Berean Bible Study Notes
Learning to be a Berean, Lesson 5
Today's study: The English translations of the Bible
Please note that much of this first material that we'll cover here was relatively new to me, too! I hope that I have learned it properly and that what you read here is accurate. If you find something that is not, please let me know!!
Last time we went over the original languages of the Bible. You'll remember that at the time of the writing of the New Testament, the language of the whole region was Greek, even though the Roman Empire was in charge (the Romans spoke Greek in addition to their Latin). The Bible of the early church was the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament (the translation into Greek of the Hebrew Scriptures that was finished about 200 BC). Most of the quotes of the Old Testament that are in the New Testament are from the Septuagint. The Septuagint translation was just that - a translation. It was not a perfect translation and did not convey all the nuances of the Hebrew (originally a picture-type language), and yet, it was quoted by Jesus and the writers of the New Testament. It was considered to be God's Word by them, even though it was not the original. The Jews abandoned use of the Septuagint because of its use by Christians. A group called the Masoretes came up with a new "standardized" Hebrew text, which became known as the Masoretic text.
Meanwhile, the Roman Empire was spread across a huge area. In the west, there were attacks from fierce tribal people. In 284 AD, the emperor Diocletian split the Roman Empire into eastern and western halves to make it easier to run. In 307, Constantine became emperor. He had become a Christian (there's a little debate as to whether he was a true Christian or just found it expedient) and moved the center of power from pagan Rome to Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople. Constantinople was much further east and left the west vulnerable. In 410, Rome was sacked by attacking tribes, and the western Roman Empire fell as a single entity. The eastern empire continued (we call it the Byzantine Empire) until it fell to the Turks (Islam) in 1453.
Roman cultural influence remained in the west, and the common language of the former western empire area was Latin. In the eastern half, the common language remained Greek. (which is why the Roman Catholic empire was primarily Latin while the Greek Orthodox was Greek).
We're going to just skip a ton of history here. I've always wanted to study up on it, but I currently only know enough to be dangerous. Basically, the empire of Rome in the west gradually became a "church" empire and the people were united (whether they wanted to be or not) through religion. That is a huge study in itself.
The common language of the church had become Latin - yet the Scriptures were in Greek. Only the most learned people still understood Greek, and the Bible was now out of the hands of the common people. Several Latin translations were made, based on the Septuagint. The translations were not the best. In 382 AD, the bishop of Rome asked Jerome to come up with a better translation. Jerome understood both Hebrew and Greek, and so instead of relying only on the Septuagint, he also used the Hebrew Masoretic text. The result was the Latin Vulgate, named that because it was in the vulgar (common) language.
Some Christian leaders became very upset with Jerome. Some were angry because they felt that only the Septuagint version was the word of God. They believed that it had been as divinely inspired as the original Hebrew had been. Others were angry with the idea of putting the Word of God into the hands of just anyone.
The Bible was translated into more than just Latin. In fact, by 500 AD, it had been translated into 500 languages. However, by 600 AD, just 100 years later, all translations other than the Vulgate had been deemed illegal in the west.
Around 449 AD, Angle and Saxon tribes (still non-Christian) moved from Europe (around the area of Germany) into the British isles. The language they spoke was from the Germanic language families. The Angles settled in the southern area of the main island in what we now call England. The Celtic people (many of whom had already become Christian by the year 300 AD) that had lived there were forced into Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The Angle-Saxon people became isolated and their language gradually changed into what scholars call "Old English." Their land became known as Englaland, the land of the Angles.
History of the English Language - Links to everything you could possibly want to know, and then some
The Origin and History of the English Language -
A portion of the article:
The history of the language can be traced back to the arrival of three Germanic tribes to the British Isles during the 5th Century AD. Angles, Saxons and Jutes crossed the North Sea from what is the present day Denmark and northern Germany. The inhabitants of Britain previously spoke a Celtic language. This was quickly displaced. Most of the Celtic speakers were pushed into Wales, Cornwall and Scotland. One group migrated to the Brittany Coast of France where their descendants still speak the Celtic Language of Breton today. The Angles were named from Engle, their land of origin. Their language was called Englisc from which the word, English derives.
An Anglo-Saxon inscription dated between 450 and 480AD is the oldest sample of the English language.
In 597, Pope Gregory I sent Augustine to England to bring the gospel to the Anglo-Saxon people. Bede the Venerable, an English monk from the eighth century tells the story here. Christianity was welcomed and the English people benefited in many ways, including culturally. Bishops were sent, monasteries established and churches built. The language of the church was Latin, however, not the English of the people.
In about 670 AD, Caedmon, a monk and herdsman in northern England began singing writing and teaching songs in Old English that were based on Bible stories, and in the eighth century, Bede the Venerable, the monk mentioned above, translated the Lord's Prayer into English. In 825, a Psalter (book of Psalms) was written in Latin, but also had an interlinear Old English translation.
Then came kind of a dark period in church history in England (and elsewhere). Apparently, Bible teaching for the common people faltered. Church services were conducted only in Latin, and the Bible was not read in the common language at all, even during the services. Part of this came from the belief that the Word of God should be handled and read only by priests, and that the Latin Vulgate was divinely inspired, and should not be translated. People came to be strictly dependent on the priests to tell them what to believe and do, and this started to lead to non-Christian beliefs and practices creeping in. Anyone caught with non-Latin Scriptures could be executed. These "dark ages" continued for hundreds of years.
