Choosing a Bible - Part 1, What is a Version?

Updated: Nov 5, 2019


You want to purchase a new Bible. Good for you! Reading the Bible is the number one way God will speak to you. Oh, He can speak to you in other ways. He is after all, God. He can do anything He wants in any way He wants. But the primary way He will speak into your life is through the Bible.

It sounds easy enough to go to a Christian store or go on-line and choose a Bible until you look at what is available and then you are going to be overwhelmed. There are so many choices! Bibles can be quite pricey if you get a good one; so you want to purchase one that meets your needs. Look at it like a lifetime investment. Getting a Bible which you actually will read and has the features you want is worth the money. You will treasure it for years.

The first thing you need to decide is what version you want to purchase. The #1 feature of the Bible is the version. This post will be on what versions are. Part 2 will be on the differences in versions. (Choosing a Bible Part 2) And Part 3 will be about various features of a Bible. (Choosing a Bible Part 3 - Features)

I used to work in a Christian bookstore and our store had an entire wall of Bibles. I was trained on knowing the products and now I teach on versions in my Connecting the Dots of the Bible class. I have done a lot of research on the various versions.

The Old Testament of the Bible was written in Hebrew (and there is a small portion written in Aramaic) and the New Testament was written in Greek. Since you and I can’t read Hebrew or Greek, it needed to be translated into English. Translation means the process where original language manuscripts were copied into another language. We read an English translation of the Bible. The team of scholars who do the translating are at the top of their fields in biblical studies, Hebrew and Greek scholarship, and linguistics and usually have some training in anthropology and sociology. Their credentials blow you away.

A reasonable question is what is a version? If a Bible was translated to English from the original language manuscripts then it is a translation. If the team of scholars took an English translation and revised it, then it is called a version. A version is a revision of an existing English translation. We often use the words “translation” and “version” interchangeably and that is OK. Not a ‘biggie.’ But technically we are usually reading from a version. For instance the New International Version (NIV) Bible is a revision of a previous English translation. But so is the New American Standard Bible (NASB). So you can't tell by the title whether it is a translation from the original language manuscripts or a version of an existing translation. You have to look in the foreword to find that out. Most popular Bibles sold today are versions. This is probably TMI for you, but some of you might be interested and it explains why I am calling them versions.

So why are there so many versions?

First of all language evolves. Modern language changes constantly and the Bible must use understandable words for everyday life. Some words that meant something 100 years ago mean something different today. An example would be the word “aliens” which was used in older versions and is now translated “foreigners.”

The foreword of my NASB Bible (a literal version) says “The attempt has been made to render the grammar and terminology in contemporary English. When it was felt that the word-for-word literalness was unacceptable to the modern reader, a change was made in the direction of a more current English idiom.”

Translation scholarship has evolved also - meaning understanding of ancient languages changes. There are differences in style between ancient and modern writing and scholars are continually learning more about this. With each new discovery of ancient manuscripts (not only biblical ones), knowledge is gained.

But the main reason for all of the versions is translators’ purposes vary. There are three schools of thought to the translation process.

  1. Literal Translations or Versions (sometimes called Formal Equivalent) – stay as true to the original Hebrew and Greek even though some of the meaning might be lost to modern day readers. The thought here is to mess as little as possible with the wording of the original writers.

  2. Balanced Translations or Versions (sometimes called Dynamic Equivalent) - stay close to the original text but translate words and idioms into what would be the normal way of saying the same thing in a new language.

  3. Paraphrase - an attempt to translate ideas from one language to another. It conveys the meaning of the text by adding more words to ensure that the meaning is understood. (Don’t buy a paraphrase version as your primary Bible and I’ll explain about that in Part 2.)

Source: http://www.nlt.to/translations/index

But understand this, and it very important to know this. So pay attention! All literal and balanced versions say the same thing meaning-wise. You can compare Scripture verses and passages between the various versions and you will find the wording very similar and even though some of the words are different, the message is the same! The balanced versions just use easier words and phrasing, but the meaning is not altered.

  • You will find the word “begotten” in most literal versions. In balanced versions they change it to “one and only”, “fathered”,…

  • Literal versions will refer to believers as “saints.” Balanced versions will refer to them as “God’s people”, “the Lord’s people”, “believers”,…

  • “Ankle chains” might be changed to “anklets” meaning jewelry.

But the meaning of the original writers is the same!

This is why people with different versions can sit in the same Bible study and understand what is being read. The different versions DO NOT convey different ideas. They are just worded differently. But they aren't worded that differently! If you go to a website like www.biblegateway.com and enter a verse and a version and hit search; then go to add parallel (the icon with the lines through it) - you can compare 4 versions side by side. Compare several verses. You will see they may have only changed a couple words in the verse and some punctuation.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 says:

KJV (literal) - Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing.

NASB (literal) - Rejoice always; pray without ceasing;

ESV (literal) - Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,

NIV (balanced) - Rejoice always, pray continually,

NLT (balanced) - Always be joyful. Never stop praying.

Do they say the same thing? They do!

Compare several verses until you are convinced.

In Choosing a Bible - Part 2 I’ll explain the differences in the most popular versions and give you a recommendation. For most people I recommend a balanced version.

#chooseaBible #versions #Bible

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© 2015 by Carolyn Hurst