• Why have there been so many different translations of the Bible? Who was behind them? Have these revisions resulted in greater or lesser accuracy of the text we now have?
• Here is a summary of the many translations and between the lines will be the reason for the new translation, denoted by an (*).
Keep in mind that as with any historical writing, the older the document supporting an event, the more accurate it is considered to be.
Latin Vulgate (around AD300)
Reigned for around 1000 years in Western Europe. Written by Jerome and was based on Old Latin.
* Not based on original Greek *
Therefore Erasmus in 1516 followed by Stephanus in 1551 wrote the first Greek NT, this translation however, was based on only a handful of late Greek Manuscripts (MS).
* Discovery new and oldest MS – The Alexandrian MS – AD400 *
Therefore reprint of the Greek text by John Mill in 1707 to take into account this more accurate MS.
* Discovery of Sinaitic and publication of Vatican MS (AD300/AD350) – Now the oldest and therefore most reliable witnesses to the NT text *
Therefore Westcott and Hort produced NT in the original Greek in 1850 followed by the Revised Version in 1881.
* Bible not translated from Greek into English as yet (1524) *
Therefore William Tyndale translated Erasmus’ Greek NT into English in 1525.
King James edition completed in 1611 in an attempt to be all inclusive to all sides (no additional notes included e.g. Non-denominational).
*Shortcomings of KJ text (known as received text) as were translated prior to discovery of Codex Vaticanus, Sinaiticus & Alexandrian. (3 most reliable MS’)*
Therefore English Revised version and American Standard Version completed in order to avail of all new Manuscripts.
* Further Papyri found *
Therefore new revision required which would improve reliability further. One of which was the NIV which works as a phrase for phrase interpretation, improving readability and also has an excellent reliability.
There have been other translations not mentioned here but this covers the main ones.
Will there be a need for more translations? Very likely, as new MS are coming to light all the time.
So in answer to the question/accusation re: too many translations/changes.
They have been needed due to the unearthing of new but much older MS’ which have increased the reliability of our current text, by going back closer to the time and going back to the original language in which they were written.
Why have some Bible translations been copyrighted?
The argument goes that because Bible translations have been copyrighted, then they are likely to be corrupt and that translations which haven’t been copyrighted, are more pure e.g. King James Version is often cited.
Two simple points need to be made based on the above objections.
1) There is nothing inherently wrong with having your Bible translation copyrighted. To translate the Bible is a lengthy and costly procedure. The translators, scholars, grammarians, proof-readers etc. all put in many, many hours and effort and obviously need to be paid for their work.
If other companies or individuals took a translation and published it as their own, the original publisher would lose money, and further Bible translations efforts would be hindered. Bible publishers have to make a profit, or they will go out of business.
2) In response to the claims that the King James translation hasn’t been copyrighted and is the only pure translation, this is simply not true.
The King James was copyrighted when first published and is still under copyright protection in the United Kingdom. The British Crown actually owns the copyright to the King James Bible, which has been renewed upon the accession of each succeeding monarch since King James himself.
The existence of a copyright is meaningless in determining the quality of a translation.