What’s in a Bible Translation?

Thanks to Building Faith’s Jodi Belcher for sharing this timely guide to Bible translation literacy.

Bibles and their translations have frequently played a significant role in shaping cultural, political, and social norms across large swaths of society. Entire countries have been swayed in denominational affiliation (think Luther’s first non-Latin translations and Germany’s Lutheran Reformation), loyalty to their ruler (consider the Roman Catholic/Anglican debate that brought us the King James Version), and legal/political manipulations (think ‘Bible’ and ‘contemporary-US-politics-across-the-board’).

As Jodi Belcher writes, ‘Translations of the Bible are designed to be used in Christian life, which means they have formative power in people’s lives. They shape people’s theological, social, cultural, and moral perspectives and values, and the impact of this formation can be fruitful or harmful.’

As political candidates wield their own particular translations of the Bible for political and personal gain (see AP’s Trump Is Selling ‘God Bless the USA’ Bibles for $59.99 as He Faces Mounting Legal Bills; Jill Colvin, March 26, 2024 and CNN’s The Christian Reaction to Trump’s Bible Endorsement Goes Deeper than You Think; AJ Willingham, March 28, 2024), and as politically charged Christian debates – or Christianly charged political debates – gain prominence, now might be a good time to talk about Bible translations: where they come from, what they do, and why differentiating and reading intentionally is important.

In a very quick read, Jodi Belcher outlines:

What’s in a Translation?

  • Translations Are Interpretations
  • Translations Are Socially and Culturally Located
  • Translations Are Limited
  • Translations Are Formative

She then offers 9 Popular English Versions of the Bible, including Translators, Church Affiliation, Publisher, Dates, Sources, and Approaches & Aims for:

  • King James Version
  • Revised Standard Version
  • New American Standard Version
  • New International Version
  • New Revised Standard Version
  • New Living Translation
  • English Standard Version
  • The Message
  • Common English Bible

The post includes a side-by-side comparison from all nine Bibles for 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Matthew 6:9-13 and invites readers to visit the Bible Hub to compare any verses across multiple translations.

For additional online Bible and Bible Study resources, see our Adult Bible Study lib guide, which includes Progressive Bible translations and numerous Bible Studies from diverse justice lenses.