Today: Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Bible - why so many versions?    (6/19/2011 )


Some people, especially those from other religions, ask, “Why are there so many versions of the Bible? How can you say they are the Word of God if they are all different?” or “No wonder there are so many religious differences if there are so many versions of the Bible!”

There are many versions of the Christian Bible—but the essential meaning is the same in each. Translations are vital because the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek, so for people to be able to access the word of God today, we need translations.

The first English translation was done about 600 years ago. Before then, a fourth-century Latin translation was widely used (the ‘Latin Vulgate’, which would be the first major book printed on Gutenberg’s press in 1456). However, many people were illiterate and only the priests spoke Latin, which mean that ordinary people did not have direct access to the Word of God. The first complete English translation was produced until 1382—a historic moment in Christianity.

Some Christians believe that the King James Version is the only infallible version of the Bible and they denounce all others, but this is an unhelpful view. The texts it was translated from contained inaccuracies themselves, and there are mistakes in the translation (for example, ‘Passover’ translated as ‘Easter’). Plus, the language of 400 years ago is not particularly easy to read today.

There are dozens of translations of the Bible in English alone, and some versions which are paraphrases rather than direct translations. All of them can be helpful in teasing the meaning out of the text, and it can be useful to compare different versions.

There are three main types of Bibles to choose from:

  • Straight-text versions—These contain only the Bible’s text.
  • Devotional versions—These are designed for daily reading for particular audiences: there are Bibles for women, men, teenage boys, teenage girls, children, mothers, fathers, couples, students, sports fans, newly-weds and more!  In addition to the Bible text they contain anecdotes, explorations of the text, thought-provoking questions and other things to help people apply the Bible to their own situations.
  • Study bibles—these contains lots of extra information besides the Bible’s text which help to explain and contextualise it, like footnotes explaining certain words (such as measures of weight or distance) or which put things in a historical context. There are cross-references to parallel passages (for example, where Jesus’ parables appear in more than one of the gospels). There may be indexes for major themes. At the back there are usually glossaries, timelines, maps, character studies and more.

The entire Bible is available in at least 426 languages, but there are around 6,900 languages in the world and over 4,500 languages still wait for even one book of the Bible. The Bible Society does amazing work in translating it, and their website has fascinating information about translations and their history.

It’s important not to get hung up on the different versions, but to find the one that suits your own preferences and reading style, and which brings God’s word alive to you. Understanding what God is saying to us is the important thing, and having direct access to the text of the Bible, in our own languages, is vital in supporting our personal relationships with God. As Jesus said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away”—and you can see different versions of those words here!

Pray: Lord, you inspired the writing of the Bible because you wanted to teach us and talk to us. Help me to have a hunger for hearing your voice through the Bible. Amen.

Think about: If the Bible was only available today in the original Hebrew and Greek texts, how would the world be different? How about if it was only available in the later Latin translation?

Challenge: If you don't read the Bible regularly, why not start today? Search online for 'Bible reading plan' or look for audio versions you can listen to every day while you're driving, cooking, relaxing or before you go to sleep.

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