Ever wonder why there are so many Bible translations? I have, and I went down the rabbit hole to find out what it all means.
The simplest explanation is this: The original Bible texts were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Sometimes those languages don’t translate to English (or other languages) that well. Also, we don’t speak Shakespearan English anymore (KJV), which can be hard for the common English reader to understand. Finally, language has evolved over time. The way ancient civilizations spoke versus our modern language is very different. So, we need new translations to keep up with the ever-changing languages.
Literal Translations are word-for-word and more accurate to the original word. However, as Bible Answers points out, there are even mistakes in these versions. Note the differences in the verses as you scroll. You can see on the right how the verses change depending on the translation.
The KJV was first published in 1611 and purists love this version. In 1885, dozens of British and American scholars worked to retranslate the KJV Bible, correcting mistranslations. It took decades to develop The American Standard Version and it includes British spellings which made it somewhat unpopular in the States.
In 1952 The Revised Standard Version was produced. This version took advantage of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Amplified Version (1965) takes advantage of adding extra words to help convey the meaning of the text.
In 1982, the NKJV Bible was translated by 119 scholars to replace the old English words of the KJV with more modern wording. It retains much of the accuracy of the KJV but makes it much easier to read and understand.
Meaning-to-meaning Bible texts are close to the original but presented in a more modern-day language. Interestingly, NIV Bible is not a translation of any other version but a new translation. Over 100 scholars from around the world came together to rewrite this version that is somewhere in the middle of a word-for-word version and a paraphrased version.
Then there are what I call the hippy translations or more free and loose versions. These Bibles paraphrase God’s Word to make for an easy read. However, I feel these translations lose the spirit of God’s Word.
How to choose which Bible translation to READ:
Reading the Bible and studying the Bible are two different things. Read to understand the concept or meaning. Study to dive deeper into the Word and context.
• Choose a version that is easy for you to understand. Paraphrasing Bibles are great for reading comprehension while word-for-word is great for studying.
• Use a Bible reading plan that is easy to achieve. Reading the Bible in one year is a great goal but not if you can’t find time to sit and read. This will only add stress to your reading time when you fall behind. Reading your Bible is meant to be a time to sit with God, not a stressful to-do item.
• Choosing a set time each day is a great way to build the habit of reading the Bible. Choose a time that works for you. Even consider an audible version of the Bible to listen to while you are commuting to work. Spotify and Audible are great choices.
• If you are new to reading the Bible and don’t know where to start: Start with the Gospels. This is purely my opinion. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is the place to start to fall in love with God.
How to STUDY the Bible:
• At this point you might want to choose a new study Bible. Consider how you will study the Bible. Are you a note-taker? Do you want to highlight your Bible? If you are a note-take, think about choosing a journaling Bible. These Bibles have an area for note-taking in the margins. You may want to choose a different translation as well, one that is more word-for-word but still easy for you to understand. Do you like to read commentary alongside the Bible? In that case, consider choosing a commentary Bible. I use The Jesus Bible ESV.
• Choose a Book to start with. Maybe it is something that piqued your interest when you were reading or the Book that “spoke” to you. You don’t have to start at the beginning. I jump around quite a bit when studying. Currently, our church is studying the book of Exodus but I am studying Romans on my own. Or, start with the book that scares you the most, such as Revelation to get it “out of the way”.
• Highlighting & Notes. Choose a good highlighter that doesn’t bleed through the pages. I love wax highlighters by The Daily Grace Co. Start at the beginning of the Book and highlight words or phrases that are of importance. Highlighting will help you to slow down while studying. There are a lot of opinions on which color to use when highlighting words, i.e. purple for Christ, God, Holy Spirit, etc. But, really it is all up to you. You can download my free Bible highlighter bookmark here.
• Don’t be afraid to use study references. I am a comparative studier. I want to study the history of the time in the Bible while studying God’s Word. For instance, the Book of Romans was written by Paul. In the book, he mentions Nero. It is said Paul was also sentenced to death by Nero. I studied Nero and the Roman culture of the time. This helps me add context to the word of Paul. Some of my favorite study references are Enduring Word, the writings of Charles Spurgeon, and Zondervan.
• Choose a good study guide. There are many guided study guides out there as well. These are helpful if you are new to studying the Bible. Some of my favorites are The James Method, Verse Mapping, and Knowing the Bible Series from Crossway. There is also the S.O.A.P. method (Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer) which you can be downloaded for free here.
The bottom line is to just start. No matter how you start reading and studying the Bible your life will be richer for it. You will never regret it!