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How Many Versions Of The Bible Are There?

How many versions of the Bible are there? Thousands!

That is, thousands are available in multiple languages. YouVersion currently has 3,023 Bible versions for online Bible reading in 2,005 languages. They also have 1.490 audio Bible versions.

Other websites like Bible Hub[i] have over 50 versions of the Bible in English available to read online. They have online Bibles available in over 60 languages.

Wycliffe Bible Translators reports that at least one book of the Bible is available in close to 3,600 languages. The entire Bible is accessible in 724 languages.

How many versions of the Bible are in English? Over 100 complete translations of the Bible are out there in English. That number varies depending on whether you’re counting completely new translations or including revisions of existing translations.

Different versions of the Bible

Bible versions fall into three categories: word-for-word, thought-to-thought, and paraphrases.

  1. Word-for-word translations are literal and direct translations from Hebrew or Greek (and a bit of Aramaic). They attempt to match the original Greek or Hebrew word with an English word (or whatever language they’re translating into) that has the closest meaning. The advantage of translating this way is that it keeps the translators from adjusting a verse to fit their opinions or theology.

However, it’s impossible to match words perfectly because sometimes, the target language doesn’t have a word that fits Hebrew or Greek. Or maybe the word can have several different meanings. Let’s take the word “class,” for instance. It can mean 1) a place where students learn, 2) a person’s social status, or 3) a type of something. The translator has to choose which meaning best fits the context, which hinges slightly on the translator’s opinion or theology.

We can’t always remove fallible human opinion from the equation. However, most translations are accomplished by teams of translators, who can analyze a passage and come to a consensus on the best translation.

Some examples of word-for-word translations include the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV), the King James Version (KJV), and the New King James Version (NKJV).

  • Thought-for-thought translations: Sometimes, it’s difficult to translate something from another language because of idioms that might be meaningless in another language. Sometimes, a direct translation sounds awkward because of different word order. Rather than translate word-for-word, some translators use “thought-for-thought.” It’s more like translating the entire phrase, not just individual words.

Thought-for-thought or “dynamic equivalent” translations are easier to read than direct translations. They are especially helpful with difficult-to-understand verses. However, they depend more on the translators’ opinions of what a passage means, so they may not be as accurate as direct translations.

Some examples of thought-for-thought translations are the New International Version (NIV), the Common English Bible (CEB), and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

  • Paraphrases are usually not a translation directly from Hebrew or Greek but a revision of an existing translation to make it easier to read. These versions typically flow better and are especially useful for children, people with lower reading levels, new believers, or folks who want to read long passages quickly.

Paraphrases are helpful, but we must be cautious, as the people writing them often use poetic license to make them easier to read. Paraphrases don’t always reflect the true meaning of the verses.

Some examples of paraphrases are the Living Bible and The Message. These versions are beloved; however, they were both written by only one person and not a translation team.

The New Living Translation is halfway between a thought-for-thought translation and a paraphrase. It is a revision of the Living Bible; however, a team of 90 translators, rather than one person, worked on it. It evolved into more of an actual translation than a paraphrase. However, some passages didn’t change much from the Living Bible paraphrase.

Easy versions of the Bible to read and understand

  1. The NLT (New Living Translation) is so easy to read that it’s great for younger folks and new believers (or even unbelievers). It has a 6th-grade reading level. It’s helpful for Bible study as it sheds new light and clarity. A plus for the NLT is that it clarifies the practical applications of a verse or passage.

Here is Romans 8:6 in the NLT:

“So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”

  • The NIV (New International Version) Many youth Bibles use this translation as it is more accurate than a paraphrase but still relatively easy to read. It has an 8th-grade reading level.

Here is Romans 8:6 in the NIV:

“The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”

  • The Message is easy to read, but it tends to translate entire paragraphs rather than individual verses, so if you’re trying to follow along in church or Bible study, the verses aren’t individually marked. Eugene Peterson translated this version, and he tends to inject a lot of commentary (additional explanations and opinions of what the verses mean) into difficult passages. It has a 5th-grade reading level.

Here is Romans 8:6 in the Message:

“Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.”

What is the most difficult Bible version to read?

Any version that hasn’t been updated in the past two centuries is somewhat challenging to read because of all the changes in the English language. When you start going back four centuries, it’s much more difficult.

For instance, the original 1611 version of the King James Bible has different spellings. Many words used “v” for “u,” so “us” is spelled “vs” and “have” is spelled “haue.” English at that time often put an “e” at the end of words, so “do” is “doe,” and “sin” is “sinne.”

Here’s Romans 8:32 in the 1611 KJV:

“He that spared not his owne son, but deliuered him vp for vs all: how shall hee not with him also freely giue vs all things?”

Here it is in the 1769 revision, which is what most KJV Bibles are published in now:

“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”

As you can see, the 1769 version is easier to read. But the current edition of the KJV still uses “thee” for “you,” “sayeth” for “say,” “conversation” for “behavior,” and words no longer in modern English, like “concupiscence.”

