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Why Are There So Many Bible Versions?

Reason #7 - Profit

This is probably the most significant factor in explaining why so many English Bible versions exist today. Any publisher that produces a modern, scholarly translation of the Bible can expect to earn a profit from publishing that work. If the Bible version fills a particular product niche — one that is not served fully by any existing Bible version or one that is not served fully by any modern, scholarly Bible version — then the publisher can expect that new Bible version to dominate that niche market.

Of course profit gives added impetus to most of the previously-mentioned reasons as well. [Imaginary Bible publisher speaking:] “Are there any Baptist-specific English Bible versions that are modern in language and scholarship, employing a thought-for-thought very easy-to-read translation methodology? No? Would English-speaking Baptists purchase such a Bible version? They would? Then let’s organize a non-profit Bible translation group to handle that project (or assign that project to a non-profit Bible translation group that we’ve previously organized). Once they’re finished, we’re bound to make a profit selling copies of the new translation.”

Now imagine the situation if Bible publishers could not expect to earn a profit! The situation would be quite different than it is now. Instead of dozens of publishers and non-profit Bible translation groups producing dozens of different English Bible versions, we’d have new Bible versions only when a religious group or individual felt it was important enough to spend their own money to produce such a thing…at a loss.

To a large extent this was the situation before the 1900s. Although there was an “explosion” of new English Bible versions appearing in the 1500s (and probably profit was an important motive), we see relatively few new English Bible versions come into existence between 1600 and 1900. Table of English Bible
Versions in Order
of Publication Date
Almost all that did appear in those years were produced either without any compensation to the translators (most often they were motivated by personal, religious reasons) or as a result of a decision of a church leadership (in which case they were motivated by non-personal but still religious reasons).

Diagram showing the production flow and the money flow involved in the creation of a new Bible version
Creating a New Bible Version

In modern times the profit motive is typically the primary motive. (There are definitely exceptions, denominations and individuals that produce new Bible versions without expecting to earn a profit from doing so.) Because there are so very many English-speaking Christians, and because such people on average earn a relatively high income compared to the World average, it’s also true that there is a great deal of profit to be made from English-speaking Christians.

In fact profit is the biggest reason for so many English Bible versions, the reason that so often lies behind and “empowers” all of the other (mostly good) reasons for producing so many English Bible versions. Note that this is not necessarily a bad thing! Though the profit motive itself is not savory, with regard to quality and usability of Bible versions the result often is.

The desire for profit is causing publishers and other producers of new Bible versions to compete, to strive to produce better Bible versions (better than existing versions). This desire for profit motivates Bible producers to spend the money needed to produce such superior Bible versions (of course in hopes of making a profit from sales). The result is this: unlike centuries before the 1900s, we now have a great variety of English Bible versions from which to choose, many of them far exceeding older translations in accuracy, in precision and in faithfulness to the original Bible documents.

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