|Image Credit: ASBO Jesus|
The number of Bibles available today is overwhelming. Sometimes we forget how intimidating it must be for a person who wants to see what the Bible says to walk into a bookshop and be shown a shelf filled from top to bottom with different versions of the Bible.
I'm not talking about the ones that have been packaged to appeal to particular affinity groups (for mom, for grandmas, for teen girls, for new believers, for American Patriots, or for police officers to name a few), although that seems to be a bit overwhelming too.
I'm actually talking about the number of translations of the Bible that are currently available. The newest one that I'm aware of is the Common English Bible, but that new translation certainly didn't create the current problem of translation-overload.
Where to start, which is best?
It all started back in 1456 when Johannes Gutenberg printed the Latin Bible on his printing press. Within a century and half later, the Bible had been translated into English and our contemporary translations began their trek to meet us in the present day.
King James Version (1611)
This version was based largely on William Tyndale's English translation, which was made available in 1535. It came from a careful revision of Tyndale, which was undertaken by several scholars in the Anglican Church and authorized by King James I in 1611. This version was based on late Greek manuscripts called Textus Receptus or the "Received Text." This has caused appearance of several variations between the KJV text and the earliest manuscripts we know about today.
Revised Version (1881)
This was the first major attempt to revise the KJV. The goal goal was to create an updated version of the KJV. Many advances in the understanding of the Hebrew language since 1611 made this version a considerable improvement in clarity over the KJV. But the Greek in the Revised Version was translated so formally that it lacked clarity in English.
American Standard Verion (1901)
Also a revision of the KJV, this version was produced by an American committee rather than a British one. Its claim to fame is that it translated the Divine Name in the Old Testament as "Jehovah" instead of "LORD."
Revised Standard Version (1952)
The translators of this version sought to revise the KJV with their current advances in scholarship while retaining its literary traditions and turns of phrase. This quickly became the Bible of choice for most English-speaking Christians.
New American Standard Bible (1971; rev. 1995)
This translation was produced by a group of 58 scholars who sought to stay as close as possible to the original languages. Fee and Strauss give this version the distinction of being "the most consistently literal or formal equivalent of major English versions produced over the last half century" . The 1995 revision is referred to as the NASU.
New International Version (1978; rev. 1984; rev. 2010)
This version came together with teams of scholars translating each of book of the Bible and submitting their translation to three different editorial committees. It has been widely used since its release and has outsold the KJV ever since the middle of the 1980s. As a mediating translation, it struck a balance the formal and functional translations on the market at the time.
New King James Version (1982)
This version was produced by over 130 Evangelical scholars over a period of 7 years. Like the KJV, it used the Textus Receptus as its basis, but it includes footnotes to alert readers to variations between it and the older Greek manuscripts.
The Amplified Bible (1965; rev. 1987)
This version offers readers a text filled with "amplifications" in the form of synonyms and explanatory words added to the text within brackets. These additions are based largely on the work of a lady named Frances Siewert.
New Revised Standard Version (1990)
With Bruce Metzger serving as the chairman of the translation committee, this version made minor corrections to the RSV from 1952. It was also the first English version to use gender inclusive language for masculine but generic terms in Hebrew and Greek. Many scholars use this version for their work.
New Living Translation (1996; rev. 2004)
This version is a major revision of the Living Bible, which was a full-scale paraphrase produced by Kenneth Taylor in 1971). Eighty-seven evangelical scholars from many different denominations collaborated to move the Living Bible from a paraphrased version to a functional equivalent version. About this version, Fee and Strauss comment that, "In general it is a clear, accurate, and reliable translation" .
English Standard Version (2001)
The translators of this version appreciated neither the hint of liberalism they perceived in the RSV nor the wooden literalism of the NASB, so they revised the RSV in a more conservative direction. For example, they went back to using "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14 instead of "young woman." They also removed "thees" and "thous" in favor of a more modern sounding text. Even still, it maintains much of the literary richness of the older versions.
Most of these can be found somewhere on this chart:
|from How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee & Mark Strauss (p. 28)|
So which Bible version is best?
For that answer I turn to the experts. Fee and Strauss say, "We are convinced that a translation based on 'functional equivalence' is the best way to be fair to both the original and receptor languages" .
Or, more simply: "The best translation should be accurate, clear, natural, and audience-appropriate" .
Because I work mostly with students, the Bible version that I use and recommend the most is the New Living Translation. However, I often find that I need to supplement it with either the NRSV or the ESV. Drawing on each of these versions allows me get the formal and functional renderings necessary to best understand and teach with both clarity and precision that I would lack if I only relied on one version.
 Gordon D. Fee and Mark L. Strauss, How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding and Using Bible Versions (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 147.
 Ibid., 154.
 Ibid., 23.
 Ibid., 36.
Why are Bible Translations Necessary?
How is Bible Translation Done?