Bible Versions and Translations

Why are there so many different translations of the Bible? I find this confusing. Second Timothy 3:16 says, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God." If that's true, how did we end up with so many different versions of the Bible? Why do they all say different things? God doesn't change, does He? I've compared the King James Version with other modern translations and come up with a long list of discrepancies. How can this be right? Is it part of a plot to introduce modern relativism into the church?

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When Paul wrote that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” he was referring specifically to the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of the Old and New Testament books. The issue with which you’re struggling has nothing to do with “relativism.” It’s purely a matter of language. It’s all about the difficulties that arise whenever we take ideas originally expressed in one tongue and try to express them in some other tongue.

No translation can ever be exactly the same as the source material it attempts to represent. A “good” translation is one that remains as faithful as possible to the literal meaning and the spirit of the original texts. Naturally, some are better than others. That’s why certain Bible versions have earned a place on Focus on the Family’s “recommended” list – for example, the King James Version, the New King James Version, the New International Version (1984 Edition), The English Standard Version, and the New American Standard Bible. This has nothing to do with New Age “plots,” nor does it imply that God’s eternal Word has “changed.” Instead, it’s a question of deciding who has done the best job of putting the original words of Scripture into clear, understandable English.

In general, we would suggest that, for non-Greek-and-Hebrew scholars, a good rule of thumb is “the more translations the better.” If you take the time to compare and contrast a variety of modern versions, you’ll have a much better chance of grasping the sense of the original text than if you stick with one “favorite” translation.

What about the “discrepancies” you’ve noted between the texts of the King James and other modern translations of the Bible? This is an entirely different subject. Such changes and omissions are not made at the discretion of the translators. In fact, this is not a question of translation at all but rather of determining the exact form of the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. It’s a problem of textual criticism.

Thousands of biblical manuscripts have come to light during the three and a half centuries since the King James Version was completed, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Oxyrhynchus papyri, and a vast number of other New Testament fragments. Textual criticism is the exacting science of comparing and evaluating the variant readings found in these ancient documents. Amazingly, the vast majority of these manuscripts are unified in their testimony. Nevertheless, minor differences do exist; and where this is the case, it is the task of the textual critic to examine the evidence and decide which of the variants is most likely to preserve the words of the original writer.

Through this painstaking process, scholars have now assembled a basic biblical text that most experts consider far more accurate and reliable than that which was available to the translators of the KJV in 1611. This accounts for most of the differences you’ve catalogued. We understand that there are those who believe the so-called Textus Receptus or “Received Text” (which formed the basis of the KJV) is the only version of the manuscript evidence that deserves our consideration and respect. We, of course, are not experts in textual criticism, and would rather leave the resolution of this debate to those who are more knowledgeable in the field.

If you have further questions, or if you’d simply like to discuss your concerns at greater length with a member of our team, don’t hesitate to contact our staff of pastoral counselors. They would love to speak with you over the phone.


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