Different Bible Translations

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: History

The King James Version (KJV)

  • It was named after King James I of England who authorized the work in 1604.
  • It was completed by 1611, just 85 years after the very first English translation had come out (Tyndale, 1526).
  • Over 50 scholars worked on this translation, using the Byzantine family of Manuscripts – the Textus Receptus.
  • It was basically a revision of previous translations by Tyndale, Coverdale, the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible.
  • It has undergone three revisions, incorporating more than 100,000 changes! Further, there are over 300 words in the King James that no longer mean what they meant in 1611.
  • In addition, many words in the KJV are now obscure; others cannot be traced back to the most reliable manuscripts.
  • The Authorized Version has become the standard for English-speaking Protestants.
  • The KJV has been called "the noblest monument of English prose" (RSV preface). Above all its rivals, the King James Version has had the greatest impact in shaping the English language. It is a literary masterpiece.
  • The KJV translators had access to only a few ancient manuscripts. Since their day, many older manuscripts have been discovered, resulting in a more reliable Greek and Hebrew text.
  • It is suitable for study as long as one is familiar with the language. It is widely known and available, and very inexpensive.
  • The copyright is still valid in the United Kingdom, but in the United States and elsewhere, it is in the public domain.
  • For many people, the KJV is the only acceptable translation.

The New King James Version (NKJV)

  • Thomas Nelson Publishers commissioned a revision of the KJV in 1975.
  • Over 130 scholars, church leaders, and lay Christians worked until 1982 to complete this revision.
  • It has been updated to modern English with several translation corrections, but it retains the original phraseology.
  • Their intent was to create a totally new, modern translation of Scripture, but one that would retain the elegant literary style of the KJV.
  • It is also based on the manuscripts from the Byzantine family (Textus Receptus).
  • Although the New King James Bible, like all other translations, has a few flaws, it is a more accurate rendering of the Greek than the King James Version and is less likely to puzzle the reader.
  • This is an especially good translation for people with a Wesleyan or Eastern Orthodox background.

The Revised Standard Version (RSV)

  • Based on the American Standard Version, this translation was authorized in 1937.
  • The New Testament was published in 1946; and the entire Bible with the Old Testament followed in 1952.
  • It was advertised as a revision that sought to preserve all that is best in the English Bible as it had been known and used throughout the years.
  • Initially, the RSV Old Testament was not well received by conservative scholars because it was translated without taking into consideration later interpretations of those passages within the New Testament.
  • Protestant Churches, however, embraced it and soon the RSV became their “standard” text.
  • The RSV attempted to be a word-for-word translation wherever possible.
  • When it was replaced by the NRSV in 1990, the RSV ranked among the least popular Bible, accounting for only 5 percent of market share in the US.

The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

  • Thirty men and women who were among the top scholars from the National Council of Churches worked on this new translation in 1990. Included were scholars from Protestant Churches, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and at least one Jewish scholar.
  • Though it continues in the tradition of the KJV, it sets a new standard for the 21st Century.
  • It tries to be as literal as possible, and as free only as is necessary.
  • It includes among its sources all the newfound manuscripts, including the Dead Sea Scrolls and archeological finds from the Ancient Near East.
  • In also incorporates new information about Greek and Hebrew words.
  • Unlike the RSV, the NRSV has received wide commendation from academics and church leaders.
  • It is the most ecumenical among all Bible translations, using both the standard Protestant canon and books used by Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
  • The Bible comes in three editions: one with the Apocrypha, a Roman Catholic and an Orthodox edition.
  • It has received the endorsement of 33 Protestant churches, plus Catholic bishops and the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church.
  • It has gender-inclusive language (i.e., “human” instead of “man”), among other factors, which distinguishes it from the Revised Standard Version.
  • The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible is an authorized revision of the Revised Standard Version.
  • There were basically three reasons given for issuing a revision of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible: (a) the discovery of older biblical manuscripts, (b) further investigation of linguistic features of the text, and (c) changes in preferred English usage, especially relating to gender issues.
  • All in all, the NRSV is more accurate than the RSV.

