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Bible Translation Guide: Which Bible Translation Should I Use?

November 14, 2018
Bible Translation Guide: Which Bible Translation Should I Use?
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Choosing a Bible is so overwhelming. If you go to your local bookstore you’ll find TONS of different Bibles.

What’s interesting is if you had been looking to purchase a Bible only 50 years ago, your choices would have been between just two or three versions.

NOW you are faced with shelves and shelves of Bibles that are all demanding your attention.

The overwhelm is REAL.

Which Bible is the most accurate?

Which Bible is the easiest to read?

What factor should I consider when purchasing a Bible?

All of these questions are valid, and throughout this Bible translation guide I hope to answer every single question you might have regarding which Bible translation you should buy so that you can make the best possible decision for you.

Bible Translation Guide: Which Bible Translation Should I Use?

Original Language of the Bible

As you have probably already guessed, the Bible wasn’t originally written in English. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, with a few sections written in the Aramaic language.

The New Testament was written in Greek, which was the universal language of the Roman Empire at that time.

Because of this, the original language of the Bible included Hebrew and Aramaic for the Old Testament, and Greek for the New Testament.

When it comes to translating the Bible, Bible scholars have to have a thorough knowledge of not just the original language it was written, but also the culture so they can properly translate the author’s message and context to the reader.

Bible Translation Accuracy

Let’s talk Bible translation accuracy.

We’re going to camp out here for a second because understanding this section of the post will help you understand all of the other sections. It will help answer questions such as, which translation is most accurate, which translation is best for beginners, which translation is easiest to read, etc., etc.  

Accuracy means honoring the original text of the Bible.

Keep in mind that this is extremely important because when you are translating the Bible you aren’t translating just any book; it’s the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16).

I really hope I don’t lose you guys in this section, but this part is important to understand.

Unfortunately, there are currently no original manuscripts of the Old Testament or New Testament writings. Over the years they have been lost from decay, fires, wars, the list goes on and on.

Despite that, the original manuscripts of the Bible were copied and recopied many times, which was done entirely by hand until printing was invented in the 15th century. As a result, there are many small variations among the thousands of ancient Bible manuscripts we have today.

It is important to remember, though, that no doctrine of the Christian faith is put into doubt by these small variations. The testimony of the thousands of manuscripts over 1500 years is entirely consistent on all the key issues of the Christian faith. This is actually truly remarkable and proves that God’s Word has been preserved through the ages.

Desiderius Erasmus, a Dutch scholar set out to create the first printed edition of the hand-written Greek New Testament manuscripts. The Greek printed text of the New Testament became known as the Textus Receptus (TR), or “Received Text”. This text became the basis of the Bible for centuries, and is most notably used in the King James Version.

In 1604 King James I of England commissioned a new translation of the Greek New Testament into English based upon the Textus Receptus. The work was done by 47 Bible scholars of the Church of England and completed in 1611. 

Some people believe the King James Version is the most accurate and the only authentic version of the Bible. They claim that later versions were rewritten to suit the biases of the publishers, or are incomplete in some way.

Despite this, the vast majority of Bible scholars and Christian reject this and do not consider the King James Version to be any more accurate or sacred than other translations.

I personally love the King James Version of the Bible for its poetic and literary beauty, but I in no way consider it to be the most accurate or most reliable Bible available.

If this topic is of interest to you, a great book that goes further in depth is The King James Only Controversy by James White. Definitely check it out if you would like more information.

The King James Only Controversy by James White

Modern Bible Translations

It was not until the publication of the Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament in 1881, which preferred the Alexandrian text-type, that the Textus Receptus lost its position as the Greek New Testament standard.

Thanks to developments in archeology, throughout the nineteenth century many other ancient manuscripts have been found. Because of modern scientific dating methods, these manuscripts are believed to be older and closer to the originals than those used in creating the Textus Receptus.

 

The use of these more recently discovered manuscripts forms the “Alexandrian Text-Type” or the “Critical Text” which is commonly used as the standard edition of the Greek New Testament. In addition to that, many ancient Bible manuscripts and fragments have been discovered since the late 1800’s. The most exciting of which are the Dead Sea Scrolls which was discovered in 1947.

 

All other modern translations of the Bible besides the King James Version use the critical text of the Greek New Testament.

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Despite these recent discoveries, the differences in translations between the newer manuscripts that collectively form the critical text, and the Textus Receptus that creates the King James Version, are all extremely minor. Most of the differences are alternative spelling, alternative word order, or the presence or absence of an optional definite article such as the word “the”.

