Why are There So Many Different Bible Translations?

Why isn’t there one English version of the Bible? How did we get so many different Bible translations and which one is the most accurate?

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WHY ARE THERE SO MANY DIFFERENT BIBLES?

In elementary school, I had a Children’s Bible with a picture of Jesus playing with kids on his lap. The words were big, and the language was simple. As a teenager, I used a Student Bible, which had footnotes and commentary on what was happening throughout. In college, I bought a Women’s Study Bible, where there were devotionals relating to women every several pages.

Each of these Bibles were modified versions of the same Bible translation—the NIV or New International Version. But as I got older and met more Christians from different backgrounds, I realized we weren’t all memorizing the same versions of the verses in Sunday School.

You might have heard John 3:16 go something like this:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (NIV)

…or maybe it went a little bit like this:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (KJV)

Neither one is wrong (at least in my opinion), just a different style of interpreting the Bible. Even more recently, you may have heard something like this:

"For here is the way God loved the world—he gave his only, unique Son as a gift. So now everyone who believes in him will never perish but experience everlasting life." (TPT)

or 

"This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life." (MSG)

HOW CAN THE BIBLE BE INTERPRETED DIFFERENTLY?

Ok so there are 4 main ways the Bible has been interpreted over the years:

  • Word-for-word: as close as possible to the actual Greek or Hebrew word translation
  • Thought-for-thought: translation of the meaning of the text rather than exact word for word
  • Balance: a mix of word-for-word and thought-for-thought
  • Paraphrase: a newer type of translation using modern wording for clarity

If you’ve been in church for any amount of time, you may have noticed that your church leans to using a specific version. If your church is more on the “conservative side”, you may use The King James Version (KJV), one of the oldest translations available. It is a word-for-word translation written in 1611!

If your church is more on the “liberal side”, you may be familiar with The Message (MSG) or The Passion Translation (TPT). These just were released in the past few years as a more modern approach to translating the Bible as a paraphrase for new believers.

The version I grew up on falls in the “balance” category and the New International Version (NIV) is currently the world’s best-selling Bible because it uses a mix of word-for-word and thought-for-thought translations. It came out in 1978.

SO WHAT’S THE BEST ONE?

I’m not going to tell you which one is the right one to use, because honestly none of them are perfect translations of the original text that was written. The Bible wasn’t written in English—it was written in Hebrew and Greek. Not only that, but the context of these passages are completely removed from the modern world we live in. It’s truly difficult to relate to life back thousands of years ago when we live in such a technological, instant-gratification, down-to-the-minute-news world!

If you want an answer from me on the best version to use, I currently use (and prefer) something called a Parallel Bible. I love using the Bible version that I grew up on, but would also like to have a modern take on the verses just to challenge my thinking.

You can actually buy Bibles that have all four types of translations in one! While that may seem overwhelming (and a giant book to bring to church), choosing one version to focus on is ok, as long as you realize that there is room for interpretation on either side of the pendulum. If you really want to get serious about your Bible study, I suggest buying a Parallel Bible or have multiple versions to compare your main one to. Here’s a good one:

You can also use online tools like BibleHub.com or BibleGateway.com for quick comparisons during your study.

I would not recommend using only a paraphrase Bible because so much of the modern language loses the ancient translation and context. If you use these (which I do!), compare them alongside a more traditional version for deeper insight.

PRINT THIS LIST OF BIBLE TRANSLATIONS

I am a very visual person, so I like to see everything in front of me in the most organized and simplified way. I’ve created this free printable you can refer to when choosing the Bible you want to read. Print it and add it to your Bible Timelines Notebook for further study!

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In addition to finding a version you like, there are multiple styles to choose from such as an Illustrating Bible, a Journaling Bible, a Cultural Study Bible, etc. Read more here about Choosing a Bible That’s Right For You.

Got your Bible and ready to study? Start here:

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