For your birthday you get some extra cash and you decide to buy a new Bible. The local Christian bookstore should have what you want. As you enter the store and turn the corner into the Bible section, you immediately notice a plethora of choices. You see The Open Bible, The Thompson Chain Reference Study Bible, The NIV Study Bible, The NRSV Access Bible, The Life Application Study Bible, The ESV Reformation Study Bible, The NKJV Women’s Study Bible, The KJV Promise Keepers Men’s Study Bible, The HCSB Study Bible, The Spirit-Filled Life Bible, and about fifty other possibilities. You didn’t know buying a new Bible could be so complicated. What should you do?
The first thing to know about selecting a Bible is that there is a big difference between the Bible version or translation and the format used by publishers to market the Bible. Packaging features such as study notes, introductory articles, and devotional insights are often helpful, but they are not part of the translation of the original text. When choosing a Bible, you will want to look past the marketing format to make sure you know which translation the Bible uses. In this unit we will be talking about Bible translations rather than marketing features.
We have a unit on Bible translations because translation itself is unavoidable. God has revealed himself and has asked his people to make that communication known to others. Unless everyone wants to learn Hebrew and Greek (the Bible’s original languages), we will need a translation. Translation is nothing more than transferring the message of one language into another language. We should not think of translation as a bad thing, since through translations we are able to hear what God has said. In other words, translations are necessary for people who speak a language other than Greek or Hebrew to understand what God is saying through his Word.
We begin our discussion of Bible translations by looking at how we got our English Bible in the first place. Then we will look back at the various ways the Bible has been translated into English from the fourteenth century to the present. Next we will turn our attention to evaluating the two main approaches to making a translation of God’s Word. Since students of the Bible often ask, “Which translation is best?” we will wrap up the unit with a few guidelines for choosing a translation.