Choosing a Bible Translation

KJV, NIV, NASV, ESV, NKJV, TEV, TLB  – The sheer number of versions can be overwhelming.  How do you go about choosing the right Bible translation?  The following article by my friend, Nate Whitley, will shed some light on the matter!

Choosing a Bible Translation

by Nate Whitley

If you are looking to buy a Bible, walking into a bookstore can be overwhelming. This is especially true in Christian bookstores. Shelves and aisles are full of different Bible translations, not to mention the specialty Bibles that range from student editions to camo-covered versions for hunters. Picking a Bible translation is sometimes like trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.

My intent is to help you choose an English Bible. This endeavor could be compared to rushing in where angels fear to tread. The terrain of opinions on English Bible translations varies far and wide. This article is not being written to change your mind about, advocate, nor denigrate any particular translation; but simply to guide you in making a decision. The Bible stands at the heart of the Christian faith, and a topic of such importance touches a vital part of our foundation. This article is not to poke and prod as much as it is to point and present.

Bible TranslationChristians should be very careful to belittle any translation of the Bible. God has used various translations to bless His people and to bring people to faith in Him. If Bible translations were a commodity, English-speaking people would be the owners of Bibles on a thousand hills. Not all English Bibles are created equal. Forced to choose, however, between not having any translation of the Bible, and having an inferior translation, I would choose the inferior translation. If Christians are reading the Bible, I believe we have succeeded. I do not believe anyone could argue that less people need to read the Bible in the United States. If anything, we need more people reading the Bible regardless of which English translation they prefer. Biblical illiteracy is rampant in our culture, and nowhere is that more visible than the church pew.

It is important to keep in mind that the Word of God is infallible. Translators of the Word of God, however, are not. God used fallible men to write His Word, and He has used fallible men to translate and publish His Word. The Author and His Word are perfect, but there is not a perfect language and there is not a perfect translation. Nevertheless, we are not without hope. Thankfully, God has blessed us with many wonderful English translations that are more than adequate.

When choosing a Bible translation it is important to make a well-informed decision, not one based upon emotion, marketing, or tradition. Instead, there are a few basic principles to keep in mind as you make a decision:

Inspiration: Scripture is inspired of God (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). Inspiration speaks of the original writing process and text. Divine inspiration does not extend to the efforts to copy and translate the original text. The original texts were written in Hebrew in the Old Testament, and Greek and Aramaic in the New Testament. Although we do not have the original manuscripts of the authors, we can rightly affirm that the copies and translations we do have are accurate representations. This does not mean we do not have the Word of God today. It simply means that we do not accredit any errors of textual transmission to the original manuscripts, which were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Word for Word: When studying the Bible it is preferable to use a literal Bible translation. Since the majority of Christians do not know Hebrew and Greek we have to settle for a more literal English translation. Scholars tend to call this a “word for word” translation. A good literal translation endeavors to translate the original text, word for word, without sacrificing proper English grammar. Word for word translations are very useful for in-depth Bible study.

Versions such as the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the King James Version (KJV), and the English Standard Version (ESV) are just a few of the excellent choices among word for word translations. When choosing one of these versions, it is good to consider their readability. Some are easier to read than others, and others may be more difficult.

Thought for Thought:  Some translations are considered “thought for thought,” also called “dynamic equivalency.” By definition, the translators attempt to balance literal translation and idiomatic readability. Meaning, the translation is much easier to read. The translators are concerned with the accuracy of the translation, but also weigh the intended thought of the original writer. Translators of thought for thought translations take a little more liberty in making frequent modifications to make the writer’s thoughts more clear.

The worst kind of Bible is a neglected Bible.

If you are looking for a Bible that does not sacrifice accuracy but is much easier to read, then the New International Version (NIV), New Century Version (NCV), and New Living Translation (NLT) are excellent places to start.

Paraphrase: Finally, there are paraphrase Bibles. Technically, a paraphrase is not a translation of the original languages. A paraphrase is a restatement of a text or passage giving the meaning in another form. Paraphrase Bibles have become quite popular in the past few decades due to their modern vernacular and accessibility. The purpose of the paraphrase is to clarify meaning in a text. A paraphrase Bible is trying to communicate God’s message in a very clear modern language. However, modern vernacular in paraphrase Bibles often cloud theological truths.

Paraphrase Bibles have their place in Christian reading. However, paraphrase Bibles are not recommended for serious Bible study due to their attempts to explain the text rather than translate the original text. This results in the paraphrase adding or taking away from the original text for the sake of readability. The Living Bible and the Message are examples of paraphrase Bibles.

Conclusion: Christians should be students of the Bible. The study of God’s Word is profitable for doctrine, reproof, and correction and in training for righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The same type of study and research should go into finding the most suitable English translation for your personal study and devotions.

God has graciously given to us His Word, and God in His sovereignty has used many different translations to build His church. The Word of God has adequately communicated in various English translations the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and for this we should be thankful. We should be grateful that we have many translations at our fingertips, while there are many countries with people who do not have a translation of the Bible that they can understand.

It is better to have people, especially Christians, read a weak Bible translation than not to read the Bible at all. God can use any version to bless people. The worst kind of Bible is a neglected Bible. God forbid that we would neglect to read and study the Bible while we have such an abundance of riches!

~ Pastor Nate Whitley

Nate Whitley is currently earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical Studies at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana.  He is the author of the book, “The Lost Art of Spiritual Disciplines” which you can find on Amazon: The Lost Art of Spiritual Disciplines