May 28, 2022

Why Are There So Many Translations Anyway?

(KJV) 1631 Holy Bible, Robert Barker/John Bill...
(KJV) 1631 Holy Bible, Robert Barker/John Bill, London. King James Version (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyone that’s attempted to purchase a new Bible lately has been barraged by not only the multiple translations, but the compilations of Bibles.  It’s not just that there are NIV, KJV, NKJV, ESV, CEV, and throw a few more acronyms in that alphabet soup and you get my point.  You also have to add that there are Study Bibles, Schofield Bibles, Marriage Bibles, Harmonies of the Gospels, Life Application Bibles, Women’s Bibles, Teens Bibles, Klingon Bibles, etc.

The truth is that the Bible is the number one seller of all time, and even Erasmus, the original author of what we call the “Textus Receptus” (or TR from here on) felt that pressure.  The TR is part of the basis of the KJV, and the first revision of that work in Greek was done in six months!  Why such haste?  Because he wanted to be “first to market” with his work so that he could beat the competition and make profit.

You see, Erasmus was not a devout man, but a humanist out to make a profit.  He made multiple revisions of the TR, one of the latter ones was used to help with the King James Version.

The Bible, In English

Since the before 1500s there have always been multiple versions of the English Bible—though it took much blood to get them.  Tyndale’s was the first accessible Bible in English, and it was a translation made off of Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, which was the Bible that the Roman Catholic church used.  Tyndale’s vision was to get the Bible out of the hands of only the priests, or those that new the “holy language of Latin” and into the hands of the common people.

After all, how can you be good Bereans if you can’t even read the Bible?

So he translated it, and then there were others that went off of his translation.  The big ones were the Geneva Bible, the Great Bible, and the Bishop’s Bible.  Each version had a different impetus, and some of the translation word choices reflected those choices.

When 1600s came around, soon to be King James wanted a version of the Bible to, he claim, standardize the usage.  You see, though the Bishop’s Bible was the common Bible of England at the time, the Geneva and Great Bibles were around, and there were notes in the margins of these Bibles that were against the throne.  King James wanted a new Bible without footnotes that could be understood to be superior to the previous translations, and he could then require that version.

And so the directives were that the translators consider the Bishop’s Bible as their primary source, and consult the “ancient tongues” to edit where appropriate.  In fact, if you were to look online for the Bishop’s Bible, you will find that many verses are word for word the same as the KJV.

The Importance Was In Understanding

The KJV translators were humble about their mission.  They diligently did the best they could with the available manuscripts, but they were also people of their time period.  There are word choices in the KJV that do not hold to the TR.  There are texts that were in the margin of some manuscripts that are now in the text.  There were typographical errors in some editions—even making one version branded “The Wicked Bible.”

But the point was the same—the vision was that there was to be a Bible that the regular people could read.

The KJV’s Long Life

Though the Latin Vulgate had a much longer period of influence than the KJV, the 400 years that the KJV has been a dominate force in Christianity testifies to the quality of work of the men who translated it.  Many today still read out of this translation and enjoy its lofty prose.  I count myself as one that likes this translation.

However, there have also been many discoveries in those 400 years.

Whereas Erasmus only used 8 miniscules  (or texts) to put together the TR1, there are many more different documents to compare and seek out the best translations.

Also, English has changed in 400 years.  The current AV—which is not the English of the 1611, and should be considered more “Middle English” than “Old English”—has word ordering and words with definitions that are different than modern usage.

That means that there is time spent training everyone that reads the KJV of what a unicorn is or what the true meaning of “conversation” is, etc.

So, it’s natural that there would be new translations that would appear on the scene in the attempts to present the Bible to a new generation in their own language.

And there are good translations out there.  I particularly find the reading in NKJV and ESV as reliable.  I like the ESV pointing out the texts that are different (because I like knowing the details behind the scenes) even though it includes suspect passages.

The Profit Takers

But then there are translations that are purely for profit or perversion of the Scripture.  There are versions for the Jehovah Witnesses—who were not liking the fact that anyone that knew the KJV could easily prove that Jesus was God.  They had to remove that stuff, quick!

And then there are versions that are packaged like a magazine, and other translations that are nothing more than attempting to appeal to different groups.

Not all translations are faithful, and though some, like the NLT, may be profitable as far as getting the overall picture of what’s happening in a narrative, some like the message can be avoided.


The point of the Bible is that it’s God’s written Word to men about the Living Word.  The living Word must always be exalted above the written Word, and yet Jesus promised that the written Word would be preserved.

And it has, in multiple different English translations—as well as many other translations for other languages, and the work of translation still goes on today in remote jungles and tribes.  It truly is an exciting time to be alive!

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  1. Including taking a whole last page of Revelation from the Latin Vulgate and translating that back to Greek because he was missing it! []

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