With the dizzying array out there you may feel totally lost. Which are the better English versions? Which are the most trustworthy? Most accurate? One of the most frequently asked questions we get is, which Bible do you use? Before you make a choice, realize that no translation is perfect. Each is shaded to some degree by the translator and his personal beliefs and biases. Some translations are better than others and more faithful to the text. We prefer a study Bible with the King James text simply because more references, including lexicons, concordances, and studies, are geared to the King James than any other Bible. But the KJV also has its own detractors.
In early days, special edition Bibles contained not only the New and Old testaments, but also a concordance, small dictionary, and copious commentary notes. Because these notes were usually biased, a man’s religious persuasion was known by the type of Bible he kept.
In a less significant way, the Bible version you use most reflects your own intensity of interest in the Book of Books. The casual reader may choose a paraphrase version like The Living Bible or the easy-reading Today’s English Version. The serious student who wants copious study notes may consult The Anchor Bible, Harper Collins Study Bible, English Standard Version, Ryrie Study Bible, Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible, The NIV Study Bible, or one this writer uses, The Companion Bible.
Before we examine the bestsellers, a look at the historical background of Bible translations will be helpful.
Some believe that the King James Version is the only trustworthy Bible. As one confused devotee said, “If the King James was good enough for the disciples, it’s good enough for me.”
Although the King James is one of the most popular of versions, it was not the first English translation of the sacred Scriptures. Before the King James was published in 1611, 12 others had appeared in England. The King James in circulation today is actually a 1762 version.
Translating of Scripture has been ongoing since 300 B.C.E. when tradition tell us 72 Jewish scholars were ordered by Egyptian ruler Ptolemy II to provide a Greek translation of the Old Testament for Alexandrian Jews who gradually had lost touch with the Hebrew language. Thus the Septuagint Greek Old Testament emerged. The Septuagint is the first attempt to translate the Hebrew Old Testament into another language, and is based on Hebrew manuscripts 1,000 years older than the Hebrew of the Masoretic text on which our Bibles are based.
More than 1,700 ancient manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures exist today, but none of them are originals. Until over 60 years ago, the oldest existing Hebrew manuscript was the Masoretic, prepared by Jews known as Masoretes in the 5th and 6th centuries of our common era. With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, much older Hebrew documents—dating from 100 B.C.E to 100 C.E.—became available. The Scrolls include parts or all of the Old .Testament books but Esther.
Except for segments in Syriac (an Aramaic dialect), only Greek manuscripts have been found for the New Testament, dating to the second century C.E.
A Hebrew New Testament?
That does not mean, however, that the originals were in Greek. Only Paul and possibly Luke were capable of writing in Greek. Further, Paul wrote his epistles to “converted” Jews of the dispersion in Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome as well as to Gentiles. The disciples were Hebrews and many thoughts and idioms of the New Testament are Hebraic, especially in the books of Matthew and Mark. What’s more, hundreds of Hebrew words remain in the English New Testament, many simply because no exact synonym existed when the Hebrew was translated into Greek.
Notice the following Hebrew words left virtually untouched in the English: corban (Mark 7: 11); Sabbath (Matt. 12:1); raca (Matt. 5:22); cummin (Matt. 23:23); hosana (Mark 11:9), and myrrh (Matt. 2: 11). In addition are Hebrew words found commonly in the New Testament, like halleluyah (see alleluia); Satan; Messiah; wai (woe), and rabbi.
Idioms are found in the Evangels and the first part of the Book of Acts that are purely Hebrew. These don’t make good literal sense in either Greek or English, but they make perfect sense in Hebrew. These colorful Hebraisms provide undeniable evidence for a Hebrew source of the New Testament. If the original were Greek, it would not contain Hebrew vernaculars that have survived to our English.
Such Hebrew idioms include the Savior’s words in Matthew 6:23:”If your eye is evil…” and “If they do this when the wood is green … “ (Luke 23:31). Another is, “Whatever you bind [or loose] on earth will be bound [or loosed] in heaven” (Matt.16:19).
