The original books of the Bible were written in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). Parts of Daniel’s books and the Gospel of Matthew may have been originally written in Aramaic.
Many translations have been made over the years. In the early days of Christianity, the Hebrew Old Testament was usually read in a Greek translation (the so-called Septuagint). As the church spread, the need for translations grew, taking the sacred text into widely accepted languages as well as local tongues. The Bible was soon translated into Latin (the language of the Roman Empire), Syriac (an Eastern Aramaic language), Coptic (Egyptian) and Arabic. After 500 AD some of the writings consider that writings already exist in more than 500 languages.
Unfortunately, translations were not always accurate and errors were made. For this reason – and also because they did not want “ordinary” people to read the Bible – the (Roman) Catholic Church forbade further translations and used only a certain Latin text known as Vulgate, which had been translated from Greek around 600 AD In the 1380s, the first English translations were made by John Wycliffe. In 1455, the printing company was invented (Gutenberg), and mass production capabilities made further English versions and other language translations more readily available.
Hundreds of translations into English (an estimated 450) have been made over the years. Some of the best known are: King James (KJV, 1611), New International Version (NIV, 1978), New King James (NKJV, 1982), New American Standard Bible (NASB, 1971) and English Standard Version (ESV, 2001) ). This large number of translations is usually grouped into three main categories:
Literal Translations: These translate the original texts word for word into the best English equivalent words. These translations are sometimes also referred to as interlinear translations, location of the English rendering along side of the original Hebrew and Greek. While arguably the most accurate translations, they can be difficult to read because the flow of the stream follows the original Hebrew and Greek, quite different from modern English. the NASB as well as ESV are good examples of literal translations.
Dynamic equivalent translations: These translations try to be as literal as possible, but restructure sentences and grammar from the original language to English. They try to capture the thoughts and intentions of what writers would say. As a result, these are more readable in English, but have a higher degree of subjective interpretation than the literal translations. These translations include KJV. NKJV, and NIV.
Modern language translations: These translations rewrite the thought and intent of the original text into modern English. The result is easy to read, but the text is largely a subjective interpretation of the translator. These versions, such as the well-known The message and The new live translation, should be contacted with great care. Use them for supplementary reading, but be aware that these texts may (and often do) differ significantly from the original Bible texts.
Every translation requires interpretation. Why? Because language does not translate one by one. That is, not every word has a unique word that matches it in the second language. Some tongues are also richer in terms than English (such as Greek) or smaller in vocabulary (such as Hebrew). A translator must interpret the original meaning and find an equivalent wording, but this makes the result subject to the translators’ prior. Bottom line: interpretations are different and errors can occur. When translations differ markedly, research in the original language can help clarify the message.
To complicate things a little, a small number of NT verses are not supported by all ancient manuscripts; this forces translators to decide which verses to incorporate. Most translators are careful to err on the safe side and note to the reader any verse that is not supported by the majority of manuscripts.
As an illustration, let’s look at the Lord’s Prayer from Matt 6: 9-13 in the new international version and the King James version:
The Lord’s Prayer in King James:
“Pray therefore in this way, ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom cometh. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts. which we forgive our debtors and do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For it is rich and power and honor forever. Amen. ‘ “
Now read the Lord’s Prayer in the NIV:
“Thus, pray, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, which we have also forgiven. our debtors and does not lead us into temptation but saves us from the evil one. ‘ Apart from “old” English versus more modern English style, you should notice the two differences in the last verse:
“The evil “versus” the evil. ” KJV asks for exemption from “evil “ while the NIV asks to free us from “The evil. “ There is a significant difference between the two. The original Greek text actually uses an adjective with an article whereby “The evil“the only correct translation. When we pray, we pray to be saved from the evil one, not from any danger, disaster or from the general evil of the world.
An extra sentence. Compared to NIV, KJV has an extra sentence at the end: “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. ” This is a good illustration of a later addition to the oldest preserved Greek manuscripts. As the NIV mentions in a footnote: “some late manuscripts: for yours is kingdom and power and honor forever. Amen.“Other verses in the NT have similar additions. None of these have decisive theological consequence, but it is important to be aware of these variations. Therefore, the differences between the different English translations are not the result of differences in the existing (still existing) old manuscripts, but only the result of choices (and sometimes errors) made by translators during the translation into English.