The Lucrative Business of Bible Versions

“On his march to Babylon Cyrus came to the river Gyndes which rises in the Matienien mountains, runs through the country of the Dardanes and then joins the Tigris which passes the city of Opis and flows into the Persian Gulf.  Cyrus was preparing to cross this river, for which boats were needed, when one of his sacred white horses, a high-spirited creature, entered the water and attempted to swim across but was swept under by the rapid current and carried away.  Cyrus was so furious with the river for daring to do such a thing, that he swore he would punish it by making it so weak that even a woman could get over in future without difficulty and without wetting her knees. He held up his march against Babylon, divided his army into two parts, marked out on each side of the river a hundred and eighty channels running off from it in various directions, and ordered his men to set to work and dig.  Having a vast number of hands employed, he managed to finish the job, but only at the cost of the whole summer wasted. Then, having punished the Gyndes by splitting it into three hundred and sixty separate channels, Cyrus, at the beginning of the following spring, resumed his march to Babylon” (Herodotus The Histories Book one p. 83).

This account of Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire, is a picture illustrating what modern bible versions are doing to the deep powerful river of God’s revelation, commands, and the gospel.  The flood of modern bible versions has dissipated this powerful torrent into so many streams that the bible can no longer speak with authority nor even be trusted or regarded as the word of God.  There are varying claims as to how many English language bibles versions there are – I’ve read numbers ranging from 500 to 900!  However one needs to define what they’re counting – complete bibles, Testaments, portions, paraphrases, modifications, etc. – nobody really seems to know.  But one thing can be observed – whatever the number, it is far greater than the number of streams by which Cyrus weakened the Gyndes River!  See link:

The various versions are continually being revised, “improved”, and made “more accurate” as soon as sales start to slow down, because they need an injection to boost their flagging sales.  What the publishers of their version once billed as “the most accurate version yet” or claims to that effect, has now become dated as “new information” about the underlying text has become available.  A new translation committee is formed, with “expert” translators each in their own field of expertise, and within a few years yet another version is born, albeit hidden under the guise of being a revision of an existing version.  And the production of new bible versions has become such a successful business, a veritable roaring trade, that every publisher wants to get their share of the pie; and bible translators have virtually become full-time employees of the bible publishers.

The Competing Streams of Bible Versions: a Brief and Incomplete Overview

The “new” Greek manuscripts and the Revised Version stream

The first revision, the New Testament of which was released in 1881, was the Revised Version (RV) or English Revised Version (ERV), and the complete bible was published in 1884.  From this version, which was supposed to be a mild revision of the King James Bible came a new version based on different Greek NT texts.  And soon thereafter an American version of this new English version was produced, and published in 1901, known as the American Standard Version (ASV), thus beginning the first of many streams of bible versions based on the new Westcott and Hort (WH) text. 

The WH Greek text consists of manuscripts most of which originate from ancient Alexandria, and most of which were discovered in the 19th century, and they enchanted scholars who trumpeted that greater age means greater accuracy – and the TR, along with the KJV, were shunted aside and relegated to quaintness and inaccuracy.  Indeed, Fenton Hort, the “H” of the WH text, regarded the TR as “vile” and “villainous” – even though he admitted he was not well acquainted with Greek.  The WH text has since morphed into the Nestle-Aland Text (NA) and the United Bible Societies Greek Text (UBS), but they are all essentially the same, being based on the same manuscripts.

The American Standard Version was itself revised in 1952 and named the Revised Standard Version (RSV); this was updated in 1971 to become more orthodox by restoring the controversial omissions from the 1952 version from the margin back to their rightful place in the text.  The omissions in the 1952 version were so bad that Muslim apologist Ahmed Deedat could justifiably savage the English bible in general and make a mockery of it (Deedat, Ahmed, “Is the Bible God’s Word?” Kindle edition). 

In 1989 it was revised and named the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), a version which is based on the 1971 RSV and which is now the preferred bible of academics, scholars, liberals, theological colleges, and many churches because of its vaunted accuracy and the gender-inclusiveness of its translation; as it says of itself in “To the Reader”, it is “As literal as possible, as free as necessary….Paraphrastic renderings have been adopted only sparingly, and then chiefly to compensate for a deficiency in the English language – the lack of a common gender third person singular pronoun”.  However, it has been criticised because, in order to achieve gender-inclusive readings, it shamelessly resorts to adding words, changing the singular to plural, and various other ways of distorting the Greek or Hebrew text.  For example, Genesis 1:27 in the KJV “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.  This shows that the masculine is used for man or humanity in general, and that both male and female are equal.   However, the NRSV has confused this and has “them” for both: “So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (NRSV).

