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Know Your Bible! – Translations of the Bible in English (Part 1)

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joint and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12 NIV

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV

Reading the Bible is undoubtedly one of the most important parts of one’s spiritual walk in the Christian faith, as it opens one’s heart, mind and soul to the living and powerful word of God that has been preserved for generations since time immemorial. The Bible does not merely serve as a moral compass in a Christian’s walk of faith; it is in fact life’s ultimate manual that serves to navigate a Christian through the ups and downs of life, regardless of time, place or circumstance. It forms the very core of the foundation of one’s faith in Jesus and the gospel, and it is through it that one acquires the necessary building blocks to build a strong spiritual foundation that influences all spheres of one’s life.

The Bible is indisputably the most translated book in the world, what with the whole Bible existing in at least 500 languages and at least some parts of the Bible existing in almost 3,000 languages of the world (as of 2015). In case you don’t already know, the original languages of the Bible are Hebrew and Aramaic for the Old Testament, and Greek for the New Testament. And just for the benefit of those of you who don’t know, almost the entire Old Testament was written in Hebrew, which was historically the native and liturgical language of the Israelites, but small portions of the Bible, particularly in the books of Ezra and Daniel, were written in Aramaic, which was the lingua franca of many parts of the ancient world in the Middle East and was likely the everyday language that Jesus Himself spoke the most. The New Testament, however, was written in Greek because that was the lingua franca in many parts of the Roman Empire from 50 to 100 AD, the years when the books of the New Testament were written.

Bible translations into the English language have existed since as early as the 7th century AD, with large portions of both the Old and New Testaments being translated into Old English by various Christian scholars and monks. Nonetheless, perhaps the most famous English translation of the Bible in medieval times is none other than the Wycliffe Bible, which was translated around 1382 either directly or under the direction of John Wycliffe (1331 – 1384), a famous English theologian and preacher. Since then, numerous versions of the Bible in English have been published up to modern times, and it is true that choosing the best Bible to read can sometimes be a headache for the average Christian.

Beginning of the Gospel of John in a 14th century copy of the Wycliffe Bible

In this two-part article, I’ll be giving you an overview of some of the most commonly used translations of the Bible in English today. In the first part of this article, I’ll first attempt to cover a brief history and overview of the various source texts used in most modern Bible translations, while in the second part of this article I’ll be giving you brief descriptions of about 10 of the most popular versions of the Bible in English today.

Latin Vulgate

Beginning of the Gospel of John from the Clementine Vulgate

Before I proceed further, it would be best for us to first understand one of the most renowned versions of the Bible in Christian history known as the Latin Vulgate. Indeed, no discourse on the history of the Church is complete without at least making a brief mention of this highly authoritative version of the Bible that left such a deep impression for many centuries since its inception.

From around the 2nd century AD onwards, churches throughout the Roman Empire started moving away from Greek and embracing Latin as the new lingua franca. The first few Latin-speaking churches of that time were in North Africa, and as the years passed the use of Latin slowly replaced Greek in other parts of the Roman Empire as well. Due to this, it soon became imperative that the books of the Bible be translated into Latin as well, and to this end, numerous translations were produced by both the skilled and the unskilled. Because churches were so spread out throughout the vast territories of the Roman Empire, the number of Latin translations of the various books of the Bible soon became countless, and serious variations started creeping into the different translations from the different geographical regions that were at times even done by anonymous individuals with zero religious training. The situation became so bad that it was said that there were almost as many types of texts as there were manuscripts, and a standardized version became desirable.

In 382, Pope Damasus I (305 – 384) commissioned Jerome (347 – 420), a Latin priest and one of the Early Church Fathers, with the monumental task of revising the vast collection of Biblical texts in Latin and producing a standardized Latin translation of the Bible. Jerome thus started by revising the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, using all the Greek manuscripts that were available to him. At about the same time, he also revised the Old Testament using the Septuagint (which will be covered later in this article). Nonetheless, in the year 390, Jerome embarked on a much larger project, that was to translate the Old Testament directly from the Hebrew texts. His primary motivation for doing so was the hostility of the Jews who continued to belittle Christians for lacking a genuine text of the Old Testament on which the latter could put forward their theological arguments.

Artist's impression of Jerome, from a painting entitled Saint Jerome in His Study by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449 - 1494)

The collection of all of Jerome’s works, including possible revisions of the other books of the New Testament, formed the Latin Vulgate or simply the Vulgate (Vulgata) in Latin. ‘Vulgate’ refers to the ‘common (or vulgar) language’ of the people, and not the connotations we would attach to the word ‘vulgar’ in our modern sense. For the centuries after the production of the complete Vulgate in 405, this version of the Latin Bible became among the most authoritative, if not the most itself, in the Catholic Church, and it was the standard version studied by the clergy and preached in the churches throughout Western Europe. The Council of Trent, a major ecumenical council of the Catholic Church held between 1545 to 1563 in response to the Protestant Reformation, issued a decree that sealed the position of the Vulgate as the officially sanctioned version of the Bible in the Catholic Church.

Old Testament source texts

As mentioned earlier, the original texts of the Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew, although Aramaic was also used in certain parts of the Bible either as words, phrases or long portions of texts, most notably in Ezra 4:8-6:18 and 7:12-26, and Daniel 2:4-7:28. Most modern translations of the Old Testament in the Christian Bible are based on any one or a combination of the sources discussed below.

For those of you who may not be aware, the books of the Christian Bible’s Old Testament are equivalent to the books of the Tanakh, the Jewish Scripture or the holy book of Judaism. For the purpose of discussion below, whenever ‘Jewish Scripture’ is mentioned, this would equally refer to the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. 

Transmission chart of the Old Testament. Red boxes indicate copies that are in Hebrew; blue boxes indicate copies that are in languages other than Hebrew


 Surviving manuscript of the Septuagint

Although the Septuagint was regarded with much reverence and accorded considerable authority in the days of Jesus and the Early Church, its origins are somewhat shrouded in mystery and legends. The name ‘Septuagint’ itself is derived from the Latin word septuaginta, which means ‘seventy,’ and this is linked to the popular tradition regarding its origin that is now considered by many to be legendary.

Tradition has it that when the Hellenistic Egyptian king Ptolemy II Philadelphus (309 – 246 BC) established a library in Alexandria, he was persuaded by his royal librarian Demetrius of Phalerum (c.350 – c.280 BC) to secure a Greek translation of the Jewish Scripture for his library’s collection. The king then sent a delegation to Eleazar, the Jewish high priest in Jerusalem, requesting 72 (or 70) interpreters, 6 from each Jewish tribe, to be sent to Alexandria along with a copy of the Jewish Scripture. The high priest obliged, and the 72 interpreters were sent along with a copy of the Jewish Scripture written in letters of gold on rolls of skin. After much merrymaking upon their arrival, the interpreters were brought to the remote island of Pharos to complete the translation works, with all necessary supplies provided for. The result of their work was the Septuagint, or the Greek translation of the Jewish Scripture/Old Testament from Hebrew.

