“What’s the deal with all those different translations of the Bible? I don’t understand,” said a young lady during a Bible study.

I am consumed with a lifelong passion for the reading and study of the Bible, but I’ve come to understand that people have questions and misunderstandings about the many English translations of the Bible. To help clarify some of those questions, here are some helpful explanations. The books of the Bible—66 of them—were inspired by God and written by over 40 different authors covering about 1,500 years. The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek. For anyone who does not read or speak those languages to understand the Bible, it must be translated into a language such as English.

2 Peter 1:20-21 (New American Standard Bible) says, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture becomes a matter of someone’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

Some people confuse interpretation of the teachings of the Bible and interpreting one language into a translation in another. Interpretation of language is the work of attempting to most accurately and understandably write a translation of the Bible that helps people clearly discern the intended meaning and importance. Translating, then, is not about providing an explanation of the doctrines taught in the Bible but is simply making one language understandable to someone conversant in another language. There is a proper place for reading the teachings of the Bible and understanding what God meant to convey to the original audience (the first people who received that part of the Bible), what principles and teachings have a universal application (that is they apply to all times), and then making clear what that Bible passage means with specific reference to how we live faithfully for God in our own time. There are principles and rules about the proper way to seek to understand a text from the Bible and those are key in the formation of doctrines. Doctrine is a fancy word that simply means “teaching.” Christian doctrines state in intelligent and clear ways the teaching of the Bible and the ways of faith.

There is a difference between personal interpretation (what I think it says) and doctrine (what many serious Christians through careful study understand it to say). People get into detrimental disagreements over these things. What is key here is to understand that Bible translations are simply trying to make another language clear in a different language. Yet, you may wonder why there are so many translations. For one thing, the English language is in a state of perpetual modification so what was stated clearly years ago may be less clear to a reader today. Another reason for different translations is different ways of translating. Some Bible translations seek to give the best word-for-word translations from the original languages. Other Bible translations seek to translate thought-for-thought. Bible translations also bridge various levels of reading comprehension, some crafted for clarity with children. There are other methods as well.

Scholars of the Bible and many pastors study the Bible in the original languages so that the most forceful and clear meanings can be gleaned. Yet, there are many resources available today for those not trained in the original languages. There are multiple good study Bibles, I also recommend reading the Word in multiple different translations as the varied wording can give a richer understanding. Two things are of critical importance. Read the Bible every day and attend a Bible-believing and teaching church.

Remember above all else that God wants you to benefit from His Word, so the Holy Spirit stands at the ready to help you prosper in the Holy Scriptures.

Contact Pastor Lamb at icumc@yahoo.com.