Also consider these expressions in the Evangels that have clear Hebrew understructures: “cast out your name as evil”; “the appearance of his countenance was altered”; “lay these sayings in your ears,” “he set his face to go,” “lifted up his eyes and saw,” etc.
Whenever anyone in the New Testament was addressed from heaven, it was always in the Hebrew tongue. Translations replaced the original Hebrew manuscripts, which either became lost, were destroyed, or simply wore out through use. Perhaps even older Hebrew scrolls will be discovered in some future archaeological dig.
Even more exciting would be the discovery of ancient Hebrew autographs of the New Testament. Such a find would demonstrate that the New Testament is simply a completion of the Old, as the New Testament faith is but a continuation of the “faith once delivered” to Israel, Jude 3. Paul wrote that we who are the Messiah’s today are Abraham’s seed, and heirs to the same promise,Galatians 3:29. For now we must rely on the oldest available manuscripts as did generations before us.
Our English Translations
Many English Old Testaments are based on the Septuagint. Another influential translation was the fourth century Latin Vulgate, an entire Bible translated by Eusebius Hieronymus, otherwise known as Jerome. The Vulgate was based on the Hebrew and became the standard of the Roman Catholic Church. From it sprang the Douai version, the only authorized English Bible for Catholics from 1600 to the 20th century.
With the emergence of a hierarchical government under the papacy, the Bible fell into general disuse. Exclusive decrees and dogmas of the Roman Church began to take precedence over Scripture. The common man could not read Latin, and the Vulgatewas the only Bible he had hopes of ever seeing. Volumes were scarce, and those that were available were chained down in the church and could not be removed.
But a renewed interest in the Scriptures followed the Protestant Reformation, as many of the church’s teachings came under scrutiny and criticism. The Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries revived the study of ancient languages and helped to inspire the many English Bible translations that would follow.
Among the new translators was the Dutchman Erasmus, who in 1516 became the first to publish a Greek New Testament. His work was used by the leaders of the Reformation in their common language versions of the New Testament.
First English Bible
In the 10th century a priest named Aldred wrote an English rendition of the Evangels between the lines of a Latin text he was copying, thus producing the oldest English translation of the New Testament for which evidence exists. Aelfric of Bath, an Anglo Saxon abbot, shortly afterward produced an English translation of the four Evangels.
It was 400 years later that the reformer John Wycliffe translated the first complete English Bible, relying primarily on the Latin Vulgate. The 1382 Wycliffe Bible paved the way for the Protestant Reformation.
Another influential translator was William Tyndale. He was a member of the Catholic order and friend of Martin Luther. In 1525 he published an English New Testament from the Greek, as well as the Book of Jonah from the Hebrew. It was the first English version made directly from the Hebrew and Greek and the first to be printed. His work was consulted in subsequent English translations, including the King James. For his efforts, Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake, being accused of producing “untrue translations.”
The first complete English Bible to be published was the work of Miles Coverdale in 1535. This Bible had the blessing of King Henry VIII because Coverdale worded many passages in a way that supported Anglican doctrine and undermined the use of the Latin Vulgate. This version was translated from German and Latin sources (Martin Luther’s Bible, the Vulgate, and Tyndale’s Bible). Coverdale was the first to introduce chapter summaries and to separate the Apocrypha into an appendix to the Old Testament.
In 1553 Mary Tudor came to the throne of England and promptly banned the use of all English Bibles in favor of the Catholic Latin versions. In 1560 a group of English Protestant scholars fled to Geneva and produced the Geneva Bible. It was the first translation to divide the Scriptures into verses. It was also called the Breeches Bible, because of the peculiar way it translated Genesis 3:7: “They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves breeches.”
The Geneva Bible was based mainly on Tyndale’s work, with strongly Calvinistic notes.
Bible Fit for a King?
