Bible Translation Dates/Translation Basics
B. Hodge, Biblical Authority Ministries, October 28, 2020
There are basically two ways to translate from one language into another:
1. Word-for-word (Sometimes called a literal translation or formal equivalence)
2. Thought-for-thought (sometimes called dynamic equivalence)
Word-for-word is accurate to the word but can sometimes fail to get the point across if it is figurative language. For example, if I say in English “let’s hit the sack”, this means “to go to bed” but translating that into Spanish word-for-word would be to “literally” hit a sack, and not go to bed. So the thought wouldn’t get across.
Therefore, sometimes you need to use a thought-for-thought translation on particular verses. However, doing a thought-for-thought can lead to adding the translators own ideas to the translation and avoid what the text actually says if the translator goes too far. So, one shouldn’t go completely thought-for-thought either. There needs to be a balance.
The NASB, KJV, ESV, and NKJV and so on are known as word-for-word translations though not entirely word-for-word.
The older NIV is a mixture of word-for-word in some cases and thought-for-thought in other cases. Again, a word of caution needs to be stated when deviating too far into the thought-for-thought translations since one may end up with the translator’s interpretation of the verse rather than the verse itself.
In light of this, it is be better to err on the side of literal or formal equivalence as opposed to dynamic equivalence. This is why scholarly respect is given to translations that are closer to word-for-word such as the KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB, AMP, and so on). They use word-for-word but also some dynamic equivalence when necessary, some more than others.
Do we have the originals texts to translate from?
The original writings by the original authors are the inspired text. But as such, not one has survived to this date that we know of. Copies were encouraged (Deuteronomy 17:18). This precedent was followed in the New Testament so that the reading of various epistles could be accomplished by different churches (e.g., Colossians 4:16, 2 Corinthians 3:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:27). This shows the value in the inherent text, not the original penned version.
The logical question that follows is “how do we know what the original text said?” Within Christianity, there are two primary arguments and both stem from Psalms 12:6-7 and other passages (e.g., Matthew 5:18 and Matthew 24:35) which states that the Word of God would be preserved and will not pass away.
This brings us to the question of “preservation,” which is distinct from inerrancy (which applied to the original autographs). Knowing that God revealed that He would preserve His Word (Psalm 12:6–7), there are two views on how this preservation has taken place:
1. One preserved inerrant copy of a copy of a copy (etc.) has been passed down (some claim one per language).
2. Preservation has occurred by the very fact that numerous copies exist which allow us to observe the original via textual analysis.
Evaluating the first view, and strictly looking at the Old Testament, the Masoretic text (MT) is easily the best collection of Hebrew manuscripts (where our earliest extant copy is about AD 900); however, we need to keep in mind that it, too, is a copy of a copy of a copy, etc. And copyists were never given the privilege of prophetic inerrancy, unlike the prophets or apostles whose God-given authority allowed for an inspired text. Although the MT may be the best, we need to be careful about in-depth studies of words and phrases without consulting other ancient texts.
Consider that Jesus quoted from the Old Testament about 64 times in the Gospels. More than half of His quotes agree with the precision of wording in both the LXX (Septuagint – a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures done about 200-250 years before Christ but out earliest copies are about AD 400) and the MT. In 12 instances, Jesus’ quotes differ from both the LXX and the MT. In 7 instances, His quotations side with the LXX over the MT. And in another 12 instances, Jesus’ phraseology agrees with the MT over the LXX.
So if we make a case that other ancient texts such as the LXX, Samaritan Pentateuch (an ancient Hebrew copy of the first five books of the Bible done in Samaria) should never be used instead of the MT, then Jesus would be in error as He clearly didn’t draw explicitly from what we know today as the MT (which existed far after Jesus earthly life anyway).
Throughout the history of the church, the second view has been dominant. Jerome, who translated the Latin Vulgate around A.D. 400 relied on multiple Greek texts when he translated the New Testament and went to Bethlehem to gain access to multiple Hebrew texts of the Old Testament.
With English translations, for example, from Tyndale forward, each translator made use of textually criticized texts (looking at several texts to make sure you are using accurate Greek text for the New Testament) and often consulted variant texts when doing translations. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The idea that one inerrant copy lineage has been passed along is a relatively new idea that, sadly, doesn’t take into account the past.
Early English translators relied heavily on the various Textus Receptus (TR) editions, published copies of the Greek New Testament, as well as a few other sources, whether English, Latin, or other. Dutch Catholic Erasmus in 1516 did textual criticism of a handful of variant copies (three primary copies and three others) of the Greek New Testament to arrive at this standard text. He even used quotations by church fathers for comparison and back-translated excerpts of Revelation from the Latin Vulgate that did not appear in any versions of his Greek copies.
Erasmus issued three editions of his Greek New Testament, the latter editions correcting earlier errors as he got a hold of more Greek texts. His first edition, some say, was rushed for competition with another family of texts that was used for the Roman Catholic Polyglot Bible, and it became the dominant text used throughout Europe.
Others, such Stephanus, Beza, and the Elzevir brothers, further edited Erasmus’s TR for subsequent printings when they gained access to other Greek texts. So early English translations such as Tyndale’s, the Geneva Bible, Luther’s Bible, and other New Testaments generally came from this text family because this was what was available. But even then, popular versions such as the King James New Testament differs from the TR nearly 170 times and over 60 times agreed with the Latin Vulgate over any Greek text, including the TR.