In 1380, an Oxford professor named John Wycliffe began holding "underground" Bible studies in English. He trained a number of men, who became known as "Lollards." Under Wycliffe's direction, they translated the entire Latin Vulgate into English in handwritten manuscripts (the Vulgate was the only thing available) and began using them to teach the people at public gatherings. The Wycliffe translation was awkward, but literal from the Latin. There were some words that were simply not translatable, so he just borrowed some words directly from the Latin.
Wycliffe was a weak and sickly man, but a spiritual giant in his determination to bring Scripture to the people. With the help of his followers, many handwritten copies were made. He seems to have died of natural causes, but his work made the Pope so angry that his bones were later dug up and crushed!
One of Wycliffe's followers, John Hus, continued the work that Wycliffe started. He felt so strongly that people should be permitted to read the Bible in their own language that he forged ahead, regardless of the danger. He was burned at the stake in 1415, supposedly with Wycliffe's manuscripts as fuel for the fire. His very last words were, "in 100 years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed." It was just about exactly 100 years later that Martin Luther nailed his famous theses onto the church door at Wittenberg, Germany.
In 1450, Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press. The first book ever to be printed was the Latin Vulgate. In the late 1400's, Thomas Linacre, another Oxford professor, decided to learn Greek and teach it at Oxford. Greek had been unknown in the west for nearly 1,000 years. He managed to get hold of the Bible in Greek (remember that the Greek language and Greek manuscripts were still preserved in the eastern church) and when he compared it to the Latin Vulgate, he found considerable translation errors in the Latin. In 1496, John Colet, another Oxford professor, started reading the New Testament in Greek and translating it into English for his students. He began reading it to the public at Saint Paul's Cathedral in London. Within six months there were 20,000 people packed into the church and more outside trying to listen. You'd think that would have instantly earned him the stake, too, but it seems that Colet had powerful enough friends in high places to avoid being executed.
With the rediscovery of Greek in the west, scholars started to call for a printed Greek New Testament. This seems to have gotten enough momentum that the church couldn't stop it. In Spain, a New Testament was completed, but two things held it up. First, a Greek font had to be created for the printing press, and Pope Leo X was withholding his permission for it to be published. Meanwhile, a Swiss printer had the Greek font and made a deal with a priest named Erasmus to print a Greek-Latin Parallel New Testament, if Erasmus could complete the work before the New Testament in Spain was published. Erasmus had five Byzantine Greek manuscripts to work from. According to Dr. Herbert Samworth, in the article, What is Textus Receptus?, Erasmus didn't create his own manuscript, but added the Latin to the Greek manuscripts he had, and was able to complete the project in just six months, in 1516. The Latin part was not the Vulgate, but his own fresh translation of the text from the Greek. This first edition of the Erasmus' Greek New Testament contained numerous errors because of his haste, and he wound up making many changes in subsequent editions.
Martin Luther obtained a copy of Erasmus' second edition of the New Testament, and used it to translate the Bible into German.
A great re-awakening was happening throughout Europe, as a wave of scholarship and learning took hold. However, that did nothing for the moral character of men. Religion was dead and reverence was gone. Erasmus wrote of this period: "What man of real piety does not perceive with sighs that this is far the most corrupt of all ages? When did iniquity abound with more licentiousness? When was charity so cold?" What was needed was to bring the Word of God back to the common people, and with God's help, that is exactly what began to happen.
The Reformation was beginning in Germany in the early 1500's. Martin Luther published the New Testament in German in September of 1522. By the end of the 1530's, he had completed the entire Bible in German. In England, William Tyndale saw that the need was very great for the Bible to be in the common language. He wrote,
"If you will not let the layman have the word of God in his mother tongue, yet let the priests have it, which for the great part of them do understand no Latin at all, but sing and patter all day with the lips only that which the heart understandeth not."
Forty years later, the Bishop of Gloucester tested the priests that were under him. Of 311, he found that 168 could not repeat the Ten Commandments and 31 of those didn't even know where they were from. Forty didn't know the Lord's Prayer and forty more didn't know where the Lord's Prayer had come from! Yet all these were priests in good standing, charged with teaching the people.
Tyndale wanted to use Erasmus' Greek New Testament and publish an English version of it, so he began a translation in 1523. The authorities heard of his plan, and he was forced to flee to Germany. He showed up at Martin Luther's door in 1525, and continued worked on his translation there. By the end of the year, he completed the New Testament in English, and they began to be printed. The copies were burned as soon as the English Bishop could get his hands on them, but more continued to be smuggled in from Germany. The more the King and Bishop tried to stop it, the more the common people wanted them, even though it meant death by burning if they were caught with one.
Interestingly, the King's men became Tyndale's biggest customers, through secret middle men. They would buy them in order to burn them, but Tyndale used their money to print new editions. The final revision of Tyndale's translation was published in 1534. Finally, Tyndale was betrayed by a friend and imprisoned. While in prison, he continued the work he had been doing on the Old Testament. After 500 days in prison, he was strangled, and THEN burned at the stake in 1536. His last words were, "Oh Lord, open the King of England's eyes."
Tyndale's New Testament was the first translation into English from the original Greek, and it was the first to be printed on a printing press. In spite of fierce opposition, more than 50,000 copies had been printed and circulated. When he first began his translation work, a high church official protested about Tyndale making the Bible so common and Tyndale replied, "If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth a plow shall know more of the Scriptures than thou dost."