“A three-year process of reviewing and updating the text of the NRSV was announced at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature.[10] The update will be managed by the SBL following an agreement with the copyright-holding NCC. The stated focuses of the review are incorporating advances in textual criticism since the 1989 publication of the NRSV, improving the textual notes, and reviewing the style and rendering of the translation. A team of more than fifty scholars, led by an editorial board, is responsible for the review, which goes by the working title of the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition (NRSV-UE)” (emphasis mine).

So the NRSV-UE is now an update of a revision (NRSV) of a revision (RSV-71) of a revision (RSV-52) of a derivation (ASV) of a translation (RV) which was intended to be a revision of a translation (KJV). 

In response to the appearance of the gender-inclusive NIVI, Evangelicals began a new translation which they based on the 1971 RSV.  The result was the English Standard Version (ESV) which was released in 2001.  A blog called “Biblical Catholic” tells us: “By contrast, the ESV was conceived as a kind of knee jerk reaction against the publication, in England, of the NIV with Inclusive Language in 1996…..The ESV was first conceived in 1997, the committee was put together in 1998, and the first edition was published in 2001.  They didn’t really devote the necessary time and attention to the task that they should have, because they were in a rush to get it out as soon as possible”  The ESV has subsequently become very popular with Evangelicals.  A Catholic edition, ESV-CE, was published in 2018/2019.

Another stream arising from the American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901 was itself a revision which became the New American Standard Bible (NASB) in 1971.  It has gone through several “modified editions” – 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and the Updated Edition (1995), commonly known as “Updated NASB” or NASB95.  The latest edition is the NASB 2020.

Furthermore, the ASV spawned other versions, namely the Amplified Bible (1965), the Living Bible (1971), Recovery Version (1999), and World English Bible (2000).  Two of these also became streams in their own right.  The first of these two was the Amplified Bible.  This was largely the work of a woman named Frances Siewert.  The Amplified Bible has as its base the ASV and it, too, has since been revised with the Expanded Edition in 1987 and more fully in 2015, with its name being changed to Amplified Holy Bible.    

The other of these two streams issuing from the ASV was a paraphrase by Kenneth Taylor who created The Living Bible,which also had as its basis the ASV; it was published in 1971.  Sales were huge and it was produced in many editions.  The publishers saw the lucrative potential and a revision committee was set up to turn the Living Bible paraphrase into a true version. 

As a result the New Living Translation was released in 1996.  It is a dynamic equivalence translation based on the two major critical texts (UBS and NA), and the first edition saw it start losing its dependence on its forbear, becoming a version in its own right and a very productive cash cow.  The second edition was released in 2004 and is sometimes referred to as NLTse.  Further editions with minor revisions were released in 2007, 2013 and 2015.  But not surprisingly (because that’s where the money is), in a collaborative venture between NLT revisers and Catholic scholars, changes were made to the text which were incorporated into the 2015 revision in order to make it acceptable to the Catholic Church; these changes will be included in all future editions of the NLT.  The Catholic edition naturally includes the apocrypha (which are incorporated into the Old Testament as found in Catholic bibles, rather than between the Testaments as a separate entity) and is known as NLTCE.

The NLT fulfilled its potential by becoming No 1 bible seller in July 2008, toppling the NIV and ending its twenty year reign at the top of the sales charts.   

The number of new versions, revisions, updates, modified versions etc. arising from the foisting of the English Revised Version and its relatives, and the WH Text, on the churches is eye-watering.  The publishers have realised what a golden goose continued bible translations are, and an endless stream of income for them; they will not lightly let go the productive teat of this cash cow.  And with each of these versions there is an even greater multitude of concordances, study bibles, and version-specific commentaries.  The number of study bibles alone is staggering!  One need only turn to Amazon to see endless pages of them.  The innovative creation and marketing of these study bibles is genius, with study bibles for every possible niche in a highly lucrative market, to such an extent that the niches actually divide and separate Christian from Christian on the basis of race, colour, gender, politics, military, relationship, bible teachers, and so on.  It is shameful.

The New International Version stream

But the most confusing stream is the New International Version (NIV).  The New Testament was first published in 1973, with the complete bible being released in 1978.  It was revised, and then published in 1984 – this revision is still the one preferred by Evangelicals who regard it as the definitive NIV.  There were a number of tributaries running off the main NIV stream which, I suspect, although intended to cash in on the popularity of the NIV and broaden its market, actually dissipated the stream. 

The first of these was a revision in 1995 by the British publisher Hodder and Stoughton called the New International Version: Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI).  In 1997, an article by World Magazine accused the NIVI of being ‘a feminist seduction of the evangelical church’. This led to a protest in evangelical circles, led by James Dobson. Despite some evangelicals coming to the defense of the NIVI, Zondervan responded by not releasing the NIVI in the United States…..A corrected edition was published in 1999 as the last edition”.

