What are Bible Versions?

“What version of the Bible do you read?”

Isn’t that confusing?  Are there different Bibles changed to suit  how different people want it?  Well, there are a few of those, but that’s not what people usually mean by “version”.

Probably a better word than “version” would be “translation”.

The original content of the Bible was written primarily in Hebrew or Greek over two thousand years ago.  The Bible has been carefully preserved and translated into many languages.  Each new translation is considered a new version of the Bible even though it the same Bible.

One of the earliest English translations to be widely published was commissioned by King James of England and published in 1611, it was updated several times after that.  If you purchase a copy of the King James Bible today you are holding the 1769 edition which was update partly because the English language at that time had changed.

In modern times there have been other “versions” of the Bible seeking to provide a modern language translation of the Greek and Hebrew.

Why is there more than one modern English Bible translation today?  Not everybody agrees on the best way to translate the Bible languages.  For example, if you took the Greek of a very famous verse, John 3:16 and simply translated as is word-for-word directly into English it would look like this:

thus indeed loved – God the world that the Son the only begotten he gave that everyone – believing in him not should perish but might have life eternal.

Every translator would agree that this is confusing for English readers and actually makes it harder to get the meaning that God intended and that the original readers of the Greek language would have received.

But how best to translate?  Well some translators want to get as close to the original language as possible and still be understandable to English readers.  That can be called “formal equivalent”.  These translators understand that when they stay as close to the original language as possible, there may be passages that the average reader finds confusing.  There will be times you will need to study for yourself to understand, but you can come to that understanding on your own or with the help of a trusted teacher.

Two trustworthy formal translations are

English Standard Version (ESV)
New King James Version   (NKJV)

Here is how the ESV translates John 3:16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Other translators believe that they should make the meaning of the Bible plain to every reader so they attempt to translate the thought or message not the exact wording.  These are called dynamic equivalent.

An excellent dynamic equivalent translations is the New International Version

John 3:16
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.

In some cases, the translators put the Bible text “into their own words”.  Ken Taylor put the Bible into his own words so children could understand it.  That is called a paraphrase.  Later a group of Bible Scholars revised the living Bible and came out with the New Living Translation

John 3:16
For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

O.K. here is another example.  There is a verse (Matthew 1:25) about how when Mary became pregnant with Jesus, Matthew waited to have sex with her until after Jesus was born.

English Standard Version
but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

New International Version
But he did no consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son.  And he gave him the name Jesus.

New Living Translation
But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born.  And Joseph named him Jesus.

Taking it a little further, a revision of the New International Version (New International Reader’s Version) translates the verse like this:  But he did not make love to her until after she gave birth to a son.  And Joseph gave him the name Jesus.

Each translations means the same thing, but why the difference?  Why does the ESV use the word “know” instead of sex or something?  Well the original Greek word γινώσκω translated to English as “know” in the ESV was a figure of speech used by Jewish.  If the Jews of that day said, a husband “knew” his wife, everyone would understand that meant they had sex without being embarrassingly blunt about it.

So the ESV translates it directly as “know”.
The translators of the NIV use wording that is easier for English readers, but still not overly blunt, “consummate their marriage”.  That translations gets both the meaning, married sex, and the subtle quality of saying it using a figure of speech.
The New Living Translation is just more blunt, “sexual relations”.
The NIV Readers Version tries to substitute the figure of speech from ancient times “know” with a figure of speech from modern times “make love”.  That certainly shows flair, but I don’t know if that is the best figure of speech to use.

As you can see, each translation or paraphrase in this case really gives you a good translation that tells you that when Matthew discovered God has caused the Christ to exist in Mary’s womb, he didn’t have sexual intercourse with her until after Jesus was born.

This is important so that it can be clearly understood, Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born. That supports our understanding that Jesus did not have a human father, but God identifies Himself as Jesus’ father.

I read and study in the English Standard Version and use Bible study methods and tools to gain a solid understanding of a the content.