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Compare Bible Translations

Article Date: January 4, 2011

Compare Bible Translations

A very common question we get here at Deeper Shopping.com is "Why are there so many Bible Translations?" While this article cannot answer all your questions, it will give you a few great pointers so you can better understand some of the important differences between our best selling Bible Versions.

Word for Word, or Thought for Thought Translations

There are two basic approaches to writing a Bible Translation. These are "Word for Word" translations, and "Thought for Thought" translations.

Word for Word Compare Bible Translation starts with the original texts - and the Bible Scholar read word-by-word, to make the best possible translation by trying to match words in the original Hebrew or Greek with equivalent words in English. The result is a Bible which is as accurate as possible based on the underlying words that were used to communicate the original Biblical texts. Of course no actual copies of the original scripts and scrolls exist, so copies of copies of copies are used bringing the Translators the best possible written documents.

Over the several thousand years of copying, individual scribes made subtle changes to reflect their own reading of the text. In Greek, a slight alteration in one single character can change the meaning of an entire paragraph. So, as time carried the texts through history, the human touch altered the words of the "original texts". In order to get the best possible matches to the originals, it makes sense that you would want the oldest possible surviving copies, and when you consider that the oldest we have are still thousands of years away from when they were written. Much of The Old Testament for example, was written thousands of years BC, and the oldest copies we have are only a couple hundred years BC. Moses' originals were dust a loooong time ago. So how many "copy-centuries" removed are we from the originals? Impossible to say, but no matter how good a translator you are, the task is still daunting.

An AMAZING contribution to Biblical translation and historical support for the Old Testament Scriptures came with the discovery of The Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. It remains one of the most incredible and complete collections of Biblical and Jewish history ever discovered, and one of a handful of major discoveries ever found - rivaling the King Tut collection, and some dinosaurs. There is still some mystery which surrounds the Dead Sea Scrolls - questions as to whether Israel is entirely forthcoming about the quantity and pieces, and arguments about the possibility that some monasteries may still possess some which have never been released. At least 7 complete scrolls can be verified, some on leather, some on parchments. There are scroll fragments and pieces from at least 24 scrolls, and some have argued that they may actually represent over 800 individual scrolls! Biblical Archeology continues, but the Dead Sea Scrolls remain the oldest manuscripts in existence.

The oldest of them may date to 200 BC, making them some of the closest we have to literal "ancient Bible writings". Two of the 10 best preserved scrolls were copies of The Book of Isaiah. So how does that help in translating the Bible? Isaiah died somewhere around 686 BC. The authorship of the entire book is usually ascribed to Isaiah, but some argue he didn't write all of it. Even those critics would agree that at least 39 chapters were definitely written by Isaiah. If he did not write it all, the latest possible writings of the final one third of the book were completed sometime in the 5th century BC. So everything more recent than that is a copy of a copy. For over half a century, some of the most brilliant Archeologists, Biblical Language Scholars, Museum Curators from Israel, Experts on Ancient Hebrew Culture, Jewish and Jerusalem Historians, and thousands of peripheral students and teachers have studied the Dead Sea Scrolls, and still have conflicting theories about many of their exact interpretations.

Those scrolls represent copies of only one book of the Old Testament. That leaves room for a LOT of speculation. So, in order to establish the best possible baseline for the original texts, Bible Translators co-translated the Word-for-Word versions. In many cases 100's of Bible Scholars were involved in creating one translation! Their combined years of experience in Biblical History Studies, and Biblical Languages must have reached into the thousands! Several translations took over a decade, and involved many translators whose ultimate goal was to create a Bible which is the closest thing possible to the actual original written texts, written by the actual Biblical writers like Paul, or Luke, or Moses. Those Word-for-Word translations are noted below as [W4W].

Thought-for-Thought is the other strategy for Bible translation. In this style, the Bible Scholar reads the same information and texts as the Word-for-Word translators. He thinks carefully about what is being communicated, and then rephrases or paraphrases the text into modern English. What you get is a text that attempts to get closer in line with what the authors of the original Biblical Texts were thinking, as opposed to the actual word-for-word textual content. Why dabble with the original? You may ask. Why not just let the words say what they say? That is a fair question, and a very important one.

The reason is quite simple - the Bible was not written in English. Nor was it written in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian, or any other language currently written and spoken on earth. Most of the New Testament was written in Koine Greek, and in many cases - hundreds actually - an English word for the Greek word Paul or Peter, or any other author wrote, does not even exist. Multiply that fact throughout the nearly 200 years it took to write the 27 books of the New Testament and you begin to understand the monumental task a word-for-word translator faces. Add to that the complex Old Testament language of Hebrew. Some of the Old Testament was written THOUSANDS of years BC! So, now you see why the thought-for-thought approach arose. It's just not humanly possible to translate the entire Bible in a literal fashion.

So, the thought-for-thought translator says to himself, Based on the different texts in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin, I've got a pretty good idea what Paul meant when he said, "For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood."[Romans 3:23 NLT] Then that scholar takes the information he sees, and based upon all that he knows from other Scriptures, and all that he has available from other books Paul wrote, he makes his determination. He knows it's preposterous to even imagine he will ever hold in his hands an actual piece of parchment with Paul's hand-written scribing on it. So, he must translate based upon what he thinks Paul meant.