Myles Coverdale and John Rogers had been friends and disciples of William Tyndale. Coverdale finished translating the work on the Old Testament that Tyndale had begun. In 1535, he published the first complete printed Bible in the English language. Today, it's known as the Coverdale Bible. John Rogers printed the second complete English Bible in 1537. While Coverdale had made use of the Latin and Luther's German Bible, Roger's Bible was the first one to be translated from the original Hebrew and Greek. He used the pseudonym "Thomas Matthew", (an assumed name that had actually been used by Tyndale at one time) since a good portion of this Bible was actually the work of William Tyndale. It became known as the Matthew-Tyndale Bible.
Very shortly after William Tyndale was burned at the stake, King Henry VIII authorized an English Bible for public use. What in the world happened to make such a great change? It wasn't in recognition of spiritual need. King Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife and marry his mistress, but the Pope refused. So, Henry started his own church, the Anglican church, and authorized English scriptures, apparently just because the Pope didn't want it. In 1539, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, hired Myles Coverdale at the bequest of King Henry VIII to publish the "Great Bible". It was called that because it was huge. It was distributed to every church, chained to the pulpit, and a reader was even provided so that the illiterate could hear the Word of God in plain English. It would seem that William Tyndale's last wish had been granted...just three years after his martyrdom.
Things took a step backwards during the reign of Queen "Bloody" Mary. She was determined to eradicate anyone who was working toward reform. English Scripture was again outlawed, and many of the people who had worked with them were forced to flee.
The church in Geneva, Switzerland, was sympathetic and provided a refuge to the reformer refugees and was one of only a few safe havens. John Foxe, Myles Coverdale and others met there. They determined to produce another English Bible. The New Testament was completed in 1557, and the complete Bible was first published in 1560. It became known as the Geneva Bible. (Some people called it the Breeches Bible, due to a passage in Genesis that called the clothing that God made for Adam and Eve "breeches."
The Geneva Bible was the first Bible that had verses with numbers. It also came with many, many marginal notes to help people understand why some of the church traditions (like indulgences) were not biblical. The Bible quotes in the Shakespeare plays were from the Geneva Bible. This was also the Bible that the Puritans and Pilgrims took to America. It became so popular that it was the Bible of choice for over 100 years. (well beyond when the King James first appeared)
When Queen Elizabeth took the throne, it was safe for the reformers to return to England. She tolerated the printing and distribution of the Geneva Bible, but hated the marginal notes which were very critical of the institutional church (which was now the Anglican church in England). The Great Bible was getting old, so in 1568, a revision, called the Bishop's Bible , was introduced. It was never very popular, though, as people preferred the Geneva Bible.
"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 marginal notes, and only to be used in
all churches of England in time of Divine Service."
This resolution set in motion the most successful of all English translations of the Bible, the King James Version of 1611, also known as the Authorized Version.
When Queen Elizabeth died, Prince James VI of Scotland became King James I of England. Both the clergy and the king wanted something to replace the Geneva Bible with its inflammatory (in their minds) marginal notes. They wanted a Bible for the people, but one that wasn't critical of their church. Fifty scholars worked on the translation. They used the Greek and Hebrew available to them, as well as taking the former English Bibles into consideration. In 1611, the first edition was published. A typo in Ruth 3:15 rendered a pronoun "He" instead of "She" in that verse in some printings, so some of the 1611 First Editions became known as the "He and She" Bibles. In the 1631 edition, the word "not" was omitted from the commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery" so this became known to collectors as "The Wicked Bible." The 1795 translation of Mark 7:27 read "Let the children first be killed" (rather than "filled").
It took a long time for the King James Bible to become more popular than the Geneva Bible, even with official sponsorship. In the end, the King James was about 95% the same as the Geneva Bible, but had marginal notes only about variations in spelling or translation instead of commentary about the church. In time, even those notes were removed.
Today, most of the King James Bibles are revisions dating from 1769, as the original would be very difficult to read with its historic spellings and word use. Interestingly, one of the reasons that people didn't want to give up their Geneva Bibles was their feeling that that translation was inspired, and therefore the only one that should be used. (Sound familiar? Seems like we are creatures of habit)
English Bible History (from Greatsite.com. This gives one of the simpler presentations of English Bible history, but they can be a bit harsh at times. Much of the above was summarized from their information, and the links to the pages on each person is from their site)
1,400 BC: The first written Word of God: The Ten Commandments delivered to Moses.
500 BC: Completion of All Original Hebrew Manuscripts which make up The 39 Books of the Old Testament.
200 BC: Completion of the Septuagint Greek Manuscripts which contain The 39 Old Testament Books AND 14 Apocrypha Books.
1st Century AD: Completion of All Original Greek Manuscripts which make up The 27 Books of the New Testament.
315 AD: Athenasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, identifies the 27 books of the New Testament which are today recognized as the canon of scripture.
382 AD: Jerome's Latin Vulgate Manuscripts Produced which contain All 80 Books (39 Old Test. + 14 Apocrypha + 27 New Test).
500 AD: Scriptures have been Translated into Over 500 Languages.
600 AD: LATIN was the Only Language Allowed for Scripture.
995 AD: Anglo-Saxon (Early Roots of English Language) Translations of The New Testament Produced.
1384 AD: Wycliffe is the First Person to Produce a (Hand-Written) manuscript Copy of the Complete Bible; All 80 Books.
1455 AD: Gutenberg Invents the Printing Press; Books May Now be mass-Produced Instead of Individually Hand-Written. The First Book Ever Printed is Gutenberg's Bible in Latin.
