Why So Many Versions of the Bible?

If you’ve looked for a Christian Bible online, then you may have found the wide array of Bible editions and translations confusing. Some versions were simply translated by different people, in different times in history and in different styles. Others may include material you’ve never seen or heard of before or exclude sections that are familiar to you. Why is this?

The Bible is a Collection of Earlier Scriptures

The Christian Bible was originally assembled from many parts and not all versions of the Bible contain the same texts. The Old Testament was authored, assembled and refined over centuries by Jewish scholars and was originally in written Hebrew and Aramaic. The New Testament was assembled from copies of texts written by the disciples of Jesus Christ, originally in Greek. In the gathering and editing of texts for both the Old and New Testament, scriptures were selected and discarded, edited, cut and added to. Most of the original texts have been lost, so Biblical scholars have had to choose which early copies to base their translations on.

Some Christians believe that God influenced all of these translations and that they are all therefore according to His word. However, there is no doubt that there are significant differences between them. The most striking differences between Bible versions are reflections of early divisions within the Christian community. The Old Testament in Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic and Ethiopian versions of the Bible does not contain the same sets of texts, and none of them are identical to the Jewish Torah. That is why the Catholic Old Testament has 46 books while most Protestant translations contain 39 books.

The Bible Has Been Translated Many Times

Each version of the Bible was translated by a people with ideas about life and religion that were influenced by their culture. For example, a first century Greek might interpret the same passage differently than a twenty first century Korean. There are even Jewish translations of the Bible, and as you can imagine, they have a different point of view than the Christian versions.

While many of the translators chose early copies of the source texts to work with, they interpreted the texts according to their own understanding, perhaps with the aid of divine intervention. The full Bible has been translated into 450 languages. There are at least 500 versions of it in English alone.

The most prominent modern, English language versions of the Bible are the New International Version and the New King James Version. Top sellers include those as well as the New American Bible, the New Revised Standard Version, The Message version, the New American Standard Bible, The New Living Translation, The Revised Standard Version, The Amplified Bible, and the (Eastern) Orthodox Study Bible.

Formal or Dynamic Equivalence?

There are two traditions in Bible translation: formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. The texts translated according to formal equivalence seek to recreate the original texts as literally as possible in a modern language. Translations by formal equivalence include the New International Version and the New Revised Standard Version. Dynamic equivalence translations attempt to capture the spirit and style of the original texts. Translations by dynamic equivalence include The Message and The Living Bible. The Amplified Bible is a revised version of the 1901 American Standard Bible, and it includes graphical and typographic enhancements to help organize and clarify the text.

The formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence division points to an important, natural division in humanity. On the one hand you have those who are more of a scientific, strict measurement type of people who want an exact interpretation/translation of the words. Then, you have the more artistic, spirit based individuals who look beneath the words and how things are measured to find the meaning, and look to bring the meaning to the surface, even if that means using slightly different words. When you explore this division, it appears in all cultures, and even appears in all religions who use ancient scriptures. There are words, interpreting the words and lastly understanding the meaning behind the words.

This formal/dynamic division can seen on a grand scale within Christianity itself. There are those who insist on every word of the Bible being the Truth (think evangelistic Christians) and those who insist there particular orthodox version of Christianity is the Truth, and then there are those who seek to follow the spirit of Christianity and refuse to be bound to the limitations of words in ancient scriptures written by ancient peoples – people who want to study the Bible themselves and come to their own conclusions. Even in early Christianity, before the faith broke up into many religions, the debate about formal and dynamic translation and interpretations of the bible took place (See Origen – Spiritually Understanding the Bible)

Everyone tends to jump to the question, "Which method is better – formal equivalence or dynamic?". The answer may lie in which version of the Bible brings you the meaning, what is beneath the words. If the formal versions of the Bible brings you closer to understanding the Bible, so be it. If the dynamic versions of the Bible bring you closer to understanding the Bible, then good for you. If reading and researching different versions of the Bible, formal and dynamic, bring you a deeper understanding, fantastic.

Likely, you are going to fall into one camp or the other: Formal or Dynamic. A point to be made here is that neither may be better or worse. Maybe both were created so that all people can be involved. Not to get too Biblical but, "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath".

The Right Bible For You

You may ask, "If I want to read the Bible in English, what version should I choose?". This is completely up to you. If you belong to a particular church, then likely you go with the Bible version your church favors. If you are not committed to a particular church, then you need to do a little research. A good question to ask is, "What are you looking for in a Bible?".

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If you’re looking for a basic understanding of the Christian influence on Western culture, then you may wish to choose something that is well organized and easy to navigate, such as The Amplified Bible. If you’re looking for a great work of English literature with beautiful, archaic language, then there’s no substitute for the King James Version. If you want to connect with the immediacy and passion of the Christian faith, then you may wish to read a dynamically translated text like The Message or The Living Bible.

The Christian Bible has had a huge influence on Western culture from Roman times to the present. Biblical translation and analysis are sprawling and complex fields of study – a fantastic field of study if you want to understand Christianity and it’s place in Western history.

In the end, it is you who must decide for yourself which Bible version works for you, and/or if Christianity itself is the religion for you. One thing is for sure, you have MANY Bible versions to choose from and all of them contain some spark of spirituality that can bring some illumination into your life.

If you would like to speak with a psychic who has an appreciation for Christianity, give Psychic Paula at call at 1-866-327-9032. You might also like to check out Christian Chat Online where you can find professional Christian consultants and advisors.