Saturday, August 20, 2011

Why Are There So Many Different English Translations of the Bible?

Short answer: Because not all bibles have the same list of books, because there are different ways to translate the text, and because translators don’t always have the same manuscripts at their disposal.

Long answer: There are three reasons for this. First, Protestant bibles don’t have the same list of books that Catholic bibles have. Specifically, they lack 7 books from the Old Testament: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and 1st and 2nd Maccabees (as well as portions of Esther and Daniel). The Protestant reformers removed these books when they left the Catholic Church in the 1500's. So, this is why you have “Protestant” and “Catholic” versions of the bible.

Secondly, translators don't always agree on the best way to translate the Bible. Some prefer a literal translation, where every word is translated into the English word that directly corresponds to it. Others prefer a "dynamic equivalence" translation, where sentences are paraphrased in order to communicate their overall meaning and to increase readability. Even among these two groups, there are differences of opinion regarding the best way to render a word or paraphrase a sentence.

Finally, the various English versions of the bible also differ based on the manuscripts and source material that were used. For example, the Douay-Rheims version is an English translation of the Latin Vulgate, which was St. Jerome’s Latin translation of the original Greek and Hebrew. The King James version is largely a revision of an earlier English translation called The Bishop’s Bible, with the original Hebrew and Greek consulted when necessary. Newer English versions, such as the New International Version and the New American Bible, benefit from the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, whereas translators of the older versions did not have these at their disposal.

All of this comes together to contribute to the great number of English versions of the Bible that we have today. As a Catholic, the best thing to do is to have several Catholic translations available. Choose one that you like the best and use that as the bible you turn to the most, but have the other ones on hand in case you want to further investigate a passage. A lot of times, one translation will reveal a new meaning to a passage that another version does not, because it is translated differently.

For more information about this, see the "Bible Translations Guide" from Catholic Answers.

Pax Christi,

1 comment:

  1. There is at least one other important reason. Language is dynamic. Translations that were good in 1800 are out of date because the English language has changed so much since then.


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