We may debate the particular wording in a few passages, but the fact remains that God has left us a wealth of manuscript evidence with only have a few minor differences, but all agree on core Christian doctrine.

This is truly remarkable and is a testament for the ability of the early Christians to preserve the Word of God.

Check out the video below to learn more about the King James Version verses other modern translations of the Bible. 

But even if we did all agreed on the best manuscript basis, we still have the other issue of translation method.

Different Bible Translations

An interesting thing to point out is it is actually impossible to perfectly translate one language into another. This is because each language has different grammar, cultural idioms, and words that are not always directly synonymous with a counterpart in a different language.

Furthermore, you’ll find that as the accuracy of a translation increases, the readability may decrease. And as the readability increases, the accuracy decreases.

Often times, a literal translation of a language doesn’t make it more accurate because it simply doesn’t make any sense.

I used to live in Spain and have spent years studying Spanish so, I will use Spanish as an example: Consider the question, “Como se llama?”

Here are two versions of this translation in English:

Option 1: “How is it called?”

Option 2: “What is your name?”

  • Option 1 is a literal, word-for-word translation of the original Spanish. But it is not a good translation because it doesn’t make any sense in English. Furthermore, it definitely is not translated in the correct context that it was intended to be used.
  • Option 2 is a far better translation, and it is the translation we unanimously use without question. Even though it is not a literal translation, it accurately communicates what the Spanish version was trying to convey.

Many translators consider accuracy to mean paying careful attention to the words of the original, then finding the best possible way to capture their meaning in natural, readable English.

Most Literal Bible Translation

A more literal translation of the Bible is one that focuses on formal equivalence. This is what we described above as a word-for-word, translation giving priority to what the original language says and how it says it.

This means staying as close as possible to the original wording, even if some of the meaning, nuance, understanding, and readability is lost.

This is particularly useful when you are wanting to study a passage in-depth and you are okay with losing some of the readability.

Examples of Literal Translations (Formal Equivalence) of the Bible:

If you are looking for a good literal translation of the Bible, I would recommend either the New American Standard Bible (NASB) or the English Standard Version (ESV).

The New King James Version (NKJV) might also be of interest to you, which was a project started in 1975 by 130 Bible scholars aiming to update the vocabulary and grammar of the original King James Version while preserving the classic style and literary beauty of the original 1611 version. Throughout the process they remained faithful to the original Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew text while also including the recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls. If you are interested in the New King James Version then click here for details and price.

New King James Version

The translators refer to the NKJV as a “complete equivalence” translation instead of a formal equivalence, which still contrasts from the dynamic equivalence translation we will discuss below.

Best Bible to Read and Understand

If you are looking for a Bible that is easy to read and understand, a translation that is more thought-for-thought would be more helpful for you. These types of translations are described as dynamic equivalence.

A thought-for-thought translation translates the thought or the phrase as opposed to translating the literal, word-for-word. It aims to make the text as readable for the modern audience as possible.

This is particularly useful if you are reading large sections or books of the Bible at a time and are wanting to grasp the main concepts that the writer is trying to convey.

Examples of Thought-for-Thought Translations or Paraphrase (Dynamic Equivalence) of the Bible:

Optimal Equivalence Bibles

If you’re looking for a sweet spot between formal equivalence (literal word-for-word translations) and dynamic equivalence (thought-for-thought translations), then “optimal equivalence” might be a great option for you.

These are the Bibles I tend to read on a regular basis.

 

Examples of Optimal Equivalence Translations of the Bible:

Of the optimal equivalence translations, the New International Version (NIV) has become one of the most popular and best selling modern translations. 

New International Version NIV Translation

Most Accurate Bible Translation Chart

The best way to show the different translations of the Bible from literal, word-for-word (formal equivalence) translation to the thought-for-thought (dynamic equivalence) is to see it visually on a chart.

Bible Translation Guide: Most Accurate Bible Translation Chart

Source

Most Accurate Bible Translation

So as you can see, “accuracy” really takes on a whole new meaning when you understand why there are so many versions of the Bible and how each version is valuable in its own right.

Regardless of which Bible version you choose to read, whether you choose the classic King James Version or any of the other modern translations, rest assured that every version of the Bible I have mentioned have all been translated by a team of highly qualified Bible scholars and are an accurate representation of Christine doctrine.

