Search SBL

The Bible and Commentary

Versions and Translations

An overview of Bible formation can be found at the Freer Sackler Museum at the Smithsonian site. The In the Beginning: The Bible before the Year 1000 exhibition was on display during the 2006 SBL Annual Meeting.

A number of the Bible translations most popular in the Western world today can be found in searchable form online including:

The King James Version (KJV)

Translated in 1611 under the auspices of King James VI of Scotland, this Bible is one of the touchstones of modern Western civilization. The KJV translations single term in the original languages with diverse terms to achieve more poetic elegance. That practice can obscure the underlying sense of the text.


The American Standard Version (ASV)

The growing sense that the KJV was based on less-than-ideal manuscripts and philological knowledge led to the British Revised Version in 1885. The ASV came out in 1901 and represented several hundred further emendations to suit its American audience. The ASV is sometimes thought of as by students of biblical languages as a particularly “wooden” translation, and it does in some respects seek to replicate the feel of the original, for example in using “Jehovah” rather than “Lord,” or “Sheol” rather than “grave/Hell.” However, the ASV is also quite euphemistic in places.


The Revised Standard Version (RSV)

This 1952 American revision of the ASV took further steps to modernize the language of the translation and to embrace textual criticism. In an interesting compromise, it maintains the use of archaic pronouns such as “thou/thy/thee,” but only for God. This allows the Psalter, for example, to maintain its “traditional” (i.e. KJV) flavor. The RSV also included the deuterocanonical Old Testament books accepted by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches (albeit set apart in their own section), making it a more ecumenical Bible. Some of the changes to the text led to controversy as the translators, mostly SBL members, and their translation were deemed communist by Sen. Joseph McCarthy and others!


The New International Version (NIV)

The NIV, which appeared in 1978, was largely the result of dissatisfaction with the RSV in conservative circles. It continues to be the pew bible of choice in many churches today. Its translation reflects a more thorough commitment than the RSV’s to modernizing the idiom of the text; for example, archaic pronouns are banished entirely. Although its preface emphasizes its translators’ commitment to biblical authority, it is somewhat less rigorously technical than the NRSV. The word “international” in its title reflects the involvement of scholars from Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, although Americans, some SBL members, formed the great majority of its committees.


The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Nominally a response to still newer textual data from the Dead Sea Scrolls and elsewhere that had come to light since the translation of the RSV, the 1990 NRSV in fact represented another striking revision. As the most critical and up-to-date popular translation, it is a favorite of biblical scholars, and is used in many mainline churches. It is also thoroughly ecumenical, including all the deuterocanonical and apocryphal books used in the many churches of the world. Apart from the adoption of fully modern idiom without archaic pronouns, the most striking innovation of the NRSV was its effort to avoid masculine pronouns where possible. Although this de-genderizing effort did not extend to God, it does remove gender in certain cases where it is present in Greek and Hebrew, and is thus interpretive. Sometimes this has significant theological import. For example, Psalm 8’s question, “What is … the son of man that you care for him?” (RSV) became “What are … mortals that you care for them?” (NRSV). The translators here favored their sense of the original intent of the Hebrew, although the phrase “son of man” had taken on great significance for early Christian interpreters, who understood it as a reference to Jesus Christ.
JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, features the oldest-known complete Hebrew version of the Holy Scriptures, side by side with JPS's renowned English translation. The Hebrew text of this TANAKH is based on the famed Leningrad Codex, the Masoretic text traceable to Aaron Ben Moses ben-Asher, c.930 c.e. Ben-Asher researched all available texts to compile an authoritative Bible manuscript. In 1010 c.e. his work was revised by Samuel ben Jacob, a scribe in Egypt. Lost for centuries, the manuscript was eventually discovered in the mid-nineteenth century and became known as the Leningrad Codex. This edition adapts the latest BHS edition of the Leningrad text by correcting errors and providing modern paragraphing.
JPS offers free podcasts of the weekly Torah readings all year long on its website.

SBL Forum Articles
There have been quite a few articles written for SBL Forum on Bible versions and translations:

God Was an Englishman
9/1/2003 to 11/5/2003
by Henry Carrigan
One of the greatest ironies of the success of English versions of the Bible is that many people fail to appreciate that these versions are foreign literature in translation.

In the Beginning-Bibles Before the Year 1000
11/10/2006 to 12/20/2006
by Sandra Scham

re: "Another Perspective"
9/1/2002 to 9/30/2002

Another Perspective - Jewish Translations of the Bible
8/1/2002 to 8/31/2002
by Leonard Greenspoon

Book Artist Barry Moser
9/1/2003 to 11/5/2003
I look at other Bibles and study their design and typography. I look at films and photographs by folks who are concerned with the same sort of imagery that I am. And in this I am always trying to find, with O'Connor and Breughel, the divine within the quotidian.

Author Adam Nicolson
9/1/2003 to 11/16/2003
The godliness of kings and kingliness of God were very much present in their minds, yet the Bible was meant for everyone. The KJV is far simpler than most Jacobean texts. It was majesty accessible to all.

Full Sound and Fury: Translating the Bible in 21st Century America
7/1/2002 to 7/31/2002
by Steven Sheeley

What Translation Is
7/1/2002 to 7/31/2002
by Walter Harrelson

What Translation Is
7/1/2002 to 7/31/2002
by Temper Longman

What Translation Is
7/1/2002 to 7/31/2002
by Barclay M. Newman

What Translation Is
7/1/2002 to 7/31/2002
by Karen H. Jobes

What Translation Is
7/1/2002 to 7/31/2002
by Patrick D. Miller

Czeslaw Milosz: My Biblical Translations
4/1/2002 to 4/30/2002
by Czeslaw Milosz

The King (James) and I
9/1/2003 to 11/5/2003
by David Bartlett
Of course the King James translators didn't mean by "sore" what we mean by "sore," but their translation feeds our word play. Sore afraid: so scared that we ache.

The KJV and American Culture: "A far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory"
9/1/2003 to 11/5/2003
by Steven Sheeley
The words of the KJV are, for many in America, the very words of God. Were God to speak in the English language, they imagine, it would be in the phrases and rhythms of the KJV.

The KJV and the Jews
9/1/2003 to 11/5/2003
by Leonard Greenspoon
Thus, it can be argued that the English-speaking Jewish community was being quite true to its multiple roots in its attitude towards the KJV.

You Can Judge a (Good) Book by its Cover
11/5/2003 to 12/14/2003
by Kimberly Winston




© 2018, Society of Biblical Literature. All Rights Reserved.