Ever wondered why there are so many translations? Or asked, how do I know which one I should use? Augustine, a theological scholar of the Church who wrote in the late 300’s AD, noted the use of many translations actually helps the reader to produce a better rendering of the original text.
Still, what is the difference? There are many good books to help with this study, which I will list at the end of the article. Meanwhile, there are two basic considerations.
First, consider the goal of the translation. Some seek to be word for word, or ‘essentially literal.’ Wayne Grudem defines it as something that “translates the meaning of every word in the original language, understood correctly in its context, into its nearest English equivalent.” Some Bibles that fall into that category are the KJV, NKJV, NASB, and ESV.
Other translations seek ‘dynamic equivalence’. Grudem says, “A dynamic-equivalence translation translates the thoughts or ideas of the original text into similar thoughts or ideas in English.” Bible versions following this method strictly include the NLB, CEV, and NCV. These tend to be periphrastic. The NIV is basically dynamic-equivalent, but includes some ‘essentially literal’ portions, which places it between the two categories.
So the difference is whether the translators are seeking to find exact words, or what they believe to be equivalent thoughts in modern English. You can see how it may be helpful to read both when studying.
Secondly, consider the sources used for the translation. There are three basic families to consider for the New Testament. The NIV, NASB, and ESV are among those that come from the Alexandrian family, known as the oldest manuscripts (also known as ‘Critical Text’). The KJV and NKJV are among those that come from the Byzantine family of manuscripts, which are not as old but are in much greater abundance (also known as ‘Textus Receptus’). The New American Bible, Jerusalem Bible, and Rhemes New Testament are among the Western family (Latin text – mostly Catholic). The differences in these families can seem significant in some cases, but theologically they do not create any differences in doctrine.
For example Catholics baptize infants, but that is based on tradition, not their Bible translation. The NIV from the Alexandrian does not include Acts 8:37, which can clarify the timing or basis of baptism clarified by its inclusion in the Byzantine used by the NKJV. However, clarification and true difference in doctrine are not the same issue. One can use other texts in the Alexandrian to support the same doctrine.
I like to use the NKJV because it falls into both categories that I prefer – literal and Byzantine.. Many use the ESV, which is literal and Alexandrian. Others in our congregation prefer the ease of reading that the NIV offers
For further study check these out.
“AVisual History of the English Bible” by Donald L. Brake. It is filled with charts and other helpful illustrations. (317 pages)
“Which Bible translation Should I Use?” Edited by Andreas J. Kostenberger and David Croteau. This is a comparison of 4 translations, which favors the ESV. It is a collection of articles by scholars edited for the layman. (196 pages)
The Bible in Translation by Bruce M. Metzger. This is written in a more scholarly fashion. Good book if you want more information on the ancient manuscripts. (190 pages)