A Word on Bible Versions

Posted on February 12, 2021


By David Ettinger

A Fruitful Discussion
I recently had a nice discussion with a blogging friend regarding the Bible version I use.

This fruitful dialogue led to this post, which won’t analyze the many English versions of the Bible, but serve merely as my commentary on the issue. This is one of those topics many Christians can wrap their brains around, so, by all means, let your voice be heard in the comments section!

Bible Fascination
After I gave my life to Christ in 1986, I went shopping for a Bible. Not having much money, I was limited. I knew nothing about the many Bible versions, so I purchased the least expensive. It turned out to be an original New International Version (NIV), and am I ever glad it was!

I tore through my new Bible in just 4 months, and then started all over again. At the time, I didn’t know about the differences in Bible translations; I was just interested in understanding its contents. I found the NIV to be just as clear as any other modern English book. In other words, there was no archaic language or odd syntax to throw me off-kilter.

The NIV “did the trick,” and was exactly what I needed.

Wising Up
As the years passed, I wised up regarding the controversies regarding English Bible translations. I came to understand the difference between translations and paraphrases, and that translations fell into such categories as “word-for word” or “form-equivalent”; “meaning-for-meaning” or “closest natural equivalence”; and “thought-for-thought” or “function equivalence”.

The biggest problem ANY Bible version has is that it is not in the original language. So whether you read the King James Version, NIV, New American Standard (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV) or one of the host of others, you’re getting a translation, NOT the original language.

The more “scholarly” among us prefer the NASB and ESV, while those not as stringent on exactness (which can’t be achieved anyway) are good with NIV and perhaps the New Living Translation. Lovers of the KJV fall into a slightly different group, perhaps to be touched upon in a future post.

How I See It
So here I am, 34-plus years a Christian, and having read through the entire Bible 68 times (twice yearly). Here are a few thoughts on the issue of English Bible versions.

1. If not in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, all Bibles are translations and incapable of word-for-word exactness.

2. No Bible translation is the divine work of God, that is, that the Lord “inspired” it as He did the original Scriptures.

3. Just about all English translations are the work of scholars who love the Lord and possess special skills which qualify them to do such work. Basically, they are experts in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, can translate the ancient manuscripts, seek God’s leading through prayer, and desire to express as precisely as possible that which God originally “breathed” so long ago.

4. Nobody has it right, but many of the English Bible translations are excellent. And though you may have settled on one version, it is very possible that a different version has done a better job on a particular passage or phrase. For instance, I wrote a blog a few days ago titled, “Rejoice in Suffering,” based on Romans 5:3, which says: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings …” (ESV). I noted that other versions worded that phrase differently:

  • “glory in tribulations” (KJV)
  • “glory in our sufferings” (NIV)
  • “rejoice in our afflictions” (Holman)
  • “celebrate in our tribulations” (NASB)

All are accurate and communicate what the Holy Spirit is teaching us. The translators did the best job they could, put much thought behind it, and came up with English phrasing of a Greek term which I believe “hit the mark.”

5. Though I agree that certain Bible translations are better for scholarly endeavors, I don’t believe any well-intentioned, mainstream English Bible version – or paraphrase, for that matter – will hamper anyone’s walk with God or growth as a Christian. I believe any well-intentioned mainstream Bible version will help the Christian grow and mature.

6. Though many wax eloquent about why their versions are the best, a Bible version cannot make you a better Christian. For instance, a lifelong reader of the KJV is no “better” a Christian than the 3-year-Christian who reads The Message (a paraphrase). One’s walk with God depends on several factors beside the Bible version he or she reads.

7. Every English version of the Bible will give you the Gospel. Every English version of the Bible will give you the story of Creation. Every English version of the Bible, in fact, will give you everything that is in every other English version of the Bible.

8. Salvation is of God, and not dependent upon which version of the Bible one reads. Obeying Christ and being a light for Him is not dependent upon which version of the Bible one reads. For study, yes, there is a difference, but regarding one’s walk with the Lord, there is none.

9. Many Christians who read the frowned-upon paraphrases often outshine – in love and good deeds – those who tout their scholarly superiority.

10. I once read the NIV; I now read the NASB; soon I may read something else. Regardless, no Bible version will hinder my walk with the Lord. Sin will hinder it, but not the version of the Bible I read.

So there you go. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter! The comment section is open!