The Christian Bible Reference Site

Which Bible Version Is Best?

Frequently Asked Questions

Background

The Old Testament

The Old Testament (OT) of the Bible was originally written in the Hebrew language with a few sections written in the Aramaic language. The OT contains the sacred writings of the Jews and contains books of the Law, history of Israel, wisdom, and prophecy. The events of the OT (excluding Genesis 1-11) occurred roughly between 1800 B.C. and 400 B.C. A Greek translation of the OT, called the Septuagint, was produced between 200 and 100 B.C. for the benefit of Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria, Egypt.

The Apocrypha

The Apocrypha, a group of fifteen late OT books, was written during the period 170 B.C. to 70 A.D. These Jewish books were included in many versions of the Septuagint in circulation as the New Testament (NT) was being formed, but they were excluded from the official canon of Judaism, established about 100 A.D. Today, the books of the Apocrypha are included in Catholic versions of the OT, but not in most Protestant versions. These books are also known as the deuterocanonical books.

The New Testament

The people of first century Palestine, including Jesus, spoke the Aramaic language. However, early Christian writings were written entirely in Greek, the universal language of the Roman Empire at that time. The early church leaders gradually assembled these writings into what is now known as the New Testament. They included books they believed were written by eyewitnesses to the events narrated, while rejecting many other early Christian writings. Eventually, the 27 books which form the present New Testament, along with the OT books, became the Christian Bible as we know it today. The New Testament canon was formally adopted by the Synod of Carthage in 397 A.D.

The Vulgate

During the early centuries A.D., Latin replaced Greek as the language of the Roman Empire. In 405, a Latin translation of the Old and New Testaments was completed. This version, known as the Vulgate, became the standard Bible of Christianity for many centuries.

None of the original manuscripts of the OT or NT still exist. Until the 15th century, when printing was invented, Bible copies were made entirely by hand. As a result, many small variations are found among the many ancient Bible manuscripts still in existence.

The King James Version

The first English language version of the full Bible was John Wycliffe's translation of the Vulgate in 1384. Several other English versions followed, and the beloved King James Version (KJV) was published in 1611. The King James Version, itself, has been updated several times: in 1629, 1638, 1762, and 1769.

Is the KJV the Best Version?

Some people believe the KJV is the most accurate or only authentic version of the Bible. Some believe the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts the KJV translators worked from were faithfully preserved by God or are the most accurate for some other reason. Others say the translators of all later versions were biased or incompetent in one way or another. Still others say the KJV is a literal and accurate translation while later versions were rewritten to suit the biases of the publishers. However, the vast majority of Bible scholars and Christians reject all these objections as being based on faulty facts and reasoning, and they do not consider the KJV to be more accurate or more sacred than other translations.

Disadvantages

The team of 47 scholars who translated the KJV did an excellent job. However, the English language has changed a lot in the nearly 400 years since it was published. Many KJV words and phrases, such as Lord of hosts, sabaoth, emerods and concupiscence, would not be meaningful to most people today. Worse, many other KJV words, such as charity, trespass, profit, cousin, and remission, have different primary meanings today than they did in 1611 and could mislead the reader. As a result, many English-speaking people find the KJV is quite difficult to read and understand.

Modern Bible Versions

Recent developments in archaeology, scientific dating methods and Biblical scholarship have made possible a number of modern, more accurate English translations of the scriptures. These newer versions are translated from the oldest and best ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, rather than from the King James version or the Latin Vulgate.

Advantages of Modern Translations

Although the newer translations are believed to be more accurate than the KJV, the differences are minor. No significant changes of belief or interpretation would result from the many minor corrections. The main advantage of the modern translations is that they are written in modern English so the reader will not be mystified or misled by the archaic English of the KJV. The mainstream modern Bible versions have been translated by teams of devout Bible scholars who have prayerfully done their very best to convey the true meaning of the ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts to the modern reader. These modern translations have been adopted by many churches, both Protestant and Catholic, for use in worship.

Omitted Verses

It is often pointed out that modern translations omit a few of the verses found in the KJV, and this is sometimes believed to be an attempt to distort the Bible's teachings. However, the reason is that certain verses are not found in the oldest and best Bible manuscripts. Thus, they are omitted to accurately preserve the original Bible text. (The chapter and verse numbers were added to the Bible in the Middle Ages; they were not part of the original Bible manuscripts. Thus, an omitted verse does not mean that something was omitted from the original texts.)