The Jewish Publication Society (Tanakh)

  • This is an excellent translation of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament).
  • It is based on the Masoretic texts and uses the traditional three-part division.
  • Though the word "Bible" is commonly used by non-Jews, the appropriate term to use for the Hebrew scriptures is Tanakh.
  • TANAKH is an Acronym, based on the letters T (for "Torah", the Law), N (for "Neviim," the Prophets), and K (for "Ketuvim," the Sacred Writings).
  • It is the compilation of the teachings of God to human beings in document form.
  • The Tanakh consists of 24 books. The Torah has 5; the Neviim has 8, and Ketuvim has 11.
  • These are the same books found in the Protestant Old Testament, but they differ in order. Books like Kings and Chronicles are counted as one.
  • Some scholars prefer to use the term “Hebrew Bible” instead of the “Old Testament” in order to avoid any sectarian bias.
  • English translations of the Old Testament were uncommon until the 1980s, in part because Jews generally studied the texts in their original language.
  • The first JPS translation was completed in 1917. It was based on the most accurate scholarship available at that time, which also included the KJV.
  • By 1950, it was outdated so numerous Jewish scholars began to update it. Work was begun on the New JPS Version in 1955; it took 7 years to complete.
  • Those who translated it were experts in Biblical scholarship; they always tried to present the original meaning of the texts.
  • The New JPS is the official Torah commentary of Reformed Judaism; it is also used by Conservative Judaism.

The New International Version (NIV)

  • Over 100 translators completed this work in 1978, which was composed from Kittle’s, Nestle’s and United Bible Society’s texts.
  • Committees from the Christian Reformed Church and National Association of Evangelicals decided in 1965 that a new translation was needed.
  • The translators of the New International Version sought to make a version that was midway between a literal rendering (as in the New American Standard Bible) and a free paraphrase (as in The Living Bible). Their goal was to convey in English the thought of the original writers.
  • It is a good, easy-to-read translation that pays attention to the meaning of phrases as opposed to a word-by-word translation.
  • Since 1987, the NIV has outsold the King James Version, which had been the best-seller for centuries. This is a remarkable indication of the NIV’s popularity and acceptance in the Christian community.
  • The New International Version, sponsored by the [International] Bible Society has become a standard version used for private reading and pulpit reading in many English-speaking countries.
  • The NIV is the product of evangelical scholars from a wide variety of church backgrounds.

The Good News Bible/Today's English Version (GNB or TEV)

  • This is a phrase-by-phrase (instead of word-by-word) translation done in common language.
  • This work was completed by Robert Bratcher in 1976 after a grueling nine years in production.
  • It was completed in conjunction with a committee and by the American Bible Society.
  • It was intended for an unchurched audience and does not use traditional religious vocabulary.
  • Those who are familiar with the Bible might think it to be inaccurate because it is a paraphrase.
  • It was a version deemed suitable for children.
  • It reads like a novel; story telling is one of its strongest points.
  • It was not well received by Evangelicals.
  • The official name today is Today’s English Version.
  • In 2001 Zondervan began the publishing of the translation and changed its name again: The Good News Translation.

The New Jerusalem Bible (NJB)

  • This is an excellent translation by 30 Catholic scholars done in 1985.
  • This is a revision of the Jerusalem Bible (1966), motivated by scholars to improve accuracy.
  • The Jerusalem Bible was based on the French Bible de Jerusalem (1961), which had been prepared by the Dominican Biblical School in Jerusalem.
  • This latter Bible had been revised in 1973, and it was only a matter of time before the Jerusalem Bible would be revised as well.
  • The NJB is the product of the best Bible scholars in the Roman Catholic Church.
  • The book has a distinct Roman Catholic flavor that presents the position of the Church on various passages, especially regarding the Old Testament.
  • This Bible includes the Apocrypha and Deuterocanonical books as well as many study helps—such as introductions to each book of the Bible, extensive notes on various passages, and maps.
  • The translators believe that laypeople need interpretive helps in order to understand the scriptures.
  • It is a freer translation because the translators wanted to capture the meaning of the original texts in a vigorous contemporary style.
  • Though the translators attempted to make it more literal, they balanced this with the use of inclusive language.
  • Outside the US, the NJB is the most widely used among Roman Catholics.

