A lot of people ask me about which bible translation is best. This is a great question as the translation you use will “color” the way you look at the Bible and understand it. 200 years ago there were only a couple translations to choose from. Today, we can choose from dozens of translations. Each translation comes from a different perspective and with a different goal in mind. It is important to match your needs with the correct translation so that you can get the most out of the scriptures.
Which translation do I choose? Translations such as the NIV (New International Version), NLT (New Living Translation) and CEV (Contemporary English Version) use a “dynamic equivalent,” attempting to translate phrase by phrase to communicate the general phrase or idea. These are useful translations to get the big picture, but each has its limitations. Other translations like the NASB (New American Standard Bible), ESV (English Standard Version) and NKJV (New King James Version) use a “word for word” translation method, trying to translate the scriptures as closely as possible. These bibles are good for detailed word study of the scriptures.
Another approach is simply a paraphrase, such as The Message and the Living Bible. Both of these are not translations but paraphrases or interpretations of what the Bible says, basically restating in their own words. These can be helpful at times to hear the scriptures in a fresh voice, but are not good for study at all, because they are too “colored” by the perspective of the author. I treat these more like a commentary.
Personally, I like the NASB, ESV, and NKJV for Bible study. They are accurate and reliable translations (and in many cases very similar see Matthew 5:3 below). The NKJV is based on the Textus Receptus, so it includes some important verses and phrases that the others either omit or footnote. The legitimacy of those particular verses is in question for various reasons. Personally, I think they enhance the text, but are not necessary. No major doctrines are changed with or without them, so I use all three versions (NASB, ESV, and NKJV) regularly. It seems many people today in the evangelical church are gravitating toward the ESV.
When studying a particular passage, I like to read it in several translations. It is said that the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible or another translation. I like to see how the NLT translates passages. Sometimes I love the simplicity of the NLT, and sometimes, I feel it is over simplified or leads in the wrong direction. I think the NLT is great to read through devotionally, to get the big picture. It is also good for young people and new believers.
The Amplified Bible can also be good to compare with other translations. I don’t like reading it, because it tries to “amplify” what the verses are already saying and literally makes some verses 3 or 4 times as long (check out how long the first of the Beatitudes is below, going from 13 words in the ESV to 41 in Amplified).
The amplification is helpful when trying to dig into the meaning of the passage; however, because it adds many additional modifiers, you need to be careful so that you don’t simply pick and choose the words you like and come up with a rendering of your own choosing.
In my next post, I’ll give an overview of some of the common popular translations and the pros and cons.
Comparison of bible translations on Matthew 5:3 (the first of the Beatitudes/Sermon on the Mount)
1. NASB, ESV, NKJV (all identical on this verse)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
2. New Living Translation (NLT)
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
3. Amplified Bible
Blessed (happy, [a]to be envied, and [b]spiritually prosperous—[c]with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the poor in spirit (the humble, who rate themselves insignificant), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!
4. The MESSAGE
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”
Which Bible do you like to use for study? Which do you like to use for devotional reading? Do you agree or disagree with my perspective. Comment below.