Some day the translator and the author will meet in Heaven and they can sit down and talk it over, but until then, he must do the best he can to determine what will help a modern reader understand the thoughts of the ancient writer. Of course it's a subtle art - it's pretty pretentious to assume we can truly know what Moses was thinking, but the result of Thought-for-Thought translations has been some wonderfully readable Bibles. Especially for audiences looking for a translation that is relevant to modern life, and uses actual words and phrases which are equivalent to modern language, a Thought-for-Thought Bible is an excellent choice. Some great examples of Thought-for-Thought translations are listed below. They are designated by the code: [T4T]

A translation is never going to be 100% word for word or thought for thought. Both techniques will be used - the question becomes to what degree. You will sometimes see the [W4W] or [T4T] with a percentage (75% or 50-50 etc). That simply means some translations will fall somewhere in the middle, or closer to one side or the other. We use those indications to demonstrate a kind of balance, for people wanting to study the Bible, but without needing a doctorate in Ancient Hebrew Linguistics to do it. The following list will give you a quick overview of our most popular translations. If you would like to search through our catalog of approximately 4000 different Bibles, then be sure to use our Easy Bible Finder.

Bible Version Comparison

  • Amplified Bible (The Amplified actually uses a [W4W] translation, but reads like [T4T] because of the added helps.)
    Common Abbreviation: AMP
    Shop our Bible Collection: Amplified Bibles
    Description: A word-for-word translation, but where Greek or Hebrew sentence structure differs, the AMP adds notes, explanations, or alternate readings in [brackets] right in the verse. Read the verse, read the brackets. Great idea and very illuminating! Published mainly by Zondervan. )

  • Contemporary English Version [100% T4T]
    Common Abbreviation: CEV
    Shop our Bible Collection: CEV Bibles
    Description: Definitely an easy reading meaning-based version. A child could read it, and an adult could appreciate it. A casual reading Bible, not a deep study.

  • Douay-Rheims [100% W4W]
    Common Abbreviations: DR & DOU
    Shop our Bible Collection: Douey-Rheims Bibles
    Description: Translated into Latin by St. Jerome directly from the Latin Vulgate. The English version is very close to the KJV. A very good study Bible for students needing a clear strong classic English translation.

  • English Standard Version [75% W4W]
    Common Abbreviation: ESV
    Shop our Bible Collection: ESV Bibles
    Description: A good deeper study Bible. An excellent, essentially literal translation from original Greek & Hebrew. Noted for its traditional style, while using clear modern language. Good for personal reading, worship and study.

  • Good News Translation [100% T4T]
    Common Abbreviation: GNT
    Shop our Bible Collection: Good News Bibles
    Description: Gets the message right, in words people really use, but without jargon. Keep one for study, or to share with a friend who may not believe. Reasons, not religions.

  • God's Word Translation [75% W4W]
    Common Abbreviation: GWT
    Shop our Bible Collection: God's Word Bibles
    Description: Here’s the philosophy the translators used: “Closest Natural Equivalence”. A team of scholars created a translation which is mostly literal, but without being stuffy.

  • Holman Christian Standard Bible (Middle [W4W & T4T more T4T])
    Common Abbreviations: HCSB & CSB
    Shop our Bible Collection: Holman Bibles
    Description: Originally known as the Christian Standard Bible (CSB), later purchased by Holman Publishers (B&H), the publishing division of Southern Baptist Churches. This Bible is a newer version (2004), with excellent footnotes. A good blend of tradition and application make it good for all ages; enjoyment and study.

  • International Children's Bible [100% T4T]
    Common Abbreviation: ICB
    Shop our Bible Collection: International Childrens Bibles
    Description Exactly what it says, the first Bible prepared specifically for children. It uses short simple sentences. Easy enough a kid can read it without help, and kids will enjoy it.

  • King James Version [90% W4W]
    Common Abbreviation: KJV
    Shop our Bible Collection: KJV Bibles
    Description: Sometimes called "Authorized Version". Published first in 1611 and remaining the Bestselling Bible for over 400 years! All the beauty of older more stylish English. A beautiful sounding Bible for memorization. It builds on earlier works by Tyndale, and even today is considered one of the most authoritative English language translations.

  • King James Version Easy Reading [75% W4W]
    Common Abbreviation: KJVER
    Shop our Bible Collection: King James Version Easy Reader
    Description: Follows original KLV text. Some minor word changes and updates. One big deal - it's currently the only Bible which has the Old Testament words of God in red.

  • Message Bible, or The Message Bible [100% T4T]
    Common Abbreviation: MSG
    Shop our Bible Collection: Message Bibles
    Description: Surprisingly fresh, natural language. Think of it as The Bible 'Light'. It's simple, but it doesn't leave anything out! A good discussion Bible. A true 'seekers' Bible and perfect for beginners wanting to really understand the original intent of God's Word, in a quick and easy way.

