Differences in Bible Translations

Recently, someone asked me about different Bible translations and why some have words that the others do not. Here is a short answer. 

There are three primary reasons for the differences between translations. (KJV=King James Version, ESV=English Standard Version, NKJV=New King James Version, and NIV= New International Version.) 


First, some of the words in KJV have changed their meaning over time. These older words are often updated. For example, the KJV will use the word “conversation” to mean someone’s whole life, not just their speech. You can see this in Philippians 1:27. The NKJV says, “Conduct,” where the KJV says, “conversation.” When the KJV was written conversation meant someone’s entire way of living. Now it means just our speech. This is just a matter of updating the Bible as words in our culture change meaning.

Second, different translations translate words different ways. For example, in Acts 2:27 the word is literally “Hades.” It is not hell or grave. The ESV and the NKJV translate it as Hades. The KJV translates it as hell and the NIV as grave.  Whenever you take a word from one language and translate it into English you have to decide which English word best fits the word in that other language. This accounts for a lot of differences in Bible translations. Another example is Matthew 13:4. In the NIV the sower scatters. In the ESV, KJV, and NKJV the sower sows the seed. 

Third, different translations use a different set of manuscripts. Manuscripts are all the old copies of the Bible, especially the New Testament, that we have. We have thousands of them. These manuscripts do not always agree with one another. These manuscripts were copied by hand so there are some mistakes in them. Men have sat down and tried to decide which manuscripts are best. This is a difficult and messy task. Those who translated the KJV and the NKJV use one set of manuscripts, while those who translated the ESV and the NIV used another. This explains why when you read Ephesians 5:30 in the KJV you will find the phrase, “of his flesh and of his bones.” But in the ESV it is missing. 

These are the three main reasons you see differences in translations. 

I would recommend using either the English Standard Version or the New King James Version. They are both good translations and easy to read. I use mainly the NKJV because I think they use the better manuscripts. But I always reference the ESV in my studies and I keep a KJV on hand to compare with these two translations. There are places where the ESV is plainly inferior to the old KJV and NKJV. I am not as high on the ESV as some other people are. 

I would not recommend the NIV. It was not a great translation to begin with and they continue to make it more politically correct.