Updated: Oct 31, 2019
Just last Thursday night I was teaching a class and explaining why we have so many versions of the English Bible. A translation is when they take the original language manuscripts and translate them into a particular language so that people can read it. Going from the original Hebrew/ Aramaic and Greek language manuscripts to English is a translation. An English version is when they revise an English translation. We use the words "translation" and "version" interchangeably, but usually we are reading from a version of an English translation.
I remember back in 2002 when a guy in the small group I was in made a comment that there are so many versions and they all say different things. I remember exactly who said that because he was the son of a minister and as such, I assumed he knew what he was talking about. I didn't at the time. And I came to find out he didn't either. So that is one of the things I go over in my class - why do we have so many versions and do they say different things? I spend a lot of time going over the translation process and this leads to modern translation trends - gender neutral language; we aren't missing verses; King James Only people; dumbing-down language to the lowest common denominator;... I have written blogs on these subjects and I'll include them at the bottom if you want to explore more.
Basically we have so many versions because of 3 reasons.
Translators' philosophy is different - they decide to stay as close to word-for-word of the original language manuscripts even if some of the understanding by the reader is lost or they translate the words to easier modern-day language and phrasing so that people reading it understand what it says.
Scholarship of ancient languages has developed as more manuscript evidence is discovered and as more ancient writings are discovered.
Language evolves over time.
Translators work on teams and their credentials blow you out of the water. They are godly men and women who approach their work with reverence for the inspired holy Word of God. For instance the 100 men and women working on the 2017 Christian Standard Bible (which is a revision to the Holman Christian Standard Bible) all have their PhDs.
While these translators are scholars and are doing their best to translate the original languages, they must make choices in words used and phrasing. Hence, THERE IS NO PERFECT TRANSLATION! And hence, no perfect version. Only the text of the original language manuscripts is the inspired holy Word of God - inerrant and infallible. We must trust these teams of scholars to adequately translate the Word of God into our language and trust that should they find an error, they will police themselves and revise as necessary.
[What would be our other option to trusting the translators? It would be to master 3 foreign languages. And Hebrew is a very different language than the Romance Languages. It has a different alphabet and is read from right to left. And it isn't just a matter of mastering 3 languages; it is a matter of mastering 3 ANCIENT foreign languages. We'd have a hard time reading and understanding ancient English. Look at the picture below. Now think about majoring 3 ancient foreign languages. It would take us years. No, it is best to trust the well-educated teams of translation scholars.]
When I go over "language evolving" I give several examples.
First I use the example "Mike is gay." If I wrote this 100 years ago, what would you think if you read it? You would think Mike was happy. If I wrote "Mike is gay." today, what would you think? You would think Mike is a homosexual.
Next I give them the example of how I was teaching and I said something about the biblical story. A woman raised her hand and said, "So the stories in the Bible aren't true?" I was confused by her question. I answered yes they are true. She said, "You called them stories." Still confusion on my part. Then I realized as with many words, the word "story" has several definitions. The number one definition today is "a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale." But if you look at The Merriam-Webster Dictionary copyright 2004 the numbers one definition of story is "narrative, account." The fifth definition of story is "lie, falsehood." In just 14 short years the word "story" has mainly become associated with a fairy tale, fictitious, made-up. And I realized when was my son was little and used to tell me a lie, I would ask him if he was telling me a "story." I did it too! So now when I teach I am very careful to say things like, "In the biblical account of Jericho..." or "In the narrative on King David..." I no longer use the word "story" because it might give the wrong idea.
Third I give them 2 Peter 2:3 in the 1611 King James Version.
And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.
What does it mean to "make merchandise of you"? Not a clue, but I don't think they are referring to shopping.
I also have them read Hebrews 1:1-2 in the below picture.
Then we read it in a couple modern versions to see if we understand it now.
I point out too that spelling changes. You can see that in the above picture. I point out that British English uses 2 "l"s in many words and American English uses 1 "l". In the United States it used to be "travelling" and now is "traveling." "Cancelled" but now is "canceled." "Olde" is now "old." There are tons of examples.