1516 AD: Erasmus Produces a Greek/Latin Parallel New Testament.
1522 AD: Martin Luther's German New Testament.
1526 AD: William Tyndale's New Testament; The First New Testament printed in the English Language.
1535 AD: Myles Coverdale's Bible; The First Complete Bible printed in the English Language (80 Books: O.T. & N.T. & Apocrypha).
1537 AD: Tyndale-Matthews Bible; The Second Complete Bible printed in English. Done by John "Thomas Matthew" Rogers (80 Books).
1539 AD: The "Great Bible" Printed; The First English Language Bible Authorized for Public Use (80 Books).
1560 AD: The Geneva Bible Printed; The First English Language Bible to add Numbered Verses to Each Chapter (80 Books).
1568 AD: The Bishops Bible Printed; The Bible of which the King James was a Revision (80 Books).
1609 AD: The Douay Old Testament is added to the Rheims New Testament (of 1582) Making the First Complete English Catholic Bible; Translated from the Latin Vulgate (80 Books).
1611 AD: The King James Bible Printed; Originally with All 80 Books. The Apocrypha was Officially Removed in 1885 Leaving Only 66 Books.
1782 AD: Robert Aitken's Bible; The First English Language Bible (KJV) Printed in America.
1791 AD: Isaac Collins and Isaiah Thomas Respectively Produce the First Family Bible and First Illustrated Bible Printed in America. Both were King James Versions, with All 80 Books.
1808 AD: Jane Aitken's Bible (Daughter of Robert Aitken); The First Bible to be Printed by a Woman.
1833 AD: Noah Webster's Bible; After Producing his Famous Dictionary, Webster Printed his Own Revision of the King James Bible.
1841 AD: English Hexapla New Testament; an Early Textual Comparison showing the Greek and 6 Famous English Translations in Parallel Columns.
1846 AD: The Illuminated Bible; The Most Lavishly Illustrated Bible printed in America. A King James Version, with All 80 Books.
1885 AD: The "English Revised Version" Bible; The First Major English Revision of the KJV.
1901 AD: The "American Standard Version"; The First Major American Revision of the KJV.
1971 AD: The "New American Standard Bible" (NASB) is Published as a "Modern and Accurate Word for Word English Translation" of the Bible.
1973 AD: The "New International Version" (NIV) is Published as a "Modern and Accurate Phrase for Phrase English Translation" of the Bible.
1982 AD: The "New King James Version" (NKJV) is Published as a "Modern English Version Maintaining the Original Style of the King James."
2002 AD: The English Standard Version (ESV) is Published as a translation to bridge the gap between the accuracy of the NASB and the readability of the NIV.
This English Bible History Article & Timeline is ©2002 by author & editor: John L. Jeffcoat III. Special thanks is also given to Dr. Craig H. Lampe for his valuable contributions to the text. This page may be freely reproduced or quoted, in whole or in part, in print or electronically, under the one condition that prominent credit must be given to "WWW.GREATSITE.COM" as the source.
More information on these early Bibles:
History of the English Bible, links
Early English Bibles
The modern English translations of the Bible
The King James Bible has been known and trusted for nearly 400 years. It was and remains an excellent Bible. There are people who believe that it is the only Bible we ought to be using - that it, alone, is the word of God in English. The people who feel this way want to have a "final authority." They want to know that they are holding the very words of God in their hands. They believe that God guided and inspired the translators to make a perfect translation in English. While this desire to know they have God's exact words is understandable, perhaps, in some ways, it actually shows a lack of trust in God. It's also, as you've seen, something that came up again and again as a new translation came on the scene.
I firmly believe that the original writings are absolutely, completely inspired. However, I don't believe that translations can be perfect. No matter how good the translators are, unless they have the same level of knowledge as God Himself, their translations will always be lacking something. They won't be able to completely capture all the levels of meaning that God will reveal to us when we sit at His feet and can learn directly. There was a reason that He chose Hebrew (originally picture language) and Greek (that has nuances impossible to completely translate in English). That said, I believe we can trust our translations, as long as they are made with the intention of really passing on what God said and carry no hidden agenda. Some are better than others for extended reading and some are better for study - and admittedly, some translations are better left alone.
As we've seen, at every stage of history, some Christians have had trouble with changing to a different translation of the Bible. From the very beginning, the Scriptures have been translated into different languages. By 500 AD, it had been translated into 500 languages. Even so, when the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) was translated into Latin (the Vulgate), some people were horrified. They believed that only the Greek was truly God's Word, even though the Septuagint itself was a translation. Later, when the Scriptures were translated into English, many people were upset (I guess burning people at the stake goes beyond "upset") - and one of the reasons they gave was that only the Latin was the Word of God. Still later, when the Geneva Bible was created and widely accepted, people had much trouble when the King James Bible came on the scene - because only the Geneva Bible was the Word of God.