In an attempt to unite Presbyterian Scotland and Episcopal England, King James I authorized a new English translation of the Bible. The Hampton Court Conference, which the king assembled, resolved, “That a translation be made of the whole Bible, as consonant as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek; and this to be set out and printed, without any marginal notes and only to be used in all Churches of England in time of divine service.”
Partly because of the “very partial, untrue, and seditious” Calvinistic notes in the popular Geneva Bible, the king was stirred to issue a new translation void of such notations. He took a leading part in organizing the work, dividing the Testaments among a panel of 47 of the leading scholars. It was one of the first English translations to be a united translating effort.
When it was finished, the King James Version was reviewed by a panel of 12 men. By virtue of the large number of translators, the same word is sometimes rendered differently. For example, Isaiah renders the nation descended from Esau as both Edom and Idumea.
The King James for the Old Testament relies primarily on ben Hayyim’s edition of the ben Asher Hebrew text. For the New Testament the committee used the Greek text of Erasmus and a bilingual Greek-Latin text of the sixth century.
The King James New Testament is far from perfect. The preface of the Revised Standard Version reads, “The King James Version of the New Testament was based upon a Greek text that was marred by mistakes, containing the accumulated errors of fourteen centuries of manuscript copying. It was essentially the Greek text of the New Testament as edited by Beza, 1589, who closely followed that published by Erasmus, 1516-1535, which was based upon a few medieval manuscripts.”
This source notes that Beza had access to two valuable manuscripts dating from the fifth and sixth centuries but used them very little because they differed from Erasmus’ text. The King James was revised in 1615, 1629, 1638, and 1762, the latter because the English language had changed so much that people wanted a Bible they could understand easily.
Most new translations have a hard time catching on. The King James was no exception. The Pilgrims didn’t like the newfangled KJV, preferringthe more traditional Geneva Bible. But through time the KVJ had come to be the most widely used of all translations.
Because of its wide popularity, most reference works such as lexicons and concordances are geared to the King James Version. The King James was the most popular Bible purchased in America until 1988, when the New International Version superseded it.
No Perfect Translation
Because it is produced by well-meaning but fallible men, no Bible translation is perfect. Only the original manuscripts by the prophets, apostles, and writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Languages are not precisely parallel in meaning. Often a translator has to make a judgment call as to which would be a better word to use based on his own competence with the languages and his own background in understanding the Scriptures.
Because the originals are unavailable, many modern translations are based on less than perfect source texts that are themselves born of translator biases. Some translations interpret certain passages according to traditional theological understanding (for instance, “Easter” in Acts 12:4 instead of the proper “Passover”); some are very loose or general in the use of language; others use outdated language (what does the KJV mean in reference to the Kingdom in Luke 16:16 that every man “presses into it”?);while nearly all suffer from the fluid nature of language as old meanings are replaced by new inferences. (Remember when “gay” meant happy and “bad” always denoted something harmful?)
Must we give up all hope of understanding the true, intended meaning of Scripture? Not at all. The key is knowing where the weaknesses and strengths lie in each version, as well as consulting as many good versions as possible when questions arise.When there is a problem, the Bible student can consult the ancient Hebrew and Greek languages through interlinears and lexicons. The diligent Bible student must sometimes rely on a variety of renditions, comparing one with another and especially with the Hebrew or Greek source word. Some study Bibles such as The Companion Bible do just that, as do interlinears and lexicons.
Yahweh has preserved His Word down through centuries of change and attempts to destroy it. Remarkably, ancient manuscripts like the Dead Sea Scrolls reveal just how closely the text was followed in the scribal copying leading to our translations.After copying, the scribe would count up the letters in the original and check it against his copy. If there were any discrepancies, the copy would be destroyed and the scribe would start over.
Why New Versions Necessary
Exact word equivalents are not possible for every word translated from the Hebrew or Greek. If a word-for-word translation were always possible, we would have no need for all the existing translations in English. But because we speak in phrases and sentences whose construction varies from language to language and dialect to dialect, the meaning can easily vary as well.
