How Many Bible Translations Are There?

How many Bible translations are there?  For many Christians, one of their first questions after converting is “Which Bible should I get?”.  I vividly remember going to my local Christian bookstore for the first time and staring at a wall of different Bible translations.  What did all those three letter names mean? KJV, NKJV, NIV, ESV, NASB, RNRSV, The Message.  I was swimming in a sea of Bible translations! Which one should I pick?

There are roughly 7,300 languages currently being spoken worldwide.  Of those, around 3,300 offers at least a partial translation of the Bible.  Currently there are around 50 common English translations being produced.  

How The Translations Produced?

Its commonly thought that the Bible was translated into another language, and then all future copies translate off the previous translation.  This isn’t how it works though.  These are not copies of copies of copies as is often put forward by atheists.  Each translation starts fresh.  The scholars are looking at the oldest reliable copies and fragments of the original manuscripts to translate. 

Translations are usually done by a group of scholars in the field working under one general editor.  Occasionally an individual will produce a translation without a team.  While an individual translation is not necessarily bad, it does mean that you are getting the input of only one person, as opposed to a team of experts. 

One word of caution as we talk about the translations. Both the Mormon Church and the Jehovah’s Witnesses produce their own translations of the Bible.  They are known respectively as the “Joseph Smith” translation and the “New World” translation. Both of these translations have significant issues with accuracy.  They are produced to reflect the theology of these groups.  They are not accepted by modern scholarship as being a true representation of the original text.

Which One Should I Pick?

This may sound like a cop out, but there is no one “right” translation of the Bible.  There are three broad categories of translations.  We have another Quick Challenge Answer that discusses the philosophies behind these different types of translations. 

Which one you pick will largely depend on what you are using in for. If you are looking for a very precise translation that attempts to get every word as close as possible to the original, I recommend the NKJV, ESV or NRSV.  

If you are looking for a Bible that is more concerned with getting the meaning of the passage across rather than the exact wording, the NIV or NLT are good choices. They are very readable and flow nicely, but may lack the precision of word choices in the previous group. 

Bibles like The Message are attempting to be very readable, almost like a story or modern book.  They should not be used as a study tool in general, but may offer a good paraphrase to help get an idea across.  

I strongly recommend that you have at least one translation of the Bible that your home Church uses.  This will make Bible studies and group readings much easier, as you are all working from the same text.  It also lends to a greater sense of community and limits unnecessary interruptions as people discuss the differences in word choices on particular passages. 

What’s your preferred translation?  We’d love to hear from you! 

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