In the late 1700's through the 1800's, many more Greek manuscripts were found, including nearly complete Christian Bibles in Greek such as Codex Sinaiticus (about 350 AD) Codex Vaticanus (about 350 AD), and Codex Alexandrinus (5th century). Before this, English translations were based on few Greek manuscripts, of which the oldest was from the 12th Century. (Remember Erasmus? His Greek New Testament and the revisons by him and others became known as Textus Receptus, which the Geneva Bible, King James Bible and other English Bibles leaned heavily on)
As these finds came in, several men published Greek texts that made use of them, including Birch, Scholz, and Tischendorf. In 1831, Karl Lachmann published the first Greek "critical" New Testament. That's a word that's loaded with connotations. Basically, it means that many texts were looked at and a composite was made. Here's kind of how it works. If a class of 25 students took down a dictation of the teacher, some of them will make mistakes. By comparing all of them, you can determine what the original dictation was, because the mistakes will not all be in the same place. That's textual criticism.
In 1881, the first true revision of the King James Bible was published in England, called the English Revised Version. It was intended to update the King James Bible and made use of the recently published Greek texts (which were based on the older Greek manuscripts that had been found). That same year, Westcott and Hort published a Greek New Testament. It was similar to the others that had been published, in that it put together a composite of the many manuscripts that had been found. What was different were the two men! Their personal beliefs fell far short of Christian orthodoxy, and a wave of controversy started that continues today. If you put their names into a search engine, you will find so much clutter that it's hard to know how much of it is true. I'm not even going to attempt to help you sort through it.
Here's what I've gathered and am fairly confident in: Westcott and Hort were probably not true Christians. However, their published text has been gone over by hundreds, if not thousands, of people who are. Yes, the modern translations do make use of the Westcott and Hort text, but not exclusively. It is only one of many considered. It was the text that Ivan Panin (the patterns of seven man) found to be the most accurate, on the whole. (You can read about that here) In other words, their text contained the patterns of seven throughout, while some others (including Textus Receptus) did not. However, in the sections that Westcott and Hort left out (like the last twelve verses of Mark, for example), Panin did find the patterns of seven.
In 1901, a revision of the King James was published in the United States, called the American Standard Version. Neither the English Revised Version nor the American Standard Version ever really caught on, and the King James Bible continued to be the Bible of choice.
In 1952, the Revised Standard Version was published. It was, in general, a very accurate word-for-word translation and it made use of the full range of manuscripts that were available. It didn't do so well on some of the Messianic prophecies. (virgin was translated "young woman", for example - which is technically what the Hebrew says. However, the Septuagint had used the Greek word that meant virgin when translating that section - and obviously, in context, it has to mean virgin). The RSV was adopted for use in many of the denominational churches, and that's when the King James Only controversy began.
In 1960, the New American Standard Bible was published. It was designed to be the closest to the original languages as you could get in English. It corrected the downfalls of the RSV, although there are still passages that some people find controversial (because they differ from the King James). In 1971, the Living Bible was published. It is not a translation, but a paraphrase of the 1901 American Standard Version, written by Kenneth Taylor. It was the first time a "thought for thought" version had been published. He originally wrote it to help his children understand the Scriptures. There are some places where the Living Bible is very, very good - and some places where it's blatantly what Kenneth Taylor thinks, and nowhere close to the original. That's the drawback of a paraphrase.
In 1973, the New International Version was published (the complete NIV was published in 1978). It was designed to be an accurate translation, but in natural language. It falls between the word-for-word accuracy of the NASB, and the very loose paraphrase of the LB. It was widely accepted and is now the most popular Bible version in the world. Of course, that fueled the controversy. Critics call it the "Nearly Inspired Version." Those critics range from those that feel that any version that strays from a word-for-word translation isn't an appropriate Bible to use to those that believe that the NIV came from Satan. You need to be careful when reading articles on either side. The publishers believe that there is no better Bible, and on the other end of the scale, some books speaking against the NIV are loaded with half-truths and outright falsehoods. As with most things, the truth is likely somewhere between.
In 1982, the New King James Version was published. It's based on the same texts that the King James is based on, but written in more modern language. (Some say not modern enough) It's generally very readable. Unlike the King James, it includes marginal notes. It's very little different from the King James. There are some things omitted that appear in the King James because they're not in the original Greek or Hebrew. In some places the translation more accurately reflects the tense of the Greek. For example, in Hebrews 10:14 it replaces "are sanctified" with "are being sanctified", and it replaces "are saved" with "are being saved" in I Corinthians 1:18 and II Corinthians 2:15. Of course, some people don't like it, but it seems to be a very good translation for those that prefer a Bible from that family of manuscripts. For the "King James is best" people, it might be the best of both worlds - the traditional text in readable language.
In 1996, the New Living Translation was published. It started out to be a correction/revision of the Living Bible, but developed into an entirely new translation. Unlike the Living Bible, it is a translation, created by over 90 scholars. It has some advantages over the Living Bible, in that it is less of an interpretation. However, it does have serious drawbacks, such as its genderless language.
The new wave in Bible translation seems to be towards genderless language. Some of the newest translations (not discussed here) seem very liberal. There are Bibles that look like magazines for teens and specialized Bibles for practically every group. It's very easy to get caught up in the "this is bad", "no, this is great" being flung about. So, where does that leave us? Praying - and trusting God to lead us.
Also, don't get overly alarmed if you run across articles claiming that some Bibles are based on Greek texts that are corrupt, or worse, heretical. Remember that even though there are 400,000 variants in the New Testament manuscripts, most of them are meaningless and make no difference whatsoever to translation. Plus, we're not talking 400,000 differences here. If a name is spelled differently in 4,000 texts, that's considered 4,000 variants, not just one. The differences between the Textus Receptus text and the "oldest manuscripts" that are often referred to are actually minimal, and none of them really affect doctrine. There will be those that say doctrine is affected. For example, there is a claim that the NIV tries to remove the deity of Jesus. Anyone who has read the NIV through knows that is not true, however. The deity of Jesus comes through loud and clear.