In spite of this tradition that was widely held in the past, many modern scholars believe that this was probably a fanciful confabulation to give credence to the validity of the Septuagint as scripture. What is certain is that the Septuagint was a product born out of the necessity for a Greek translation of the Jewish Scripture in Hebrew. With the Greek conquest under Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC), Greek culture slowly spread in influence throughout Europe, North Africa and Western Asia; a process known as Hellenization. Among the Jews in the Greek Empire from the 3rd century BC onwards, Hellenization brought about a gradual decline in the usage of Hebrew in favour of Greek as the new lingua franca. This also meant that there was an increasing demand for the Jewish Scriptures to be translated into Greek, as many Jews themselves lost the ability to speak Hebrew with the passage of time. Sometime around the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, efforts were made by the Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria to produce such a Greek translation, and out of that the Septuagint was born. Its use soon spread to many other parts of the Greek/Roman Empire, particularly among Hellenized Jewish communities.

During the time of Jesus and the days of the Early Church in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, the Septuagint was perhaps the most widely used version of the Jewish Scripture. Many writers of the New Testament books and the Early Church Fathers quoted from the Septuagint in their works, and because of this it soon became the standard version of the Old Testament used in the early churches. The influence of the Septuagint in the early churches was so strong that it formed the basis for translations of the Old Testament into other languages of that era, such as Old Latin, Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, Georgian and others.

In producing modern Bible translations, opinions regarding the authenticity and authority of the Septuagint differ. Proponents of the Septuagint argue that the authors of the New Testament books took many of their quotations of the Old Testament from the Septuagint, thus lending credence to the spiritual authority attached to it. They also argue that the Old Testament texts in Hebrew that have been passed down to this modern era have been corrupted by Jewish scholars over the centuries (see ‘Masoretic Text’ below), making the Septuagint the best and most unbiased available representation of the earliest versions of the Jewish Scripture that existed before the birth of Jesus. Opponents of the Septuagint, on the other hand, assert that the Septuagint itself is a translated text, with Greek and Hebrew being two languages that differ in many aspects including vocabulary use and theological terminologies, not to mention that translations made from the Septuagint are themselves ‘translations of a translation.’ As such, they argue that the Septuagint may not be too accurate in representing the original meanings and intents found in the Hebrew texts.

Masoretic Text

Excerpt from the Book of Deuteronomy in the Aleppo Codex

The Masoretic Text refers to the authoritative Hebrew text of the Tanakh, the holy book of Judaism. Its name is derived from the Hebrew word masorah, which generally means ‘tradition’ and refers to the textual traditions of the Masoretes, a community of Jewish rabbis and scholars from the 7th to 11th centuries AD who dedicated their lives to compiling and copying the Jewish Scripture with great meticulousness in order to preserve it. They were primarily based in Tiberias and Jerusalem in Israel, as well as in several cities in what is presently Iraq.

Efforts to preserve the Hebrew Jewish Scripture in its most original form can be traced back to the 5th century BC, after the Babylonian captivity of the Jews. However, these efforts were occasionally hampered by circumstances, such as the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD that resulted in the loss of many sacred scrolls. Another major setback in the preservation of the Jewish Scriptures over the centuries was the absence of vowels in written Hebrew in ancient times. Hebrew texts were written with only consonants, which meant that when reading those texts, the vowels had to be supplied based on oral tradition handed down through the generations. A simple illustration in English would be this: say for example you have a text that reads ‘SLP.’ How would you know if this word was read ‘SLAP,’ ‘SLIP’ or ‘SLOP’? You’ll have to rely on oral tradition that has been passed down to you to know its actual reading, which means that this sort of writing system gives lots of room for variations in reading and consequently meaning.

What the Masoretes did during the 6th to 10th centuries was basically to gather as many copies of the Jewish Scripture in Hebrew as they could, study them in detail, compile them together into a standardized text, and proliferate them via meticulous copying done by the most well-trained of scribes. Another major contribution by them was the introduction of vowel points, a reading system that indicates the vowel readings for any given word in Hebrew. This was to overcome the problems associated with the lack of vowels as described above.

The Masoretes comprised several schools, and each school adhered to their own set of oral and textual traditions in the readings of the Jewish Scripture. As they developed the vowel points, they soon added these vowel readings into their copies of the Scripture according to the traditions that they adhered to. Each school possessed their own standard codex from which they made their copies, and it was these codices and their copies that formed the basis for what we know today as the Masoretic Text. Although different versions of the Masoretic Text were produced by the different schools, the variations between them were virtually minimal, as each school frequently examined their works against those of the other schools. Two of the most prominent versions of the Masoretic Text that have survived until today are the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, both dating back to around the 10th century and originating from the Ben Asher school.

The versions of the Masoretic Text that form the main textual basis for most modern translations of the Old Testament date back to the 16th century. The first of these was a version published by Daniel Bomberg (d. 1549) in 1525 in Venice, known as the Rabbinical Bible or Mikraot Gedolot in Hebrew. This version was compiled and written based on manuscripts gathered by a Masoretic scholar named Jacob ben Hayyim ibn Adonijah (c.1470 – c.1538), who carefully studied the various manuscripts he had at hand and reconstructed them into a single text. The Rabbinical Bible became an authoritative Masoretic Text during that era, and various revised editions have been published until today.

 Excerpt from the Book of Leviticus in a version of the Mikraot Gedolot published in 1860 in Warsaw

Another version of the Masoretic Text that has contributed much to many modern Bible translations are the Biblia Hebraica and its subsequent revised edition Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Published by the German Bible Society, the first two editions of the Biblia Hebraica were published in 1906 and 1912 respectively, and were directly based on the second edition of the Rabbinical Bible. The third edition and the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, however, were published more recently, and were based directly on the Leningrad Codex mentioned earlier.

The use of the Masoretic Text in modern translations of the Old Testament is not without controversy. Proponents of the Masoretic Text assert that it is the best preserved text of the Old Testament that has been passed down in its original language, and that the Masoretes who were responsible for compiling the Masoretic Text were renowned for their extreme meticulousness in collating and copying the texts, thus ensuring minimal variations as they were passed down over the centuries. On the other hand, opponents argue that the Masoretic Text, being a work of Jewish scholars, have been purposely corrupted in parts over the centuries. This argument is based on the fact that after the 2nd century AD, when the Septuagint became widely adopted by Christians in the Early Church as their Old Testament, they frequently debated with the Jews regarding Jesus and His Messianic nature by quoting from the Old Testament prophecies based on the Septuagint. Because of this, the Jews slowly shifted away from the Septuagint in favour of the original Hebrew versions of the Jewish Scripture, which were not as widely used by Christians. Opponents of the Masoretic Text believe that Jewish scholars including the Masoretes have corrupted certain wordings and verses in the Masoretic Text over the centuries so as to alter certain parts that may make allusions to the life and teachings of Jesus.

Dead Sea Scrolls

Manuscript of a portion of the Book of Isaiah from the Dead Sea Scrolls

Any serious student of the Bible today who is worth his salt would definitely have at least heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of ancient texts discovered between 1946 and 1956 in eleven caves located in Qumran, West Bank near the Dead Sea. Its relatively recent discovery has revolutionized how most modern Bibles are translated and edited.

