The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

An evangelical Bible teacher once said that, although he enjoyed visiting a particular bookstore, “Because a number of publications are based on bad theology, the Christian bookshop can be one of the most spiritually dangerous places on earth!”

The same is true, potentially, of English language Bible translations.

A 2009 article by the American Bible Society noted that, over the centuries, there have been about 900 English language versions, paraphrases or portions of the Bible.

Helpful websites, such as Bible Hub, provide more than 40 easily accessible English language translations; BibleGateway offers 62; and Bible.com nearly 70 — with the Find A Bible website listing about 208 English versions.

Having hundreds of versions available wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if every translation was good! But are they?

Popular paraphrases, like The Message, tend to render well-known portions of Scripture practically unrecognisable, while translations, like the Good News Bible, can sometimes sacrifice accuracy for ease of reading.

And then there’s The Passion Translation, the work of Dr Brian Simmons who, on 17 September 2014, preached: “We are the Word made flesh again. We are the re-incarnation of Jesus Christ, the corporate expression…

“We’re the seed of Christ, the forty-second generation. We complete the genealogy of Jesus. Christ is no longer a man, He’s a people. You and I carry like Mary. We will bring forth the Christ. The second coming is the be-coming of the Lord…

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. There will be a feet company. A Satan-crushing company that will devour like a threshing sledge. They will devour every work of the enemy.

“They will be untouched and unhindered by sin, darkness, even death. They will carry like Mary and it will be as though the second coming had come!” (‘Glory of the Last Days’, session 2, part 2, Jubilee Church, Sydney.)

Another version, the 2012 Queen James Bible, describes itself as ‘a big, fabulous Bible’ – though, as an online article focusing on offbeat Bible translations notes, ‘The Queen James version is just the KJV [King James Version] with any verses condemning homosexual acts altered.’

The tongue-in-cheek article, ‘9 Alternative Bible Translations to Spice Up Your Devotional’, also says: ‘If the Bible teaches that homosexual acts are immoral… then all you have to do is change the Bible. Problem solved!’ 

Other even more unusual versions include The Bible in Cockney: Well Bits of it AnywayEe by Gum, Lord! The Gospels in Broad YorkshireThe Klingon Language Version of the World English Bible Psalms; and The LOLCat Bible Translation Project.

Then there’s Bible Emoji: Scripture 4 Millennials (available on iTunes); The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation; and The Unofficial Bible for Minecrafters: New Testament Stories from the Bible Told Block by Block, plus a number of graphic novel versions aimed at children – some illustrated by people who’ve worked for Marvel and DC Comics. 

There’s also The Street Bible, a 530-page paraphrase ‘using MTV-style dialogue’, and the Nano Bible. The latter, said to be ‘the world’s smallest Bible’, can fit on a fingernail and is so tiny you can’t actually read it! 

Who knows if, even as I’m writing this, a gender-free, politically correct version is being produced by a team that doesn’t even believe in God? One which aims to include everyone and offend no one – except, of course, committed Christians. 

Working out which versions actually represent God’s inspired, infallible, authoritative Word can be a difficult task, with some no doubt falling into the category of what Paul refers to as ‘a different gospel’ (Galatians 1:6-7,2 Corinthians 11:4).

Because God’s words are true and sufficient, Scripture consistently warns against editing or changing them. Instead, we’re told to test all things. In today’s seemingly headlong rush to make Scripture ‘relevant’ or acceptable, this unfortunately includes testing versions of the Bible!

It reminds me of a friend shuddering as he recalled the time a man selling Bible commentaries at a Christian conference called out:

You really should buy this. It’s better than the Bible!

For centuries, the translation and distribution of the Scriptures cost Christians, such as William Tyndale, Miles Coverdale and John Rogers, either their liberty or their lives. Now, believers can buy comparatively low-cost versions that might possibly harm their spiritual life.

Today – with the exception of John Wycliffe, whose body was exhumed, burned, and the ashes scattered in the River Swift because he translated Scripture into English – Tyndale, Coverdale and Rogers would probably be turning in their graves!

Gary Clayton is married to Julie, the father of Christopher (18) and Emma (15) and works for Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). To learn how MAF planes assist missionaries, ministers and Bible translators in some of the world’s most isolated areas, visit www.maf-uk.org

Written by: Gary Clayton

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