The New American Bible (NAB)

  • This is a 1970 English Bible translation produced by Roman Catholic Bible scholars.
  • It was updated in 1991 to include more inclusive language, especially in the New Testament and the Psalms. (Because of this, it has not been accepted by the Vatican as the basis for its lectionary.)
  • It was again revised in 2000 in connection with the Vatican, and continues to be the Bible of choice for the Roman Catholics in the US.
  • There is a short introduction to each book complete with marginal notes.
  • This was the first American Catholic Bible to be translated from the original languages.
  • It is a very readable, clear, simple, and straightforward translation.
  • It is not as good as the Jerusalem Bible for serious students, but is the preferred Bible for American Catholics.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB)

  • This version was translated in 1971 by 58 scholars of the Lockman Foundation, from Kittle’s, Biblia Hebraica, and Nestle’s Greek New Testament 23rd ed.
  • Although it is very academic in tone, it is said to be the most exact English translation available and was updated in 1995.
  • On the whole, the New American Standard Bible is respected as a good study Bible that accurately reflects the wording of the original languages.
  • The translators came from a wide variety of evangelical backgrounds.
  • The NASB is something of an evangelical counterpart to the RSV. It, too, was intended to be something of a revision of the King James.
  • There are three major differences between the RSV and the NASB: first, the NASB is less archaic in its wording. Second, its translators were more conservative theologically than the RSV translators. Third, because of the translators' desire to adhere as closely to the wording of the original, often this translation is stilted and wooden.
  • The NASB is probably the best word-for-word translation available today, based on what the manuscripts actually say instead of what translators want them to say.

The Message

  • The New Testament part of The Message was published in 1993 by NavPress. The Old Testament was completed in 2002.
  • The Message is a free, highly colloquial and interpretive translation/paraphrase of the New Testament by Eugene H. Peterson.
  • This version of the Bible is written in contemporary language with contemporary idioms.
  • The goal was not to render a word-for-word conversion of Greek into English, but rather to convert the tone, the rhythm, the events, the ideas into the way we actually think and speak.
  • Eugene Peterson, the paraphraser, worked from the original languages.
  • Eugene Peterson has taught biblical languages on the post-graduate level and is a respected theologian with pastoral experience. He is of the caliber of a J. B. Phillips, and is well qualified to undertake a paraphrase.
  • The Message is not suited for serious Bible study since the paraphrase, by its nature, obscures terminology and some implications of the text.
  • On the other hand, the Message is as accurate as a paraphrase can be, and it is easy to read and understand.

The Living Bible (TLB)

  • This is another paraphrased rendition of the King James Version done by Kenneth Taylor who began paraphrasing scripture in 1954. He is an author, not a Bible scholar.
  • The Bible was completed by 1971. Within a year or two, it was the most popular Bible in America. By 1997, over 40 million copies had been sold.
  • This is not a genuine translation, but is a type of phrase-by-phrase commentary that was originally intended to help the author’s own children better understand the scriptures.
  • It is useful for inspiration and commentary, but for serious Bible study, it should only be used in conjunction with a legitimate translation.
  • Taylor’s paraphrase has been criticized for being too interpretive. But that is the nature of paraphrases— (see comments above on The Message.)
  • Despite initial criticism by conservative scholars, the Living Bible has been very popular among English readers worldwide.
  • It has been revised many times and appears in many different versions. It was largely replaced by the New Living Translation in 1996.
  • Some people believe that the Living Bible clarifies the meaning that is already present. Others believe it imputes meaning into a text that is not originally there.
  • It does a good job on Bible stories.

