Choosing a Bible translation can feel very overwhelming. This is especially true if you are a new Christian and you don’t yet know much about the faith. It’s difficult to know which of the many Bible versions you should use. Perhaps, you are wondering why there are so many translations out there to begin with. Or, how each version gets its name. Is there a “most accurate” translation? And are there any you should avoid? I know that all of this can get confusing so I’d like to offer some clarification and guidance for you. Keep reading because in this article I will share some important information that can help you to make an informed decision when choosing a Bible translation.
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Why Are There So Many Translations?
There are many different translations because we live in a global world with many languages, cultures, and dialects! Even among English speakers, there are many different ways of using the language. For example, a person living in the United States will speak a slightly different version of English than someone living in the United Kingdom. So, we have different Bible translations to accommodate for the various cultures that exist in our world.
Additionally, we have many translations because of the varying ways the Bible can be used. It can be used for personal study, devotional purposes, teaching, academic study, and reading aloud. A Bible version that may be excellent for reading aloud may not be as great for personal study.
Next, there are a wide range of Christian traditions, and one denomination may prefer a certain style of translation than another. Here’s an example: a Messianic community (Jewish people who believe in Christ as the Messiah) may want a version that keeps the name of God in Hebrew characters because of their belief that the name of God should not be spoken (or read). A Non-Messianic community may not need this.
Finally, scholars are always learning and gaining new understanding of the Biblical languages. So, sometimes translations need to be updated or revised. Ever heard of a translation called the Revised Standard Version? This just means that it was a revision of the previous translation. Now, just because a translation is revised does not mean the previous one is automatically useless. Some will purchase the new version while others will continue to use the previous one.
What Are The Types of Bible Translations?
Maybe you’ve heard people say that there are three categories of translations: word-for-word, thought-for-thought, and paraphrase. If so, you’re on the right track. However, I’d like to simplify that a bit and explain Bible translations in a slightly different way.
Think of it as a continuum. At one end, we have formal equivalence translations and on the other end we have functional (dynamic)equivalence. Formal equivalence translations stick more closely to the Biblical languages while functional translations will present the text in an idiomatic way so that it is most understandable for English speakers today. These do not oppose each other, they are simply different types of translations.
As I mentioned earlier, formal translations will attempt to closely follow the Greek and Hebrew text when translating into English. It is a literal and word-for-word approach. However, the issue with formal translations is that the original languages are just as idiomatic as our language is. This means that sometimes an idiom that made sense in Hebrew will be lost on English readers when we read it word for word in English.
And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord.Genesis 4:1 KJV
Unless you have a Christian background, you may be wondering how Adam’s knowledge of his wife could possibly lead to conception! However, in Hebrew, “to know” someone can mean that you had a sexual relationship with that person. Here’s the same verse in a functional translation:
Now Adam had sexual relations with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant…genesis 4:1 nlt
Next, instead of focusing on the literal reading of the text, functional translations try to present the text in a way that remains true to the language and makes sense to modern day readers. In the example above, the text does not literally say that Adam had sexual relations with his wife. It literally says that Adam knew his wife. However, since we don’t use the same idioms as the Ancient Israelites, the phrase “sexual relations” can help us better understand what is really taking place in the text.
Now, there is a potential drawback with functional translations. Translating often involves interpreting – it’s inevitable. However, the more functional a translation, the more interpreting scholars will need to do. Instead of allowing readers to study and understand the meaning on their own, very functional translations can end up including the translator’s own interpretive biases in the text. This is why each Bible version has a committee of multiple translators from different backgrounds working on it.
Related: How Was the Bible Put Together?
Which Bible Translation is Most Accurate?
None! No translation can fully capture the nuance of the Biblical languages. This does not mean that our English translations are “bad,” it’s just that we cannot perfectly translate between two languages. However, translators work hard to produce the best versions of the Bible in our language so that we can still know what scripture says even without understanding the original languages.
Instead of trying to find the best translation, choose one that aligns with how you plan to use it. If you need a Study Bible, choose a translation that is good for study. If you would like to read devotionally, then choose a translation for devotional reading.
Three Translations I Would Personally Recommend
If you are interested in my recommendation, I would suggest using the English Standard Version, the Christian Standard Bible, and/or the New Living Translation depending on your needs.
It’s great to use at least two different types of translations when you are studying. This way you can compare both and get a sense of the nuance that would have been found in the original languages.
English Standard Version (Formal Equivalence)
The ESV is a great formal equivalence translation. It’s a great version to use when you want to study the Bible.
Christian Standard Bible (Optimal Equivalence)
The CSB is a middle approach. It can be found somewhere between a formal translation and a functional one. It’s great for reading but it can also be pretty useful for studying.
New Living Translation (Functional Equivalence)
Finally, the NLT might be the easiest to read of the three. It takes the Biblical text and presents it in a way that modern English readers can easily understand. This is my fiancé’s favorite Bible translation and he would agree that every new Christian should have an NLT Bible!
Bible Translations to Avoid
There are only two translations that I would tell you to avoid. One should be avoided entirely and the other can be used in the right contexts.
First, I would recommend avoiding The Passion Translation. Why? That’s because it’s not actually a true translation. It was put together by one man who claimed to have received a revelation from God with a better interpretation of the original languages. On the other hand, valid translations go through many stages and are worked on by a committee of scholars who have expertise in the Biblical languages.
Next, I would say to use the King James Version sparingly when reading or studying the Bible. Don’t get me wrong, the KJV is not a “bad” translation. In fact, it was probably one of the best translations when it was published. But that was back in the 1600s…
Language develops and the way people spoke hundreds of years ago is very different from how we speak today. It is really difficult for a modern person to understand the KJV. You want a translation that you can understand because you want to make sure that you grasp what is being said in scripture.
The KJV is sentimental for many people and the language is beautiful. You don’t have to toss it aside completely but it shouldn’t be your study or devotional bible.
Where to Go From Here?
I hope that this article was able to give you some insight about bible translations so that you can make an informed decision. If you need to purchase a new Bible (or two!), my favorite Bibles come from a Christian company called Hosanna Revival. Their mission is to create beautiful products that will help excite people about engaging in scripture. I personally own two of their bibles, a few of their devotionals, a planner, and some of their notebooks. I would highly encourage you to check out their site. Perhaps you can find a favorite Bible there too!
Founder, Daily She Pursues
Shanté is the founder of Daily She Pursues. She is passionate about teaching women how to pursue the heart of God by studying his word, spending time in prayer, and committing to a daily walk with the Lord. Shanté is currently working on a Master’s Degree in Biblical Studies at Liberty University and some of her favorite things include tea, journaling, art museums, essential oils, and thrift shopping.