Remember that William Tyndale died for the right to print the Bible in the common, modern English tongue of his day. He proclaimed to one official, "If God spare my life, I will see to it that the boy who drives the plowshare knows more of the scripture than you, Sir!"
God preserves His Word. He has promised that He would. I firmly believe that any real translation of God's Word - created by people who are seeking to accurately translate the original languages - has all the power that God promised that His Word would have. Even versions that have an agenda, such as The Message or the genderless Today's New International Version are still useful. If either of them was the only Bible you had, God would still use it for your good. Truly, even the most corrupt Bible of all - the New World Translation of the Jehovah Witnesses - that has blatantly and systematically tried to remove the deity of Christ, has failed to remove the power of God from its pages. In fact, people have been helped out of the Jehovah Witness religion with the New World Translation. Here is a letter I received from a former JW:
For seven years, I read no translation but the NWT. During that period I read the entire NWT through 4 times. When reading the New Testament ("Christian Greek Scriptures," to use JW terminology), I began to have a nagging suspicion that my relationship with Jesus was very different (i.e. nonexistent) than the relationship that the first-century disciples had with him. It also seemed to me that we as Witnesses put much less emphasis on Jesus than the first-century Christians did; 99% of our emphasis was on "Jehovah," the Father. These things eventually bothered me enough that I decided that I needed to take care of (get rid of, so I thought) these doubts, so I began my independent study, using the NWT along with a few other "independent" translations. Of course, that's when the Watchtower's theological house of cards collapsed in front of me, freeing me to see my need for a Savior, enabling me to see Jesus for who the Bible actually presents Him to be, and ultimately empowering me to trust Him alone for salvation.
It is my belief that God will use whatever you have. Here in the US, we're very lucky. Most of us have not only several Bibles, but several Bible versions to choose from. And, even if we don't, all of them are available to us electronically. However, if, for whatever reason, you just had a portion of God's Word - just the Psalms, for example - God would be able to teach and lead you with just that portion.
There are some Bible versions that it may be best to avoid, given a choice, such as the Good News Bible and by all means, avoid this one. (Which is the one my youngest daughter was just required to purchase for her religion class at college – ack). There are some that seem to have an agenda, like the New Today's New International Version and The Message. There are some that need to be considered a beginner's Bible, like The Living Bible. However, there are perfectly wonderful Bibles that are great for extended reading and daily devotions - like the New King James Version and the New International Version. And, there are truly great Bibles for study, like the King James and the New American Standard Bible.
The first Bible I ever read completely through was the Living Bible. I can honestly say that nothing changed me more than the year I spent reading that Bible. Yes, it's a paraphrase and yes, there are some things that could have been worded better, but I am living proof that it was still powerful. I read the Living Bible through a second time and then I read the NIV through. I had learned enough by that time to recognize that the NIV was a better translation. I caught onto some deeper things more easily. Still later, when I'd done a lot of studying on various issues, I read the NIV again and realized that there were places where there was doctrine dictating translation rather than Scripture dictating doctrine. Even so, those places were minimal, and the NIV is still my favorite Bible for reading (I now use a parallel Bible with the NIV on one side and King James on the other). When I study, I use a variety of translations to compare with each other, but the most useful tool to me is the Internet, especially the BlueletterBible. With that, I can see where a particular Hebrew or Greek word is used elsewhere in the Bible, and that has helped my learning most of all.
Bottom line - Choose a Bible for reading that you will actually read. No translation is perfect, because to be perfect, it would have to be inspired in the same way that the originals were. For study, I personally believe that the King James is a great Bible, but so is the New American Standard Bible. In fact, the NASB is the closest word for word translation that we have in English. If you have more than one translation available to you, it allows you to see where there are differences, and that lets you track down why there is a difference.
The intent of this study was to give you confidence that God's Word is living and powerful - not just in the original languages, but in English, too. You can trust Him to lead you. The most important thing is to actually READ His Word. If that means that you want to read only the King James, then read the King James. If that means that you start in a very simple Bible - then start in a very simple Bible. If the time comes that He wants you to graduate to a different version, He'll help you do that. Just trust Him.
Some review from our apologetics study: How the Bible came to us
Too much information? You don't have to know ANY of this to benefit from reading God's Word. However, if a friend or relative is confused about any of this, at least you know where to find information. The next study will be fun. We'll take a look at some examples that show that the whole Bible is about Jesus.
Additional information for your continued study
Some popular Bibles and Paraphrases:
KING JAMES VERSION, 1611, also known as the Authorized Version, Word for Word Translation - Advantages: Good for memory work; trusted for hundreds of years; Beautiful, poetical language; Very useful for intense study of a topic or particular section; Strong's Concordance and other Bible helps available. Disadvantages: Many words are obsolete or have a different meaning; recent archeological discoveries have enhanced understanding of some biblical terms; Some people find it difficult to read or understand; There are no notes given of what is being quoted or alternate meanings of a word.