Dr Ann Nyland (2004, p. 15), in her observation of the pressure applied against the publication of the NIVI, writes: “On May 19, 1997, leaders of the Baptist Sunday School Board (Southern Baptist Convention) met with representatives from Zondervan and the International Bible Society (IBS) to apply financial pressure by indicating their intention to stop using the NIV (not an inclusive version, but the actual NIV itself) in their Sunday School curricula and their intention to stop selling the NIV in their Baptist book stores if Zondervan published an inclusive version of the NIV in the US.

Throughout this time, protesters lobbied Zondervan and the IBS, and some churches sent back their NIV pew bibles to Zondervan or the IBS.  On May 27th, 1997, IBS issued a press statement stating that ‘it has abandoned all plans for gender-related changes in future editions of the New International Version (NIV)’

In 1996 International Bible Society, now known as Biblica, published the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV), which was geared towards those whose native language is not English, and to children; and it is gender-inclusive.  It is an NIV written at a third-grade level.

In 2005, Today’s New International Version (TNIV), was introduced to the market and was intended to sell alongside, and probably ultimately replace, the 1984 NIV as a gender inclusive bible (because that’s where the new money is).  However, like the NIVI, the TNIV was rejected by Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, the fury and threats of the opposition from some in these groups being undignified, bullying, and sustained.

Nyland (2004, p. 8-9) says, “A number of the same lobbyists were members of the translation committee of the English Standard Version (ESV) Bible, another market competitor to the TNIV Bible” 

The latest and current revision in the main flow of the NIV stream was released in 2011.  The 2011 NIV is really a re-worked and “softer” TNIV. 

So the NIV is now a re-make (NIV 2011) of a perversion (TNIV 2005) of a variation (NIrV 1996) of a perversion (NIVI 1995) of a revision (NIV 1984) of a translation (NIV 1978) of the NA and UBS Greek texts.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible stream

Lifeway Christian Resources (the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention) is the largest Christian book retailer in the USA, and it refused to sell the TNIV, so the threats made to Zondervan and IBS carried enormous punch.  It is also “…the parent of Broadman and Holman Publishers which publishes the Holman Christian Standard Bible” [Nyland, A. 2004, p. 8).  One would like to think of them as being “righteously outraged” at the feminising of the bible which opened wide the gate for women to become elders, priests and bishops, and allowing them to preach.  Sadly however, such does not appear to be the case.  Instead, they resorted to what was effectively extortion to force Zondervan and IBS to do their will. 

At the time the TNIV was released, Lifeway Christian Resources was completing their own new bible version, the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), the New Testament appearing on the market in 1999 and the complete bible in 2004; and yet another stream arises.  A second edition appeared in 2010 in which the name “Yahweh” replaced “LORD” in another 495 instances (the earlier edition replaced it in 78 instances).  The original translator, Arthur Farstad, editor of the New King James Version, intended to use his new so-called Majority Greek Text as the basis for a new translation of the bible.  However, being compiled from only a few manuscripts, it can hardly be regarded as a “Majority” text.  But Farstad died early in the work and Holman Christian Publishers assembled a team of 100 international scholars and proof-readers from across all denominations to continue what he had begun.  This team rejected the Greek “Majority” text which Farstad intended and chose to use instead the abovementioned Critical Texts, UBS and NA.  The HCSB was revised and updated again in 2017 and renamed Christian Standard Bible (CSB), and all of the instances where “Yahweh” replaced “LORD” were reversed and the traditional readings retained.  From:

The Fascinating but Shameful Story Behind the Scenes

It seems that the real motive of these Southern Baptist lobby groups for opposing the TNIV and forcing it off the market was not one of principal, and concern for the accurate translation of the Bible, but to make room for their own proposed new version.  The “offence” of a feminist bible was only the pretext; the real motive was all about sales and profit.  It seems the truth of scripture had nothing to do with it as far as Holman Publishing and Lifeway Christian Resources were concerned. 

How hypocritical, then, that Lifeway Christian Resources and Southern Baptist Convention violently opposed the TNIV for its gender-inclusiveness when at the same time Lifeway Christian Resources were stocking and selling The Message, a (per)version which is even more gender-inclusive than the TNIV, as well as being doctrinally corrupt. 

But the crowning hypocrisy is that the Christian Standard Bible, translation of the Southern Baptist Convention, is itself now also gender-inclusive; and they use the same arguments that the translators and publisher of the TNIV used, to justify their own gender-inclusive version.  “How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!” (2 Sam 1:25).

