The following consists of my research involving the numerous versions now in existence, as well as conversations with local translators when we lived in southern Mexico. In my former collection of the Scriptures, there were ninety-one versions in English and twenty versions in various other languages and dialects.
When individual translators or a committee of translators set out to create a new version, they follow particular sets of goals. Among those to be considered are: style, readability, and intended readers. Style involves three areas with various levels in between: (1) following closely to the verbal and grammatical order of the original; (2) reproducing the same understanding of meaning; (3) paraphrasing existing translations.
When translating into an indigenous language, it may be necessary to create an alphabet using the sounds of that language with the alphabet of the national language. Then comes the tedious task of translating concepts of the Scriptures so that they can adequately cross over into the indigenous thought pattern.
The translator always considers the intended readers. Some versions which are directed to specific readers, outside of the indigenous populace, include the following: (1) The Word Made Fresh (geared for prisoners and others who have no interest in the Scriptures); (2) The English Version for the Deaf (geared for the hard-of-hearing and weak readers); (3) The New Life Version (geared for persons whose first language is not English); (4) An Inclusive Version (geared for those concerned with equal rights among gender and the handicapped).
Various tools are needed by translators. These include the following: existing translations, Hebrew and Greek texts, available manuscripts, and various types of dictionaries. It is necessary for translators to be able to read fluently the language of their source, as well as the language into which they are translating. A difficulty to overcome is the ability to carry over intended concepts from one language to another. For example, one word in Hebrew is all that is necessary to express a concept that takes the English language several terms to convey.
Translating into such national languages as English requires a reliable text. In most cases, it will be in Hebrew for the Old Testament and in Greek for the New Testament. There are standard texts for each. However, as new archaeological data are found, these will be revised. Currently, there is a great difference of opinion as to which New Testament text is the most authentic. Tradition opposed to scholarship seems to be an issue in this. The foreword in any version may state a bias along this line. Some versions will state a preference for the use of “LORD” as opposed to the use of the Tetragrammaton “YHVH” and state that it is because this is the “tradition” that people accept and use.
Commonly used texts have been created from existing manuscripts. For the Old Testament, the earliest appears to be from the 9th or 10th century C.E. For the New Testament, the earliest complete manuscript is from the early 4th century C.E., although there are earlier fragments. There are about 20,000 known fragments which could contribute to the difference of opinion as to the validity of known New Testament manuscripts. It is well-known that there were many scriptural documents used by the early church. Finalization as to which ones would be accepted took place at the Council of Carthage in 397 C.E. The present-day New Testament, which consists of twenty-seven books, was formalized at that time, while other writings were rejected. Currently, there are scholars who believe that changes were made in the “original” texts to accommodate the beliefs of a new anti-Judaic religion called Christianity. Any serious in-depth student will be able to locate questionable passages in both Testaments. Whatever the belief, a question needs to be asked, “Why are there no original documents so that such claims can be laid to rest?”
A key word for translators is “choice.” The canonizers for both Testaments had to choose which documents to include and which to exclude. One of those choices was whether or not to include the Apocrypha. The original 1611 King James Version included it. It was not removed until after the middle of the 19th century C.E. “Choice” also involves wording that best suits the receiver language. Another vital choice is that of denominational beliefs and concepts. Most translators try to do the best that they can with those tools that are available to them. Few will be so bold as to proclaim perfection, although all will strive to come as close to that goal as possible. If YHVH (God) had actually “breathed” the words, what an easy task that would make for translators! As it stands, YHVH (God) gave the freedom to choose. Many generations of humans have used that “gift” in the translations of their favourite book.