Additionally, languages constantly change, requiring revisions of translations to keep abreast of changes in word meanings. Better versions are necessitated as knowledge of ancient languages, customs, idioms, and circumstances grows through scholarship and discovery.
Let’s briefly review the most popular English versions of the Bible.
New International Version
Said to be the closest thing to a standard Bible among evangelicals is the New International Version. A team of 115 scholars spent seven years producing this contemporary language Bible in 1978. Each book was assigned to a team of scholars, who passed their work on to an intermediate committee who checked it with the Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek. Then a general editorial committee double-checked the work. Still another committee made any needed changes.
The primary concern was for accuracy, clarity, and natural English style. For the Old Testament they used the Masoretic Text, Biblia Hebraica,, Samaritan Pentateuch, Septuagint, Vulgate, Syriac, Peshitta, Targums, and Jerome’s Juxta Hebraica, for the Psalms, as well as consulted the Dead Sea Scrolls. Numerous Greek texts were used for the New Testament.
The NIV employs a dynamic equivalence form of translating in a number of passages. This method calls for using a word or phrase that makes the impact that the original had on its first readers, rather than using a simple grammatical or lexical equivalent. In English style it is similar to the Revised Standard Version.
The study version employs footnotes. Drawbacks are that it, as most, is not faithful to the sacred Names, and the New Testament reflects popular and sometimes erroneous dogma.
The New King James Version
The idea behind this version was to improve the readability of the King James Version but effect as little change as possible. A team of 130 scholars worked on individual books and recommended changes to the KJV text. An executive review committee then gave final approval to the new version. The New Testament was completed in 1979, the Old in 1982.
This version replaces Old English words like thee’s, thou’s, ye’s, thy’s, and thine’s with their modern equivalents. The NKJV is criticized for not updating the language enough. One authority called it a halfway house for some KJV readers who would eventually move on.
English Revised Version
In the 1870s two committees began to revise the King James Version with an attempted word-for-word rendition of the ancient autographs. The result in 1885 was the English Revised Version, a translation oriented toward British word spelling and British figures of speech. It was unpopular in the United States, even though an American committee had joined the project in 1872.
American Standard Version
Some of the same members of the American committee who worked on the English Revised Version joined the effort to produce the American Standard Version in 1901. This American revision of the KJV used American expressions for British ones and went back to the KJV in many phrases.
Further, it made parallel passages the same when the Greek was identical, something the King James was inconsistent in doing. Other changes included a more precise use of words with related meanings. For instance, “justice” for “judgment,” and “despoil” for “spoil. “
An attempt to translate literally from the ancient Hebrew and Greek text led to many difficult Hebraisms that the American Standard attempted to avoid. But in their effort to produce a literal translation where possible, ASV translators made their version sometimes as awkward as the King James. Still, the American Standard remains one of the most accurate of English language versions.
Revised Standard Version
Originally, the Revised Standard Version was an attempt to modernize the American Standard Version. But this Bible, published in 1952 by the National Council of Churches, came to be a new translation, at least of the improved Greek of the New Testament.
The RSV is one of the most consistent English translations, yet was strongly criticized at the outset for two reasons in particular: it altered the wording of many classic passages, and it chose new readings for many passages that had major theological implications.
The phrasing of the RSV is similar to the high style of the King James, which makes it less popular than more modern English Bibles today. It uses a word-for-word correspondence form of translation, and corrects such passages as Acts 12:4 (using the correct word “Passover” instead of “Easter”) and Hebrews 4:8 (employing the more proper “Joshua” rather than the erroneous “Jesus,” a mistake showing that the name “Jesus” should be “Yahshua”).
New American Standard Bible
Called the most literal, word-for-word translation on the market today, the New American Standard Bible of 1963 was another attempt to revive the American Standard Version of 1901.
Translators of the NASB used some of the papyrus manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, as well as referred to recent studies of the New Testament text. The Old Testament employed Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica (a Masoretic text), noting in the margin alternate translations from other manuscripts versions. It also has numerous cross-references.