A modern reader no longer knows what these words in the King James Version mean: scall, amerce. crookbackt, glede, wen, tabret,...
Twenty years ago if you told someone to "google" something, would they have known what you are talking about? No. Would they know today? Yes.
There are many examples of how language evolves over time. It is an easy concept to explain and grasp.
I was teaching on all of this just last Thursday night and I had my mind blown how quickly language can evolve!
We were discussing the trend in Bible translation to use "gender neutral" language. As I was teaching it, I had a student who is a school teacher bring up about gender neutral language in the schools and I told her the gender neutral language I was referring to became a controversy back in 2011. Upon further thinking about what she said, I realized we were defining "gender neutral" in different ways! I will revise future teaching of this material to point out the difference.
Let me explain this difference.
The New International Version (NIV) Bible was revised in 2011 and a huge firestorm erupted in the Christian community. I wrote several blogs mentioning this revision and I will list them at the bottom. The biggest change between the 1984 NIV and the 2011 NIV was the translators went with "gender neutral" language. The original language manuscripts were written with masculine language. The translators said that for verses that were applicable to both men and women that they would include the women. So they changed "brothers" to "brothers and sisters" and "he" to "they". They pluralized words. If you notice in modern day language when people speak, they often pluralize words which used to be masculine. We used to say "If anyone, let he..." Now we say "If anyone, let they..." Christians argued whether going "gender neutral" - including the women in Scripture was messing with the Word of God. I mean they argued. It got nasty back in 2011.
We spend a lot of time in class comparing 1984 verses to 2011 verses and talking about other Bible versions which already used gender neutral language and you didn't even know it. We talk about whether this matters. Does it alter God's Word? Is it worth arguing over?
But that big hubbub was back in 2011. We've moved on. When you say "gender neutral language" in 2018, what do people think? And this is what blows me away! Today people think about removing "male" and "female" from the language. And this is what the school teacher in my class was referring to!
2011 - "Gender neutral" with regards to Bible translation means taking the masculine language and including the women. God created us male and female. See Genesis 5:2. This truth is not altered.
2018 - "Gender neutral" means removing any language referring to "male" or "female." Bible translators do not do this! But our schools and our society does!
How did the definition of "gender neutral" change in just 7 short years?!
It started in July 2014 when two guys from Charlotte, NC met to talk about protecting the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination. This led to a bathroom ordinance in 2015 and to the 2016 HB2 Bill. Suddenly what was going on in Charlotte, NC became international news. And the plight of transgender people and deciding which bathroom they should/could use was on everyone's radar. Here is an article to read on what happened - Understanding the origin of Charlotte's 'bathroom law', and how it led to HB2.
What ensued was backlash on Charlotte and North Carolina. What ensued was people changing their language and what they thought of when using "gender neutral." Teachers in our school systems in 2016 were told to eliminate all references to male and female. They could no longer say "boys and girls", but had to use "students", "scholars", "humans". Textbooks are being re-written to be "gender neutral." Policy is put in place to be "gender neutral."
Someone just told me about a recent video where the Prime Minister in Canada "corrected" a woman who was asking him a question that had used the word "mankind". He asked that she instead use the term "peoplekind".
Since I just referred to the word "mankind" - let's go back and look at Genesis 5:2. (Fresh on my mind because we just talked about this on Thursday night.)
He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them "man."
He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them "Mankind" when they were created.
Now look it up in a different version. Go to www.biblegateway.com. Some words or order of the phrasing may be different, but they all say the same thing meaning-wise. The gist being God created male and female and blessed them. After He created them, He named them "Adam"/ "man"/ "Mankind"/ "human" - depending on which version you look at.
In 2011 when the Bible translation debate was raging over "gender neutral" language it was referring to including the women in Scripture. In just 7 short years, "gender neutral" has evolved to the meaning of removing all reference to male and female from our language. Wow! That happened fast!
Yes language evolves. And it evolves quickly these days.
And just so we are clear. The various versions do not say different things. The preacher's son was wrong.
And what is the best Bible version for you to read?
The one you will actually read. Smile.
You may be interested in reading these blogs on subjects mentioned above.