My initial research suggests that a Bible Translation has to do with translating the Bible from one language into another. However, I have been asked to find out how many Bible Versions there were prior to the publication of the King James Version of the Bible (in 1611).

The King James Authorized Version was translated from the Masoretic Text of the Old Testament, and the Textus Receptus family of the Greek New Testament (which is known as “The Received Text”).

I found the answer to this question helpful: Most accurate version of the Bible in relation to culture and time period?

However, I'm still unclear as to what differentiates a Bible Version from a Bible Translation. Why is the King James called a Version when it appears to be a Translation? Please don't be unkind because I am not a scholar and I can't find a straightforward answer. That's why I've come to Bible Hermeneutics.

  • 3
    Can't answer, but "version" is a very generic term used differently in different contexts, sometimes "version" means edition, one might say NIV 2011 version meaning that edition. Often essentially same as translation. Scholars regularly say "version" for any manuscript not in the original language; I have never heard the term used for an original-language text.
    – Bit Chaser
    Dec 6, 2018 at 15:30
  • Neither I nor either of the two answers so far have addressed the list of versions you asked for. You might consider editing the question to just ask what the difference is between version and translation, then ask the other, probably without using the confusing term "version". Hint: if you want English translations, the list starts with Wycliffe, unless you count partial translations in Middle English.
    – Bit Chaser
    Dec 6, 2018 at 15:44
  • Makes sense - first I need to understand the differences between a translation and a version. However, the question I have been asked is "how many versions of the Bible were there before the KJV". Before I can answer, I need to understand what the question is! Thanks for the clues.
    – Lesley
    Dec 6, 2018 at 16:06
  • This is a great opportunity for you to do Q and A as I know you're well able to do the research and be thorough. I hope you are able to include information about the Latin Vulgate in the answer also, and deal with the (somewhat justified) claim that KJV is too dependent on it. Feel free to ask other subordinate questions or contact me in chat if I can be of more help.
    – Bit Chaser
    Dec 6, 2018 at 16:23

4 Answers 4


Version vs Translation

"Translation" is the process; "Version" is the result of the process. However, in modern speech, these words are used almost interchangeably.

English Versions

Before the KJV there were almost 100 English versions of the Bible or parts of it. I will only list the highlights below and allow the reader to delve further. The dates for some of these is uncertain.

  • Book of Psalms translated by Aldehelm and Guthlac into Old English about 750 AD (?)
  • An unknown monk or monks penned an interlinear gloss in the Lindisfarne (Latin) Gospels about 800 AD in Old English.
  • The "Heptateuch" (Torah plus Joshua and judges) translated by Aelfric about 900 AD in Old English
  • The four gospels - the so-called Saxon Gospels were translated from Latin to Old English by Aldred about 990
  • The four gospels were translated into Anglo-Norman (not quite English??) about 1100
  • Paraphrase in Meter without Rhyme … done by Ormin about 1200(??)
  • Metrical Paraphrase of OT and NT called "SOWLEHELE" sometime before 1300
  • The most important Bible version (judging by its theological and political effect) is easily that of Wycliffe, first produced about 1384 in Middle English and translated from the Latin overly literally. It was revised by John Purvey into good fluent middle English and completed about 1395 after Wycliffe's death. While this Bible was not printed at the time (moveable type printing was invented in 1455) it has been printed often ever since.
  • Tyndale's NT of 1526 in "modern" English and quite different from the middle English of only 150 years earlier. It is the first printed Bible and established English as we largely know it today (just as Luther's Bible did for German). Translated from the Greek.
  • Myles Coverdale version of 1535 translated from the Latin
  • Matthew Bible of 1537 using Tyndale's NT and 1st half OT plus Coverdale's 2nd half of the OT.
  • HollyBusche NT in 1538
  • Taverner Version 1539 - complete Bible
  • Great Bible (essentially revised Coverdale) 1539
  • Geneva Bible; NT in 1557 and complete Bible in 1560 translated entirely from the original languages but still used much of Tyndale's phraseology.
  • Bishop's Bible 1568 translated from the original languages
  • NT of our Lord Jesus Christ translated by Theodore Beza (of Textus Receptus fame) 1576; translated from Greek
  • Rheims-Duay Version translated from the Latin; NT in 1582; complete Bible in 1609 or 1610.
  • King James Bible of 1611
  • numerous other version after 1611, including "Haak", "Bishop Lloyd's", "Wells Version", etc.
  • The KJV was revised numerous times correcting numerous grammatical and spelling errors; the final version (as we have it now) was produced by Blayney in 1769.

For more information and a longer list see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bible_translations_into_English



The typical dichotomy that is debated in Translation Studies and Comparative Literature is between translation and adaptation. The presumed goal of a “perfect translation” (which can never exist) is to render a text in one language into a precise and accurate equivalent in another language. In other words, the goal of a translation is to avoid making changes beyond what the change of language requires. The presumption of an adaptation is that changes are being made intentionally. Since all translations require some adaptation and all adaptations are translations of a sort (usually from one medium to another), the debate is sometimes a bit like trying to determine if the glass is half empty or half full.

