which version of the bible is closest to the original

Which Version of the Bible Is Closest to the Original?

The Bible, regarded as the foundational text for billions, has been translated into numerous versions over millennia. But the pressing question remains: which version of the Bible is closest to the original?

Historical Context of Biblical Texts

Biblical Texts

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Old Testament (Hebrew Bible/Tanakh) Origins

Language and Composition: The majority of the Old Testament is composed in Biblical Hebrew. However, a few sections, particularly in the books of Daniel and Ezra, are written in Aramaic, a lingua franca of the ancient Near East.

Dead Sea Scrolls: Discovered between 1947 and 1956 in the vicinity of the Dead Sea, these ancient Jewish manuscripts have provided invaluable insights. They include partial or complete copies of almost all the Old Testament books, written between the 2nd century BCE and the 1st century CE. Their close alignment with the Masoretic Text (a primary source for many Old Testament translations) confirms the remarkable consistency of the Hebrew scriptures over time.

Transmission and Copying: Jewish scribes, known as the Masoretes, played a crucial role in preserving the Old Testament. Their meticulous methods ensured that the texts were transmitted with minimal errors over centuries.

New Testament Origins

Language: The New Testament was written in Koine Greek, a common dialect spoken and written from 300 BCE to 300 CE throughout the Roman Empire. This language choice was pivotal in ensuring that the Christian message could be disseminated widely.

Earliest Manuscripts: Some of the earliest New Testament manuscripts date back to the 2nd century CE, with fragments like the Rylands Library Papyrus P52 being key examples. These ancient manuscripts provide direct links to the original texts and help scholars determine their accuracy and reliability.

Formation of the Canon: The New Testament didn’t exist as a defined collection immediately after the writings of its various books. The process of canonization, where specific texts were recognized as authentic and authoritative, spanned several centuries, culminating in widely accepted lists by the 4th century CE.

Criteria for Evaluating “Closeness”


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1. Linguistic Accuracy

A primary criterion is the precision with which the original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) are rendered into the target language. This requires deep linguistic knowledge, understanding of idiomatic expressions, and sensitivity to the nuances of both the original and target languages.

2. Textual Source Reliability

The manuscripts used as the basis for translations are crucial. Older manuscripts are generally closer in time to the originals and may offer a more accurate reflection of the original text. However, the sheer number of manuscripts available (especially for the New Testament) allows scholars to cross-reference and identify any variations.

3. Structural and Literary Integrity

The Bible is not just a religious text but also a literary one. Maintaining the poetic devices, parallelisms, chiasms, and other literary structures provides a richer, more authentic reading experience.

4. Absence of Interpretative Biases

Every translator approaches a text with some degree of bias, whether cultural, theological, or personal. Translations that minimize these biases and stay true to the original message are considered closer to the original. This requires the translators to be self-aware and often involves peer reviews and collaborative translation efforts.

5. External Confirmations

Archaeological findings, non-biblical historical records, and linguistic studies can validate the accuracy of a translation. These external sources can corroborate names, places, events, and cultural practices mentioned in the Bible.

Approaches to Bible Translations


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When translating any text, especially one as ancient and significant as the Bible, various methodologies can be employed. Each approach seeks to bridge the gap between the original languages and the target language, bearing in mind linguistic accuracy, cultural context, and intended audience. Here’s a look at some common translation philosophies:

1. Word-for-Word (Formal Equivalence)

  • Definition: This approach attempts to retain the literal structure and wording of the original language as much as possible.
  • Advantages: Provides a close representation of the structure and vocabulary of the original text, beneficial for in-depth study.
  • Challenges: Can be more difficult to read, may sound wooden or unnatural in the target language.
  • Examples: English Standard Version (ESV), New American Standard Bible (NASB).

2. Meaning-for-Meaning (Dynamic Equivalence)

  • Definition: Rather than a strict word-for-word translation, this approach focuses on translating the meaning of whole phrases or sentences.
  • Advantages: Typically offers a more natural and fluid reading in the target language. It can convey the original intent more clearly to contemporary readers.
  • Challenges: The translation might miss certain nuances or details present in the original text.
  • Examples: New International Version (NIV), New Living Translation (NLT).

3. Paraphrase

  • Definition: This approach rewords and rephrases the original text to make it more understandable and relatable to contemporary readers. It is more a re-telling than a direct translation.
  • Advantages: Highly readable and can resonate well with modern audiences.
  • Challenges: The process might introduce interpretation biases or stray further from the original text’s specifics.
  • Examples: The Message (MSG), The Living Bible (TLB).

4. Optimal Equivalence

  • Definition: This method seeks a balance between formal and dynamic equivalence. It tries to be as literal as possible but becomes more dynamic when the text demands it for clarity.
  • Advantages: Balances readability with linguistic accuracy.
  • Challenges: The middle-ground approach might not satisfy those at either end of the translation philosophy spectrum.
  • Examples: Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), Christian Standard Bible (CSB).

5. Eclectic Approach

  • Definition: Some translations employ a combination of methodologies depending on the passage, book, or the intended audience.
  • Advantages: Flexibility to adapt the translation strategy to best convey the text.
  • Challenges: Might lack consistency across different sections of the Bible.
  • Examples: New Jerusalem Bible (NJB), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

List of Notable Bible Versions and Their Origins

1. Septuagint (LXX)


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  • Background: The Septuagint, often abbreviated as LXX (due to the tradition that seventy or seventy-two Jewish scholars worked on its translation), is one of the earliest translations of the Hebrew Bible.
  • Language and Context: It was translated into Koine Greek in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, primarily for the Jewish diaspora in Egypt who were no longer fluent in Hebrew.
  • Significance: The Septuagint is often quoted in the New Testament, especially in the letters of Paul, which demonstrates its influence in the early Christian community. Additionally, several books that aren’t found in the traditional Hebrew Bible (considered Apocrypha by Protestants) are included in the LXX.