Some of these extra verses were added to certain manuscript copies as margin notes or as prayers for use in public worship. Those manuscripts were then copied and recopied without making it clear that the extra verses were later additions. The most famous example is the doxology, "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen." that the KJV adds to the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:13. That phrase is not found in any of the oldest manuscripts of Matthew.

Gender-inclusive Language

Another objection to some modern versions, such as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and Today's New International Version (TNIV), is the use of gender-inclusive language. The issue arises because English lacks a common gender third person singular pronoun. Language that applies equally to men and women in the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts has traditionally been translated as "he" or "him" in English Bibles. However, that can leave the mistaken impression that a verse applies only to men. Such verses have been phrased in some modern translations to accurately convey the gender-inclusive sense of the original manuscripts. The KJV translates John 13:20 as, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me." The NRSV changes the "he" to "whoever" to show that the original text applied equally to men and women, but the "him" that applies to God is left as masculine: "Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me."

It is also traditional in English to use masculine gender as a generic form to include both sexes. So, Romans 3:28 has traditionally been translated into English as "a man is justified by faith." However, the original Greek word, anthropos, means "human being" and applies equally to both sexes. So, the NRSV and TNIV have translated this verse as "a person is justified by faith" to accurately reflect the inclusive nature of the original Greek word.

Publishers of gender-inclusive Bibles are quick to point out that these are not "politically correct" or "feminist" Bibles. They have used gender-inclusive language only where it would have been understood that way in the original Hebrew and Greek languages.

Copyright

Most of the modern Bible versions are protected by copyright law. It is expensive to translate the Bible; the experts who do the work have bills to pay and families to support like everyone else. The only way a Bible publisher can pay their expenses is by selling copies of their work. Without copyright protection, unscrupulous publishers could copy and sell a Bible version without paying any of the proceeds to the men and women who did the work.

Bible Versions

Here is a list of some excellent modern translations, in alphabetical order:

The New American Bible (NAB) is the official Catholic version of the Bible in the United States, and it is written in very modern English. The books of the Apocrypha are incorporated into the Old Testament of Catholic Bibles. Otherwise, this translation does not differ significantly from modern Protestant Bibles.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB), published in 1971, is a scholarly update of the 1901 American Standard Version. Sponsored by the Lockman Foundation, the translators used the best available Greek and Hebrew texts as a guide.

The New International Version of the Bible (NIV), a completely new translation of ancient Greek and Hebrew texts sponsored by the New York International Bible Society, was published in 1978. Its clear, direct modern English makes it easy to read and understand.

The New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), published by The National Council of Churches in 1989, is an update of the highly regarded Revised Standard Version of 1952. The language is very modern, but the style is more traditional than the NIV. The NRSV uses gender-inclusive language in places where it would have been understood that way in the original language. The NRSV is also available in Catholic editions and Anglicized Editions.

The Revised English Bible (REB) is a British edition published by Oxford University Press in 1989. The translators have written in a style suitable for use in worship, while maintaining intelligibility for people of a wide range of ages and backgrounds.

Today's New International Version of the Bible (TNIV), is an update of the NIV. Unlike the NIV, it uses gender-inclusive language in places where it would have been understood that way in the original language.

Paraphrased Versions

In addition to the translations above, there are a number of paraphrased Bible versions which were translated "thought-by-thought" instead of word-by-word. The translators have written in a style that is thoroughly modern and these Bibles are suitable for all ages and very easy to understand. By nature, though, these paraphrased versions involve some interpretation that is subject to debate:

The Living Bible (TLB), published in 1971, is a popular paraphrased version written by Kenneth N. Taylor, who began this version to help his own children understand the New Testament Letters of Paul.

The New Living Translation (NLT), published in 1996, is a thought-by-thought translation by 90 Bible scholars from various theological backgrounds and denominations. It is similar to The Living Bible, but the language is more traditional.

Study Bibles

There are also several Bible editions that include helpful study notes:

The Catholic Study Bible Second Edition contains the complete NAB Bible plus a Reading Guide for each book, study notes and short essays to help with understanding.

Life Application Study Bible is available in NIV, NLT and NASB editions. It contains the complete Bible plus extensive study notes emphasizing application to everyday life.

NLT Study Bible contains the complete NLT Bible plus extensive study notes to help with understanding.

Related article: How to Study the Bible

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