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There are actually several reasons as to why we have so many different Bible versions and translations.  The primary two reasons we will look at are:  1. The underlying original text, and  2.  The methods employed in translation.

The last century saw the world make technological advances like never seen before.  Man rode into the 20th century on a horse and rocketed out of it in a shuttle.  Man warmed himself with a fire and coal, and then used central heat and air conditioning to maintain the temperature in his home.  Scientific discoveries, medical, communication, technology, etc.  The list goes on and on.  Many of these had an impact on what we know about the Bible.

For the first time man was able to collect numerous manuscripts, or make mass copies, or even microfiche copies of manuscripts and universities and seminaries all over the planet could study the same writings and make interpretations as to their significance.

Because of this increase in transportation and communication, we today are aware of virtually all of the underlying manuscripts that exist!  And virtually anyone can access them by the internet.  And so today we have access to manuscripts that around 400 years ago when the King James translators got together, they never dreamed that there were over 5,500 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament alone!  

It is because of this wealth of different manuscripts that we have today so many different versions.  There are several different schools of thought as to how these manuscripts should be compared, and which readings should be considered the original text.

Today we basically have three different main text.  There is the Textus Receptus (TR), which is the underlying text of the King James, Authorized Version.  There is the Majority text (MT), which is a slightly different text that contains the Byzantine readings of the Majority of the manuscripts.  And then there is the Critical Text (CT) that is the product of the textual scholars making comparisons and evaluations of the many manuscripts and making conclusions as to what they feel belongs in the Text.

It should be remembered that there is a total of (in round numbers) 845,000 words in the Bible!  647,000 words in the Old Testament and 198,000 words in the New Testament.  With such a large number of words, it is easy to see how the slightest inattention by a scribe could lead to a variant reading caused by either spelling, word arrangement, or omissions.

The MT is produced by Zane Hodges and Arthur Farstad.  It differs from the TR in some 2,000 places.  The TR is represented by the King James Version and the New King James Version (although the NKJV has many foot notes that are related to the Critical Text).  The Critical Text is the Greek text of the United Bible Societies 4th edition and the Nestle-Aland 27th edition.  This text is represented by the newer translations such as the Revised Version, NIV, NRSV, ASV, etc.  The CT differs from the MT in some 6,577 times (these numbers by Dr. Daniel Wallace).

Most scholars feel that the TR is a conflated text.  In other words, there are locations where the original text may have just read "Jesus" where the TR will read "Lord Jesus Christ."  In other words the TR includes every titles applicable at virtually every occasion.  It is not that the CT teaches something different.  There are still verses that teach Jesus is the Christ, and that Jesus is Lord, it is just that many of the older manuscripts did not include such titles at every reading.

One of the rules that is generally considered is:  "that the shorter reading is to be preferred (brevior lectio praeferenda est) is generally sound and that by this canon the Byzantine text-type, in being long, comes up short."  (Wallace)

It seem to be extremely consistent that no scribe knowingly omitted portions of text.  They were more likely to add than to knowingly omit.   And so with a slight introduction to some of the various Text, we now come to our second part.

The second reason there are so many translations is because there are three primary ways to translate the above mentioned various text.

1.  Literal.  This is where a translator strives to maintain the sentence structure and emphasis of the original language.   In so doing there can be places where the reading in the English may be somewhat awkward or difficult.   Some examples are:  the King James Version, the New King James Version, and the American Standard Version.

2.  Dynamic Equivalent.  In these translations the translators take a great deal of liberty and proceed to interpret as well as translate.  They use words that they feel are meant rather than exactly what is said.  Oftentimes, these translations make better use of the English language and are often more easily understood.  The New International Version and the New English Version translators use Dynamic Equivalence.

3.  Free.  This is when a translator goes beyond just translating and give interpretation.  At times these pay little attention to the original and can also be considered commentary (such as Gen. 1:26 in the Amplified Bible).  These may be easy to read, but at times they may confuse the original intent by over defining and explaining as well as giving the authors theological tendencies.  The Amplified Bible and The Living Bible are examples of free versions.

I believe that it is best to use several translations.  By doing so you can compare and then determine what is the best way to express the thought found within the original language.


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ęCopyright 2001 Randall D. Hughes