Wikipedia lists 123 English Bible translations, or more, seeing as some are grouped under a single entry. I haven’t heard of a lot of those, and some sound like they are intended for a specific niche in the Bible-reading market. There are clear trends in that list. There are the ‘messianic’ versions, translated by/for Christians who are, or feel like they should be, Jewish. There are the translations that are desperate to be as literal as possible. There are translations linked to particular churches or ‘ministries’, and there are those that pride themselves on interdenominational cooperation. There are the paraphrases that attempt to get to the gist of the meaning, but sacrifice formal equivalence on the way. There are versions that use a particular rendering of sacred names (Jehovah, Yahweh, YWH, Yeshua etc.). There are those that aim to use gender-inclusive language (like my second love, the NRSV). I’m sure that a lot of these Bibles are good, the fruit of hard labour, but I’m sure there are some that are plain awful too. I wonder if there is a special kind of Moses/God complex that drives a pastor/scholar to do a lone Bible translation: this one will be the God’s honest truth.
Years ago there were just a few nutters, mostly from the US, who would argue that the King James Version (KJV) is the only true version. They would even uphold the legendary King James as some kind of Evangelical saint who brought about a new scriptural revelation, completely unaware of the man’s true history. I’ve noticed various attempts to stay true to this touchstone of the English language while attempting an update of the vernacular (the NKJV and 21st Century KJV). If anything, the trend has spread to include advocates of one version or another, who will accuse users of other versions of errancy or idiocy.
Reading a version you are unfamiliar with can be jarring, as it conflicts with an internalised text. I am currently finding the gospel canticles in the Catholic Daily Office very odd to pray through each day. Then there are those Bible studies where everyone has brought a different translation of the Bible, and readings are met with the constant refrain “But mine says…”. Maybe this is why priests, pastors and Bible teachers end up asking everyone to use a certain version (I suggest the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and so judge me!), just to make it easier. The next generation, from patronal reverence, continue the choice of version, but now it becomes an article of faith: the Old Man taught me from the XYZ, and he was the foremost Bible scholar of his town/university/generation, so reading it must be the near equivalent to God speaking in your ear.
The freedom to keep churning out new versions of scripture is an important one. In spite of the occasional extremes and the fragmentation of biblical tradition, this is freedom of speech and religion, and the multiplicity of ingredients in this alphabet soup can only encourage us to take more notice of the text.
Brian Fulthorp excerpts some thoughtful words on the matter from biblical scholar Craig Blomberg
…most of the people of the world continue at best to have only one resonable translation of the Scriptures in their native tongues, while non-Christians in English-speaking countries too often assume that none of the translations is reliable or else we would not keep making new ones and quarelling over existing ones! Surely, God grieves over the amount of energy and rancor that has been exercised creating and critiquing all these versions, when everyone of them is highly reliable and far more than adequate in communicating God’s Word to readers of English. Still, each meets a definable need, either real or perceived…