The scrolls were first discovered in 1946 by a group of Bedouin shepherds, who found them stored in clay jars and subsequently sold them to an antiquities dealer. In the years that followed, the scrolls eventually reached the hands of Bible scholars and archaeologists, prompting a large-scale search for the caves where they were originally discovered. When the caves were finally re-discovered by archaeologists in 1949, major excavation projects were carried out, which resulted in a priceless yield of thousands of manuscripts, both intact and fragmented.

 View of the Dead Sea from a cave in Qumran

The Dead Sea Scrolls have proven to be an invaluable source for verifying the accuracy of modern Bible translations. Prior to their discovery, the only forms in which the books of the Old Testament have been passed down to modern times are the Septuagint, the Masoretic Text and the Latin Vulgate, besides several other less known ancient sources that will be briefly covered later. Archaeological studies have shown that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written between the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD, and the large majority of them were written in Hebrew, while the rest were in Aramaic and Greek. This means that the Dead Sea Scrolls are by far one of the oldest surviving manuscripts of the Old Testament in Hebrew, even older than the oldest of the Masoretic Text that has survived until today. Written mostly on parchment or papyrus, at least a portion of every Old Testament book is represented among the Scrolls except the Book of Esther.

Nevertheless, little is known about who the exact authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls are. Various theories have been put forward by different scholars, but what is generally agreed upon is that they were written between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD, a turbulent era in Jewish history when different sects of Judaism existed in Israel, each vying for dominance and struggling against foreign invasions by the Greeks and Romans.

Syriac Peshitta

Excerpt from the Book of Exodus in the Syriac Peshitta

Many Eastern Orthodox churches throughout the Middle East and Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) follow the Syriac tradition of Christianity, in which one of its main defining features is its use of Syriac as a liturgical language. Syriac is a dialect of Middle Aramaic, a language that was once the dominant lingua franca and literary language for many centuries in the first millennium AD. The role of Syriac as a liturgical language was not only associated with its status as a lingua franca and a prominent literary language in many parts of the Middle East in the first millennium AD; it was also a language that was closely related to the Aramaic that Jesus Himself spoke during His earthly ministry.

The Peshitta is the standard version of the Bible used by Eastern Orthodox churches belonging to the Syriac tradition. The term ‘Peshitta’ itself literally means ‘common,’ ‘straight’ or ‘simple’ in the Syriac language. The history behind the translation of the Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament and the Greek New Testament into Syriac is shrouded in much mystery even until now. Nevertheless, it is generally believed that the Old Testament in the Peshitta was translated into Syriac from the Hebrew version sometime in the 2nd century AD, while the New Testament was translated into Syriac from Greek at around the same time as well. Exactly who did these translations or where these translations were completed remain unknown.

What is known, however, is that the Peshitta developed separately from the Latin Vulgate, and is seen by some to be the Syriac counterpart of the Latin Vulgate in the Eastern Orthodox churches. By the 5th century AD, the Peshitta was widely circulated and accepted by the various denominations of the Eastern churches that follow the Syriac tradition, and various copies of it throughout history have survived until today.

Samaritan Pentateuch

A Samaritan High Priest holding the Samaritan Pentateuch

The Samaritans were a group of people living in the region of Samaria, a region situated north of the region of Judea where Jesus was born, preached and was crucified. The history of the Samaritans can be traced back to the time of the Assyrian captivity of the Israelites, when ten tribes of Israel were taken captive into Assyria in the 8th century BC. During the Assyrian captivity, the rulers of Assyria resettled various other tribes in the region of Samaria, which resulted in intermingling and intermarriages between these foreign tribes and the remaining Israelite population in Samaria. The result of such intermarriages brought about the Samaritan population that existed up to Jesus’ time and beyond. Over time, the Samaritan population adopted a mixture of Judaism and idolatrous religions, which resulted in them being contemptibly labeled ‘half-breeds’ by the Jews even during Jesus’ time.

The Samaritans adhere to Samaritanism, a religion that is closely related to mainstream Judaism yet differs in several significant ways from it. These differences stem from the fact that Samaritanism developed separately from mainstream Judaism after the Assyrian captivity. One of the biggest differences relates to their scripture. Samaritanism recognizes only their version of the five books of Moses (i.e. the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), written in the Samaritan script, as their entire biblical canon, and this is known as the Samaritan Pentateuch.

The Samaritan Pentateuch is generally believed to have been directly inherited by the Samaritans from the ten tribes of Israel that were taken captive into Assyria. Similar to the Septuagint, its value in reconstructing the original texts of the five books of Moses lies in the fact that its origins can be traced back to many centuries even before the compilation of the Masoretic Text. Nonetheless, the Samaritan Pentateuch is not without some significant variations that came about as a result of religious hostilities between the Samaritans and mainstream Jews throughout history.

Aramaic Targum

An 11th century Hebrew Bible with the Targum discovered in Iraq

The Targums are paraphrases and explanations of the Jewish Scripture given by rabbis, which were mostly written in Aramaic. After the Babylonian captivity of the Jews in the 5th century BC, the usage of Hebrew among the Jews was facing a gradual decline, so much so that many among the Jewish Diaspora slowly lost their fluency in the language. With Aramaic gradually taking over as the new lingua franca in the Jewish Diaspora, there was a need for the rabbis (Jewish religious teachers) to provide paraphrases, translations and explanations in Aramaic each time after the Hebrew scripture was read. While these Aramaic paraphrases and explanations were initially produced and disseminated orally, they eventually took on a written form. It is unclear when exactly the practice of providing Targums began, but by the 1st century BC right up to the first century AD, it became a fairly common practice.

The two most important Targums recognized in Jewish history are the Targum Onkelos and the Targum Jonathan (Targum Yonatan), although several other Targums also exist. With the decline of Aramaic in the first millennium AD and especially after the Islamic conquest of the Middle East from the 7th century AD onwards, the Aramaic Targums were gradually abandoned, and are hardly used by the Jews of today for liturgical purposes. Just like the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint, the value of the Targums in determining the most original readings of verses in the Old Testament lies in the fact that it predates the Masoretic Text by several centuries, although the Targums are often given a lower priority due to the fact that they were never complete translations of the Jewish Scripture in Aramaic in the first place.

New Testament source texts
The books of the New Testament were originally written in Greek, which was the lingua franca in many parts of the Roman Empire in the first century AD. Broadly speaking, most translations of the Bible since the 16th century utilize source texts of the New Testament that fall under either one of two categories: the Majority Text and the Minority Text.

Majority Text

Excerpt from the Gospel of Luke in the Codex Vaticanus

Although the Bible is today one of the most widely read books in the world, it is a widely attested fact that none of the original manuscripts of any of the books of the Bible have survived until today. Even the oldest manuscripts available today are copies of copies of copies of copies of the originals. Analyses of all the New Testament manuscripts that have survived until today have shown that there exist numerous variations between them in terms of vocabulary, word order and even the inclusion or exclusion of certain verses. As such, determining which surviving manuscripts reflect the original texts most closely has become a scholarly challenge in reconstructing the New Testament.

