Jude: The biggest difference between Bibles is in how they’re translated. You can read the Bible as a comic book or an illuminated manuscript, and in over 700 modern languages. Even within a given language, there can be many different versions. In Spanish, there are nearly a dozen. In English, there are hundreds. So which is the translation for you?
Just as the works of Shakespeare were written in an archaic form of English, the authors of the Bible wrote in ancient languages. The Old Testament authors wrote in Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic. Both languages are no longer spoken, though today’s modern Hebrew derives from the Biblical form.
The New Testament authors wrote in a form of Greek called Koine. This was the tongue of the common people in the late Roman Empire. Like Biblical Hebrew, it’s very different from what you’ll hear on the street today in Athens.
Liana: The study of dead languages is not for everybody. You’ll probably read the Bible in translation. The great news is, there are hundreds and hundreds of Biblical translations to choose from. All of them offer a different version of Scripture—one that is an interpretation of the original language. What tools can help you come to your own understanding of the text?
Comparing different versions can be one of the richest ways to engage with the Bible. Technology makes this simple. There are online tools that let you read and compare Bible translations for free. You can get started with Bible Gateway or Bible Hub.
Jude: So what’s the benefit of comparing different translations? You’ll gain enhanced understanding of the underlying text. For example, this is how Genesis Chapter 1, verse 26 reads in the King James Version of the Bible.
“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.” Genesis 1:26, KJV
If you read only the K.J.V., it might sound like everyone in the Bible is male. But the Hebrew word that has commonly been translated as “man” can also mean “human being.” Many translations interpret this and other key Bible Scriptures using gender inclusive language.
The New Living Translation, the Contemporary English Version, and the Message translation all choose “human” in this critical passage.
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. – Genesis 1:26, New Living Translation
God said, “Now we will make humans, and they will be like us. – Genesis 1:26, Contemporary English Version
God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature. – Genesis 1:26, The Message
Similarly, in the the New Testament, the King James Version often translates the Greek work adelphos as “brothers.” Inclusive translations include people of all genders.
“…if thy brother shall trespass against thee…” – Matt. 18:15, KJV
If another believer sins against you…” – Matt. 18:15, New Living Translation
“If one of my followers sins against you…” Matt: 18:15, Contemporary English Version
“If a fellow believer hurts you…” Matt 18:15, The Message
Rachel: Other versions expand the idea of inclusive language. One contemporary translation called the Inclusive Bible doesn’t use any gendered pronouns or titles for God.
There’s even an LGBTQIA-affirming translation called the Queen James Bible. The authors made changes to eight passages that have been used to justify homophobic interpretation. They looked to the original language and historic context to retranslate these sections in a way that doesn’t condemn LGBTQIA life.
Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind… – Leviticus 18:22, King James Version
Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind in the temple of Molech… – Leviticus 18:22, Queen James Version
Rachel: You can also come up with your own interpretation entirely. A great tool for digging into Biblical language is the Blue Letter Bible. This is a website and app that allows you to look up a definition of every word as you read.
Mechon-Mamre.org also provides in-depth language resources for the Hebrew Scriptures, plus audio recordings.
Jude: You are entitled to you own experience and interpretation of Scripture. We hope this video series has helped provide you with some of the tools you need to get started with the Bible.
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