Versions of the Bible

My research started for this project when I got a new Bible and I noticed it was a version I wasn’t familiar with. It made me start to think about how did we get the various versions we did have? Then, the pastor at our church in Buffalo started a series on the Bible. You can check it out here. While the KJV wasn’t the first, it was the first that was available to a wide audience. I just finished a book on church history, and I was fascinated by the progression of the church to today. It amazed me that the average person did not have access to the Bible until just a couple hundred years ago. I can’t imagine not being able to pick up my Bible whenever I want. Today, we take it for granted, and just about every household has at least one, although I think most people leave it on the bookshelf. Here is a list of the most common versions of the Bible. Which one do you use?

King James Version (KJV-1611)- In 1604, King James of England authorized a new translation of the Bible into English. It was finished in 1611. James ordered fifty of the nation’s best language scholars to translate from the manuscripts that were available at that time. The New Testament was translated from the Greek, and the Old Testament from the Hebrew and Aramaic. The authorized version quickly became the standard version for English speaking protestants.

The Revised Version (RSV-1885)- 19th Century British version of the King James Version. The work was entrusted to fifty scholars from various denominations in Great Britain. It used the King James Version as its starting point and made changes to bring it in line with later manuscript discoveries.

The American Standard Version (ASV-1901)- Revision to King James Version. The basis of several later Bible revisions. It’s now considered antiquated and hard to find.

The Revised Standard Version (RSV-1952)- This version was published in stages around the middle of the 20th century. It aimed to present a literally accurate translation of the Bible in modern English. The translators amended the Hebrew in some places, following the readings found in the newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB-1971)- This version used the ASV as a starting point. It is considered the most literal and “word for word” of all of the major translations. In 1995, the NASB was updated, and then again in 2020. Bible Gateway says this about the 2020 update: “The NASB 2020 provides a literal translation of the Bible that clearly communicates God’s message to the modern English reader…”

The New International Version (NIV-1973)- In 1967, the New York Bible Society undertook the financial sponsorship of creating a contemporary English translation of the Bible. One hundred scholars worked on it using the best texts from the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. This was a completely original translation of the Bible- not based on any previous editions. It has undergone significant revisions in 1984 and 2011.

The English Standard Version (ESV-2001)- This translation used the RSV as its starting point. It made significant changes based on further manuscript discoveries. states, “ESV is an essentially literal translation of the Bible in contemporary English. Created by a team of more than 100 leading evangelical scholars and pastors, the ESV Bible emphasizes word for word accuracy, literary excellence, and depth of meaning.”

The Holman Christian Standard Version (HCSV-2004)- This is a fresh translation not based on any previous versions. It is especially known for its use of the name Yahweh rather than the title “the LORD” in the Old Testament. There was some controversy because the translation used this 495 times, even though this title appears over 6,000 times in the Old Testament. Holman Bible Publishers assembled a group of international, interdenominational scholars, editors, stylists and proofreaders to produce this Bible. The ideals were that each word must reflect clear, contemporary English and each word must be faithful to the original languages of the Bible.

The New English Translation (NET-2006)- This is another fresh translation not based on any other translations. It is especially known for its detailed notes in alternative readings in other manuscripts and how they arrived at their choices. It was completed by 25 biblical scholars who are experts in original biblical languages. They worked directly from the best currently available texts. This version is thought for thought as opposed to word-for-word. It is also the first Bible to be beta tested on the internet. It is available free for download and is available in print.

The Christian Standard Bible (CSB-2017)- This is a substantial revision of the HCSB. In most cases the revisions brought the CSB closer in wording to other modern translations. This version returned to the standard English Bible tradition of using the title “the Lord.” It was developed by 100 scholars from 17 denominations.

Notes on translations:

Formal Equivalence- literal or word-for-word translations. These include RSV, NRSV, KJV, NKJV, NASB and ESV.

Dynamic Equivalence- thought-for-thought, or meaning driven translations. These include the NIV and the NET.

Optimal Equivalence- a term unique to the publishers of the Holman Christian Standard Version and its update, the translators sought to reach a balance between word-for-word and thought-for-thought. According to Wikipedia, “the ancient source texts were exhaustively scrutinized at multiple levels (word, phrase, clause, sentence, discourse) to determine their original meaning and intent. Afterwards, using the best language tools available, the semantic and linguistic equivalents were translated into as readable a text as possible.”

In addition to translations, there are also Bible paraphrases. These should only be used to supplement your Bible reading. Because these are what the author thinks the Bible says and not actual word-for-word, or thought-for-thought, they should not be used for actual serious study of the Bible. They can be helpful when reading long passages or stories, but always remember that paraphrases might not render the accurate meaning of the text.

The Living Bible- First published in 1971. This paraphrase used the “in other words” method and was based on the ASV. Kenneth Taylor, the founder of Tyndale House Publishers created this edition to make the Bible more accessible to the typical reader.

The New Living Translation- 1996- Over 90 Greek and Hebrew scholars revised the text of the Living Bible. According to Got Questions, “The New Living Translation is easy to read and easy to understand. It is written in quality and contemporary English. However, when it goes more toward dynamic equivalence and less toward formal equivalence, the NLT sometimes goes astray, interpreting rather than translating.”

The Message- Published in segments from 1993 to 2003. It was created by pastor, scholar, author, and poet Eugene H. Patterson. It is not a translation and it cannot be strictly said to be a paraphrase like the NLT. His goal was to bring the Bible to life for those who had never read the Bible before and for those who had read it so much that it was no longer fresh. There are many complaints about it. Among those are that there is a lack of serious scholarship and there are some bizarre renderings of verses. My main complaint as an English teacher is that some of the language he has used will not age well. He has used so many idioms that it makes the reading awkward at times. It is far too colloquial for my taste.

The Passion Translation- 2018- This is definitely not a translation, even though the author claims it is. This is the work of one man, Brian Simmons. The other translations were done by teams of many people (scholars, translators, etc.). This one is done by one man who claims that Jesus visited him and commissioned him to translate the Bible. There are definite problems with this version that are well documented on-line. Mike Winger has a series on his Bible Thinker page that goes through this. The main problem is that words have been added that are not in the original text.

I’ve covered a lot of ground in this post and these are just a few of the Bibles that are actually out there! I grew up using both the NASB and the NIV, and I still use both of those Bibles. Bill and I are doing a daily Bible reading with the Bible Recap and we use the ESV for that. And I just got an Apologetics Study Bible, and it is the Christian Standard Bible! So there are lots of good choices out there, and lots of online choices where you can compare the versions side-by-side. The important thing is to spend time in the Word!


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