2. Vulgate


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  • Background: Commissioned by Pope Damasus I in the late 4th century CE and completed by the renowned scholar Jerome, the Vulgate is a Latin translation of the Bible.
  • Language and Context: Jerome’s translation aimed to be more accurate and consistent than the Old Latin versions previously in use. He initially translated using the Septuagint but later shifted to using the Hebrew texts for the Old Testament.
  • Significance: The Vulgate became the definitive and official Latin version of the Bible for the Roman Catholic Church for over a millennium. Its influence is pervasive and shaped Christian theology, liturgy, and Western literary traditions.

3. Textus Receptus

Textus Receptus

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  • Background: The term “Textus Receptus” (Received Text) refers to a series of printed Greek texts of the New Testament. It was the basis for many of the earliest Protestant Bible translations, including the King James Version.
  • Language and Context: Compiled by Erasmus in the 16th century, the Textus Receptus was developed using a handful of late Byzantine manuscripts.
  • Significance: While criticized by some for its reliance on later manuscripts and for certain textual decisions made by Erasmus, its influence is undeniable. It played a foundational role in bringing the Scriptures to laypeople during the Reformation.

4. King James Version (KJV)

King James Version

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  • Background: Commissioned in 1604 by King James I of England, this English translation was completed by 47 scholars and published in 1611.
  • Language and Context: The KJV, or “Authorized Version,” was intended to be a unifying translation for the Church of England, addressing perceived problems in earlier translations.
  • Significance: Known for its majestic language and literary beauty, the KJV became one of the most printed books in history. Its language deeply influenced English literature, and its phrasings have become ingrained in the English-speaking world.

5. New King James Version (NKJV)

New King James Version

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  • Background: The NKJV, published in 1982, sought to modernize the language of the KJV while preserving its classic structure and style.
  • Language and Context: While the text is updated for contemporary readers, the translators maintained the textual basis of the KJV, relying heavily on the Textus Receptus.
  • Significance: The NKJV provides a bridge for readers who love the poetic language of the KJV but struggle with its early modern English phrasing. It remains popular among those who prefer a more traditional linguistic approach to the Scriptures.

6. New International Version (NIV)

New International Version

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  • Background: Initiated in the 1960s by the New York Bible Society (now Biblica), the NIV aimed to produce a modern English Bible translation that would be true to the original texts while being easily accessible to contemporary readers.
  • Language and Context: The NIV used a “dynamic equivalence” approach, meaning it sought to translate meaning-for-meaning rather than word-for-word, while still being faithful to the original text. It made use of the best available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts.
  • Significance: Released in 1978 and updated in subsequent years, the NIV quickly became one of the best-selling modern translations in the English-speaking world. Its balance between linguistic accuracy and readability has made it a preferred choice for many churches, scholars, and everyday readers.

7. English Standard Version (ESV)

English Standard Version

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  • Background: The ESV, first published in 2001, evolved as a revision of the 1971 Revised Standard Version (RSV). Its aim was to be “essentially literal” while providing clarity and literary excellence.
  • Language and Context: While it retains much of the RSV’s language, the ESV team made changes to passages they felt were not as close to the original languages as they could be. This led to a translation that tries to mirror the structure and content of the original languages as closely as possible.
  • Significance: With its literary beauty combined with accuracy, the ESV is favored by many who desire a word-for-word translation that doesn’t compromise on readability.

8. New Living Translation (NLT)

  • Background: Originating as an update to the Living Bible (LB) – a paraphrased version of the Bible – the NLT transitioned from being a paraphrase to a full translation.
  • Language and Context: First published in 1996, the NLT utilizes a dynamic equivalence methodology, prioritizing the clear conveyance of thought for modern readers. It captures the meaning and emotion of the original texts.
  • Significance: The NLT is cherished by readers who value its contemporary language and emphasis on clarity, making it especially useful for personal study and devotional reading.

9. New English Translation (NET)

  • Background: The NET Bible, released in 2005, was the first Bible to be translated by a committee solely for digital formats, offering it freely online.
  • Language and Context: The NET provides a fresh translation with meticulous attention to detail. One of its defining features is its extensive set of over 60,000 translation notes, which offer insights into translation decisions and textual variants.
  • Significance: The NET is lauded not just as a translation, but also as a tool for study and teaching due to its vast scholarly notes. It provides an inside look into the complexities of Bible translation.

10. New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)


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  • Background: The NRSV, completed in 1989, is an updated version of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) from 1952. The intention was to make a version suitable for all branches of Christianity.
  • Language and Context: The NRSV aimed to eliminate masculine-oriented language when both genders were clearly intended in the original languages, thus making it one of the early gender-inclusive translations.
  • Significance: Recognized for its scholarship, accuracy, and inclusivity, the NRSV is used widely in academic settings and mainline Protestant churches. Its ecumenical nature has earned it respect across various Christian denominations.


The quest for understanding the divine word has led to myriad translations. As readers, embracing diverse versions can unlock the multifaceted richness of the scripture, helping us edge closer to the heart of the original message.

AboutCorinne Switzer

Corinne is an avid reader and takes a keen interest in conspiracy theories. When not busy with her day job, she likes to indulge the writer in her and pens columns on a wide range of topics that cover everything from entertainment, healthy living to healthcare and more.