There are over a hundred different translations of the Bible. Getting the right version(s) is important for serious scriptural study – part and parcel of a thorough education in spiritual wisdom, history, culture, cosmology, prophecy, and eschatology.
I recommended the following translations:-
- New American Standard Bible (NASB), 1995 text. Best balance of original text literality, modern scholarship, updated language, and readability.
- New King James Version (NKJV), 1982. Balance of modern scholarship, updated language, and preservation of the literary cadences of the King James Version (original 1611).
- English Standard Version (ESV), 2001. Balance of modern scholarship utilizing many recent scriptural discoveries, updated language, corrections to their original Revised Standard Version (RSV) source, and improved readability.
Translation Methods & Preferences
Generally, modern Bible translations are produced by a committee of scholars, clergy, and teachers who assemble over long periods to decide how to represent the original texts. There are two main scriptural translation philosophies:-
(1) Formal Equivalence. Word-for-word translation. Preserves the literal fidelity of the original text whilst maintaining good literary form. This method emphasizes lexical and structural authenticity, which can be essential to comprehending meaning and doctrine.
(2) Dynamic Equivalence. Sense-for-sense translation. Reproduces the text using modern language and expression to communicate the basic message of each verse.
Popular Bibles like the New International Version (NIV) mainly employ dynamic equivalence as their translation method. Whilst this makes for a simpler read, it’s often at the expense of the precise meaning of the original text. For the casual reader, simply wanting to acquaint themselves with the general gist of biblical narratives, this may be quite unimportant. For serious students of scripture wanting accurate exposition of the original material (exegesis), dynamic equivalence presents too many unnecessary obstacles. Hence the main translations I see scholars use today are the NASB, ESV, and NKJV, all of which use formal equivalence. Good translations such as these help to confer knowledge of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words, idioms, and meanings, which are essential to grasp key points of doctrine, law, conduct, intent, dialog, and metaphysics.
Over the many years I’ve been discussing scripture with people (thousands of individuals from all backgrounds), they all found the text of the NASB, ESV, and NKJV straightforward to read.
Right now, I probably use the NASB most frequently. For me, it achieves a seasoned balance of literality, scholarship, and flow. It’s just solid. I am very fond of the NKJV too though, especially as I grew up with the King James text pretty close-by and have a naturally Anglo-centric relationship with its rich language. Historically, the NKJV has been my most-read Bible. And as I get deeper still into the art and science of scriptural study, I have noted that the ESV sometimes illuminates certain finer points exceptionally well. Frankly, the NASB, NKJV, and ESV translations all represent the original scriptures adequately and attentively. You really cannot go wrong with any of them. I use all three.
What About The King James Version (KJV)?
The King James Version of the Bible (1611 & 1769) is a formal equivalence rendering of the original sacred writings, quite remarkable for its time. It provides everything necessary to gain a rounded comprehension of general biblical content. However, as the translated text itself is now over 400 years old, the interpretation of certain passages and concepts is outdated in places. Scholarly knowledge, paleography, textual criticism, and access to historical data have developed considerably over the last few hundred years. For new and younger readers, the King James’ use of 16th and 17th century language (thee, thy, thou, sheweth, verily etc.) may appear somewhat archaic and occasionally difficult to understand. Whilst other readers both savor the classical language and find interpretive value in some of the inherent linguistic distinctions – such as between the singular you (thou) and plural you (ye). Regardless, the King James Version of the Bible holds a unique position in religious and literary history that attests to its fundamental fidelity.
Translations To Avoid
Avoid the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). Why? Whilst they offer decent overall translations in many respects, their liberal-leaning policy decisions mess around with the original material too much. The politically motivated decision to alter much of the masculine-oriented language and replace it with gender-neutral terms, can lead to both minor and serious distortions. I don’t buy that it’s just to be more inclusive. It can actually change the meaning of passages. More concerning still are alterations like Isaiah 7:14. The actual wording should read, “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son”. The NRSV renders it, “the young woman is with child and shall bear a son”. That’s quite a change. Hard to trust a translation committee that makes such decisions. The text becomes way too compromised for many evangelicals and scholars to accept. Also steer clear of The Message (MSG) translation which goes beyond the “thought-for-thought” translation philosophy into clear paraphrasing and re-writing. Again, this moves too far away from the original materials and places the scriptural understanding to heavily in the hands of the committee of translators, rather than the reader.
What do translators use as their original source materials? Scholars study and compare multiple versions of ancient documents to establish authenticity, consistency, and content. This is called textual criticism. Textual criticism of the Old Testament (first set of 39 Hebrew books of the Bible) focuses on comparing manuscript versions of the Masoretic text with early works such as the Septuagint, the Vulgate, the Samaritan Pentateuch, various Rabbinic texts, and the Qumran Caves Scrolls (aka the Dead Sea Scrolls). The New Testament material (second set of 27 Greek books of the Bible) has been preserved in many manuscripts. The three major sources used for translating the New Testament are (i) the Critical Text, (ii) the Majority Text (aka Byzantine), and (iii) the Textus Receptus. Many scholars agree that attaining an authentic view of original scriptural meanings requires judicious consultation of all the sources.
Example of side-by-side translations:-
Examples of interlinear word study, where the English and original Hebrew or Greek are displayed together:-