Because of its antiquated language, the KJV has a grade 12 reading level, along with the Revised Standard Version (RSV). The New American Standard Bible (NASB), a literal word-for-word translation, which is considered the most accurate, has a grade 11 reading level.[ii]

Early versions of the Bible

  1. John Wycliffe translated the entire Bible into Middle English in 1382. However, Middle English was essentially a different language then. Here is Romans 8:32 in that version (compare with above):

“The which also sparide not his owne sone, but `for vs alle bitook hym, hou also yaf he not to vs alle thingis with hym?” (8:32)

  • Henry VIII authorized an English translation of the Bible, called the Great Bible, published in 1539. Here’s Romans 8:32 in the Great Bible translation. Yep! Still hard to read!

“which spared not hys awne sonne, but gaue him for vs all: how can it be, that with hym he shulde not geue vs all thynges also?”

  • Twenty-nine years later, Henry VIII’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, authorized a new English version called the Bishops Bible. Here’s Romans 8:32 – not too different from her father’s version:

“Which spared not his owne sonne, but gaue hym for vs all: Howe shall he not with hym also geue vs all thynges?”

  • Next was the Douay-Rheims Bible by the Catholics. The New Testament was published in 1582 and the Old Testament was completed in 1610. Here is the 1582 translation of Romans 8:32:

“He that spared not also his owne Sonne, but for vs al deliuered him; how hath he not also with him giuen vs al things?”

  • The King James Bible was translated next and then revised several times. In the 1800s, several new translations came out, such as the English Revised Version in 1885. Since the 1970s, dozens of new translations have been completed, along with multiple revisions and paraphrases of older translations. These included the New American Standard Bible in 1971,  the New International Version in 1978, and the New King James Version in 1982.

Why are there so many versions of the Bible?

Two words: accuracy and understandability. There is a tension between the two. The more accurate Bibles are a bit harder to understand. The easy-to-read Bibles aren’t as accurate. Most of our newer versions try to bring both accuracy and understandability to the readers, but some focus more on accuracy, and others focus more on understandability.

A third word is theology. A translator’s theology can slant how he translates a passage. For example, the NIV used 15 scholars from 13 Evangelical Christian denominations, so it has a more evangelical slant. The New Revised Standard Version was a National Council of Churches project, so it has a more liberal theological slant.

Another consideration is manuscripts. When the earlier translations were done – like the King James Bible – the only Greek manuscript for the New Testament was the Textus Receptus, compiled by the Catholic scholar Erasmus in the 1500s. As far as we know, the original manuscripts written by the apostles no longer exist. Erasmus had to use manuscripts from the 12th century or later. These manuscripts had been copied and recopied by hand numerous times over a thousand years. You can imagine how easy it would be for the scribes to make errors accidentally.

Recently, partial manuscripts of the New Testament have been found that date back to the 200s AD. They would have only been recopied over decades, not centuries. Presumably, they are more accurate. Most of our newer translations use these older manuscripts. Or, they may use both the older and the more recent with a note about manuscript differences.

A final issue impacting Bible versions is whether or not to use gender-neutral and gender-inclusive language. The New Testament often uses the word “brothers” when it obviously doesn’t just mean men. In those cases, some versions use “brothers and sisters” to reflect the intended meaning.

Additionally, the Hebrew word adam and the Greek word anthrópos can mean “man,” but they can also mean “people,” or “mankind.” For example, Genesis 7:21 is telling about the flood and how every “adam” died. Obviously, it wasn’t just the men who died. It was all humans except the eight on the ark. In cases like these, most newer translations use words like “human beings” instead of “man.”

How to choose the right one?

The right Bible version for you is the most accurate translation that is easy enough for you to read. Also, it’s essential to consider the theology of the translators. You might find it helpful to check out the Bible Hub or Bible Gateway websites. These are free websites that have the entire Bible in multiple versions. You can compare verses and chapters in dozens of versions to find the right fit.

The importance of reading the Bible daily

  • “I have treasured Your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11 NASB)
  • “The law of his God is in his heart; His steps do not slip.” (Psalm 37:31 NASB)
  • “For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, even penetrating as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12 NASB)

The only way to live a pure life before God is to be in His Word daily (and obeying it). The Bible gives us God’s instructions on how to live. If we don’t read the Bible regularly, we don’t know how God expects us to live. Even if we know, it’s helpful to get those daily reminders!

Furthermore, by reading God’s Word frequently, we understand doctrine – or correct beliefs about God, sin, salvation, life after death, the end times, and much more. If we dive into God’s Word daily, we can recognize false teaching and avoid it.

Reading God’s Word every day is a tremendous encouragement. It gives hope and confidence, even in dark times. There are so many reasons to read God’s Word daily! Give it a try!


Find a Bible version you love and jump into God’s Word daily! Let His message to you guide you and encourage you. Your growth as a Christian and your strength in life’s challenges depend on how often you read the Bible. And don’t just read it! Do what it says!

[i] https://biblehub.com/bibles/genesis/1-1.htm

[ii] https://www.christianbook.com/page/bibles/about-bibles/bible-translation-reading-levels

1 comment… add one
  • René Lucero Nov 10, 2023, 4:17 am

    Thank you for this amazing and informative article! God bless and lead you all to continue helping us, your fellow brothers and sisters.

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