Which Bible translation should I read?

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.

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6 Responses to Which Bible translation should I read?

  1. jon says:

    useful info. Thanks!

  2. PaulH in TX says:

    Thanks, Tye. I like your choices.

    I like to read whichever bible is handy.

    • Tye says:

      Paul, that can be good, too! Just don’t leave a New World Translation hanging around. People often ask what my favorite book of the Bible is. Honestly, it is whichever one I’m reading right now. God’s Word is amazing!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    We have both the New King James Version (mine) and the New American Standard Bible (my husband’s). We also both utilize (on occasion) the Amplified Version for study when emphasis on the meaning of a passage is helpful from it’s [Amplified] perspective.

  4. Dave Adams says:

    I used to have a copy of the Message but after learning about Eugene Peterson’s background and reading a critique by Justin Peters I disposed of it so it couldn’t get into someones hands.
    Below is a comparison of translations found at, justinpeters.org

    Romans 8:35
    New American
    Standard Bible : 1995
    Update
    The King James
    Version
    The New International
    Version
    The Message
    35 Who will separate us
    from the love of Christ?
    Will tribulation, or
    distress, or persecution,
    or famine, or
    nakedness, or peril, or
    sword?
    35 Who shall separate
    us from the love of
    Christ? shall tribulation,
    or distress, or
    persecution, or famine,
    or nakedness, or peril,
    or sword?
    35 Who shall separate
    us from the love of
    Christ? Shall trouble or
    hardship or persecution
    or famine or nakedness
    or danger or sword?
    35 Do you think anyone is going to
    be able to drive a wedge between us
    and Christ’s love for us? There is no
    way! Not trouble, not hard times, not
    hatred, not hunger, not
    homelessness, not bullying threats,
    not backstabbing, not even the
    worst sins listed in Scripture:
    This one really is troublesome. Notice that all of the elements which Paul rightly asserts will never separate us
    from Christ are very earthly and temporal (tribulation, persecution, famine, etc.). Paul is basically talking about
    hard times. Eugene Peterson brazenly inserts into the passage: not even the worst sins listed in Scripture.
    Wow. This should trouble any clear thinking believer. Sin IS what separates us from God! That is why we
    need a Savior! For the one who is lost, sin separates from God positionally. For the believer, sin separates from
    God relationally. Sin is not even remotely in view in this passage. This is heresy.

    • Tye says:

      Thanks for the comments, Dave. I agree that The Message goes overboard in many cases. That’s why it is definitely not a study bible. The author, himself, even said he doesn’t think it should be used for public worship, but was intended for personal devotional reading.

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