To understand why so many versions exist you must realize the difficulties in translating from Hebrew and Greek texts into English. A goal of any good Bible should be to have an accurate translation while at the same time using a style that sounds natural to an English-speaking person. To be accurate, however, the text also must express the same meaning that was intended when it was originally written or spoken. And to sound natural the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek needs to be translated into the right words and expressions.
Difficulties in Translation
To accomplish this goal most Bibles are completed by a committee of scholars who ultimately need to overcome the following difficulties:
- Many Hebrew and Greek words have no direct equivalent in English. Some words have multiple meanings in English and some have no English equivalent. For example, the Greek has many words for “love” (eros, phileo, agape, storgay). The translator must determine the original meaning of the word and then accurately translate the word into English.
- Thousands of years separate us from Biblical times. For translators to understand the text they need to understand the setting and culture in which it was written.
- There are figures of speech in the Hebrew and Greek that do not make sense in English. Part of understanding the language of Biblical times is understanding the idioms and euphemisms commonly used then, and then finding an accurate English interpretation.
Even after translators overcome these difficulties there are still meanings lost in the translation, like Hebrew wordplays and acrostics, both of which are unique to the language they were written in. Often, the translators will just add a footnote to point these out.
Methods of Translation
Translators use many methods to create new Bible versions, and each version can be put into a category. These categories are good for comparing Bible translations because they are a good indicator of the purpose of the version, and summarize which method the translators used. Following are the major methods of translating:
Formal Equivalent (word-for-word)In this version translators try to reproduce the Hebrew or Greek language word-for-word, sometimes at the expense of expressing a passage in a way that sounds natural in English. Because this type is as close as possible to the original text, it is good for Bible studies but may require advanced knowledge of the language and historic setting to fully understand.
Dynamic Equivalent (thought-for-thought)In the dynamic equivalent the Hebrew or Greek has been more loosely translated to make understanding easier. Instead of word-for-word meaning, the translators will take phrases or thoughts and translate them into a modern equivalent that the average person would understand. While these versions are easier to read than their Formal Equivalent counterparts, some scriptures are more interpretations than translations.
Free Translation (Paraphrase)Some Bible versions are complete paraphrases of the original text, or even of other versions. Translators will re-word whole passages, focusing on readability instead of staying true to the original. Some versions paraphrase to the extent that many details are lost. For that reason these may be suitable for personal devotions or youth Bibles but not so suitable for Bible studies as are other versions.
With these categories in mind, presented below are reviews of several of the most widely available Bible versions. Most Bibles have this type of information in the preface or it can be found on the publisher’s website.
King James Version (KJV)
The King James Version is the most circulated and well-known version of the Bible. Originally printed in 1611, this version was authorized by King James I of England in an attempt to unify the kingdom by providing a single version to replace the various English translations that existed at the time.
The translators of the KJV relied heavily on the work of William Tyndale, whose translations had been used in the first English versions printed in the prior century. The King James Version is not without error, and does not always match more recent versions, which have been updated with manuscripts not yet discovered in 1611.
The KJV is a word-for-word (Formal Equivalent) translation, and although some scriptures contain antiquated language (the English language has evolved a lot in 400 years), the KJV contains the flowery Shakespearean language that many have come to love. Take for example Psalm 23:2-3: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, an update to the KJV was sponsored by Thomas Nelson Publishers. This New King James Version was completed in 1982 and sought to address the archaic language in the KJV (e.g., thee, thou, ye, -est, -eth) while keeping the stylistic beauty of the KJV. This update is still a word-for-word translation and, therefore, an acceptable version for Bible studies.
When translating Yahweh’s Name, the translators of the KJV substituted “lord” in small capital letters. “Yahshua” was substituted with “Jesus.” In fact, one of the mistakes of the translators was to make this substitution for the name of Old Testament general “Joshua” in Hebrews 4:78 and Acts 7:45, which renders the passages meaningless.
The Revised Standard Version (RSV)
The King James Version spawned several revisions in an attempt to correct some of the translation issues and update the language. One of these revisions is the 1901 American Standard Version (ASV), which was the basis for the Revised Standard Version. Like the KJV and the ASV, the RSV is a word-for-word translation. The RSV is easier to read and some believe this version accomplished the goal of readability while staying true to the original text. When it was originally published in 1952 it replaced the KJV in many churches as their Bible of choice. Like the KJV, the name Yahweh was rendered in this translation in small capitals as LORD.
The Amplified Bible
This version was created to give more depth to key words and phrases translated from the original languages by “amplifying” them with synonyms and definitions placed right in the text inside parenthesis and brackets. This version also includes cross-references and commentary in the footnotes.
Psalm 23:2-3 in the Amplified Bible reads, “He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters. He refreshes and restores my life (my self); He leads me in the paths of righteousness [uprightness and right standing with Him—not for my earning it, but] for His name’s sake.”
The Amplified Bible is based on the 1901 American Standard Version, but according to the publisher’s website, it “attempts to go beyond the ‘word-for-word’ translation to bring out the richness of the Hebrew and Greek languages.” The Amplified Bible was printed in stages over a period of about 10 years until the complete version was published in 1964 by the Lockman Foundation.
This version was not meant to be a stand-alone version, but rather to complement other Bibles. “Yahweh” is rendered in this translation in title case as Lord.
New American Standard (NASB)
This version is also a revision of the 1901 American Standard Version printed by the Lockman Foundation. The project started in 1959 and was a collaboration of conservative scholars from various religious backgrounds. The goal was to create a version that is grammatically correct and easy to understand, while being true to the original languages (a literal word-for-word translation) incorporating texts that had been newly discovered. The complete Bible was printed in 1971 and became the best-selling Bible until the New International Version was published later in the decade.
