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"What Bible Translation do you use?"

What Bible Translation do you use? I was asked this question several weeks ago, which lead into an interesting discussion about Bible translations. I answered the person’s question by saying the NIV (New International Version) but had to clarify by saying the 2011 edition. Many people do not realize that the NIV first was copyrighted in 1984 by Zondervan. Zondervan went through and updated the NIV making a new edition in 2011 but did not change the NIV title. This brings confusion sometimes, especially in churches. I remember when I first learned about these two editions. I began to serve in a church as their Assistant Pastor that used the NIV translation. I just left an intern pastorate, where I would preach from the New King James. I went to the local Christian bookstore to pick up a NIV Bible. One Sunday, I got up to read the passage of Scripture that the pastor was going to preach from. After reading the passage, the pastor walked to the pulpit and said, “Isaac, what translation did you just read?” I said, “the NIV.” He then responded, “what you just read sounds nothing like the NIV translation I am going to preach from.” He then proceeded to reread the passage of Scripture. Later that week, I did some research and realized that there are two editions of the NIV: the 1984 and the 2011.

This is not a new concept; publishing companies are constantly updating English Bibles for two reasons. First, the English language is constantly evolving. Even in my short lifetime, I have seen English words change meanings. All you must do is listen to “The Flintstones” theme song and realize this important fact (For those younger, “The Flintstones” was a cartoon from 1960-1966, with many reruns in the 1980’s when I was growing up).

The second reason for updating English translations in because of Biblical manuscripts. The Bible was not originally written in English. The Old Testament was mainly written in Hebrew, along with some parts written in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in a language called Koine Greek. As scholars have learned more about these languages, especially Koine Greek, which is a dead language, they have a better understanding of how to translate certain words into English. Also, regarding Biblical Manuscripts, archaeologists have discovered 1,000’s of manuscripts in recent history, especially of the New Testament, that are far superior and date earlier then what the English translators were using during the 1500’s and 1600’s.

There is also a third reason. Publishing companies may not publicize this reason, but it is true; selling Bibles is big business and they make a lot of many off new English translations. Just look at my office, where I have 32 English Bibles, and yes, I counted them.

Those are some reasons why English translations of the Bible change. But usually what happens is the publishing company will give the new English translation a new name. This is also why we have so many English translations. Every time a publishing company updates an English translation, they will call the new translation by a different name. For example, the King James Version (KJV). The KJV was first translated in 1611. But if you were to go to the store and buy the KJV, you would not be buying the original 1611 KJV. Instead, you would be buying the 1769 Cambridge KJV or the 1814 “Authorized Edition.” Why the change? The English language changed, especially regarding the standardization of spelling. On a side note, the KJV was not the first English translation. Men like William Tyndale (1494-1536) and John Wycliffe (1328-1384) were translating the Bible into English long before King James became King of England. The difference being that when William Tyndale and John Wycliffe were translating the Bible, it was illegal to do so, and both men were persecuted because of their translation efforts. The KJV was the first English translation of the Bible that was legally allowed in England because the King, King James I, gave scholars permission, which further separated the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. We now fast forward to 1982, when the New King James Translation came out, again because of the English language changing but also because of Biblical manuscripts found by archaeologists.

The Southern Baptist Convention came out with their own translation of the Bible in 2009. I was told that they did this because they got tired of paying rights to Zondervan and other publishing companies every time, they quoted portions of the Bible in their curriculum. Their translation was called “Holman Christian Standard Bible.” They updated their translation in 2017 and called the new translation “Christian Standard Bible.”

I could go on and on giving you example after example, but I do not want to bore you too much. But why does all this matter? How does understanding this impact our relationship with Jesus? In my experience as a pastor, as I have encouraged people to read and study the Bible on their own, people will tell me that they have tried, but they just do not understand what they are reading. I then ask what translation they are using. They usually say KJV. I then will give them an easier to read translation and the lack of understanding goes away. Why? The English language has evolved so much, and we do not speak like English speakers from the 1600’s.

But we also must be careful, especially when we study the Bible. We need to compare at least two English translations, a modern translation like the NIV and an older translation like the KJV or American Standard Version (ASV) or the Revised Standard Version (RSV). Reason for this is because sometimes modern translations will try to make the Bible read so much like contemporary English that they will gloss over certain things. An example of this is trying to place modern day animals into the Bible instead of translating the Hebrew and Greek words. We see this clearly when modern English translations try to decide what to do with the Hebrew word that has been traditionally translated as “dragon.” Yes, the Bible talks about dragons, but not our modern-day idea of dragons in fairy tales which is why modern English translations will substitute a modern animal for this Hebrew word. The only way a person who does not know the original Biblical languages will catch these differences is by studying two or more English translations. But again, I digress.

Getting into God’s Word is vital for our relationship with Jesus and if you are struggling to understand God’s Word, then get an easier to read translation. If you are a new believer in Jesus, do not be afraid to pick up a kids Bible, for you are a kid spiritually speaking anyways. Paul says in Romans 12:1-2 that we as followers of Jesus are to offer our lives as living sacrifices to God. We are not to conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed, how? By the renewing of our minds. As we dig into God’s Word, the Holy Spirit begins to change how we think and how we view this world, which ultimately will lead to our lives being changed. Therefore, regular Bible reading, and Bible study are so important;

we begin to think like God, which will lead us to live like Jesus. How do we know what God’s will is for our lives? This is another important question. But I have learned that God has already showed me how I am supposed to live in His Word and the Holy Spirit empowers me to walk in obedience to God’s Word. We must, as followers of Jesus, dig into God’s Word, whatever good Christian translation that maybe, and allow the Holy Spirit to change our lives!

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