Posted by Richard on August 4, 2009
Why are there different kinds of bibles?
The issue stems from the fact that the original scriptures were penned in Hebrew and Greek, when they were handed to men from the Holy Spirit.
For years, they were transcribed (by hand) in various manuscripts and pieces, often in Latin, as they were passed along. With the advent of movable type in Europe, things spread quickly. Johannes Gutenberg created the Gutenberg Bible (of the Latin Vulgate) on his movable type machine. The first complete modern English translation was compiled by Myles Coverdale in 1535. Around 1611 the official King James Bible was released, and for many years, was the standard, even long after King James’ English was no longer an active language. In the 1900s there have been many attempts at keeping up with the changes of the English language, in modernizing the Bible.
With widespread education, anybody can study the original languages, and undertake the task of translating manuscripts into the language of their choice. When you study a second language, you learn that some words don’t always have a 1:1 mapping between the languages. Often, you can choose from multiple possibilities when translating a word, and sometimes after you translate it, you might not even be able to translate back based on the word choice. This complication makes translating accurately a very difficult undertaking. The stakes increase when you take into account the dire nature of the subject matter, and the stern warning given in the end of Revelation 22:
18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: ?if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
All these considered, there are many philosophies of modern translation. Some try to make the Bible as appealing as possible, to the widest audience possible. Others try to stick to accurate translations of the original languages as much as possible, in preserving as much of the original context they can. And everything in between. There are dangers inherent in watering down the Bible for the masses, in which you can lose some biblical truths, such as the TNIV has in recent controversy. Zondervan, in the TNIV, attempted to remove as much gender-specific language from the Bible as they could. This was generally considered by the scholarly community as a bad idea. Zondervan has now announced they will replace the TNIV (and NIV) in the near future with a translation they are working on, in which they will “carefully consider” all the gender-neutral changes they made. Translations such as the NIV are considered interpretations, as they don’t take a word-for-word approach to translating the bible, but take a phrase or verse or passage and rearrange it into English prose. The Message is an extreme example of this.
Modern translations that try to stick to a word-for-word approach to preserving as much of the original language nuances as possible include the NKJV, NASB, ESV, et al.
In the end, no matter the translation, it is the Holy Spirit which generates the understanding of the Word.