So, shocker, the Bible was not written in English, (and not primarily about reinforcing American culture…but that’s a personal rant for later!) The Old Testament was written in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic, the New Testament was written in Greek.
More history than you need to know about Bible translations
There is a whole lot of drama around English translations of the Bible. Until the NIV came along in 1965, there were very few English translations. As far as I know, we mostly just relied on updates of the King James Version or paraphrases (which you were only allowed to read as a supplement!)
The KJV, held in there as the main translation for over 300 years and since religious people don’t like change, you can imagine why some people are still fussing about this new fangled translation we got in 1965! LOL
In old school, traditional Christian cultures, a lot of people are highly attached to the King James Version. The main reasons, as I see them, are: tradition, the poetic sound of the KJV and copyright laws.
Tradition is a beautiful thing. I grew up hearing the Bible read mostly in the KJV and it sounded super holy and beautiful to me. My grandmother had an old family Bible with her family history recorded in it. I love the KJV and I cherish the memories associated with it, but I don’t really understand it that well. This was pointed out clearly to me when I was in college and first encountered Psalm 23 in a catechism written for early American settlers. They had written a kid friendly version, of “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” And when I read it, it was the first time, not even kidding here, that I understood that the verse meant, “the Lord is my shepherd and I will not be in need…” Until that day, I always thought that the verse meant that the Lord was my shepherd even when I didn’t want him to be! Yup, I have a degree in English, and I did that!!!! I read Shakespeare for fun and I did that!
For people who are used to the Shakespearean sound of the KJV, the modern translations seem a little less formal, and super holy sounding. So if you grew up hearing, “Thou shalt nots” then it’s probably hard to switch to “Dude. Stop doing that”!
Another reason that the KJV is hanging in there strong is because of copyright laws. The KJV was originally commissioned in 1604 and completed in 1611 long before any copyright laws. So if you just want to print some Bibles without giving any credit or $ to the scholars that translated it, the KJV is the way to go. (If you want to print Bibles that the average American can understand, not so much!)
According to my professors at Appalachian State, and my memory, the KJV was published as a political move to help England break from the Catholic church. However, it was also considered a huge scholarly accomplishment because of the gathering of scholars that worked on the translation.
Since 1611, the English language has changed quite a bit. If you don’t believe me, try to read Shakespeare with a group of high school students! So, those daring NIV scholars paved the way for a whole slew of other translations.
So how do you pick a version to read?
If you just want to trust me, generally stick with the NIV, then go to the AMP for deeper study and the Message if the passage just makes no sense to you.
The NIV was translated by a group of 100 scholars from a range of Christian denominations. I think this is very important because the scholars did not agree on many points of theology but all agreed on the importance of accurate Bible translation. Therefore, I believe their scholarship is quite reliable.
The Amplified version, seeks to expand our understanding of scripture by giving the complete translation of words so that we can understand the shades of meaning of words and phrases that don’t directly translate into English.
My favorite example of this is Matthew 5:44. In the NIV and every other translation, this verse says to LOVE YOUR ENEMY. If you don’t know about the different Greek words for love, you could struggle with this verse your whole life thinking that you somehow have to work up an extreme warm fuzzy feeling for the person that has wronged you most in life. The AMP version clarifies this with “that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for”. In this case, LOVE for our enemies is actually an action that we perform. This was quite a revolutionary revelation for me and incredibly freeing.
The Message Version is written by Eugene Peterson. In his translation, he strives to keep the original feeling of the passages and translate them into modern readable English. This is definitely the most enjoyable version to read and I highly recommend it for passages that you have grown church blind* to. However, it wouldn’t be my go to for deep questions, because it is mostly based on the scholarship of only one man (though he learned from work done by others).
So there you have it! A general overview of how I feel about different versions of the Bible.
There are tons of resources available for you. If you are really interested, my suggestion is reading all of the commentary at the beginning of some different Bible translations and then fish around Biblegateway.com for their explanations.
I’m pretty sure I just wrote this for myself and no one will ever read this far, so if you are reading this, please let me know!
Email me! Or message me on my Facebook page. I’d love to chat more about this!
*I call this phenomenon, “being church blind”. It means that you are so culturally, familiar with a concept that you no longer even think about it. I got it from those Febreeze ads that talk about being nose blind to smells that you live with.
I am a really strange mix of a hippie, Calypso, Southern Belle, Madea- wannabe, Christian with the attitude of a Rhode Islander! I’m fascinated with people’s stories, I love to laugh at life with people and I’m genuinely trying to follow Jesus’ teachings. Strangely, my search for truth often has me at odds with American Christians who believe themselves to be the guardians of this truth. I was kicked out of Sunday School as a child for asking too many questions. I learned to repress them but my questions never went away. Thankfully as an adult, I feel completely free to pursue answers. Turns out, God is pretty big and not nearly as upset with my questions as his followers tend to be!