The Majority Text is one of the two main methods employed in determining the readings of the New Testament texts that were most likely present in the originals. The simplest way of illustrating this method is that for any given variation in the text, each Greek manuscript is given a single vote, and the reading that has the most votes is considered the most original reading. For example, if 346 manuscripts were to read “he said” and 1053 manuscripts were to read “they said” for a given verse, the Majority Text would go with “they said” as the most likely original reading. In other words, the Majority Text is a method that considers the reading that occurs in a majority of existing Greek manuscripts to be the most original reading. It is also often known as the Byzantine text-type due to the fact that most of the Greek manuscripts that form the basis of the Majority Text came from Eastern Europe and Asia Minor, a region that was in the past under the ecclesiastical influence of the Eastern Orthodox Church based in Byzantine. Most of these manuscripts date back to the 5th-16th centuries AD.

Although there exist several other published versions of the Majority Text, I’d like to draw special attention to something called the Textus Receptus (Latin for ‘Received Text’), due to its significance in modern English Bible translations. While the Textus Receptus still bears hundreds of variations compared to published versions of the Majority Text, it is often considered as a type of Majority Text in its own right because of its close textual similarities with many of the Greek manuscripts that form the basis of the Majority Text.

The Textus Receptus refers to a series of printed Greek texts of the New Testament that were published during the Protestant Reformation from the 1500s to the 1600s. Prior to the Protestant Reformation, most churches in Western Europe recognized the Latin Vulgate as the sole approved version of the Bible. With the resurgence in interest towards the Greek language in the 1400s, the Latin Vulgate was subjected to critical comparison with the Greek manuscripts, and numerous errors in translation were found. As a result, many among the clergy and scholarly circles advocated for the publication of the New Testament in its original language, and the idea of a Greek New Testament was conceived.

The first edition of the Textus Receptus was compiled and published in 1516 by Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536), a Dutch Catholic theologian. Erasmus was able to acquire around six Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, which were mostly dated in the 12th century and were Byzantine in origin. Based on these manuscripts, he hastily compiled a Greek text of the New Testament and rushed it off for publication, supposedly in order to beat to press another Greek New Testament that was being compiled in Spain. The result was a best-selling, albeit error-ridden Greek New Testament that would be known to posterity as the Textus Receptus.

Desiderius Erasmus (1466 - 1536)

Erasmus heavily edited his first edition, subsequently publishing a much refined second edition in 1519. As the years passed, Erasmus was able to acquire more Greek manuscripts of the New Testament which he took into consideration in his later editions. The third, fourth and final editions of his Textus Receptus were published in 1522, 1527 and 1535 respectively, but work on reviewing and editing the Textus Receptus continued well after his death, up to the early 1600s. The Textus Receptus became the textual basis for many influential translations of the Bible into European languages, and even up to the late 1800s its authority as the ‘original Greek manuscript’ of the New Testament remained undisputed.

Excerpt from the Book of Revelation compiled by Erasmus 

Most modern versions of the English Bible (with the notable exception of the King James Version and the New King James Version) no longer use the Textus Receptus as their textual basis, and neither do they prefer other versions of the Majority Text. This is largely because the Majority Text does not take into account two major factors in determining the most original readings in the New Testament texts: the age and place of origin of the manuscripts. Scholars assert that for any given variation in the text, the reading found in the majority of Greek manuscripts does not necessarily mean that it was also in the original, as it is possible that a variant reading could have simply ended up being proliferated much more than the original over the course of history. Most scholars believe that older manuscripts are more likely to represent what was in the originals, and that both Greek and translated manuscripts from other locations (besides Byzantine) should also be taken into consideration.

Minority Text / Critical Text / Eclectic Text

Excerpt from the Acts of the Apostles in the Codex Alexandrinus

The Minority Text makes up for the shortcomings of the Majority Text, and is today the more preferred method for most modern translations of the Bible in English. Also known by other terminologies such as Critical Text, Eclectic Text, Neutral Text or Alexandrian text-type, the Minority Text determines the most original readings on the basis of internal evidences (e.g. grammatical and contextual conformity of readings, readings that are more likely to account for the origin of other variant readings) and external evidences (e.g. manuscript dates and places of origin, number of times a particular reading occurs among the different manuscripts). In general, most of the manuscripts that form the basis of the Minority Text originate from within and around Alexandria, Egypt, and can be dated back to the 2nd-4th centuries AD.

As mentioned earlier, the Textus Receptus’ status as the de facto ‘original Greek manuscript’ remained unquestioned up to the late 1800s. It was the scholarly work of two theologians, Brooke Westcott (1825 – 1901) and Fenton Hort (1828 – 1892), that finally broke this tradition and subsequently introduced the science of textual criticism in Bible scholarship. Westcott and Hort did extensive research and worked together for 28 years before publishing The New Testament in the Original Greek in 1881. This was a Greek version of the New Testament that was soon recognized as one of the first versions of the New Testament to have applied the Minority Text method. Although not without its own shortcomings, it became the precursor to more extensive research in the area of biblical textual criticism, and was the preferred source text for subsequent English Bible translations for nearly two generations.

In 1898, a German Bible scholar by the name of Eberhard Nestle (1851 – 1913) published another influential version of the New Testament in Greek known as the Novum Testamentum Graece, taking into account previous works by Westcott and Hort as well as several other scholars. This version soon rose in prominence among Bible scholarly circles worldwide. Surpassing even Westcott and Hort’s The New Testament in the Original Greek, Nestle’s Novum Testamentum Graece was soon dubbed the ‘New Textus Receptus.’

Eberhard Nestle (1851 - 1913) 

With the discovery of newer manuscripts over the following years, Eberhard continued revising his work, producing up to 11 more editions before he died. His son, Erwin Nestle (1883 – 1972), took over his father’s work, starting from the 13th edition onwards which was published in 1927. Another major milestone in the development of Nestle’s Novum Testamentum Graece was when prominent German Bible scholar, Kurt Aland (1915 – 1994), became the associate editor of Nestle’s work from the 21st edition onwards, which was published in 1952. Aland also submitted his work to the editorial committee of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, of which he was also a member, and this became the basis for their 3rd edition onwards, published in 1975.

Kurt Aland (1915 - 1994)

Today, the Novum Testamentum Graece is synonymous with two Greek versions of the New Testament: the Nestle-Aland editions and the United Bible Societies (UBS) editions, published by the Institute for New Testament Textual Research at the University of Münster, Westphalia, Germany. Both versions utilize the same base text, with the main difference being that the Nestle-Aland editions are aimed at translators while the UBS editions are aimed at textual critics and scholars. Most modern versions of the English Bible, and a substantial number of modern translations of the Bible in other languages as well, utilize the Novum Testamentum Graece as their primary source text for the New Testament.

Although it is true that none of the original manuscripts of any books of the Bible have survived until today, and that there exists numerous textual variations between the Majority Text and the Minority Text, it should be noted that no major area of doctrine is affected by any of these variations. These variations merely involve minor grammatical differences, usages of different words and phrases to express the same meaning, and the occasional insertions of what is believed to be scribal explanations for certain cultural points. With that, let’s move on to the second part of this article, where I’ll be giving you an overview of the different kinds of Bible translations and a brief description of 10 of the most popular versions of the Bible in English.