I Can’t Help but Wonder……

If the scholars behind the TNIV translated the text with accuracy and integrity, why did the publisher cave in to extortion?  Was the TNIV a good translation or not?  Was it dishonest or not?  If it was a correct translation, as those behind it claim, then the NIV 2011 is inferior because it has watered down the TNIV which it replaces.  Again, if the TNIV is a good and correct translation, then neither can the 1984 NIV be a correct translation, because it has little “gender-inclusiveness”.  And why would the publisher run these two versions in parallel (TNIV and 1984 NIV) when they disagree with each other? 

Furthermore, the NIV 2011 is not only different to the NIVI and TNIV because of its attempts to present a softer gender-inclusiveness, but to the 1984 NIV which has none.  So which of these is correct?  Do we trust the translation committee and the publisher and assume that the 1984 NIV is the least correct because they’ve had two attempts at replacing it, before finally succeeding with the 2011 NIV?  But didn’t they tell us in 1984 that the NIV was the best bible on the market?  And now, Michael Marlowe tells us that Zondervan, which has exclusive rights to publish the NIV, “has moved to suppress the 1984 text, by informing other publishers that it will not allow them to use the text of the 1984 NIV in printed materials after 2012”:

If bibles can so easily be revised and changed at will under the guise of giving new and “more accurate” readings in line with “modern scholarship” and by comparing with other ancient versions, what is it that we have as our bible?  Have Christians who swear by the NIV been living in a fool’s paradise since 1984 by using an inferior and inaccurate translation when they were assured it was “the best”?  If a new and more accurate translation than the 1984 NIV was needed, and the TNIV was produced by highly qualified and capable Evangelical scholars in order to eventually meet that need, why was the TNIV rejected, not only by some groups and influential individuals in the Evangelical/Fundamentalist wing of the Church, but by its own translation committee and publisher? 

And what is the 2011 NIV but a compromise bible, customised to meet man’s approval rather than God’s approval, and designed to reinvigorate flagging sales of the 1984 NIV due to market forces and rival versions?  With the NLT dethroning the NIV from the top-selling English bible position, and the TNIV, which was meant to maintain the publisher’s hold as No 1, being forced off the market, Zondervan had no answer to the NLT; but they had to come up with something.  One can only suspect that accuracy in translation was not the goal – regaining their place as No 1 was.  Zondervan’s edge was meant to be a gender-inclusive version – the TNIV – but when this was lost to them, they hastily revamped and toned it down, producing the 2011 NIV.  And no doubt the new name intentionally suggests continuity and connection with the popular 1984 NIV but with some gender-inclusiveness from the TNIV in order to keep pace with the trend of other versions’ revisions.

However, blogger Michael Marlow reveals that the situation is, in reality, even worse than that: “In June of 2011 the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) published a critique of the 2011 NIV, which describes and criticizes the gender-neutralizing alterations of the revision. The critique is carefully written, and I recommend it highly. It should be studied by those who are considering using this version. The critique rightly emphasizes the fact that the revision is designed “to water down or omit details of meaning that modern culture finds offensive.” This is the crux of the matter: the theoretical position taken by the NIV revisers, that the language of the version must be made inoffensive to the sensitivities of feminism. That is what makes the revision unacceptable to conservatives.

The ‘Brief Response’ to this critique issued by the NIV committee does not engage or even acknowledge the central issue here. It is contemptuous and evasive. It claims that ‘the NIV translators have never been motivated by a concern to avoid giving offense.’ But this directly contradicts their own policy statement of 1992, which explicitly states that the purpose of the revision was to eliminate renderings that ‘offend modern sensibilities,’ and it contradicts the evidence of the version itself. Again, this is what makes the NIV revision so offensive, on theoretical grounds. It not only introduces thousands of inaccuracies, it requires us to accept a very objectionable de facto rule of translation. And to make matters worse, the revisers are not even willing to talk about the rule that led to these revisions”.

However, having said all this, I don’t dispute the right of Christians to use modern versions; in fact, I know that they are in the majority.  In my own church, for example, the congregation use the 1984 NIV.  During my formative years as a Christian, I used the 1952 RSV and loved it – it was the only bible I knew.  A few years later I became enmeshed in an abusive church for 23 years, and during most of that time I used the KJV.  When I was able to break away, I took up the NRSV and loved it despite its problems.  All bible versions have their problems but I’ve concluded that the best version for me is the one with whose faults I can best live.

“…And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you” (2 Peter 2:3).


Herodotus, The Histories, trans. Aubrey de Selincourt, 1954, revised by John Marincola 1972, further revised 2003, published by The Penguin Group, London, England

Nyland, Dr. A, 2004, More than Meets the Eye: The Campaign to Control Gender Translation Bibles, copyright by Ann Nyland 2004, published by Smith and Stirling Publishing, Parramatta, Australia