Reading multiple Bible translations side-by-side is a popular feature on Bible Gateway that’s easy to use and customize (which you can find out exactly how to do here). Whether you’re grappling with a challenging Bible passage, or are just curious to see how different translators approach the same scriptural text, you’ll find it a useful part of your Bible reading.
But why is it useful? And what, exactly, are the main differences between the New International Version (NIV) and the New Living Translation (NLT)? Or between the King James Version (KJV) and the New King James Version (NKJV)? If we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, how can there be so many translations with so many differences?
One answer to this question can be teased out by looking at the two main approaches behind translating the Bible. Both approaches fall on a continuum between translations that prioritize the word and structure of the original text and those that prioritize the ideas expressed. Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek—the languages in which the Bible was originally written—do not easily translate into English or most other languages, regardless of philosophy or beliefs. Scholars may differ on points of clarity, semantics, even theology; and, while most mainstream translations do accurately convey the gospel message, it’s important to recognize that there are sometimes vast differences between biblical translations. It’s important to be curious about those differences.
Below is one relevant portion of the Bible Gateway infographic that illustrates a few basic facts about the Bible itself as a book—its form and structure. Toward the bottom, you can see the spectrum and where different Bible translations are estimated to land on the word/thought dichotomy. This will give you some reference for understanding where each of these translations are coming from and what differences you might find between them.
You can download the entire Bible Basics Infographic for free when you sign up for our Visual Verse of the Day, so that you can easily print this out.
While on Bible Gateway, you’ll find it beneficial to study in parallel different Bible translations that land on opposite ends of the spectrum. Becoming familiar with more than one Bible translation deepens your understanding and appreciation of certain passages.
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