Why so many Bible differences between different versions?
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
Answered by Travis Hutchinson, Pastor, Professor, Surfing Instructor
We don’t have any copies of the original Bible texts. They have been copied over the millennia by many different copyists in many different locations. We call this process “transmission.”
Some Christian groups have more texts than others in their Bibles: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox to name the main ones.
All major Christian groups agree on the 66 books that comprise the Protestant Bible. The process of determining which books go in the Bible is “canonization.”
While there have been controversies about this at times, Christians have generally believed in and supported taking the Bible from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek into the languages of the nations. This is called “translation.”
When studying Bible transmission, a process called “textual study,” Christian’s work in diverse groups of scholars from different denominations and even atheists and other skeptics to recover the original form of the text.
This has produced three different original language texts that are in wide use today: the Eclectic Text, the Majority Text and the Byzantine Text. These three texts are so similar that only specialists can easily describe the differences.
Textual errors generally crept in through the natural limitations of visual or auditory copying. I’m not going into those limitations while thumbing this answer on my iPhone.
Another class of error is scribes trying to fix things that they think are errors. The idea that Bible transmission is significantly influenced by intentional changes to the text is not entertained by most textual scholars.
There are many places in the Bible where the original reading is in question. Most of these are issues of spelling, grammar or non-critical phrases.
Aside from two accounts in the NT, the validity of no Christian doctrine is in question nor is the integrity of any significant narrative.
The two places in question are the account of the woman caught in adultery in John and the ending of the Gospel of Mark. Both of these issues are clearly noted in modern Bible versions.
When a Bible is translated anew into a receptor language (such as English), we call that a “version.” The King James and the New International Versions are examples of this. English has more Bible versions than any other language.
The translation of Greek does not involve much debate regarding meaning. We have such a large corpus of Ancient Greek texts; the debates are largely about usage and nuance. The general meanings of words are not really up for debate.
The translation of Hebrew is a slightly different story. We have some genuine mystery regarding a small number of verbs and a larger number of nouns, especially names of flora and fauna.
We do have a 2nd century BC translation of the Bible into Greek which reveals how that large group of Jews took the Hebrew text.
We also have cousin languages (such as Ugaritic) to compare Hebrew to.
Translation, then, becomes largely about preference. Most translations have very few real differences in meaning. Most groups do not ideologically skew the text because they would get hammered for it. One group does so in a few places, but they DO get hammered for it and other Christian groups don’t consider them Christian.
There are many issues with translation which can produce differing Bible versions. I’ll just hit a few. The first question is do you strive for literal word for word correspondence?
If you do, it might make the underlying text more visible, but the version will read like a second-year language student.
It won’t flow well, which can distort the meaning by making it hard to read. You can abandon that by going with an idea for idea correspondence, which puts a great deal of responsibility in the hands of the translator.
Do you strive for a certain reading level? Many translations strive for a certain reading level, which smooths out some of the more difficult passages.
Do you translate your Bible for reading aloud (KJV)? Or do you aim for beauty as literature? Fun fact, when the Jerusalem Bible was translated into English, J.R.R. Tolkien sat on the style committee.
I’ve simplified a few things, but I hope you get the basic idea. In Christian communities, the translation used is not considered a very big deal.
I’m not aware of any major Christian group (not referring to sects which don’t consider other groups Christians) which mandates a certain English translation. Best advice, read several and use what works for you.
There are many versions because people enjoy fresh translations of the Bible.
Also, language changes over time and even the same language (such as English) can clearly reflect the differences of culture and geography. Since Christians believe God’s Word is for all, they have an interest in taking it into different dialects and cultures, even within the same language