On occasion I’ll have someone offer various arguments why they don’t believe in God, the Bible, or any other religion. I’ll just focus on one common objection I’ve heard, and it goes something like this: “There are so many different versions of the Bible. If the Bible is truly the word of God, shouldn’t there only be ONE version?”
I think this argument is based on a number of assumptions about the nature of God. It assumes that God should act and behave in a predictable or acceptable manner according to our personal preconceptions. It assumes that we have the mental capacity to know what a perfect, omniscient, omnipotent god could and should do. And it assumes that we’re good enough to know what a good god would do.
Immediately several questions come to mind. I’d ask, “How do you know what God should have done?” And, “What makes you so sure that having different versions is a mistake or a sign of an imperfect God?”
Obviously, as human beings, we’re not perfect, omniscient or omnipotent, so we really wouldn’t know what God should do, or why he did it unless he provided us a revelation or explanation. If God hasn’t offered us any information, then we can only speculate why he allowed something to happen. And when skeptics speculate like this, they often conclude that God cannot exist simply because they came up with a scenario that doesn’t make sense to them. But an argument from incredulity doesn’t have much merit. As a Christian believer, any speculation must be supported by the Bible because that’s what we recognize as our authority.
For the sake of argument, I believe that God has allowed so many different versions for a number of reasons that are plausible without calling into question his existence. The fact that there are different versions of the Bible isn’t a reason to be an atheist.
From a practical standpoint, we know that he original Scriptures were written in Hebrew and Greek. Most humans cannot read Hebrew or Greek, so it makes sense that we’d accept a translation in a language we can understand. Further, since people translate languages differently, we’re going to have different translations of the same subject matter. Invariably people will argue over wording, phrases and meanings, and that leads to different versions. As time passes and our language changes, it’s only reasonable that we’ll adopt more modern versions. Further, different groups may think they can improve upon the current version. I think all of these are commendable. But then we also have other translations and versions based on one’s personal philosophy or brand of politics. So there are both good and bad reasons for the different versions. Of course I think the versions that are most faithful to the original language are our best option.
Now I think part of the argument assumes that God should dictate only one version for everyone. But is there any merit to this? Well, if this were the case, then anyone who wanted to become a Christian and read the Bible would have to learn the original Hebrew or Greek, which isn’t necessarily a terrible idea; I’d love to be able to read Hebrew and Greek, and it wouldn’t be overwhelming to take a class and learn the language. But that’s beside the point. Sure, if God had dictated this, then that would be well and good- except that people living in poverty most likely wouldn’t have the resources to learn a new language. But would one version of the Bible really alleviate the concerns of the skeptic? Or would the skeptic find some other objection to the existence of God?
If we suppose that God did dictate that we only read the original language, the skeptic might claim that this is proof that God doesn’t exist, because why would a loving God dictate such a rigid approach to studying his word? I’m sure any objection would suffice.
From a Biblical perspective, I think there are many good reasons for all the different versions. For example the book of Acts explains how believers from every nation were able to hear God’s word in their own native tongue. I think this offers evidence that God wants us to understand him in our own language, and that language is not a barrier to the gospel.
So long as the gospel message is the same and faithful to the original text, I think the version makes little difference. In most cases it boils down to preference. Do you like the old or new King James version? Or do you prefer something more modern and easier to read?
In the end I don’t think there’s any rational argument demanding only one version of the Bible in order for God to exist. There’s no indication that God finds this unacceptable, otherwise he would have added to the commandments, “Thou shalt not read any other version of Scripture except the original text”, or something to that effect. There’s also no indication of Jesus objecting to alternate versions or translations.
Finally I think it’s actually a very powerful testimony that God is able to transform so many lives across the earth through all the various languages. The gospel message is the same wherever we go. It’s also very humbling when we can introduce the gospel into a new language for people to learn and understand.