally written in the ancient languages of Hebrew and Greek, and I’m grateful for the dedicated translators who have made it available to us in modern English. Our language has changed over the years, and that’s one reason for new translations. God wants us to understand His Word, and a good translation can help us do that. God told His prophet to “write down the revelation and make it plain” (Habakkuk 2:2).
At the heart of the issue are two views as to what a translation should be. On one side are those who feel a translation should stick just as closely as possible to every word of the original Hebrew and Greek. They want the translation to be a literal transfer, word for word, of the original words into English. They feel this will provide the greatest accuracy possible and, after all, this is the aim, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, that approach encounters real problems. Some words simply don’t have an exact equivalent in English. The word order and the entire sentence structure just don’t match from one language to another. So these word-for-word translations are wooden and unnatural. They may be used for scholarly Bible study, but they often fail in terms of comprehension and readability.
On the other side are those who feel a translation should transfer the message, that is, the exact thought and emotion of the original text. To do this, it should use as many words as are necessary to reproduce the idea precisely in English. You don’t really obtain accuracy, they contend, by a word-for-word translation, but you do when you convey the concept, the message, of the original, so that the reader understands it. In the end, they say, a thought-for-thought translation is actually more accurate as well as more understandable. They invite us to compare Job 36:33 in a literal translation (the venerable King James Version) and a thought-for-thought translation (the New International Version):
“The noise thereof showeth concerning it, the cattle also concerning the vapor.” Job 36:33 (King James Version)
“His thunder announces the coming storm; even the cattle make known its approach.” Job 36:33 (New International Version)
Of course, since the KJV dates from 1611, it contains some archaic language, but the message of the KJV in this verse is also very difficult to decipher. In the NIV in this case the thought comes through with more clarity.
Translations also differ as to the reading level of the reader. They vary from a third grade to a twelfth grade reading level. The lower reading level translations have shorter sentences, draw from a smaller English word pool, and avoid all uncommon words. Some employ a vocabulary limited to 1000 words.
A good translation should be both accurate and easy to understand; take time to sample some of them by reading the same passage in several different versions. I personally utilize the New International Version, New King James Version and New Living Translation. I also enjoy the convenience of a parallel Bible, one that has, for example, the NIV, NKJV, NLT and the Message Bible where you can view a passage of Scripture on one page. My favorite is the Bible App from Youversion. In my messages, I often utilize several modern though-for-thought translations to convey the message and the concept of the original, so that the audience understands it.
As you can see, there are many audiences and many different kinds of readers. Each translation has the power to transform your life. Though the cadence and the terminology may differ, the voice of God can speak to you through each one. No matter which translation you use, however, the most important thing is your attitude. Do you see the Bible as God’s Word, and are you listening to it with an obedient spirit? The Bible says, “Do not merely listen to the word. … Do what it says” (James 1:22). The question remains: how will you respond to God’s voice as He speaks to you from the pages of this life-changing book?