A convenient feature of the NASB is that when a literal translation might be confusing to the reader, it gives the meaning of the text and puts the literal translation in the margin.
Some scholars think the Old Testament NASB is better than the New. Whatever the shortcomings, the New American Standard Bible is a valuable consulting version.
Previous English Catholic Bibles were translations from the Latin, until 1966 when The Jerusalem Bible was introduced. This readable version was based on a new way of translating, meaning for meaning from the Hebrew and Greek.
The name derives from the fact that the annotations are translated from a French version prepared at a Dominican center for Biblical studies in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Bible was edited by Catholic scholars in Britain. It is one of the few to transliterate the Name Yahweh in the Old Testament.
A plus for the Bible student are the notes at the bottom of the right-hand pages, as well as an introduction to each book.
New English Bible
The New English Bible was the first British version to break completely with the King James. It was completed in 1970 by a committee of both Bible scholars and learned men under the auspices of all major Protestant denominations in Great Britain.
Rather than use traditional Biblical English, the translators employed contemporary idiom. It is based on Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica for the Old Testament and a New Testament text by R.Y.G. Tasker, produced in 1964. The True Worshiper should be alert to the evangelical approach in the New Testament that does not always harmonize with Old Testament truth.
Of little import to the serious Bible student are the paraphrase versions, like the Living Bible and Good News Bible. These use dynamic equivalence and interpretive paraphrase techniques to make very easy reading but also very free English translations.
Sacred Name Bibles
We’ve covered a mere fraction of the hundreds of English versions available. There are many other lesser knowns, including single translator versions like the James Moffatt, Smith and Goodspeed, and J.B. Phillips. These former two acknowledge the true Name Yahweh in their prefaces.
Of significance to True Worshipers seeking to worship their Father in the truth of His personal Name is J.B. Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible, which uses the Name Yahweh in the Old Testament, as do the Anchor Bible and Jerusalem Bible.
Since the 1950s several Bibles have been produced that restore the sacred Name. One of which is A.B. Traina’s Holy Name Bible. This work is based on the King James, although it reorganizes chapters in some books (including Genesis, Daniel, and Revelation) and takes a few translation liberties.
Other Sacred Name Bibles:
The Restoration of the Original Sacred Name Bible was published in 1976. This Bible is based on the Rotherham Version and uses the European-inflected Ashkenazic form of the sacred Name, Yahvah, as well as Yahshua in the New Testament.
Published by the Institute for Scripture Research in South Africa, The Scriptures says in the foreword that it uses the Masoretic Hebrew and Ara- maic as found in Kittle’s Biblia Hebraica for the Old Testament. In the New, this translation relies on three Greek texts. The Tetragrammaton (four Hebrew letters of Yahweh’s Name) is used in the Old Testament wherever the sacred Name is found. It employs the Hebrew letters for Yahshua in the New.
In 1992 World Book Publishers of Iowa Falls, Iowa, published The Authorized King James Version of 1611 in Exegeses. A year later came the second edition called the Exegeses Ready Research Bible. This Sacred Name version uses the King James and inserts exegeses or critical explanatory words within the flow of the text. It employs the Ashkenazic form “Yahveh” in the Old Testament and “Yahshua” in the New. This translation restores the Hebrew names of people and places of Scripture.
The Word of Yahweh of Eaton Rapids, Michigan, is a King James Bible using “Yahweh,” “Yahshua,” and “Elohim” with an explanation of the criteria used for employing “Yahweh” and “Yahshua” in the New Testament.
The Bible Student’s Wish
We see a reawakening to Bible truth today. Fifty years ago when the sincere Bible student mentioned the sacred Name and Yahweh’s Sabbaths and Feast days, he received quizzical stares.
But today, many churchgoers now know that Yahweh is the true, personal Name of the Father, and that Yahshua is the Name of His Son. Most Bible translators say they want to provide as accurate a version as possible. Perhaps some day all Bible translators will be honest with themselves and their readers and boldly and properly proclaim the true Names Yahweh and Yahshua in all Bible versions.