The Best Bible Translation | Which One Should I Buy?
For most Christians, Bible reading is a most critical and important part of their daily lives. Not to mention that the Bible still remains the number one most sold book in the world, so it has some weight for just about everyone even if they are not devout or practicing Christians. It’s not uncommon then to be asked by someone about the best version of the Bible they should be reading. As I’ve said, it’s the number one selling book in the world so it’s a natural question. If you have the ability to read Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic then I’d encourage you to stop wasting time reading this blog because it’s not going to help you too much, those are after all the original languages of the Bible. The Old Testament is written in Hebrew and some Aramaic and the New Testament is written in Greek. But, I’m guessing that if you are reading this then you probably aren’t learned in those languages, so what is the best Bible translation next to reading in the original language.
Sadly, there isn’t any one perfect Bible translation for you to buy so it’s best to stop asking that question. You see, translating the Bible out of those original languages isn’t easy. Every translation on the shelf you see at a bookstore has been through revisions and committees of numerous people that are experts in certain Bible books and are masters of the original languages. This of course does not account for some that were solo operations, yes they are out there. As a matter of fact, the very first Bible translation into English actually occurred in the 14th century by a man named John Wycliffe. With translating the Bible comes a labor of love, these people will spend considerable hours going over manuscripts and reviewing previous editions considering if a change is warranted. This of course is all based on the philosophy of translation being used and the goals of the committee. As a result you end up having all kinds of translations out there such as the NIV, NLT, Young’s Literal Translation, NEB, ASV, etc. The list is long, and I’m sure that if you grab your current Bible you can open up to the first few pages and read all about how that particular translation came to be. So, what question should you be asking if not “what is the best Bible translation?”
The Better Question
The better question one should probably be asking when it comes to Bible translations is “what am I looking for in a Bible and in a translation?” You see, this not only is the better question, but it’s a lot easier to answer because it has a more objective answer. You are essentially asking about style at this point and want something that is one of three things (1) word-for-word, (2) thought-for-thought, or (3) a paraphrase. You are asking about a translation that has gone through revision and research and tries to give a be equivalent word from the original into English, something that tries to get at the original word but develops it into a better thought, or something that condenses stuff into bite size chunks and still communicates the right message. Additionally, there are other factors to consider.
Other factors that come into play in asking a better question relate to the person reading the Bible. I probably would not recommend a King James Bible for a 5 year old just learning to read and form words. For them I might suggest an NIrV, NLT, or age appropriate paraphrase. For a student I might suggest they buy a Greek New Testament and/or interlinear Bible. For a Sunday school teacher I might recommend a translation that will best communicate answers to the study they are doing in class in the most accessible translation. For the teen I might suggest they go with something digital and easy to read. Are you looking for a study Bible? If so, what features are you after? If you want one with the popular commentary notes, then I would suggest a different study Bible than if you just want something with parallel passages or a concordance. So there are all kinds of factors to consider in a Bible purchase.
The Background of the Bible
Possibly in looking for a Bible you may be aware of certain translations, but you don’t know much about them. There are some translations that are better than others. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the KJV didn’t use the earliest of manuscripts and the translator was not the best student of the original languages and made some mistakes, is that going to stop you for buying this translation. It may, it may not. I mentioned earlier that the Bible has been translated by solo translators at times, these are not always the best translations. Could that be a factor in your buying decision? Again, it could be. When you are looking to buy a Bible take the time to read on the translations history. The NIV for instance has undergone a recent translation and opted to use gender neutral language where it was appropriate. For some people this is a huge turn off, but having met a few of the translators it wasn’t as severe as most people think. Even if you don’t want it, the older version is still available in most stores.
I was halfway joking about the KJV of the Bible. Many people opt for this because that is what mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa used or that your Church requires you to use, and while I don’t want to get you into a debate with people you love, there are better translations out there, and no they didn’t remove anything from them that is in the KJV, it’s likely in the margin or a footnote which only occurs because early manuscripts do not contain the line (remember the manuscript for the KJV was later than the ones we have now). At other times there is a debate about how words are translated in the KJV as compared to another version, but I’m afraid that these people aren’t always the best language scholars, some don’t even know that the Bible was not written in English. If you’ve followed my hermeneutics post, then you know I’ve discussed this a little bit and the importance of why we must interpret the Bible. In short, there are not enough word-for-word equivalents in English to match the original language with our grammar and syntax, so most “literal” translations do the best they can, but are not always giving the fullest or best meaning. I’ve seen the same thing with the NIV, it happens to be the official translation for my denomination and people have similar sentiments about it, but it’s not required that we read it.
You want to forget the popular versions and go for a translation that works for you and your aim in using a different translation. If you are studying words, there development, there meaning then use a word-for-word (literal) translation. Don’t let church polity, popularity, or your family dictate the Bible the speaks to you and helps you understand God’s instruction to you for living a Christian life.
Buy Multiple Bibles
Ok, you’ve probably just thought that I am the craziest person alive now. You probably are even wondering if I have priced a Bible lately, and yes I have (I’m interested in a looseleaf NASB or NRSV if you are wondering and want to get me one). I understand the cost of a Bible, but it doesn’t have to be that expensive or hard to get one. There are Parallel Bibles on the market that generally cost a little more, but not the same as if you bought several single Bibles of different translations. Alternatively, Bible software such as Logos and the Faithlife Study Bible allow you to read multiple translations at a time if you want (I do recommend the Faithlife products by the way, they are very good).
Using multiple translations will allow you to compare translations easily and/or communicate things differently to help you understand what is being said in a text. They are also great for students who are writing exegetical papers in seminary or Bible & Theology school.
Ok, so now that I’ve pretty well killed the horse on selecting the best Bible translation, here are some of my recommendations for different situations.
Serious Study/Academics/Bible Study
- Septuagint & Greek New Testament
- Hebrew Bible & Greek New Testament
New Christian/Young Child/Teenager
- The Message
Older Christian/Devotional Reading
The NRSV and NASB translations tend to be the more scholarly and most used text in academic/professional settings. They do also lean in the direction of a word-for-word/literal translation methodology and do show the best of possible translation differences from other translations.
The NIV/TNIV/NIrV all are good translations for just about anyone, with the latter being better for younger readers. These try to balance a word-for-word and thought-for-thought translation using the best available in either scenario, this is sometimes called dynamic equivalent translation.
The NLT is a thought-for-thought translation that is good and easily read by most people in verbiage that we are most familiar with. It is excellent for new Christians, young readers, teens, or just about anyone.
The Message is a paraphrase written by a pastor and scholar who went back to the original text and rewrote it in more common vernacular and summarizing things into key theological points. This is again great for new believers, young people, and teens.
If you have any questions/concerns then I encourage you to leave me a comment below or send me a message using the contact form. I’d also like to encourage you to head over to our bookstore and check out some Bibles. I’ll be adding the recommended translations and put a few different kinds into the store, all of which will be under the “Featured” tab or can be found via search on the store.
Grace & Peace,