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Lesson 20: The Bible Is Unique In Its Various Translations

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The Bible is the single-most translated book in the world. There are over 7,097 known languages and the complete Bible has only been translated into approximately 700 of them. But with that said, a portion of the Bible has been translated into 3,312 of the 7,097 known languages.1 It is difficult to determine how many English translations there are because it is hard to distinguish between a new translation and a revision. However, there are as many as fifty documented English Bible translations.2

Why are there so many English translations, especially when considering there are thousands of other languages without a translation? There are three reasons for continually updating an English translation: (1) Because of archaeological findings in the last few centuries, new Bible manuscripts have been found which are older and more trustworthy than previous manuscripts. Though the differences are minor, they still, at times, require updates to older translations or for new translations to be created. (2) The English language is always changing. If one were to read an English Bible translation from 400 years ago, it would be virtually incomprehensible to most English speakers today. Changes include spelling, grammar, and phraseology, which makes updated Bible translation necessary. (3) There are different Bible translations based on method of translation. The two primary methods are formal equivalence (literal), which attempts to translate word for word from the original language. The other method is dynamic equivalence (paraphrase), which attempts to translate the author’s original thought. The strength of the word for word method is that the translator inserts less interpretation (what the translator thinks it means) into the translation. However, the weakness is that it often sacrifices readability. The strength of the thought for thought method is readability, and its weakness is often more of “this is what the translator thinks it means” rather than “this is what it says.”3 Each Bible translation is at different points of the word for word (formal) and thought for thought (dynamic) scale. For example, consider the graph below with various translations and their place on the scale:

Word for Word (Formal)

Thought for Thought (Dynamic)












Living Message

The most literal or “word for word” versions are the New American Standard Bible (NASB), English Standard Version (ESV), and the King James Version (KJV). The most paraphrased versions are the Message, Living Bible, and the New Living Translation (NLT). The New International Version (NIV) and New English Translation (NET) strike a balance between the two translation methods.

Below are examples of the same verse in some of the popular English translations, and the slight differences between them:







Proverbs 18:24

A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.

A man of many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

There are “friends” who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.

Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.


Which English Bible translation is the best one or the one a person should use? All the Bible versions have their strengths and weaknesses. The right Bible depends on what factors are most important for an individual. Is readability most important? In that case, the person should try the NLT or NIV. Is translation closest to the original language most important (which is often necessary for teachers and preachers)? Then perhaps the person should select the NASB or ESV. It has been said the best Bible version is the version that one will read most. In studying Scripture, it is best to use multiple versions, since no single translation can capture all of the original meaning.


  1. In the reading, what aspect about Bible translation stood out most to you and why?
  2. Why are new Bible translations and updates continually necessary?
  3. What is your favorite Bible version to read/study and why?
  4. What other questions or applications do you have from the reading?

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

BTG Publishing all rights reserved.

1 How many languages has the Bible been translated into?” accessed 8/13/19 from

2 What are the different English Bible versions? Accessed 8/13/19 from

3 What are the different English Bible versions? Accessed 8/13/19 from

4 “Translation Comparison Charts” accessed 8/13/19 from

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Bibliology (The Written Word)

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