These scholars have diligently and meticulously done their absolute best to convey the true meaning from the ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts for the modern reader.

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Which Bible Translation Should I Use?

Alright, we’ve reached the pivotal question, which Bible translation should you use?

As you can see, it’s hard to give you a “perfect” or “best” translation. To be honest, it might be helpful to not pick just “one” translation to read, but to find several good ones that have different strengths for different purposes.

For example, a more literal word-for-word translation often make great study Bibles for really digging into a passage and dissecting its meaning.

One the flip-side, a thought-for-thought translation often make great devotional Bibles, while I personally love the optimal equivalence Bibles for easy reading and understanding.

I’ve laid out a few scenarios below that hopefully will help you choose:

When choosing a Bible translation, what really matters is that you choose a Bible that fits your need.

Easy to Read Bibles

If you really struggle with reading the Bible and are looking for a Bible that is easy to read, then I highly recommend purchasing a thought-for-thought paraphrase version of the Bible such as The Message Bible.

This will be the easiest Bible to read so God’s Word can finally start making sense for you. The Message was translated from 1993 to 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson who was an American scholar, author, poet, and pastor. He has said that his goal has always been to “look for an English way to make the biblical text relevant to the conditions of the people”.

I think Eugene struck gold because his version of the Bible has been used by millions and was a Gold Medallion Book Award winner.

If you are interested in purchasing this version of the Bible, click here for more information and price.

Holy Bible The Message Version

What is the Best Bible Version for Beginners

I feel that if you are a beginner you could gravitate towards a paraphrase Bible like The Message Bible mentioned above, or go for an optimal equivalence Bible.

The optimal equivalence Bibles are a nice sweet spot between accuracy and readability which includes the New International Version (NIV), or the New Living Translation (NLT).

As a beginner I think it would be worthwhile to purchase a chronological Bible. I have the Chronological Life Application Study Bible in the NLT translation and LOVE it! It definitely helps when trying to piece the Bible together so it all begins to make sense. If you are interested in purchasing this Bible, you can click here for more information and price.

Chronological Life Application Study Bible NLT

At the end of the day, what is most important is choosing a Bible that best helps you understand what is being said. If that’s best done with a word-for-word translation, then go for that. If it’s best done with a thought-for-thought translation, then go for that one.

Best Study Bible for Beginners

I hope I am not overwhelming you with all of the Bible options available to you, but I would HIGHLY recommend purchasing a study Bible.

The benefit of a study Bible is it comes with additional information besides just the translated text of the original Bible. A study Bible includes opening information for each book of the Bible. This information includes a few paragraphs of the major concepts and themes of each book, who wrote the book, why the book was written, the time and setting in history the events occurred, maps with modern names and boundaries to show where the events occurred, the original audience the book was written for, key people and bible verses for each book, and so much more!

I feel true spiritual growth and understanding happens when you have a study Bible. When you read a passage and it makes ZERO SENSE to you, you can immediately look to the notes in the margin that expand upon the concepts represented in the Bible. Then you can use that information to understand not only what’s going on, but how you can apply it in your life.

Gamechanger, right?

The exact Bible that I use is the Life Application Study Bible in the NLT translation, and it is truly amazing. I honestly feel I would be lost without it. If you want to spend more time in the Bible but find it difficult to read and are constantly confused, this Bible is definitely the one for you.  Click here for details and current price.

Life Application Study Bible NLT Translation

Which Bible Translation is Closest to the Greek

If you are really wanting to stay as close to the Greek translation of the Bible as possible, I would highly recommend checking out a Greek/Hebrew Interlinear Bible.

The Interlinear Bible

What interlinear Bibles do is create a way for any student of scripture to examine the Greek or Hebrew words directly in comparison to the English translations.

Even if you do not know the Greek language, you can still get quite a bit out of the experience. With interlinear versions, you’ll see the verses in the English language first, with the Greek or Hebrew text directly underneath. Click here for details and price for Interlinear Bibles.

I hope this Bible translation guide has been helpful for you! Choosing a Bible can be tough, but I hope I have helped you in answering the question, “which Bible translations should I use?”. 

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Which Bible translation do you use? Love to know in the comments below!

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TIFFANY NICOLE

Tiffany created Lavender Vines as a place to share her love for Jesus and adventures from around the world. She has a slight obsession with salted caramel lattes, Japanese kimonos, and an ongoing love affair with NYC and Paris.

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