Are There Too Many Bibles?

When I showed my new copy of the New King James Bible to a friend, he commented: "There are too many Bibles; I am staying with the Authorized Version"; which comment raises two interesting questions: Why are there so many versions? And who authorized the Authorized Version?

As far as is known, the original text of the Hebrew Holy Scriptures was in the Hebrew language. Even before the time of Jesus Christ, it had been translated into other languages, Aramaic and Greek, for the Jews who lived in lands where Hebrew was not usually spoken, while the Christian Scriptures were written in the international language of the times, Greek.

The next major translation of the whole of the Scriptures was into Latin, the language of the great Roman Empire, and of the Roman Catholic Church. This was known as the Vulgate Version.

Early attempts to produce a Bible in English were made by King Alfred and by John Wycliffe, as few people could read Latin or Greek. It was eventually King James I who authorized the production of the English Authorized Version, also known as the King James Bible. But before this, King Henry VIII had authorized his Great Bible, the first printed Bible to be placed in all English churches. The accurate translation of an ancient language into a modern one presents problems for the translators. Even in the Tanakh, the modern translation from Hebrew by Jewish scholars, there are frequent footnotes that the meaning of the Hebrew is unknown. In such cases the context usually helps the translator to make sense of the passage. Sometimes, with the passage of time, a better understanding of an ancient word comes to light from other writings, so that a revised translation becomes preferable.

Also, language is not static, and words change their meaning over the centuries. For these reasons, revised versions become necessary from time to time, and the result is the number of versions that tend to confuse some readers.

Even at the time when King James authorized the production of the well-known King James Version, the king complained that there were too many versions of the Bible, and gave this for his reason in ordering yet another translation. Doubtless he hoped that his version would be the definitive translation into English for all time. It has stood the test of time remarkably well, and has influenced the English language for centuries. However, some of its words have now changed their meaning, hence the need for the New King James Version.

By John V. Collyer