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Moslems hate to see their scriptures translated, but the Christian scriptures are meant to be widely translated and used. We are to make disciples of all nations. People from every language belong to God's kingdom. Translations, therefore, vary greatly even when they are in the same language such as English. These are called versions.
Because there are so many English translations of the Bible, readers have a choice on Bibles. Therefore they ask, "Which version should I use?" The question has gotten ridiculous as of late because of all the marketing techniques to make profit off the selling of Bibles. But still we face the same question, "Which Bible should we use?" Let us identify the process by which people should choose an English Bible.
It is fine to follow and use the version their church or pastor uses. This is the most obvious choice.
Why? Simply because it is much more important that one exposes him or herself to God's Word by reinforcement. By hearing the Bible quoted and repeated, one can learn to use it more quickly and rightly. For example, one can much more quickly follow a Bible study if he has the version the study was based on. One can more easily follow a sermon, if he uses the Bible the pastor or teacher is using.
Many new Christians find an old King James Bible on their library shelf. They take it, but it is like a rusty tool that just doesn't seem to work right. The version is good and trustworthy, but it was designed for another generation.
We encourage new Christians to get a Bible that their church uses. What if your church uses the King James? Then it is okay. Their constant use of it will reinforce your learning, and you will get used to it.
Jesus depended upon God's Word. He knew it back and forth. We need to be like Him. Becoming acquainted with God's Word stands as one of the most important tasks of a Christian. We need to learn to use His Word as a sharp sword. Because of this, most of us should be careful limiting ourselves to the version our church uses.1 After we become familiar with the Bible the church uses, go on and explore other versions.
Some churches still use the antiquated King James Bible (KJV) written in the 1600s. Some of these churches are traditonalists; others are protective conservatives. I gave up using tracts that used the King James Bible. I like it. I personally grew up with that version. I can understand it and greatly respect it, but it serves poorly for teaching Christians and is plain lousy for communicating the glorious Gospel to non-Christians.
I would end up spending most of my time explaining the specialized terms the KJV used rather than the meaning of the text. Perhaps the New King James Bible has overcome some of these problems. But it is so hard for churches or individuals to change.
Other conservative churches that propose using only the KJV think that modern versions are polluted with another style of translation. Some allege that 'thought-for-thought' translations are written because they despise the verbal inspiration of the scriptures. Perhaps a few have this motivation, but many clearly do not think this way.
Those who know several languages and do public translation are aware how foolish this argument is. Good translators communicate the original thought the best way the hearers can quickly understand. The 1996 New Living Translation, for example, aspires to impact native English speakers as the original scriptures did.
Literal translations are poor translations because the hearers cannot easily undestand the content. Paraphrase Bibles such as the Living Bible are too loose with their thought translation while the NIV (New International Version) is much more conservative trying to keep the original presentation somewhat in mind.
Please don't mistake real study Bibles with those including the word in their titles like the NIV Study Bible! These are not study Bibles.
The NIV is a good public Bible because it provides for more smooth reading. But it is for babies. Babies drink milk. It is all digested. A reader does not need to think much. The NIV does some interpretation to make the otherwise passages unclear. It is debatable whether they are always clear. However, it is easily read, but it is not a study Bible.
We need to be honest that when we read, we read for different purposes. Sometimes we are reading through a book of the Bible. We are not paying attention to the particulars. For this we need a more fluent version that is easily readable. We get the major point of what is written. NIV would be good for this.
On the other hand, we sometimes need to study the Bible. "Thought-for-thought' translations are poor study Bibles. We tend to examine someone else's thought more than the author's original words. For studying the meaning of Bible passages, we need a 'word-for-word' version.
The closer we get to the original, the easier it will be to understand what the author really did or did not say. These study Bible versions are less readible. They are poor translations in one sense, and yet they yield greater reward for the Bible student.
Memorization should always be from a more literal Bible like the NASB (New American Standard Bible) or NKJV (New King James Version). When we meditate on God's Word, the individual words are important. For some who really get into studying the Bible, transliterations are used. Every Greek word is translated, word for word. One can read this quasi-English but the translation is so poor that noone uses them to read. They use it to see which Greek words are really being used.
The most helpful versions include a narrow column of Bible verses that refer to other similiar verses in the Bible (ie. references). Often these references are the Old Testament verse that has been quoted or referred to. The column like the picture on the left also will have a few comments about another possible rendering due to some other manuscripts using a different word.
Conclusion: The Bible is used for different purposes depending on the occassion. We should at least have one 'literal' study Bible even if our church chooses to use another easier to read Bible in the pulpit. Bible study and meditation require those translations that have purposed to use 'word-for-word' Bibles. Yet, let us not be too hard on those 'thought-for-thought' translations that enable us to better grasp the meaning of larger portions of scripture.
This section gets a bit complicated. One might want to first read the page on the Reliability of the Scriptures before reading on. Deciding on Bible versions for some people have to do with what Bible manuscripts that the version is based on.
Some people get dogmatic about their one version (usually tbose who use the King James Version). Some of their arguments are askew. They do, however, have a few points that need to be remembered. If you want to understand this topic, there are numerous things one has to learn. We have tried to put them in chart form to keep them more simplified.