  • New American Bible [100% W4W]
    Common Abbreviation: NAB
    Shop our Bible Collection: NAB Bibles
    Description: The most familiar Bible for Catholics, often read in mass. A very literal translation. Recognized as the first English Bible from the Catholic Church. Written at more of an adult reading level. If you are looking for a good quality Catholic Bible, then this translation will be a great addition to your collection.

  • New American Standard Bible [100% W4W]
    Common Abbreviations NASB & NAS, for the revised version NASB2 & NA2
    Shop our Bible Collection: New American Standard Bibles
    Description: An accurate, very literal Bible, paying close attention to the original Hebrew and Greek. Good for personal study, but at a higher grade reading level.[W4W]

  • New Century Version [75% T4T]
    Common Abbreviation NCV
    Shop our Bible Collection: New Century Version Bibles
    Description: It's all about clear communication! If you want a Bible that sneaks up on teens and non church-ites, this is it. A modern language for new Bible readers.

  • New Jerusalem Bible [100%+ W4W]
    Common Abbreviation: NJB
    Shop our Bible Collection: New Jerusalem Bibles
    Description: In 1996 French scholars in Jerusalem began translating a strictly literal Bible from the best Hebrew, Aramaic, & Greek texts"..to preserve the most sacred Christian traditions and stories.."They succeeded!

  • New King James Version [W4W]
    Common Abbreviations: NKJ & NKJV
    Shop our Bible Collection: New King James Version Bibles
    Description: Very close to the KJV, but in more contemporary language. ("He sayeth unto thee", is now, "He said..." etc) Great devotional and study Bible. An extremely popular translation.

  • New International Version [T4T & W4W more T4T]
    Common Abbreviation: NIV
    Shop our Bible Collection: New International Version Bibles
    Description: A fully modern English version. Good balance - highly accurate, smooth reading sentence structure. A very good readers version, and perfect for group study.

  • New International Readers Version [75% T4T]
    Common Abbreviation: NIRV & NRV
    Shop our Bible Collection: New International Readers Version Bibles
    Description: A thorough simplification of the NIV. Thought for thought but with an emphasis on "meaning". Short, simple sentences, makes an excellent transition from a childrens to an adult Bible. Makes an excellent outreach Bible.

  • New Living Translation [T4T & W4W good balance]
    Common Abbreviation: NLT
    Shop our Bible Collection: New Living Translation Bibles
    Description: Uses up-to-date language; vocabulary and sentence structure in common use. Employs the philosophy "closest natural equivalent" to the original message. Popular preaching Bible in many churches.

  • New Revised Standard Version [90% W4W]
    Common Abbreviations: NRSV & NRS
    Shop our Bible Collection: New Revised Standard Version Bibles
    Description: You’ll find it in Catholic, Baptist and independent churches. Reads like a KJV, but uses "everyone" instead of "men" all the time. Devotion and study.

  • The Living Bible [T4T & W4W stronger T4T]
    Common Abbreviation: TLB
    Shop our Bible Collection: The Living Bible
    Description: The first widely-accepted paraphrased Bible. Adults, kids, and pastors all need one, but don't replace your regular study Bible; just add this one.

  • Today's New International Version [T4T & W4W more T4T]
    Common Abbreviations: TNIV & TNI
    Shop our Bible Collection: The New International Version Bibles
    Description: Updates the language from the original NIV, and makes it a version for today's generations to use for study, and devotions.

Spanish Bible Translations   "Biblias en Español, Versión"

  • La Biblia d Las Americas [W4W]
    Abbreviations: LBLA & LBL
    Shop our Bible Collection: La Biblia d Las Americas
    Description: The Spanish version of the English NASB. Adults, pastors, and ministries use it. A great Spanish word-for-word translation. Highly accurate. Easily understood.

      "La NASB español. Los adultos, los pastores, y los ministerios de usarlo. Un gran español traducción palabra por palabra. De   alta precisión. Fácil de entender ."

  • Nueva Version Internacional [T4T]
    Abbreviation: NVI
    Shop our Bible Collection: Neuva Version Internacional
    Description: Rich and strong like the Spanish language! Translators from nearly every South American country contributed cultural details. A truly meaningful Bible!

      "Rica y fuerte, como el idioma español! Traductores forma casi todos los países de Sur contribuyó del América detalles   sobre el cultivo. Un verdadero sentido Biblia!"

  • Reina-Valera Revised 1960 [W4W]
    Abbreviation: RVR
    Shop our Bible Collection: Reina-Valera
    Description: Totally word-for-word Greek and Hebrew to Spanish. It also includes comparisons to prior versions of the RVR. Also known as the Spanish KJV/King James Version

      "Totalmente palabra por palabra griego y el hebreo al español. También incluye comparaciones con las versiones anteriores   del RVR."

Joseph Kerr Deeper Calling Media 2011©: We hope this article has provided you with some assistance on outlining the various translations available and how they compare. For further assistance, call one of our Bible Specialists at 888-433-3788 during Business Hours and we will be only to happy to assist you with your needs. Special thanks to Zondervan Publishing, and Thomas Nelson Publishing for some content. Used by permission.

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