REVISED STANDARD VERSION, 1952, Word for Word Translation -
Advantages: Archeological and other discoveries
enhanced understanding of some biblical terms; replaced some archaic
terms; Disadvantages: Prophecies of
coming Messiah not handled well in some instances
NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, 1960, Meant to be as close to word-for-word to the original language as possible and still be readable - Advantages: Good for study; particular attention is paid to rendering of Greek tenses; Good for serious student; excellent for study of a section or topic Disadvantages: Not as easy to breeze through as some translations; may not be as good for a "read through" unless you are diligent.
THE AMPLIFIED BIBLE, 1965, Meant to reveal fuller meanings of Greek and Hebrew words - Advantages: Can be good for study, without stopping to look up words; Disadvantages: Extra words often disrupt the text; not very good for extended reading; can be monotonous when an explanation is given over and over; Bias is sometimes shown in choosing what words to expand and what words are used in the expansion; Should be considered a commentary instead of a primary Bible
LIVING BIBLE, 1971, Paraphrase by Kenneth Taylor of the Revised Standard Version - Advantages: Fairly conservative, as paraphrases go; Very easy to read; May be good for a first "read through" of entire Bible Disadvantages: One author; not a translation; limited to author's understanding; should be considered a commentary, not a primary Bible; Author freely adds sentences not in original languages in order to explain what he believes is meant overall. Do not use for study.
NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, 1973, Thought for thought
translation, intended to be a modern speech translation that was
faithful to the original meaning - Advantages:
Very good readability; often much easier to understand than older
translations; Fairly consistent; Notes are helpful, especially where
to find quoted material; Excellent
choice for extended reading, particularly if accompanied by a
parallel word-for-word translation (Good
for "read through") Disadvantages:
Bias of translator comes through occasionally; By attempting a
thought-for-thought translation, interpretation is sometimes limited
to translators' understanding and deeper meaning may not come
through; May not be the best for intense study of individual verses
or particular topics. A very good daily use Bible.
THE GOOD NEWS BIBLE, 1976, Meant to be used for those where English is a second language, Paraphrase,
Advantages: Simple, clear language; illustrated with line drawings Disadvantages: Bias shown in translation. Some critical translations are inaccurate. Ex. 2 Corinthians 5:21 reads, "Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made Him share our sin." Christ did not share our sin. He TOOK our sin entirely upon Himself.
THE NEW KING JAMES VERSION, 1982, Compromise between thought for thought and word for word - Advantages: Uses same NT Greek as King James; Easier to read than King James; May be a good alternative to NIV for daily use; Disadvantages: The actual King James may be better for studying individual verses or topics
NEW LIVING TRANSLATION, 1996 Thought for thought translation, intended to be very easy to read - Advantages: As easy to read as the Living Bible, but intended to be more accurate; Possibly a good devotional Bible (I know people who really like it for this purpose); Possibly good for a first "read through" of entire Bible (???) Disadvantages: Genderless translation. Same disadvantages as other thought-for-thought translations.
THE MESSAGE, 1993, Paraphrase by Eugene Peterson, Intended to "bring alive" the Scriptures for modern readers; Supposedly never intended to be perceived as a Bible, but is marketed that way. Advantages: Very lively. Disadvantages: Very poor, misleading translation; Should be considered an extremely liberal commentary, not a Bible. Some passages very, very questionable in translation. Not recommended for even devotional reading. Avoid.
More on the comparisons between Bible versions:
Which Bible version should I use? from the book Reasons Skeptics Should Consider Christianity
Comparison of Various Translations
List from the New Living Translation Website
New American Standard Bible
King James Version
American Standard Version
New King James Version
Revised Standard Version
New American Bible
Literal with freedom to be idiomatic
New Revised Standard Version
New International Version
New Jerusalem Bible
Revised English Bible
Functionally equivalent (modern speech)
Today's English Version
New Living Translation
Contemporary English Version
The Living Bible
Some articles on the various Bible versions
You can find dozens of articles on the King James: King James page for extra study
The King James Version, A Critical Analysis -
The New American Standard Bible
The New American Standard Bible, A Critical Analysis
The New American Standard Bible: Is This the Answer?
The Living Bible
The Living Bible
The Living Bible, A Critical Review
The New Living Translation
The New Living Translation, A Critical Review -
New Living Translation, second edition (2004)
New International Version
You can find articles that are very pro NIV from the publisher & from the International Bible Society. You can find articles that assign the NIV to the devil himself from the King James Only folks. I tried to find a couple of articles that fell between the extremes.
The New International Version, A Critical Analysis - Fairly balanced
The New International Version - Fairly balanced
The New King James Version
New King James Version
What kind of message is The Message? - Against
Comparison of some verses in various versions:
NIV: 1 Corinthians 6
9Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
NASB: 1 Corinthians 6
9 Or (1) do you not know that the unrighteous will not (2) inherit the kingdom of God? (3) Do not be deceived; (4) neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor  effeminate, nor homosexuals,
10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will (5) inherit the kingdom of God.
11 (6) Such were some of you; but you were (7) washed, but you were (8) sanctified, but you were (9) justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
The Message: 1 Corinthians 6
9Don't you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don't care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, 10use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don't qualify as citizens in God's kingdom. 11A number of you know from experience what I'm talking about, for not so long ago you were on that list. Since then, you've been cleaned up and given a fresh start by Jesus, our Master, our Messiah, and by our God present in us, the Spirit.
