Which Bible translation is best? [Podcast Episode 8]
How can you responsibly pick an accurate bible translation with literally hundreds of english language translations out there? This post will give you a better grip on how to make an informed decision.
I recommend beginning with looking at an awesome collection of articles by Christian Book Distributors (CBD) if you still have questions after reading this post. They have some awesome helps for finding which Bible is right for you. To see a list of this series of articles click here. The two main concerns to consider as you choose a translation are reading level and translation approach.
The Main Takeaways from the Podcast
Bibles are written with a reading level in mind. I will never forget the comment of the woman which prompted me to write this post. She said, with regard to a Bible I gave her when she was a teen, “It was the first Bible anyone gave me that I could read.”
The following chart is from the CBD page, Bible Translation Reading Levels.
The CBD site notes that people may disagree on these reading levels, but these are approximate reading levels drawing upon information from publishers when available.
Translators tend toward different approaches of translating that range somewhere between “word-to-word” or “thought-to-thought” translation.
Word-to-word translations tend toward a more literal translation of text in which the nearest equivalent English word is found to replace the hebrew or greek original words. Word-to-word translations strive to retain the original sentence structure and grammar, in as much as possible.
Thought-to-thought translations strive to find the essential thought that the original words intended to convey and then find functionally equivalent words or phrases in English.
Once again, CBD has a nice concise discussion about these terms on their page, About Bible Translations. The graphic below is taken from that page and gives you at least a general sense of how translations fall upon the spectrum of word-to-word versus thought-to-thought approches.
MY PERSONAL PREFERENCES
I read from multiple translations. For study I lean heavily upon the New American Standard Bible (NASB) or The English Standard Version (ESV). As you can see from the chart above, it is one of the most literal translations. I really haven’t noticed any sacrifice regarding readability. I originally purchased this Bible as much for it’s margins as I did it’s translations and have regretted neither. My wife has used the ESV frequently when doing translation work and finds it a well-grounded translation. It’s one I am going to check out in the near future.
For many years, I used a Thompson Chain Reference Bible that was a New International Version (NIV). The NIV is extremely readable which probably explains its wide appeal. If I were in doubt on purchasing a Bible for someone else or if I were getting a Bible for a teen I would lean toward the NIV because it is a reasonable compromise between word-to-word and thought-to-thought translation while being at a reading level that is simple, but not necessarily juvenile.
I have a bias toward the left hand of the graph because I prefer translations that take less liberties with the text. The New Revised Standard translation is what we use in our pews at church. It has a good scholastic foundation for how it was translated. When this was written there was a distinct agenda to create a translation with gender neutral language. So, if that is important to you, then this is the Bible for you.
I would avoid paraphrases like the Living Translation as your regular reading. There is a place for these though. Sometimes I like to refer to them when I am so familiar with a text that it is hard for me to look at it with a fresh and open mind. Reading a Bible like the Message, in those instances, can sometimes open you up to possibilities that you really haven’t considered.
So which is the best translation? It depends. The bottom line is that you select a Bible you will read. The woman I mentioned above was given a beautiful and wonderful King James Version Bible. unfortunately, it was seldom touched because the reading level was extremely daunting for her. As I mentioned, my personal favorite has become my NASB or ESV.
Ideally, you will compare translations from time to time during your study. When you stumble across words or verses that get translated in many different ways you are probably bumping into a hard to translate word with no equivalent in your language. Those are great opportunities to slow down and dig deeper.
I highly encourage you to go browse the CBD links and articles on their page, Choosing a Bible. Also, on their page, Choosing a Study Bible., you can find a very helpful and concise description of features that you may want in a study Bible. If you didn’t read my post, Choosing a Bible when you are a beginner, then I would recommend you go back and take a peek at it. In that post I cover a lot of very pragmatic concerns about which Bible is best for you.
- Evaluate your current Bible based upon it’s reading level and translation approach
- Consider getting another translation that you can compare and contrast with as you study
- If you do not have a study Bible, review these articles and visit a local Christian Book Store and get one as soon as possible
Blessings to you from The Practical Disciple
p.s. The best Bible in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t read. So be sure and follow a daily bible reading guide. To make this ultra-easy I have bundled two free resources together that will ignite your Bible reading:
The One Year Bible Reading Tool Kit. This helpful guide contains access to thirteen proven Bible reading plans, plus five easy to use strategies that have helped me successfully read the Bible everyday for over thirty years.
The SOAP Bible Journaling Cheat Sheet. Use this printable PDF with writing prompts to help you easily understand the Bible more quickly.
Click below to get your copy of both resources.
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<Revised and expanded from an original post from Oct 30, 2009>
This is great information John, thanks! I knew there were the two different ways to translate the text but didn’t know which Bible was which so her I go! Now I know! I have an NIV, and an NLT (I also have a King James but like the lady you talked about, it doesn’t get opened. Now I would like to get an NASB so I can compare texts. Thanks again. Great stuff here!