QUESTION: I'm not sure how to answer people that say they don't believe in the Bible because it's been through too many translations. I was recently looking something up and used the Bible Gateway website to look at different translations. How do we know which version of the bible is the one we should use?
A: Other than Bibles that have been specifically edited for cultic groups (such as the Jehovah's Witnesses) you really can't go wrong with any of the fine English translations of the Bible.
People say what they do about Bible translations because they are misinformed. They believe that our Bibles today are translations of translations, of translations, of translations until, MANY TRANSLATIONS LATER, we finally have our modern English Bibles. But this is totally false! Bibles today have not been through a generational translation process of getting to us.
Let me explain...
If a Bible is called a "translation" that means a translating committee poured over the original language manuscripts in order to translate them into English. (A translation is different than a "paraphrase." A paraphrase does NOT involve a translating committee or even the original languages. It's just a re-wording of the English text but those are always clearly marked as such. Those include The Living Bible and The Message.)
So, for example, when the ESV was translated, the committee, which was made up of Greek and Hebrew scholars, painstakingly went over the original language texts trying to determine the best English words to use.
Same with the New International Version (NIV), and the New King James Version (NKJV), and the New American Standard Bible (NASB). (There are other great English translations too.) They ALL went back to the original languages.
Does the specific wording differ in these English translations? Sure! Does the message change? Nope!
God is always Creator,
Jesus is always God's Son,
He was always born of a virgin,
Jesus is always revealed as God in human flesh,
Jesus is always declared to be the only means of being saved,
Jesus is always coming back, and
God is always revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
There are NEVER any variations to the doctrines and teachings of the Bible—regardless of which version you read.
Why are there differences in wording if all these Translation Committees are using the same Greek and Hebrew manuscripts?
This is because many times a single English word can't accurately describe one Greek or Hebrew word. It may take 3, or 4 or even 5 English words to convey the FULL MEANING of the original words. So different committees sometimes land on different words. But the MEANING is the same. Here is an example:
Romans 12:9 (ESV)
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
Romans 12:9 (NIV)
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Romans 12:9 (NASB)
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.
Notice the differences in wording. Genuine, sincere and without hypocrisy are all renderings of the same Greek. They are different words, but they all mean the same thing.
So that brings me to the final answer to your question: "...how do we know which version of the bible is the one we should use?"
Use the one that reads the easiest for you and the one that connects with your heart. With the major English translations you really can't go wrong.