Amplified Bible: 1 Corinthians 6
9Do you not know that the unrighteous and the wrongdoers will not inherit or have any share in the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived (misled): neither the impure and immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor those who participate in homosexuality,
10Nor cheats (swindlers and thieves), nor greedy graspers, nor drunkards, nor foulmouthed revilers and slanderers, nor extortioners and robbers will inherit or have any share in the kingdom of God.
11And such some of you were [once]. But you were washed clean (purified by a complete atonement for sin and made free from the guilt of sin), and you were consecrated (set apart, hallowed), and you were justified [pronounced righteous, by trusting] in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the [Holy] Spirit of our God.
New Living Translation: 1 Corinthians 6
9Don't you know that those who do wrong will have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don't fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, who are idol worshipers, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, 10thieves, greedy people, drunkards, abusers, and swindlers--none of these will have a share in the Kingdom of God. 11There was a time when some of you were just like that, but now your sins have been washed away, and you have been set apart for God. You have been made right with God because of what the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God have done for you.
NKVJ: 1 Corinthians 6
9Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
KJV: 1 Corinthians 6
9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
NIV: Romans 1
26Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
NASB: Romans 1
26 For this reason (1) God gave them over to (2) degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,
27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, (3) men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
The Message: Romans 1
26Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn't know how to be human either--women didn't know how to be women, men didn't know how to be men. 27Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men--all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it--emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches.
Amplified Bible: Romans 1
26For this reason God gave them over and abandoned them to vile affections and degrading passions. For their women exchanged their natural function for an unnatural and abnormal one,
27And the men also turned from natural relations with women and were set ablaze (burning out, consumed) with lust for one another--men committing shameful acts with men and suffering in their own  bodies and personalities the inevitable consequences and penalty of their wrong-doing and going astray, which was [their] fitting retribution.
New Living Translation: Romans 1
26That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27And the men, instead of having normal sexual relationships with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men and, as a result, suffered within themselves the penalty they so richly deserved.
KJV: Romans 1
26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
NKJV: Romans 1
26For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
NIV: 1 Timothy 4
Instructions to Timothy
1The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.
NASB: 1 Timothy 4
1 But (1) the Spirit explicitly says that (2) in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to (3) deceitful spirits and (4) doctrines of demons,
The Message: 1 Timothy 4
Teach with Your Life
1The Spirit makes it clear that as time goes on, some are going to give up on the faith and chase after demonic illusions put forth by professional liars.
The Amplified Bible: 1 Timothy 4
1BUT THE [Holy] Spirit distinctly and expressly declares that in latter times some will turn away from the faith, giving attention to deluding and seducing spirits and doctrines that demons teach,
New Living Translation: 1 Timothy 4
Warnings against False Teachers
1Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from what we believe; they will follow lying spirits and teachings that come from demons.
KJV: 1 Timothy 4
1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
NKJV: 1 Timothy 4
The Great Apostasy
1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons,
NIV: Romans 3
Righteousness Through Faith
21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
NASB: Romans 3
Justification by Faith
21 But now apart from the Law (1) the righteousness of God has been manifested, being (2) witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the (3) righteousness of God through (4) faith (5) in Jesus Christ for (6) all those who believe; for (7) there is no distinction; 23 for all (8) have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24 being justified as a gift (9) by His grace through (10) the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
The Message: Romans 3
God Has Set Things Right
21But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. 22The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus--setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. 23Since we've compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, 24God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we're in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.
The Amplified Bible: Romans 3
21But now the righteousness of God has been revealed independently and altogether apart from the Law, although actually it is attested by the Law and the Prophets, 22Namely, the righteousness of God which comes by believing with personal trust and confident reliance on Jesus Christ (the Messiah). [And it is meant] for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23Since all have sinned and are falling short of the honor and glory  which God bestows and receives.
24[All] are justified and made upright and in right standing with God, freely and gratuitously by His grace (His unmerited favor and mercy), through the redemption which is [provided] in Christ Jesus,
The Living Translation: Romans 3
Christ Took Our Punishment
21But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight--not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago. 22We are made right in God's sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done. 23For all have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard. 24Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins.
KJV: Romans 3
21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
NKJV: Romans 3
God's Righteousness Through Faith
21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
Hebrews 4 (NIV)
8 For (1) if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that.
Hebrews 4 (NASB)
8 For (1) if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that.
Hebrews 4 (The Message)
8And so this is still a live promise. It wasn't canceled at the time of Joshua; otherwise, God wouldn't keep renewing the appointment for "today."
Hebrews 4 (Amplified)
8[This mention of a rest was not a reference to their entering into Canaan.] For if Joshua had given them rest, He [God] would not speak afterward about another day.
Hebrews 4 (NLT)
8This new place of rest was not the land of Canaan, where Joshua led them. If it had been, God would not have spoken later about another day of rest.
Hebrews 4 (NKJV)
8For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day.
Hebrews 4 (KJV)
8 For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.
Odd thing in The Message
Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
10Set the world right;
Do what's best--
as above, so below.
11Keep us alive with three square meals.
12Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
13Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You're in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You're ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.
That "as above, so below" is a standard phrase from pagan religions. Here's one place you can read about it: http://www.kundalini-tantra.com/asabove1.html. (This is very non-Christian) I can't think of any good reasons why Eugene Peterson would use that phrase.
Learning to be Bereans Bible Study
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. - Acts 17:11
© 2010 This study was written by Jacqui Komschlies and last updated 9/17/2010. If you have questions, comments, corrections or concerns, please write me.
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