The Contemporary English Version (CEV)

  • The Contemporary English Version was started in 1984. The New Testament was published in 1991; the full Bible was available beginning in 1995.
  • It was published by the American Bible Society.
  • It is similar to the Good News Bible, but designed for children or those at a lower reading level.
  • The translation team was comprised of over 100 members. It was an international, inter-denominational group. Among this group were translators, English language experts, as well as Biblical authorities
  • The mission statement for the ABS translation team was to produce a translation that was biblically accurate, reader friendly, and understandable -- even for first-time Bible readers.
  • Among special concerns were ease of reading without sounding 'childish,' comprehensibility when read aloud, modern formatting, quality of style, and literary value.
  • Obviously this requires more interpretive language, which leads to some inaccuracies.
  • It is heavily influenced by the Septuagint, which combines both Hebrew and Greek.

The English Standard Version (ESV)

  • This translation was published by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers, which has no affiliation with any particular denomination.
  • It grew out of the Tyndale/King James Versions of the Bible, and most recently the Revised Standard Version.
  • Archaic language has been updated, though every word and phrase has been checked with the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
  • It was translated by a group of scholars who are mostly conservative on social and political issues.
  • They attempted to be as literal as possible, while still producing a clear English text.
  • They have not changed Greek gender specific words to generic or plural English ones.

The New English Bible

  • This translation was completed in 1971. The Old Testament was published first in 1960. It took almost 25 years to complete.
  • The initiative for this translation arose in the Church of Scotland in 1946, but they were soon joined by the Church of England and Roman Catholics.
  • This is not a revision, but a brand new translation.
  • It is not a word for word, but rather a phrase for phrase translation. The phrase that best describes this is “dynamic equivalence.”
  • It follows in the footsteps of translators like James Moffatt (Good News, Message, et al)
  • Its English is excellent, but sometimes the biases of the translators come into play, and it is less than faithful to the Greek or Hebrew.
  • By 1974, scholars were already looking to revise parts of it. The Revised English Bible is somewhat more literal than its original, but certainly not of the quality of the RSV.

J B Phillips (New Testament only)

  • J. B.Phillips was an Anglican clergyman who first began paraphrasing the epistles of the New Testament into modern English for his church’s youth group, which met in bomb shelters during air raids in World War II.
  • He eventually completed the entire New Testament, and later revised it into a true translation.
  • Many editions of the J. B. Phillips New Testament lack verse numbers.
  • The wording is significantly different from other translations.
  • Earlier editions are too British for Americans.
  • The J. B. Phillips New Testament gives unique and accurate insights into the New Testament.

Many of these translations are derived from what went before…

  • William Tyndale's New Testament of 1526.
  • The King James Version of 1611 (KJV).
  • The English Revised Version of 1885 (RV).
  • The American Standard Version of 1901 (ASV).
  • And the Revised Standard Version of 1952 and 1971 (RSV).

In General….

  • Roman Catholic churches use the New American or New Jerusalem Bible in worship and in instruction.
  • Protestant congregations that belong to mainstream denominations, or whose pastors have attended mainstream seminaries, generally tend to use the New Revised Standard Version.
  • Protestant churches that belong to smaller denominations, or that have more conservative theological, social, or political views, generally tend to use the New International Version.
  • The New King James Version is popular in Methodist, Wesleyan, and Orthodox churches.
  • The New American Standard Bible is popular in independent churches that are heavily into Bible study during worship.
  • Today’s English Version is occasionally used in churches – generally those with moderate to liberal theological, social, or political views.
  • The Authorized Version (which would be the King James Version in the United States) is still the preferred Bible in some congregations. Generally they are independent or they belong to loosely organized denominations.


item 1

Bible Characters