Why are there so many Translations of the Bible?

By Eric Johnson

The following article is found in Holmans’ The Apologetics Study Bible for Students, an excellent Bible resource for those who want to learn more about the Bible and their faith. Available at Amazon in paper,hardcover, tan imitation leather and blue imitation leather

The original manuscripts of the Bible were written in Aramaic and Hebrew (Old Testament) as well as Koine Greek (New Testament). In order to read the Bible as it was originally written, a person would need to learn these ancient languages. However, few are willing to invest so heavily in what can be a very time-consuming and difficult work. In order for modern people to read the Bible, translators are commissioned to take the ancient words and make them understandable today. Even though this job has been going on for hundreds of years, less than half of all 7,000 languages in the world have even one translated book of the Bible.

As far as English is concerned, a variety of translations has been produced for more than six centuries. The first complete English translation of the Bible (from the Latin Vulgate) was put together by John Wycliffe at the end of the 14th century despite opposition by the Roman Catholic Church. When Johannes Gutenberg invented the first movable type printing press in the 15th century, the ways of the literary world were transformed. Instead of having to copy the Bible letter by letter, copies could now be churned out by the pages. As a result, a number of 16th century English translations were produced.

For instance, William Tyndale—the first to translate the Bible into English from Hebrew and Greek manuscripts—smuggled his Bibles into England despite opposition from the Catholic Church. Believing that common people deserved the Bible in their language, Tyndale famously said, “I defy the Pope and all his laws: and if God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scriptures than thou dost.” Other English translations from this era include the Coverdale Bible, the Matthews Bible, the Geneva Bible, the Bishops’ Bible, and the Roman Catholic Douay-Rheims Version.

In 1611, the King James Version became the standard translation in the English world for more than four centuries. In the 19th century, Bible translators were given access to biblical manuscripts that were not available to earlier translators, including the very reliable Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Alexandrinus. In addition, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947; these manuscripts from Israel were dated as early as 100 BC, which predated the earliest manuscripts of that day by about 1,000 years.

With the wealth of these reliable manuscripts and the goal to modernize the language for contemporary readers, a number of Bible translations have been produced since the second half of the 20th century. Some of the more popular modern versions are the Revised Standard Version (1952), the New American Standard Bible (1971), the New International Version (1978), the New King James Version (1982), Today’s English Version (1992), the Contemporary English Version (1995), the New Living Translation (1996), The Message (2002), and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (2003). Each translation attempts to put the language of the Bible into words that can be easily understood, giving readers many good choices today.


If you are a Latter-day Saint and have a tough time reading/understanding the Bible, why not give a modern translation a try to help you better understand what God’s Word is trying to say? Consider the different versions at biblegateway.com.       

For information on the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, see here.

For more articles on the topic of the Bible, go here.