Proofing Multiple Bible Translations
How different can they really be?
“My new Bible is an NASB—that’s what my preacher uses.”
“I still read my childhood Living Bible; it feels like a warm hug.”
“I only read literal translations of the Bible. I don’t want translators interpreting anything for me.”
“There’s no debate here. We all know that Jesus spoke King James!”
If you have been in Bible publishing for any length of time, you have heard comments like these from readers.
Imagine you are buying your first Bible, one that you want to read and not just turn into shelf decor. You might visit a physical bookstore or an online retailer. Either way you shop, you are immediately confronted with shelves and shelves or screen after screen of beautiful designs, leather covers, embossed crosses, gold-edged paper, and a hodge-podge of letter combinations. You have no idea what CSB, KJV, NLT, ESV, NIrV, and NCV even mean, much less the differences between them.
You went shopping for your Bible thinking they were all about the same. But now you’re not so sure.
Understand the Differences
For a Bible publisher, this scenario may be a distant memory. But if you are creating a new Bible project, it is important to understand some of these differences. It could be a costly mistake if you model your project in one translation after a project in a different translation without accounting for either one’s design choices or editorial style.
Consider a situation in one of the Bible’s history books. The New Living Translation (NLT) has 64 lines of poetry in 1 Chronicles. Great, a checklist! Something editors and proofers alike appreciate. But before you assume you’ve just found your heaven-inspired checklist and use it to check all your Bibles, note that in the New International Version (NIV), the poetry includes 80 lines, not 64, in the same book. This amounts to 16 lines that convey similar meanings but are represented with entirely different styles.
Staying within the vein of the NLT and NIV comparisons, note that the NLT includes 186 cases of the small-capped Lord. Because this word convention is a translation of the Hebrew word YHWH, it should stand to reason that all the translations would match. But because of very valid and accurate translation differences, the NIV contains 176 small-capped Lords—10 fewer than those in the NLT. Although the message is the same, the translators found that they could accurately relate the Hebrew using slightly different sentences.
Even the names or spellings of some of the people found in the Bible can differ, such as the man who owned the threshing floor in 2 Chronicles 3:1. The NIV, NLT, and ICB (International Children’s Bible) all refer to this man as Araunah. But the NKJV (New King James Version), KJV (King James Version), and ESV (English Standard Version) call him Ornan. But before you add this name to your checklist and conduct a global change in your project, it’s worth noting that all six of these translations use Araunah for the same man in 2 Samuel 24:16.
IS IT ORNAN OR ARAUNAH?
Translations often spell the names of Bible Characters differently. Consider 2 Chronicles 3:1:
And is it Chedorlaomer we meet in Genesis 14:1 or Kedorlaomer? You may not know the answer, but you will certainly want your proofers to.
Beyond spelling differences, how a translation uses capital letters, hyphens, and spaces is something that should also give Bible editors pause. Take the name of the place cited in Joshua 9:17. It’s called Kirjathjearim, Kiriath-jearim, and Kiriath Jearim across translations. And Genesis 4:22 calls a metal worker Tubalcain, Tubal-cain, and Tubal-Cain depending, again, on the translation.
The Differences Go Beyond Scripture
And for all that material that may surround the actual text of the Scripture, such as the preface, other front and back matter, sidebar features, and study notes, each publisher has a preferred way of referencing verses in their translation. From preferred book abbreviations to spacing to punctuation, there is a lot to keep track of; it’s important to get your style guide right.
Is it confusing? Yes, but an experienced Bible proofreader will protect you from making a mistake because of the differences between Bible translations.
Investing in the right team of editors and proofreaders will save you the cost of reprint corrections later and copyright issues with a translation’s owner.