To enhance readability each verse starts on a new line, and paragraphs are marked by boldface verse numbers. Any quotations from the Old Testament that appear in the New Testament are printed in small capital letters. The NASB also has an extensive cross-referencing system, and occasionally includes alternate translations in the margins. These qualities make it a good study Bible.
Yahweh was rendered in this translation in small capitals as LORD.
New International Version (NIV)
The project for the NIV started in 1965 after a meeting between the Christian Reformed Church, the National Association of Evangelicals, and other Bible scholars. Their desire was for a version that used contemporary English, one that was accurate and readable, and that fell somewhere between formal and dynamic equivalence. The NIV is not as literal as the versions that preceded it like the NASB or RSV, but is arguably easier to read. There is some debate over whether the NIV is suitable for Bible study because of the emphasis put on being a thought-for-thought translation.
With the support of the New York Bible Society (now the International Bible Society) and Zondervan Bible Publishers, the work began in the late 1960s and involved over 100 scholars from different religious backgrounds (some in different countries). One of the most costly translation projects, the NIV quickly became the fastest selling Bible and remains one of the most popular Bibles. The NIV is available in many forms, like the NIV Study Bible and the Life Application Study Bible.
Another revision to the NIV has just been completed, and printing of the new NIV is scheduled for later this year.
In 1996, Zondervan also published The New International Reader’s Version (NIrV), which is a revision of the NIV intended for youth or anyone to whom English is a second language. The sentences were shortened, and an easier vocabulary was used, and this version is more of a dynamic equivalence translation and not especially suitable for Bible study.
In 2005 Zondervan published Today’s New International Reader’s Version (TNIV), yet another spinoff of the NIV, with updated English intended to engage young adults. Some of the updates were made to remove gender references. For example, Genesis 1:27 reads “…human beings in his own image,” instead of “…man in his own image.” The main purpose of this version was to make the English more clear to modern readers.
In the NIV Yahweh is rendered LORD in small capital letters. Adonai is rendered Lord with small letters. When the two are found together in the Old Testament in reference to Yahweh, they are rendered “Sovereign LORD.”
New Living Translation (NLT)
This version was created to be easily accessible to those who are accustomed to reading in modern English. Published in 1996 by Tyndale Publishers, this started as a major revision of The Living Bible (which was a paraphrase of the 1901 American Standard Version), but as the translators referenced more recent manuscripts, the NLT because a much more accurate translation than The Living Bible. Still, as a dynamic equivalence translation, there are better versions for Bible study than the NLT.
This version is a paraphrase that uses a lot of English figures-of-speech. The version was created in about 10 years by pastor Eugene H. Peterson, and published in its complete form in 2002. About this version, Peterson said, “This paraphrase is not meant to replace one’s current Bible. Rather it was designed as a reading Bible that can provide a fresh perspective.”
Psalm 23:2-3 in this version reads, “You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.”
As with any paraphrase, a true worshiper should be cautious with paraphrased Bibles because they can reflect the opinions and religious views of the person(s) doing the paraphrasing, whether they are aligned with Yahweh’s word or not.
Sacred Name Versions
Most mainstream versions of the Bible have taken out the sacred Names of Yahweh and Yahshua, and in their place put pagan terms or erroneous transliterations. There are now a handful of Bible translations that have restored the sacred names. Most of them are based on translations discussed earlier, like the King James Version or the 1901 American Standard Version. Because these versions are literal translations they make good Bibles for studying. The obvious benefit of having a sacred Name Bible is that you do not have to mentally restore the sacred names as you are reading the text.
Pictured is the Word of Yahweh Bible from Eaton Rapids, Michigan Request it here >>
Restoration Study Bible
At the time of this writing, Yahweh’s Restoration Ministry was in the final stages of producing The Restoration Study Bible (RSB) and raising funds for an initial printing. An online version is now available at www.restorationstudybible.org There you can view the text with and without Strong’s numbering along with Strong’s definitions. We plan to add study notes in the near future.
The RSB project started two years ago and is being completed by a group of volunteers from Yahweh’s Restoration Ministry. The goal of this version is to provide a sound study Bible with the sacred Names restored. No such Bible has ever been done. The version is based on the original King James Version, a word-for-word translation, in order to remain close to the original text. The KJV was also chosen as the basis because it is easy to cross-reference in Hebrew/Greek dictionaries and lexicons for deeper study into the Word.
Every significant word in the RSB includes a Strong’s reference number corresponding to a definition in Strong’s Hebrew and Greek dictionaries. This version also includes character profiles in the footnotes as well as commentary and word definitions. The commentary explains popular error and some of the translation issues in the KJV that have led to error. To enhance readability each verse begins on a new line, and paragraphs are marked with a paragraph symbol. Old Testament quotations found in the New Testament are printed in small capital letters, and each quotation includes a cross-reference in the footnotes.
As True Worshipers, we should be looking to the Bible as the Word given to us by Yahweh to guide our lives. Deciding which version to use for our devotions and Bible studies should not be taken lightly because there are so many translations to choose from and some are much better than others.
You could say there is no perfect English translation. Several translations have been created in an attempt to improve upon the ones before, and new translations and revisions will continue to be produced. A good rule of thumb is to get a good formal equivalence translation for Bible studies. You could also benefit by having more than one version so you can compare how different translators render passages into English. Additionally, a good Hebrew/Greek lexicon is very helpful in finding the possible English meaning and renderings of the original words.
We are anticipating that the RSB currently being produced by Yahweh’s Restoration Ministry will be very useful in Bible studies, and we are confident it would make a great addition to your collection of Bible translations.