This is a brief guide to help readers choose a good bible translation. There are over one hundred different English language translations of the Bible. Getting the right translation(s) is important for serious scriptural study – part and parcel of a thorough education in knowing God, understanding spiritual life, and learning about 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, unbiased translation, updated language, and readability.
- New King James Version (NKJV), 1982. Balance of scholarship, language, and preservation of the literary cadences of the King James Version (original 1611).
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 inspired texts 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. Paraphrasing, basically. Reproduces the text using modern language and expression to communicate the basic message of each verse. Frequently re-writes the original inspired texts.
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 content and 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 use are the NASB ’95 and NKJV, both 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 ’95 and NKJV straightforward to read.
I use the NASB ’95 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. I have noted that the ESV (English Standard Version) sometimes articulates certain points exceptionally well, though is overall less faithful to the original texts, and occasionally suffers from disastrous and intentional deviations. Yet, with important texts in Deuteronomy 32 and Psalm 82, it renders them better than the others. Quite simply, over time, you have to acquaint yourself with the strengths and weaknesses of each credible bible translation.
Overall, for me, the NASB ’95 and NKJV are the best at representing the original scriptures. You cannot go wrong with either of them. I use both. In addition, if I am studying a particularly significant passage, I will often examine the same passage in the (i) NASB 95, (ii) NKJV, (iii) NET, and (iv) ESV, in that order, side-by-side, on something like biblegateway.com.
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
RSV, NRSV, NLT, MSG, and about 50 others I won’t bother to enumerate. Let’s look at a typical example of a content corruption due to the paraphrasing method (dynamic equivalence). In Isaiah 7:14, the actual wording should read, “a virgin will be with child and bear a son” (as faithfully articulated in the NASB ’95). The word for virgin is the Hebrew word alma, a term for maiden/maid which contextually means virgin. Indeed, as the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament states (p. 672), “There is no instance where it can be proved that ‘almâ designates a young woman who is not a virgin. The fact of virginity is obvious in Gen 24:43 where ‘almâ is used of one who was being sought as a bride for Isaac.” However, the NRSV renders the passage, “the young woman is with child and shall bear a son”. That’s quite a change. Reflect on the magnitude of that rewriting for a moment. It’s not some minor editorial piffle for a movie script; it’s changing the original inspired biblical wording and meaning. Hard to trust a translation committee that makes such poor `decisions. Though translations like the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) offer decent overall translations in everyday respects, their liberal-leaning anti-supernaturalism policy decisions mess around with the original texts way too much. In places, they grossly distort them. Politically motivated decisions to alter much of the gendered language and replace it with gender-neutral terms, leads to both minor and serious corruptions. It changes the meaning of passages in ways that the casual reader will miss. Which is what they’re betting on. Some translations do this somewhat accidentally; some do it intentionally and brazenly. Either way, totally unacceptable. Why on earth would you tolerate this when you can have clean, unbiased, faithful translations like the NASB ’95 and NKJV?
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:-