Know Your Bible! – Translations of the Bible in English (Part 2)

In the previous part of this article, I have given you a brief history and overview of the various source documents for the Old and New Testaments that are used in most modern Bible translations. In the second part of this two-part article, I will now attempt to give you an overview of the different kinds of Bible translations, together with brief descriptions of 10 of the most popular versions of the Bible in English today.

As you all know, the original languages of the Bible are Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, so unless you are able to understand any of these languages in the form it was used at least 2,000 years ago, you’ll definitely be reading a translated version of the Bible regardless of what language it is in. Bibles (and for that matter, any translated document) can generally be divided into three categories according to the method of translation applied: formal equivalence, dynamic equivalence and paraphrase.

Formal equivalence, which is also known as literal equivalence or word-for-word translation, involves the translation of the meanings of individual words in their more or less exact syntactic sequence. In other words, it involves a more literal rendering of the original text into its target (translated) language. Formal equivalence places emphasis not only on translating each individual word according to its lexical meaning, but also on reconstructing sentences in the target language to resemble the syntax (arrangement of words in a sentence) in the source language as closely as possible. Of course, the larger the difference between the source language and the target language, the more difficult it would be for a purely literal translation to be made while still allowing the translations to sound natural to a native speaker of the target language.

Dynamic equivalence, which is also known as functional equivalence, involves a sense-for-sense translation, or a translation of the meanings of phrases or whole sentences into a target language. In other words, it involves transferring only the meanings of phrases or sentences from the source language into the target language, often by reconstructing the sentences in the target language in a way that would sound more natural for a native speaker of that language. It is also sometimes defined as a method of translation whereby the effect of the translated text on native speakers of the target language would roughly be the same as the effect of the original text on native speakers of the source language.

To illustrate the difference between the two, let me give you a simple example. Consider the following sentence in Chinese…

你好。我的名字叫李鸿。(Nĭ hǎo. Wǒ de míngzì jiào Lĭ Hóng.)

…with each of the above words having the following lexical meanings:

() = you
(hǎo) = good / well
()= my
(de) = (particle indicating possession)
名字 (míngzì) = name
(jiào) = call
李鸿 (Lĭ Hóng) = Li Hong

If one were to strictly apply a formal equivalence approach in translating the above sentence into English, it would probably sound something like this…

Are you well? My name is called Li Hong.

…which clearly doesn’t sound natural for a native English speaker, due to the vast syntactic and lexical differences between Mandarin Chinese and English. In this case (as is the case for many Chinese-English translations as well), dynamic equivalence would be a better approach to translating the above sample sentence. With a dynamic equivalence approach, it would sound like this:

How are you? My name is Li Hong. OR How are you? I’m Li Hong.

Having said that, let’s shift our focus to examples from the Bible itself. Both formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence have their respective strengths and weaknesses. While formal equivalence emphasizes fidelity to the original text in its translations, it often does so at the expense of how natural, smooth or easily understood the translated sentences are to readers in the target language. Dynamic equivalence helps overcome this problem, but at the expense of potential alterations and biasness in meaning when translating from the source language, as it involves the translator first reading and interpreting the source text before conveying its meaning based on his/her interpretations by rewriting the sentences in the target language.

Consider the text of 1 Peter 1:13 from the New King James Version (NKJV), a formal equivalence Bible, and from the New International Version (NIV), a dynamic equivalence Bible:

“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:13 NKJV

“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” – 1 Peter 1:13 NIV

The metaphoric expression gird up the loins of your mind in the NKJV may not sound natural for a native English speaker at first glance, but the NIV gives a simpler and clearer translation by rendering it as with minds that are alert. Consider this second example from the New American Standard Bible (NASB), another formal equivalence Bible, and from the New Living Translation (NLT), a dynamic equivalence Bible:

“If an alien sojourns among you and observes the Passover to the LORD, according to the statute of the Passover and according to its ordinance, so he shall do; you shall have one statute, both for the alien and for the native of the land.” – Numbers 9:14 NASB

“And if foreigners living among you want to celebrate the Passover to the LORD, they must follow these same decrees and regulations. The same laws apply both to native-born Israelites and to the foreigners living among you.” – Numbers 9:14 NLT

Clearly one can see that the NASB’s rendering of the verse sounds more erudite and perhaps somewhat difficult to understand because of its choice and arrangement of words. While the terms alien, sojourn, statute and ordinance may be legitimate English words, they are admittedly not in common use in everyday language. The NLT’s rendering of the verse makes it simpler for one to comprehend the meaning and intent behind the verse. These are perhaps examples of how a dynamic equivalence Bible may be superior to a formal equivalence one for smoother reading and easier comprehension.

Now, if a dynamic equivalence Bible ensures smoother reading and understanding, some may then ask if there’s any use of reading a formal equivalence Bible at all. Consider the following passages from the NIV and the NKJV:

“That night God came to Balaam and said, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.” Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. – Numbers 22:20-22 NIV

“And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men come to call you, rise and go with them; but only the word which I speak to you – that you shall do.” So Balaam rose in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab. Then God’s anger was aroused because he went, and the Angel of the LORD took His stand in the way as an adversary against him. And he was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. – Numbers 22:20-22 NKJV

If one were to read the NIV’s dynamic translation of the above passage, one might be left wondering as to why God got angry with Balaam when all he did was to go with the Moabite officials as per God’s own command. However, the NKJV’s formal/literal translation, which is closer in meaning to the original Hebrew text, shows that there is no such confusion in the original Hebrew text after all. The conjunction if shows that God’s command to Balaam to allow him to go with the Moabite princes was conditional upon them coming to call on Balaam first, but God’s anger was due to the fact that Balaam went with the princes on his own accord without even waiting for them to come and call on him. This conditional permission from God was lost in translation in a dynamic equivalence Bible such as the NIV.

Consider the following excerpts from the NASB, the NIV and the NLT as well:

“For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.” – 1 Corinthians 4:9 NASB

“For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.” – 1 Corinthians 4:9 NIV

“Instead, I sometimes think God has put us apostles on display, like prisoners of war at the end of a victor’s parade, condemned to die. We have become a spectacle to the entire world – to people and angels alike.” – 1 Corinthians 4:9 NLT

While this may not be much of a doctrinal issue, it does illustrate an example of how personal interpretation on the part of the translator may influence the outcome of a dynamic translation, even if just slightly. The original Greek text, as reflected by the NASB’s formal/literal translation, makes no specific indication of what is meant by the phrases exhibited last of all and men condemned to death, probably because their meaning was implicitly understood by the readers of Apostle Paul’s time. The translator of the NIV assumed that this was meant to illustrate the context of how prisoners during the Roman era who were condemned to public execution in the arena were placed at the end of a procession prior to their execution. The translator of the NLT, on the other hand, made the assumption that this was a specific reference to how victorious Roman armies would display their prisoners of war to the public at the end of a procession before executing them. Due to cultural and historical differences, the translators of the NIV and the NLT thought it best to include a few extra words in their respective dynamic translations in order to clarify to modern English readers what they thought was implied by the aforementioned phrases.