It really doesn't make too much difference.
Finding the right Bible.
• We should be glad that we have so many versions of the Bible in English. This is not true with any other language.
• The Bible version is not as important as the warm response of our heart to God's Word. Remember the Parable of the Sower. If we read and not do God's Word, then we will be like the foolish man that built his house on the sand (Matthew 7:24-27).
• If we are concerned with accuracy, we have the option of having two, three or five Bibles open before us. God, however, can certainly speak to us through any version of His Word.
• The original books (autographs) were inspired. We don't have these, but we do have more than 5,500 NT manuscripts that are extremely close to the originals.
• The King James uses a different approach in evaluating the best texts to be used than the other modern versions.
• In the end both systems (Received Text (KJV) and Critical Text (NASB, NIV) use the same process of prioritizing the best manuscripts and discerning which is the most reliable text to be used.
• The two systems differ in which way they choose their main supporting texts.
- The Westcott-Hort2 approach is used for the modern versions. They simply ought not have virtually ridden off the value of 99% of the manuscripts by their preference over two main codices (collection of manuscripts into a book). This selection namely Sinaiticus and Vaticanus is based on the philosophy that 'older is better'. This can be debated seeing that the Vaticanus was rejected by some. Today's modern versions follow this trend and therefore acdentuate the problem of neglecting the majority of the texts.
- The Received Text (Byzantine or majority texts)2 is used for the KJV and the NKJV. These supporters have not been objective enough. They act as if the Received Text has not gone through the process of selecting and prioritizing different manuscripts upon which to base their English translation. It has. Without understanding this process, they put undue confidence in one man's judgment (Erasmus3).
Furthermore, just because manuscripts are evaluated in accuracy, it does not mean that one does not believe in verbal plenary inspiration.
• Bible versions are necessarily formed from different collations of Bible manuscripts and the comparisons of the individual passages. This cannot be avoided. There is no perfect translation.
• Fortunately, the variations of the manuscripts only affect a small amount of Bible passages. None of them affect any key doctrine.
• God is able to work through all the versions and translations which is now in use. The Septuagint (LXX) was the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures used in Jesus' day. The resulting translation was quite different than the Hebrew text in places.
• We need to strive to have the most accurate translations. We should work on utilizing the most accurate manuscripts. However, it is a process. Languages can't be accurately translated. They just can't. We need to accept that and not be overly concerned. The Holy Spirit works through the process.
• Because we have many versions, we have ways to make up for the problems. We can simply use two versions to check passages that we are studying. Make sure one is the King James and the other something like the NASB or NIV. If the versions are different, then you will see how minor the variations are.
• What version we use really doesn't make that much difference. When I sit down and use my NASB, I can plan to meet God. I could do the same with the NIV or the KJV. He speaks powerfully to me through His Word. As a teacher, I need to be a little bit more careful in making sure that there is no textual problem on a certain verse, but this hardly ever occurs!
• Instead of breeding skepticism in the process, we should trust God to work through it. The most questionable passages to be careful of are:
I prefer the longer passages but can understand why some might object to them as being added.
• Most other concerns are very minor. For example, a verb tense might be in question. Is it past or future tense? Or should we use 'our' or 'your'? Manuscripts can differe with each other.
It is hard to decide! Bible translators have to make a decision for their translation, but they realize they can't be dogmatic as to which was the original. A good Bible will state significant variants in the side margin.
If you have specific questions about some of the texts that the modern versions have allegedly adulterated, please click here for a full discussion. Not a few people who espouse the King James Bible believe that the other versions are corrupted. A brother wrote asked about five of these supposedly perverted texts. Here you will find real clear answers.
Some people assert certain manuscipts as more reliable than others. That is fine. Their faith will do them well. Those that understand the issue are usually more firm about it.
By the way, if you love another version, write and let me know why. I'll include it in the discussion if appropriate.
But even with all of these questions, we still can have a wonderful meditation time using the NIV Bible! All the work that is done behind the scenes is very thorough. To be sure more studies will produce more accurate texts, but it takes a tremendous amount of work.
I personally find that there is more question about the real meaning of Bible passages from plain word studies than about the texts themselves. In Hebrew, for example, a single verb might have ten or more possible English translations! Which one is the right one? It is largely decided by context. For speed, I rarely use my Hebrew and Greek Bibles in book form anymore.
I simply use my free Bible program (Online Bible) and click twice on a word and up comes an abbreviated summary of the word's usage complete with the Hebrew and Greek word. The availability of these resources will lead to more accurate and reliable texts in the future. Any version, now however, can be used and checked in a moment by such a program.
The more important thing is to meditate on God's Word day and night. Believe in God's Word as Christ did. Be a doer and not only a hearer.
Knowing about God's Word and its reliability is one important matter, but one also needs to know how to meet God in the scriptures.
Other Articles on the Origin of the Bible Series
1. How is the Bible different today from before?
2. How did the Bible come into being?
3. Why aren't other books part of the Bible?
4. How is the Bible different from other books?
5. Doesn't the Bible have a lot of mistakes?
6. Is the Bible really relevant to my life?
7. What Bible version should I use? I'm confused.
8. Why do some people say that I must use the KJV?