All You Need to Know About Bible Translations.
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If you didn’t know any better, all of those acronyms could look like a secret code to the Pentagon or something! These are acronyms for different Bible Translations, and they are CONFUSING! Which do you choose? Which is the easiest to understand? Which one is the most accurate? Which one should be avoided? We are going to answer all of those questions in this article and give you the resources and tools you need to pick the best Bible Translation!
In this article, I am going to attempt to break down and simplify Bible Translations. There are some that are better, and there are some that are worse depending on what you are looking for. I will also share my favorites along with my favorite Bibles.
My Friend, all this stuff can be confusing, and there is always debate on every side on which is the best. But the bottom line is . . . . THE BEST BIBLE IS THE ONE YOU READ! It is as simple as that.
A (VERY BRIEF) History of Translation.
It’s important to understand that the first language of the Bible was not English. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and some Aramaic and the New Testament was written in Greek. Any Bible we read today is an attempt to capture the true essence of those languages. No Bible, not even the good ‘ol King James, is entirely 100% accurate.
I am no historian and feel going into a deep history of Bible translation is beyond the scope of this article. But if you are interested, read this article on how our modern Bible came to be. It is an excellent resource.
There are three categories of Bible Translations. Word-for-word, thought-for-thought, and paraphrase.
A WORD-FOR-WORD translation is one that does its best to accurately translate the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek of the original Scriptures. The King James, New King James, and English Standard Version are popular word-for-word translations.
In their book, A General Introduction to the Bible (1974), Norman Geisler and William Nix noted that when the King James Version is compared with what was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, “the King James Bible is 98.33 percent pure [in terms of comparison]” That’s pretty good!
The next is a THOUGHT-FOR-THOUGHT translation. Some call these meaning-for-meaning translations. If you are looking for an easy to read version of the Bible, thought-for-thought translations are what you are looking for. While they are valuable in putting Scriptures easy to understand wording, they are not the best for doctrinal reliability. At times, these versions often involve some interpretation of what the original writers intended to say.
Popular thought-for-thought translations include the New International Version, The New Living Translation, and the Revised English Bible.
The final category is the PARAPHRASED BIBLE. The goal of these Bibles is to make the language even easier to understand than thought-for-thought Bibles. A word of warning about paraphrased Bibles; they should never be your go-to for sound Biblical doctrine. Often the authors take incredible poetic license in interpreting their own religious ideas and beliefs into the passages.
Examples of a paraphrased Bible include The Living Bible and The Message.
Now that we know the three categories of Bible translations let’s take a look at a side-by-side comparison of Psalm 1:6 so you can see the differences between these categories. From the word-for-word category, I chose the New King James Version. From the thought-for-thought category, the New Living Translation. And from the paraphrased group, I chose The Message.
As you can see, the NKJV and the NLT are relatively similar. The NLT says the “Lord watches over the path,” and the KJV says that the Lord “knoweth the path.” The word knoweth in the original Hebrew there is yaw-dah, and it means to know, to see, to perceive, to watch. So you can see that the translators just defined the original Hebrew word for “knoweth” to make it easier to read. There is not a big translation difference between these two versions.
The Message, however, is out in left field and does not even come close to the correct interpretation, depth, and seriousness of Scripture. I read that verse and it almost sounded to me like the author of this version was trying to make a joke.
THE BIBLES I USE
My whole purpose for studying Scripture is to know the heart of God. I want to know Him intimately, and I want to know His word. If it isn’t easy to understand at first reading, I don’t mind digging, researching, and studying out the verse. That being said, my go-to is ALWAYS a Word-For-Word translation.
While I understand that every translation has mistakes, the word-for-word is the most doctrinally sound, and the most accurate to the original language, therefore, it’s the category I choose most often.
I read out of the Amplified Bible, New King James Version and the English Standard Version. I know many people swear by the King James (it was my Dad’s Favorite), but honestly, all those “thee’s and thou’s” get confusing. The New King James keeps the integrity of the King James and makes it more readable without interfering with the accuracy of the translation.
The English Standard Version is a newcomer to Bible Translations. In 2002, an attempt was made by Bible translators to bridge the gap between the readability of a thought-for-thought translation like the NIV and the precise accuracy of the New American Standard Bible. The ESV was born, and it is an incredible translation for ease of reading and accuracy.
I really like the Christian Standard Bible and will often use this Bible as a thought-for-thought Bible although it is also close to the word-for-word category. Every once in a while, I will use a thought-for-thought Bible and will read out of the New Living Translation for a different perspective. However, I won’t start there. I begin with the ESV or the KJV.
I never use a paraphrased Bible (like The Message or The Passion Translation), and I would suggest you stay away from them as well. They aren’t doctrinally sound, and they are more the author's spirit entwined in poetic words than the Spirit of God breathed into the words.
WHAT SHOULD YOU CHOOSE.
Honestly, that is a decision you need to make for yourself. Look at this chart, and you can see where a version sits on the spectrum. If you are new to the Bible, I would start with the English Standard Version or the Christian Standard Bible. If you are looking for a decent thought-for-thought, I like the New Living Translation. I would absolutely stay away from a paraphrased version, especially if you are a new believer.
If you’ve been in the word for a while, definitely move on over to a word-for-word translation like the King James or New King James Version. The English Standard is incredible and should definitely be utilized if you haven’t already.
Once again, the best Bible is the one you read. We are so very blessed to live in a time and place where the Bible is available to us on every phone, tablet, and computer. I hope this post encouraged you to find a translation or two or three and fall in love with the Word of God like never before.
You can read every Bible version for free.
You can find every Bible version on any devise.
But, the Word cannot set you free if you don’t read it.
What is your go-to Bible translation? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.