Since the time of Erasmus, nearly 5,300 Greek texts and fragments have been documented. So why remain confined to Erasmus’s small library that didn’t even have a complete version of Revelation in Greek? There have been many attempts to utilize these other texts instead of ignore them. Among the most popular was Westcott and Hort’s text. But as far as we know, no modern translation uses the Westcott and Hort text except the poorly translated New World Translation.
There has been further study and textual criticism to arrive at standard texts. Today, the latest editions are used when translating the Bible, whether Old Testament or New Testament.
But just for the reader’s sake, there are very few discrepancies (mostly spellings and slightly varied words from generation to generation) between something like the TR and modern texts – nothing that would any major theology would hinge on. It shows the competence of copyists throughout the ages. With the Old Testament, the Lord has preserved other texts besides the MT so that we’re able to compare various texts – consider the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient texts (Peshitta, Samaritan Pentateuch, etc.). The point is that God has preserved His Word, just as He said He would.
Some popular English translations and a few the different editions of them:
Wycliffe or WYC 1382-1395 translation from the Latin Vulgate
Tyndale or TYN 1525 (William Tyndale’s Version) (NT only)
TYN or TRC 1535 (NT and OT) (Tyndale’s version with Myles Coverdale to finish it as Tyndale was martyred)
Great Bible 1540 revised and updated Tyndale Bible by Myles Coverdale sometimes known as the Cromwell Bible since he directed the publication; Authorized by King Henry VII
Bishop’s Bible 1568 authorized by the Church of England
Bishop’s Bible 1572 update
Geneva or GSB 1560 (Geneva Study Bible) included apocrypha
Geneva or GSB 1599 (Very archaic spellings, no apocrypha)
GSB 2006 (Updated version with modern spellings)
KJV 1611 (King James Version), includes Apocrypha, authorized by King James
KJV 1613 revision of the 1611
KJV 1629 another revision
KJV 1638 another revision
KJV 1762 Cambridge (Modernized for the time using J instead of I, etc.)
KJV 1779 Oxford (Modernized for the time, this is one of the standard KJVs common today)
WEB 1833 (Noah Webster’s Version from the famous American dictionary creator)
YLT 1862 (Young’s Literal Translation) extreme literal in translation form; that is, formal equivalence, thus making it difficult to understand in places
KJV 1873 (Oxford Parallel, also common today)
KJV 21st Century 1994 (Basically an easier to read KJV – same grammar, sentence structure, but changing some words)
ERV (English Revised Version) Updated KJV in 1881; Authorized, but the first time King James’ name was not used
ASV 1901 (American Standard Version) American rendition of the ERV, which was an update of the KJV; the RSV 1946 and 1971 as well as the NASB 1971 and 1995 are newer styles of this older one
RSV 1946 (Revised Standard Version) update of the ASV
RSV 1971 update
NRSV 1989-90 (New Revised Standard Version) Update of the RSV
NASB 1971 (New American Standard Bible) New translation based on the ASV 1901
NASB 1995 (Revision of the 1971)
NKJV 1979 (New King James Version) (NT only)
NKJV 1982 (NT and OT)
NKJV 1984 (Revision of the 1982)
AMP 1958 (Amplified Version) (NT only)
AMP 1964 (NT and OT)
AMP 1987 updated
NIV 1978 (New International Version) (NT only)
NIV 1984 (Revision of the 1978 NT and has OT)
NLT 1996 Much dynamic equivalence which leads to getting some of the translator’s thoughts. Sometimes gender neutral and thus not as accurate to the original language – this is not to be confused with the Living Bible, which is a paraphrase
ESV 2001 (English Standard Version)
HCSB 2003 (Holman Christian Standard Bible) Southern Baptist translation
CSB 2017 (Update of the Holman Christian Standard Bible)
NET 2005 (New English Translation)
Some versions to really watch out for:
NWT (New World Translation) (Jehovah’s Witnesses have many changes to adhere to their theology, e.g., Jesus is demoted to being a “created god”, that is not really “a god” at all and but is seen as an the angel Michael)
KJV 1833 (“Inspired Version” by Mormons that change over 3,410 verses)
JST 1978 (Joseph Smith Translation) (Latest title of the KJV 1833)
NAB 1970 (New American Bible) Catholic American rendition – it has the added apocrypha
NAB 1995 (New American Bible) Catholic American rendition updated – it has the added apocrypha and changed the Ten Commandments to allow for graven images of God – in fact, with any modern Romanist based Bible you need to look out for things like this.
TNIV (2002 NT, 2005) Gender neutral rejects far too much Greek and Hebrew wording so we would stay away from using it as it does change meanings in some instances
NIV (2011) Gender neutral and hence not accurate to the original texts – now replaces older NIV translations
Living Bible 1962 NT – paraphrase version of the NT, not based on original languages
Living Bible 1971 NT and OT– paraphrase version of the Bible, not based on original languages
Message Bible 1993 NT 2002 NT and OT – paraphrase version of the Bible, not based on original languages
CEB 2009-2011 – liberal translation that is often inaccurate to the Greek and Hebrew. Also includes the Apocrypha
 For a more detailed history of the Bible in English please see Donald Brake, A Visual History of the English Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2008).
 J. McDowell, A Ready Defense (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993), p. 43.