One may ask, “Which is the best Bible to read?” The answer to that, in all honesty, isn’t clear-cut, as it really depends a lot on personal preference and familiarity. For one who prefers simplicity and ease of reading, a dynamic equivalence Bible would be the best choice, but for one who prefers reading something that is as close as possible to the original texts, a formal equivalence Bible would be the way to go. It is my opinion that regardless of whether one chooses a formal or dynamic equivalence Bible, both are equally valid for studying, teaching and preaching, as multiple revisions over the years have ensured that most of these Bibles in the market are as accurate as possible in representing the original texts. However, I would personally recommend anyone to read at least one version of each so as to compare for themselves any differences in the wordings and expressions.

The third category of translations, which I haven’t mentioned until now, is paraphrase. Paraphrase involves restating the meaning of the original text using other words, sometimes even including clarifications of the original text. It can be seen as the most liberal method of translating texts, and as such has a higher risk of distorting the original meaning and intent of the text. Take for example the following verse from the NKJV (formal equivalence), NIV (dynamic equivalence), NLT (dynamic equivalence) and The Message (MSG) (paraphrase):

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

“Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing!” – Ephesians 2:8-9 MSG

While some may argue that paraphrased Bibles may be a good read for young readers, non-Christians and new Christians who aren’t too familiar with biblical jargon or who may find the typical Bible too dry for their taste, I would personally not recommend such Bibles for Bible studies and preaching, especially for more seasoned Christians. They simply provide too much room for misinterpretations and distortions of the meaning and intent behind the original texts. That is, however, my personal opinion, and it is still worth making a point that most of the commonly used paraphrased Bibles out there at the very least do not deviate from mainstream Christian teaching.

Having said all these, let us now look at 10 of the most popular versions of the English Bible today. Note that these Bibles are not arranged in any particular order.

King James Version Bible printed in 1612

1)    King James Version (KJV)
Type of translation: Formal equivalence
Old Testament source texts: Masoretic Text (Ben Hayyim’s Mikraot Gedolot) with Septuagint and Latin Vulgate influence
New Testament source texts: Textus Receptus (Majority Text) with Latin Vulgate influence
Other primary source texts: None

Brief history:
The KJV was a Bible commissioned by King James I of England (1567 – 1625) in 1604 in response to petitions made by the Puritans. The Puritans were a faction of Protestants in 16th and 17th century England whose objective was to purify the Church of England of what they perceived as Roman Catholic influence. When King James I convened the Hampton Court Conference in January 1604, the Puritans raised the issue of perceived mistranslations that they identified in earlier English Bible versions, subsequently requesting that a new translation be produced in the English vernacular for the benefit of the masses.

47 scholars from the Church of England were commissioned with the task of translation, and the first official copies were printed in 1611 by Robert Barker (d. 1645), the King’s Printer. It soon became known as the Authorized Version due to the fact that it was made the sole version that was authorized for use in the Church of England. Several revisions were made after that, and by the 18th century the KJV became virtually unchallenged as the only accepted standard of the English Bible. Its popularity remains till today, with even some fundamentalists perceiving it as the only ‘uncorrupted’ version of the Bible.

Personal comments:
The KJV is undoubtedly the oldest English Bible that is still of widespread relevance to this day. Due to the evolution of the English language, a significant portion of the KJV’s vocabulary and sentence structures are archaic by today’s standards and may be difficult to comprehend, particularly for someone unfamiliar with medieval-style English. It does, however, have a reputation for being one of the most linguistically beautiful works of English literature, at the same time not compromising on its fidelity to its source texts. The KJV, along with its offspring Bible, the NKJV, are virtually the only two modern English Bible versions to utilize the Textus Receptus (Majority Text) as the source text for the New Testament (see previous part of this article for a description of the Majority Text and its shortcomings).

2)    New King James Version (NKJV)
Type of translation: Formal equivalence
Old Testament source texts: Masoretic Text (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and Ben Hayyim’s Mikraot Gedolot) with Septuagint influence
New Testament source texts: Textus Receptus (Majority Text) with Latin Vulgate influence
Other primary source texts: King James Version

Brief history:
The translation of the NKJV was a brainchild of Arthur Farstad (1935 – 1998), a prominent Bible scholar from the United States. One of the main aims of the translation was to update the archaic grammar and vocabulary of the King James Version while preserving its literary beauty and classic style. Plans for the translation of the NKJV were conceived and laid out in 1975 with two meetings in Nashville and Chicago respectively, which were attended by about 130 biblical scholars, theologians and pastors who believed in the supremacy of the Textus Receptus. The complete New Testament was published in 1979, while the full version of the Bible was published in 1982. Both the NKJV and its parent Bible, the KJV, are virtually the only two modern versions of the English Bible that utilize the Textus Receptus as a source text for the New Testament.

Personal comments:
Compared to the KJV, the NKJV is undoubtedly a much more readable version of the Bible for most readers, as it utilizes modern English. The translators of the NKJV made every effort to remove archaic words (e.g. ye, thy, thine etc.) and spellings (e.g. speaketh). Despite its updated language, the NKJV is fairly successful in preserving some of the classic literary beauty of the KJV, particularly in the poetic books of the Bible such as the Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. It is a fairly accurate rendering of the original Hebrew and Greek texts, although some may still find certain parts of the NKJV difficult to read because of its choice of words that are more literary in nature. Since its initial publication, the NKJV has become one of the best-selling and most widely read versions of the English Bible worldwide.

3)    New International Version (NIV)
Type of translation: Dynamic equivalence
Old Testament source texts: Masoretic Text (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia), Dead Sea Scrolls, Samaritan Pentateuch, Latin Vulgate, Syriac Peshitta, Aramaic Targums, Septuagint and others
New Testament source texts: Novum Testamentum Graece (Minority Text)
Other primary source texts: None

Brief history:
The NIV traces its roots back to 1956 with the formation of a small committee in the United States to study the possibility of producing a new translation that utilizes the common language of the American people. However, the translation project was only officially started in 1965 after a meeting at Trinity Christian College in Illinois that involved the Christian Reformed Church, National Association of Evangelicals and several international Bible scholars. The New York Bible Society, now known as Biblica, was given the task of doing the translation. The New Testament was completed and published in 1973, while the entire Bible was published in 1978. Two major updated versions were published in 1984 and 2011, which took into account archaeological and scholarly studies conducted on more recently discovered manuscripts as well.

The core translation group comprised fifteen Bible scholars, and the entire translation took about ten years and a team of over 100 scholars to complete. Scholars and translators involved consisted of those from different English-speaking nations around the world and from a variety of Protestant denominations. Translators sought to take into account even the most recent archaeological and linguistic discoveries in their translations, and familiar phrases or spellings from other traditional translations were retained as much as was possible.

