The Competing Streams of Modern Bible Versions

Christendom is being overwhelmed by a flood of modern bible versions.  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. 

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, working on one translation and then, when it is finished, moving on to the next revision or new version.

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.  This version, which was supposed to be a mild revision of the King James Version (KJV), was really 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.  In comparing the Western texts with the Alexandrian texts, Wallace writes, “….there was a strand of early copying that may appear to be controlled.  This is the Alexandrian family of MSS.  Yet the reason that MSS of this form look so much like each other is largely because they were in a relatively pure line of transmission” (Wallace, D. 2011).  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, being completed 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, albeit in italics to distinguish and separate them from the main text; and with comments in the margin to alert the reader that they are doubtful readings.

David Daniels critiques the RSV, writing: “Out of the 40 bible versions investigated in this book, the Revised Standard Version is the second worst.  The English Revised Version and American Standard Version were bad enough, removing God’s words 217 times in my small sample; but the Revised Standard Version was far worse, removing God’s words in 245 out of 257 selections”.  Later in the same chapter, he writes: “So the RSV removed over 10% more words, phrases and verses than Westcott and Hort could convince the Committee to do with the ERV and ASV.  The RSV even removed 8 more words than the Jehovah’s Witnesses did in their New World Translation” (Daniels D.W. 2020, Kindle edition; emphasis mine).  [Observation: Daniels holds to a King James only position, and presumably he means that the omissions and changes he refers to are by comparing the RSV with the KJV.  But if the translators of the RSV are using a different text to that which the KJV translators used, then the omissions were already in the Greek text which the RSV translators used.  And the omissions by the RSV translators were from their Greek text rather than from the KJV and relegated to the margin.  But these omissions were re-instated in the 1971 revision of the RSV.  So the RSV is not a malicious translation but a faithful translation of the Greek text(s) which the translators had at their disposal].

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.  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 resorts to adding words, changing the singular to plural, and various other ways of “distorting” the Greek or Hebrew text. 

And now the NRSV is being updated.  “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) but was in reality a brand new version, the wellspring (RV) of the stream of English versions flooding the market. 

In response to the appearance of the gender-inclusive NIVI, Evangelicals began yet another new translation, which was also 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 for the New Testament and the RSV for the Old Testament and it, too, has since been revised with the Expanded Edition in 1987, and even more radically 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 its 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 successful, productive, and lucrative, 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.  In a collaborative venture between NLT revisers and Catholic scholars, changes were made to the text which was 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 English Revised Version and its relatives, and the WH Text, on the churches is eye-watering.  The publishers have realised what a golden goose that 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, age, politics, military, relationship, bible teachers, and so on.  It is shameful.

New English Bible Stream

The complete New English Bible (NEB) was published in 1970.  It was hugely successful in sales terms, and when I was working in a large Christian book shop in Sydney at the time of its publication, the NEB was selling like a popular paperback novel in volume and speed.  With the feedback from its many customers, the publisher or bible translation committee decided to revise it, and the Revised English Bible (REB) appeared on the market in 1989.  However, it arrived too late.  The NIV had become very popular with evangelicals and the NRSV was published at about the same as the REB, and quickly dominated the market which would otherwise have gone to the REB; and that stream dried up. 

“Because of its scholarly translators, the New English Bible has been considered one of the more important translations of the Bible to be produced following the Second World War. Biblical scholar F. F. Bruce declared that ‘To the sponsors and translators of the New English Bible the English speaking world owes an immense debt. They have given us a version which is contemporary in idiom, up-to-date in scholarship, attractive, and at times exciting in content…’ T. S. Eliot, however, commented that the New English Bible ‘astonishes in its combination of the vulgar, the trivial and the pedantic.” Henry Gifford argued that “the new translators … kill the wonder’

“For the New Testament the New English Bible Translators relied on a large body of texts including early Greek New Testament manuscripts, early translations rendered in other languages (those aside from Greek), and the quotations of early Christian writers and speakers. The text adhered to by the translators of the New English Bible can be found in The Greek New Testament, edited by R.V.G. Tasker and published by the University Presses of Oxford and Cambridge (1964)”.

Unlike its opposition, the NEB/REB used the Dynamic Equivalence method of translation, and used an eclectic set of Greek manuscripts (mainly Western family, I think), which are less conservative than the UBS/NA texts.  C. H. Dodd, vice chairman of the Committee said of the NEB: “…free, it may be, rather than literal, but a faithful translation nevertheless, so far as we could compass it”.

From: New English Bible – Wikipedia

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 immense financial pressure from the Southern Baptist Convention and lobbying of protesters applied against the publication of the NIVI, writes: “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 relentless.

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. 

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 several 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.

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 of the HCSB, Arthur Farstad, editor of the New King James Version, intended to use his new Majority Greek Text as the basis for a new translation of the bible.  However, being compiled from only a few manuscripts, and largely Alexandrian, 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 to use, and chose 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:

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 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 KJV).

Bible publishers are doing a great disservice to the Church and to individual Christians, as well as to the Bible itself, in swamping the market with their new versions which they constantly update to keep the profits rolling into their engorged offers.  Paul surely prophesied of the scene today when he wrote: “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word; but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Cor 2:17 RSV 1971).


Daniels, David W, 2005, 2013, “Did The Catholic Church Give Us The Bible?” Chick Publications, Ontario, California

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

Wallace, D. 2011, “Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament”, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI 49501