Tuesday, June 13, 2017

How many Bibles?

Question: How many translations of the Bible are there in English?

No one knows for sure. Those who try to count them do not always agree on what should be counted and how they should count them. For examples, some Bibles are just revisions of previous Bibles, some are paraphrases rather than translations, and some are only partial Bibles. Wikipedia’s List of English Bible translations charts record 108 complete Bibles, 34 partial Bibles, and 18 early incomplete Bibles – for a total of 160.[i]

After discussing “the difficulty of determining what should be defined as a new translation,” the question of “how we should count translations” that are not complete, and “the difficulty of sheer numbers,” an American Bible Society article online states “With all these caveats in mind, the number of printed English translations and paraphrases of the Bible, whether complete or not, is about 900.”[ii] While the English language may have thousands of Bibles, there are thousands of languages that have no Bible![iii]

There are real differences in and reasons for different translations – for example, different source material, different translation methodologies and adaptation to changes in the English language. Nevertheless, the proliferation of English Bibles affirms an abundance about the individuality, fickleness, and divisiveness of English-speaking Christians. This is a particular indictment on American Christians, who are most often the drummers of the beat for newer and better translations. It is also an indictment of Bible publishers whose continual offering of new products (new translations and niche study Bibles) appears to be driven as much by the “almighty dollar” as by any quest for the Almighty’s truth. Translators and publishers could better put their talents, time and money into translations of the Bible where it is not currently available rather than expanding the 900-something Bibles we already have. Paul told Timothy that the time would come when fickle folks with itching ears would amass piles of teachers to help them fulfill their own desires (2 Timothy 4:3). That time is now, and the drumbeat for new Bibles is part of the itch. Perhaps it is what we already know in the Bible that really troubles us, especially of obeying the truth in the Bible we already have!

[i] As of 9:10:00 am, 13 June 2017; There are some errors in these charts. For example, Lexham English Bible is listed as “partial,” but has been complete as Old and New Testaments since 2011. The Third Millennium Bible which has the OT, NT and even the Apocrypha, is listed as “partial.” On the other hand, several that are Old Testament only are listed as complete Bibles, which Christians would not recognize as complete. I am aware of a few others that did not make the list. Nevertheless this gives some idea of the status of English Bibles.
[ii] They recommend Catalogue of English Bible Translations: a Classified Bibliography of Versions and Editions Including Books, Parts, and Old and New Testament Apocrypha and Apocryphal Books by William J. Chamberlin (Greenwood Press, 1991) as the most comprehensive English bibliography of the subject.
[iii] In some cases, perhaps many, they may have no Christians as well.

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