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Bible or Bibles?

Photo courtesy faith

You wander into a bookshop and, as you browse, you see the section of religious books. You pause and think of your days in Sunday school, perhaps many years ago, and you look specifically at the Bibles.

Then you notice something odd: one Bible has the letters KJV on it, another has NIV, another has RSV, one says Good News and one says The Message. You know – from memory at least – that there’s only one Bible, but here they seem to be selling five different versions. Which is the real one?

The Bible is the world’s best-selling book. However, it’s not the work of one writer, and it was written over a period of more than 1500 years.

The Bible is not so much a book as a library. It contains 66 books, divided into an Old Testament (37 books) and a New Testament (29 books) written by more than 40 authors and in ancient Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. Yes, that’s right: the Bible was not written in English.

When the Christian Church began – around 2000 years ago, based on the teachings and life of Christ – it was recognised that some ‘sacred’ writings were circulating among believers. Some of these had been available for many years (like the Psalms and the earliest books in the Bible, such as Exodus and Deuteronomy), while some were brand new (such as the biographies of Jesus by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

So, over several centuries, Church councils would meet to discuss which books should be collected together to form one holy book for Christians. Some were rejected (often because they seemed inconsistent with the other books), while some were accepted as they seemed accurate, helpful, consistent and even divinely inspired.

In 405CE, Pope Damasus I released a Bible that became known as the Vulgate (from the same word that gives us ‘vulgar’, meaning popular or commonly used), a complete Bible of approved books for Christians to read.

The Vulgate was a direct translation from the original languages; that is, the translators had translated ancient Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic into Latin.

The first English Bible was released in 1384 by John Wycliffe, and it was a translation from the Latin Vulgate. In 1525, William Tyndale produced the first English New Testament translated directly from ancient Greek, and in 1535, Myles Coverdale produced the first whole Bible, in English, translated from the original languages.

Several other translations were then produced before King James I released the King James Version (KJV) in 1611. It also became known as the Authorised Version as the official, royally authorised translation of the Bible.

It dominated the Church for the next 270 years until it was revised and re-released in the 1880s as – surprise, surprise – the Revised Version. Many other translations have followed as the skill and understanding of translators have improved and to keep up to date with modern English.

Distinct from these are Bible versions known as ‘paraphrases’. This is when the editors don’t translate from the original text but, instead, say: “Hmm, how would I say that?”. So, whereas a translator might put Psalm 23 verse one as, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (KJV), a paraphrase such as the Living Bible says, “Because the Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need.”

Is one of them wrong? No, they’re saying the same thing, just in a slightly different way.

So, when you see different Bibles, feel free to look at the language they’re using – maybe one is easier to read for you than another, but don’t then conclude that one is wrong. They all tell the same truth – God loves you!


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