Why are there so many Bible ‘Versions’?

Recently I was in a mosque listening to the imam’s teaching.  He said something that was completely wrong and very misleading.  What he said I have heard many times before – from my good friends.  And perhaps you also have heard this and it has raised questions in your mind.  So let us consider it.

The imam said that there are so many different versions of the Bible (al kitab).  In the English language you can get (and he named them) the King James Version, the New International Version, the New American Standard Version, the New English Version and so on.  Then the imam said that since there are so many different versions, this shows that the Bible (al kitab) has been corrupted, or at least we cannot know the ‘true’ one.  Yes indeed there are these different versions – but this has nothing to do with the corruption of the Bible or whether these actually are different Bibles.  In fact there is only one Bible/Kitab.

When we speak of, for example, the New International Version, we are speaking of a certain translation from the original Greek (Injil) and Hebrew (Taurat & Zabur) into English.  The New American Standard Version is another translation into English but from the same Greek and Hebrew text.

The same situation exists with the Qur’an.  I usually use the Yusuf Ali translation but I also sometimes use the Pickthall translation.  Pickthall translated from the same arabic Qur’an that Yusuf Ali used, but his choice of English words in his translation is not always the same.  Thus they are different translations.  But no one – not a Christian, a Jew, or even an atheist says that because there are two different translations of the Qur’an into English (Pickthall’s and Yusuf Ali’s) that this shows that there are ‘different’ Qur’ans or that the Holy Qur’an is corrupted.  In the same way, there is a Greek text of the Injil (see it here) and there is a Hebrew text for the Taurat and Zabur (see it here).  But most people do not read these languages so various translations are available in English (and other languages) so that they can understand the message in their native language.

Since so many people today read English as their native language there are different versions – translations – so it can be better understood.  But what about the errors involved in translation?  Does the fact that there are different translations show that it is impossible to accurately translate what the original authors wrote? Due to the vast classical literature written in Greek it has become possible to precisely translate the original thoughts and words of the original authors. In fact the different modern versions show this.  For example, here is a verse from the New Testament, taken from 1 Timothy 2:5, in the original Greek.

εις γαρ θεος εις και μεσιτης θεου και ανθρωπων ανθρωπος χριστος ιησους (1 Timothy 2:5)

Here are some popular translations of this verse.

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, New International Version

 

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; King James Version 

 

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, New American Standard Version

As you can see for yourself they are very close in their translation – differing by only a couple of words. They say exactly the same thing with only slightly different word usage. This is because there is only one al Kitab/Bible and therefore the translations from it will be very similar.  There are not ‘different’ Bibles.  As I wrote at the start, it is completely wrong for anyone to say that because there are different versions means that there are different Bibles.

I urge everyone to select a version of al-kitab/Bible in their own native language to read.  It is well worth the effort.