Personal comments:
The NIV is undeniably one of the most popular and best-selling translations of the Bible in English until today. A notable point about this translation is that it involved scholars and translators from a variety of Protestant denominations hailing from different English-speaking nations around the globe, thus enabling the production of a truly international and universal English translation that is not biased towards any regional dialect or denomination. Another thing worth noting about the NIV is the fact that unlike most other English Bible versions, the translators of the NIV used a larger variety of source texts particularly for the Old Testament, making comparisons and cross-references between them throughout the translation process. One of these, the Samaritan Pentateuch, is in fact believed to be the oldest available copy of any part of the Bible (more about it has been covered in Part 1 of this article). I personally feel that this is important because it helps the translators to render a translation that is as close as possible to the original manuscripts that have been lost to posterity.

Although being a dynamic equivalence Bible, the translators of the NIV have done an excellent job for the most part in accurately rendering the meanings of the original texts. As a result, the NIV provides a highly readable text written in fairly elementary modern English without compromising on the accuracy of its translations.

     4)     New Living Translation (NLT)
Type of translation: Dynamic equivalence
Old Testament source texts: Masoretic Text (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia), Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, Samaritan Pentateuch, Syriac Peshitta and Latin Vulgate
New Testament source texts: Novum Testamentum Graece (Minority Text)
Other primary source texts: The Living Bible

Brief history:
In his routine family devotions, prominent American Christian author Kenneth N. Taylor (1917 – 2005) often found that his children had difficulties understanding the language used in the KJV and the Revised Standard Version (RSV), and that inspired him to produce simple paraphrases of the Bible verses for each day’s devotions. His efforts led to the publication of several picture books with Bible paraphrases, such as The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes and Stories for the Children’s Hour, which were aimed at helping children understand the Bible better.

With the success of these books, Taylor embarked on a more ambitious project – to produce a Bible translation in a paraphrased and easy-to-read modern language. Using the American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901 as his primary base text along with comparisons with other Bible versions, Taylor published The Living Bible in 1971, which was well-received in many Evangelical circles especially youth-oriented groups.

Despite its success particularly in youth ministries, there were criticisms from more conservative groups regarding its accuracy and fidelity to the original texts. The first major revision was undertaken from 1989 to 1996 with about 90 translators involved, after which the first edition of the NLT was published. Although intended to be nothing more than a revision of The Living Bible, the project soon evolved into a new English translation using the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. Subsequent revisions in 2004, 2007 and 2013 further readjusted the language employed in order to conform more accurately to the meanings in the original texts.

Personal comments:
The NLT is arguably one of the most popular Bible translations particularly for youth-oriented groups and ministries due to its ease of reading and the simplicity of the language used. Although it is a dynamic equivalence Bible, it may sometimes employ paraphrases or insert additional explanatory phrases in some of its passages in order to further explain obscure words and phrases. It is because of this that some may tend to label the NLT a semi-paraphrase Bible. Nevertheless, compared to its predecessor, The Living Bible, the newer editions of the NLT conform much more closely to the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts, at the same time maintains a considerable degree of simplicity in the language it employs.

5)    New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Type of translation: Formal equivalence
Old Testament source texts: Masoretic Text (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia) with Septuagint influence, Dead Sea Scrolls
New Testament source texts: Novum Testamentum Graece (Minority Text)
Other primary source texts: American Standard Version

Brief history:
Efforts to revise the Authorized Version (KJV) were begun in 1870 by about 50 scholars from various denominations in Britain, with the involvement of American scholars from several denominations via correspondence. Work in earnest began in 1872, and by 1885, both the Old and New Testaments of a new version called the Revised Version (RV) were published. An agreement was in place between the British and American teams that the American team would not publish their version of the RV for 14 years. When the agreement lapsed in 1901, the RV was published in America as the Revised Version, Standard American Edition, but was more commonly known to many as the American Standard Version (ASV).

In 1959, Dewey Lockman, who co-founded the Lockman Foundation with his wife, saw the need for a Bible translation that would be readable in the English language of that time, but more importantly, would not compromise any accuracy in the translation from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. A new project thus began with a committee of American pastors and scholars from a variety of Protestant denominational backgrounds. The committee decided upon using the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts (as stated above) as their primary source text, at the same time incorporating new information from the Dead Sea Scrolls that were not discovered until the turn of the century. The translation project also utilized the ASV as one of its primary references, thus making it a revision of the ASV in a sense. Additionally, one of the main distinctive features about this translation project was the committee’s undivided commitment to a strictly literal translation from the original texts, so long as grammatical correctness and understandability could be maintained. The complete NASB was thus published in 1971, with minor revisions in the following years and in 1995.

Personal comments:
One of the greatest perceived strengths of the NASB is the literalness of its translations from the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. Among all modern English Bible versions, the NASB is often recognized as one of the most literal translations that maintains a high degree of fidelity to the original texts. This, of course, comes at the price of its readability and simplicity of literary style, whereby some of its verses are rendered in ways that may sound peculiar to the average reader. Nonetheless, I believe this would be one of the best versions for those who would prefer a literal translation that is as close as possible to the original texts, provided s/he also has a good command of the English language.

6)    New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Type of translation: Formal equivalence
Old Testament source texts: Masoretic Text (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia) with Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls influence
New Testament source texts: Novum Testamentum Graece (Minority Text)
Other primary source texts: Revised Standard Version

Brief history:
As mentioned above in the section on the NASB (Bible No. 5), the ASV that was published in 1901 in America was the result of a major revision of the KJV by both British and American scholars. Although it was intended to be a revision of the Authorized Version (KJV), the ASV did not prove to be popular enough to displace the KJV in most Protestant Christian circles. The International Council of Religious Education, now known as the National Council of Churches in the USA, acquired the copyright to the ASV in 1928. A study of the ASV was suggested and briefly undertaken by the council from 1930 to 1932, but due to the Great Depression, it was not until 1937 that the council decided upon revising the ASV.

A panel of 32 scholars was set up in America for this purpose, and although there were plans to set up a British committee as was the case for the RV and the ASV, they never took off due to World War II. The Old and New Testaments of the new version, known as the Revised Standard Version (RSV), were published by 1952, and a celebratory rally was held in Washington D.C. on St. Jerome’s Day (September 30, 1952) whereby it was released to the general public. The RSV soon became so widely accepted in Protestant circles that it became dubbed the first Bible version to have successfully posed a serious challenge to the popularity of the Authorized Version (KJV). Subsequent translations of the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical books were done and added to later editions for the use of Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

The RSV underwent another major revision several decades later under the National Council of Churches. A translation committee was formed for this purpose, comprising scholars and representatives from Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christian groups as well as Jewish representation responsible for the Old Testament. This revised version was meant to incorporate findings from more recent archaeological discoveries such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, and to update the language used in the RSV. The NRSV was thus published in 1989, with three editions: a Protestant edition that includes only the Old and New Testaments of the Protestant canon; a Roman Catholic edition that includes the Catholic Deuterocanonical books (Apocrypha) as well; and The Common Bible that includes all books of the Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox canons.

Personal comments:
The NRSV is one of the few versions of the English Bible that is a product of a joint ecumenical effort (i.e. representing different denominations within Christianity), since its translation involved representatives from Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christian groups. Being a formal equivalence Bible, it provides a fairly accurate translation of the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts in readable modern English. While the RSV was historically criticized by fundamental and even some evangelical Christian groups for its controversial translations and perceived doctrinal tampering, the NRSV translators did a pretty good job in repairing them and updating the RSV’s archaic language. For readers who may be seeking a Bible version that is potentially unbiased towards any major Christian denomination, or who may also be looking to read the Deuterocanonical books (Apocrypha) in modern, readable English, the NRSV is perhaps the best version for that.

