Why are there so many Bible translations?
There are many reasons why different Bible scholars, translators, and publishers have felt the need to translate the Bible into English multiple times. For one thing, language and definitions change. Different translation methods serve different purposes. Archaeology gives new insight to both biblical culture and the original texts.
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God's Word does not change, but languages do change, thus the need for updated and revised translations of the Bible. The Bible was first translated into English in the late 1300s by John Wycliffe. His work was followed by the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible, the Bishops Bible, and then the King James Version, which was finished in 1611, and then revised several times between 1611 and 1769. While there were several other English Bible translations published in the 1700s and 1800s, the explosion of English Bible translations did not occur until the middle of the 1900s. It is interesting to note that this is primarily only an issue with English. While other languages have multiple versions/translations, no other language has anywhere near as many translations as English.
There are two general ways to translate the Bible. One is "formal equivalence," which attempts to translate the text word for word, as literally as possible. The King James Version and New American Standard Bible are examples of this. "Dynamic equivalence" attempts to translate thoughts and ideas instead of words, "thought for thought" as opposed to "word for word." The New International Version and New Living Translation are examples of dynamic equivalence. Then there are translations that fall somewhere in between formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence, such as the English Standard Version. Then on the extreme edge of dynamic equivalence are paraphrases such as The Living Bible and The Message, which are neither formal nor dynamic equivalence, but are rather a retelling of Scripture in the words of the author.
There is value in each method of Bible translation. While it is typically best to use a more formally equivalent Bible translation as your primary Bible, ultimately, the focus should be on finding a Bible translation that was produced by solid evangelical scholarship, and at the same time is understandable. With that in view, any of the following translations would qualify: King James Version, New King James Version, New International Version, New American Standard Bible, English Standard Version, and Holman Christian Standard. Additional good modern English Bible translations are available, but the ones mentioned above are generally regarded as the best.
While only the original writings in Hebrew and Greek are truly God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), inerrant, and infallible, we can also trust that the Holy Spirit guides Bible translators. The Bible, even when it is translated, is God's Word: "alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). Although serious study should include the comparison of several different Bible translations, ultimately it is the Holy Spirit who reveals to our spirits the meaning of the Word of God (1 Corinthians 2:14).
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