Recently a friend of mine on Facebook posted why they use the KJV vs. the NIV. One of their questions was why are there so many different English translations. Here was my response on why there are so many different translations in English today:
because there is no direct translation for every Greek or Hebrew word into every English word. all translations have some interpretation involved because of it being from one language to another. the best is to read the Bible in original Greek or Hebrew but most people don’t know these languages. No english translation is exactly word-to-word, they all have to translate what the original authors were saying into readable English. Word to word would be impossible to understand. Which means there will always be some interpretation by the translators – even the KJV is not a direct word-to-word translation of the original Greek or Hebrew. No translation is perfect unfortunately.
While I don’t think I convinced my friend on what he believes regarding the KJV and other Bible translations, I thought it does make for some interesting discussions. I’ve read several books recently that deal with why there are different translations, the philosophy behind them and the problems that are inherent in any translation.
Unless we are able to read the Bible in its original languages – Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic – we have to use a translation. Translations will always have some error involved because they are done by humans. At times there is no direct word-for-word translation between the original language and our English language today. The translators have to translate what the writer was saying but there may not be a word in English that matches what the original language word is. So they have to determine the proper English translation that is closest to what the original language meant. Sometimes that may take a phrase rather than a single word. So there will always be some interpretation involved with any translation – even the KJV! It is better not to rely solely on one translation but to use a variety of translations for Bible study.
Some helpful books that I have read on this subject include the following:
The Complete Guide to Bible Translations by Ron Rhodes
How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth by Mark Strauss & Gordon Fee
Books on cultural and other contexts for remembering when reading the Bible:
Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien
Out of Context by Richard Schultz
Haven’t read myself but deal with this subject:
A User’s Guide to Bible Translations by David Dewey
Which Bible Translation Should I Use? A Comparison of 4 Major Recent Versions by multiple authors
One Bible, Many Versions by Dave Brunn
Translating the Bible: from William Tyndale to King James by Gerald Bray
Translating Truth: The Case for Essentially Literal Bible Translation by Leland Ryken, Wayne Grudem, and more