7)    English Standard Version (ESV)
Type of translation: Formal equivalence
Old Testament source texts: Masoretic Text (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia) with Septuagint influence
New Testament source texts: Novum Testamentum Graece (Minority Text)
Other primary source texts: Revised Standard Version

Brief history:
Translation of the ESV began in the early 1990s following a perceived need by many evangelical Christians for a new and more literal translation of the Bible. Under the leadership of Dr. Lane T. Dennis, a translation committee was formed, and permission was sought from the National Council of Churches to use the 1971 version of the RSV as the primary textual basis for the ESV. Evangelical Bible scholars from around the world contributed to its translation, and a 12-member Translation Oversight Committee was responsible for the revision and final review of the work. The ESV was finally published in 2001, and has since then been widely used in countless churches and ministries worldwide.

Personal comments:
The ESV is a fairly literal translation of the Bible’s original texts, and its textual structure is largely derived from the 1971 version of the RSV, hence rendering it a somewhat updated version of the RSV. Despite being a literal translation, the language it employs is fairly contemporary and clear to any reader. Nonetheless, having been translated by a group of translators deemed socially conservative, the ESV employs a more conservative approach when it comes to certain aspects of translation such as Greek gender-specific terms. Having said these, the ESV is undoubtedly one of the most widely utilized versions of the English Bible in many international ministries until today.

8)    Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
Type of translation: Dynamic equivalence / “Optimal equivalence” (see Personal comments)
Old Testament source texts: Masoretic Text (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia) with Septuagint influence
New Testament source texts: Novum Testamentum Graece (Minority Text)
Other primary source texts: None

Brief history:
The origins of the HCSB can be traced back as early as 1984, when Arthur Farstad, who was the general editor for the NKJV, embarked on a new and independent translation project with Edwin Blum, both of whom were employed as faculty members at the Dallas Theological Seminary at that time. It was Farstad’s intention to produce a direct modern English translation of the New Testament based on the Majority Text which he had edited and published in 1982.

In 1998, Broadman & Holman, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, was seeking to purchase the copyright of several existing Bible versions in order to be used in their publications. After several unsuccessful attempts, Broadman & Holman expressed their interest in financing and acquiring the copyright to Farstad’s unfinished project. Although the company required that the New Testament translation be made from the Novum Testamentum Graece (Minority Text), Farstad insisted on using the Majority Text instead, and an agreement was reached in which a parallel translation would be made. Nevertheless, Farstad’s unexpected passing several months into the agreement meant that the editorial leadership was transferred into Blum’s hands, and plans to include a parallel translation involving the Majority Text were dropped altogether. A large team of translators and editors working with Broadman & Holman was recruited into the project, and a new translation based solely on the Novum Testamentum Graece (Minority Text) for the New Testament was produced. The completed translation of the New Testament was published in 1999, and the complete Bible was published in 2004.

Personal comments:
To be honest, I have not read the HCSB before, but from what I have gathered from other sources, the translators employed a balance between word-for-word (formal equivalence) and sense-for-sense (dynamic equivalence) translation in producing the HCSB. This balance is what they called “optimal equivalence,” in which they extensively scrutinized the original texts in order to determine their original meanings and intentions before rendering them into a readable text in contemporary English. The translators involved in producing the HCSB were predominantly Baptists, and Broadman & Holman itself is the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, which makes it possible that the HCSB may have been influenced by denominational biases, although some commentaries indicate that such biases have been largely avoided.

     9)    Common English Bible (CEB)
Type of translation: Dynamic equivalence
Old Testament source texts: Masoretic Text (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and Biblia Hebraica Quinta), Hebrew University Bible Project, Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint and others
New Testament source texts: Novum Testamentum Graece (Minority Text)
Other primary source texts: None

Brief history:
The translation of the CEB was a joint effort sponsored by several denominational publishing companies in the United States. Under an umbrella group known as the Christian Resources Development Corporation (CRDC) that was incorporated in 2009, they brought together about 120 scholars from 24 denominations to work on the translation. According to the CRDC, the main objectives of producing the CEB were to provide a new translation that would ensure smooth reading for everyone including young people and to ensure that Scripture would be translated at a level comfortable for most English readers. Translation begun in late 2008 and the complete Bible was published in 2011.

Personal comments:
This is another version of the English Bible that I have not had the chance to read until now, so my comments here will be based solely on the commentaries of others and what I know about the version’s origins. Among the major Bible versions listed here, the CEB is undoubtedly one of the newest, and it is also one of the few English Bibles that is a joint ecumenical effort by representatives from various Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox denominations. As such, just like the NRSV, readers may find much less denominational bias in its translation, and even be given the choice to read the Deuterocanonical books (Apocrypha) should they wish to. Another point worth noting about the CEB is the simplicity of its language, in which it strikes a balance between providing a literal translation and rendering it in a way that most modern English readers can read with ease. Nonetheless, one of the main drawbacks of the CEB is the fact that it substitutes some well-established biblical terms with what may seem to be eccentric renderings, such as “the Human One” instead of “the Son of Man.”

10) The Message (MSG)
Type of translation: Paraphrase

Brief history:
The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language is the brainchild of Eugene H. Peterson (b. 1932), an American pastor and author. His inspiration for producing The Message came from a time when he felt that the adults in his Bible classes were not able to connect with the true message of the Bible. In his own words, Peterson’s goal was “to bring the New Testament to life for two different types of people: those who hadn’t read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant and those who had read the Bible so much that it had become ‘old hat’. Work on producing The Message began after Peterson received a letter from an editor in NavPress in 1990 requesting him to work on a new version of the Bible. The New Testament was subsequently published in 1993, portions of the Old Testament were published piecemeal over the following years, and the entire Bible was published in 2002.

Personal comments:
The Message is arguably one of the most popular paraphrases of the Bible available in the English language, being used in many Christian circles for its simple language and ease of understanding. Its contents are generally in line with mainstream biblical teachings, and it conveys the message of the Bible in a contemporarily casual manner of language. Nevertheless, being a paraphrase and not an actual translation backed by proper scholarship, a considerable number of verses and texts have been rendered in a way that would undoubtedly raise many eyebrows among seasoned Christians. As I mentioned earlier, paraphrases such as The Message simply provide too much room for misinterpretations and distortions of the meaning and intent behind the original texts, even though they may generally remain true to biblical doctrine. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this would be to compare The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6: 9-13) in both the NIV (dynamic equivalence) and The Message:

“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.)” – Matthew 6: 9-13 NIV

“With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this: Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are. Set the world right; Do what’s best – as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge! You can do anything you want! You’re ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes.” – Matthew 6: 9-13 MSG

So once again, which version of the English Bible is the best to read and study? There is really no clear-cut answer, but the only advice I can give would be to pick one that suits your linguistic taste and would draw you closer to the Word of God in the best way possible.