The word “version” (like “adaptation”) emphasizes the change in a text, while a translation aspires to resist changing the text. Although every translation is necessarily a version, pointing out that a translation is a version is a mild insult, in essence pointing out that all translations are in some degree failures (words that rhyme in one language don’t rhyme in another, some jokes are funny in one language but don’t work in another, the connotations, associations and ambiguity of some words cannot be translated, etc).

It is worth noting that in 16th-century French “version” was a synonym of “translation.” The origin of the word is “turning away.” In 18th-century English the word “version” took on a sense of “destruction.” No translator would want her/his work labelled as “a version,” for the simple reason that it invites the extrapolation that the translation is one of many possible “versions” or worse still a “perversion.”

  • 1
    Excellent link/quote. I was just about to up-vote it when I remembered that the site/mods frown on answers that don't include your own words at all. This is the inverse of the problem of not supplying a source - "opposite but equal". Can you please add some commentary on the excellent and extremely relevant quote/link? Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Dec 6, 2018 at 15:23

I have long argued that all of the "Bibles" that claim to be "translations of the Bible" are actually "versions":

version noun ver·​sion | \ˈvər-zhən, -shən\ Definition of version 1a : an account or description from a particular point of view especially as contrasted with another account b : an adaptation of a literary work the movie version of the novel c : an arrangement of a musical composition 2 : a form or variant of a type or original an experimental version of the airplane 3 : a translation from another language especially : a translation of the Bible or a part of it 4a : a condition in which an organ and especially the uterus is turned from its normal position b : manual turning of a fetus in the uterus to aid delivery

The distinction is significant as you seem to intuit.

In order to be considered a "translation" there would have to be an original in a source language. But there isn't one. Each version committee first decides on the source text they will use and then they create the target version. If there were an original "Bible" then it would be a "simple" process of translating from A to B. But there is no original Bible, only various scattered manuscripts that have to be assembled.

And there is a mistaken assumption by many that there is only one KJV version. The 1611 version of the KJV contained the "apocrypha", books that were removed by the Reformers/Protestants in versions made 40 years later.

The KJV was the first version of the Bible built on the Textus Receptus, which first appeared in the beginning of the previous century. It has some readings that are not found in any other manuscripts, some of which appear to be Trinitarian manipulations, such as the Johannine Comma which make the text especially appealing to Trinitarians.

So because there is no original to translate directly and because the resulting texts vary, every Bible is ultimately a "version" not just a "translation".

  • 1
    Note: the ESV, ASV and RSV do NOT use the Textus Receptus. These versions were criticised for this because they (among other things) omitted numerous texts (eg, 1 John 7b, 8, Acts 8:37, 15:34, 28:29, inter alia) which the TR includes from the Vulgate (usually Clementine).
    – user25930
    Dec 6, 2018 at 20:28
  • Thanks for identifying my false ASSumption!
    – Ruminator
    Dec 6, 2018 at 21:28

In answer to "How many Bibles ?" before 1611, I cannot say exactly but Textus Receptus Bibles shows, on a single page, the English bibles commonly used from 1175 (the famous Wessex Gospels - not a full bible, but the most ancient known scripture in English) through The Wycliffe in 1382, which was translated from the Latin Vulgate, then Tyndale 1534, from the Greek text of Erasmus, and so on till 1611, the Authorised Version :

Coverdale 1535, Matthew's 1537, Great Bible 1539, Geneva 1560 and Bishop's Bible 1568.

Note that the KJV used now is the 1769 translation.

This list misses out the Douay Rheims Bible (NT 1582/OT 1609) from Jerome's Vulgate (not the Clementine Vulgate, which is later). Challoner revised the translation of the D-R in 1750.

The word 'version' has been applied in the past to the various translations (into Latin, Syriac and other languages) which were completed in the first and second centuries. As well the codices, in Greek (uncial and cursive), were the 'versions'.

So there is some overlap in the way the two words 'translation' and 'version' have been used and are now used. What matters is : the text underlying a bible and the way in which the text is rendered in a language other than the underlying text.

  • 2
    The way I read the question, wanting to know how many bibles before 1611 is part of the backstory to the actual question, which is about the difference between a translation and a version. I don't think this answers the question.
    – JBentley
    Dec 6, 2018 at 20:33
  • Challoner revised the DR, much later than 1609; he didn't do the original DR -- his is just the most widely available DR today
    – eques
    Dec 6, 2018 at 21:13
  • I have noted both comments above and edited a note on version/translation and corrected the detail regarding Challoner.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 7, 2018 at 7:05
  • 1
    @Lesley You are free to 'roll back' your question to a previous edit.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 7, 2018 at 10:54
  • 1
    Excellent link regarding Textus Receptus Bibles. Thank you.
    – Lesley
    Dec 8, 2018 at 16:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.