A question about Bible “versions”

The following is my reply to an email sent by a visitor to my website, asking for an explanation of the different Bible “versions.” Please remember that this is only an overview of the topic and is written for one evangelical Christian, by another.

Dear [name withheld],

Thank you for your question. I will try to answer it without getting too detailed. The main thing to remember is that the “versions” are actually translations, not different versions of the Bible, itself. That is, each “version” is just a translation from early manuscripts in the original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek in the Old Testament; Greek only in the New Testament).

Most of the differences between “versions” come from differences in translation. For example, the Hebrew word “wayomer” might be translated “saying” (King James), “and he said” (NIV), or just as a quotation mark, or not at all. Sometimes words or phrases have no direct translation into English, so translators approximate.

Other differences come from the priority given to different manuscripts. For example, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, is used heavily in some translations and not at all in others. This is like playing “telephone” – by the time the Greek translation of the rabbis from Hebrew gets translated to English, the differences become noticeable.

Generally, though, all the different manuscripts – there are about 6,000 total – agree very well, with most differences occurring in spelling (for example, “R” and “D” look nearly identical in Hebrew, so you might see notes about this in your Bible). When they do differ significantly, as at the end of Mark, for example, most versions will have footnotes about it, to tell you where the differences are. The introductory pages to your Bible will also have a list of abbreviations. If you look there, you will find for example that “LXX” refers to the Septuagint, the important Greek translation I mentioned.

The major versions in use in America are the King James (KJV, also called the Authorized Version), New King James (NKJV), New International Version (NIV), New American Standard Bible (NASB or NAS, sometimes NASV), American Standard Bible (ASB, sometimes ASV). There are also some “paraphrases” – these are not real translations, but summaries of Scripture. These include “The Message” and “Oxford’s Inclusive Language Version.” They may leave out whole passages or phrases, and usually boil the text down to one interpretation, so they are not recommended for serious Bible study, as you miss what the text is really saying. There are, of course, many other translations into other languages. Some of these are actually based on Cherokee! This is what Wycliffe Bible Translators do, as it makes a fast and consistent first translation into a new language much easier; future translations are often based on the original languages.

I am not aware of a version officially called the New Age Version, although I have heard various versions called that (usually derogatorily).

There are other translations out there, produced by the Catholics (the Catholic Bible with Apocrypha, The Jerusalem Bible), the Jewish Publication Society (The New JPS Translation Tanakh), independent publishers, and various cults and spin-off religions. The main thing you need to know about these are that the Catholic Bible includes something called the Apocrypha – these are books and parts of books written between the end of the Old Testament and the birth of Christ. They range from legendary to historical; some of the historical portions are correct and useful, but the Reformers (especially Martin Luther) rejected these books as not inspired. They are interesting to read, but not very useful for theology and should not be treated as Scripture.

The New JPS Translation Tanakh, of course, does not include the New Testament, since it is published by a Jewish organization. (Note: the Jerusalem Bible published by Doubleday does include the New Testament, as it is a Catholic translation. An earlier version of this document refered to another edition by the same name and was misleading.)

One final thing: you may hear references to the “Hebrew Bible” – this simply means our Old Testament.

I hope that helps. You can find a lot more information at http://www.gospelcom.net/ibs/bibles/translations/index.php. Please let me know if you have any other questions!

God bless,
Ed Cottrell





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