Have you ever wondered which Bible version was the best version? If so you’re in the same boat with most Christians. When it comes down to it, people usually base their choice on two factors: 1) what they’ve been taught by their pastors and 2) what they’ve grown up with in their own Christian life. There is sometimes a third factor: readability. Sometimes people will choose a version based on how easy it is to read and/or understand.
Let’s talk honestly about the different versions and what they mean. Hopefully you’ll be able to choose wisely and with discernment for your own needs.
The first real difference between versions has to do with the original manuscripts. The Bible was not written in English but in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. So any English translation is a secondary work. Most mainstream Evangelicals believe that the original manuscripts are what are inspired, not the various translations. That means that, while translations are different, no single translation is more anointed than any other.
It is important to note that among all of the differences between translations and the original texts they use (KJV uses some different manuscripts than the NIV, etc.) there are no real significant theological differences between any of them. That means we can have confidence that the Bible translation we are reading today is accurate to the Bible the early church was reading.
So then it comes down to a choice of personal preference. Let me walk you through some of the options and why they are the way they are.
There are three mindsets for translators working on a Bible:
1) Translating word for word as much as possible. This is called a literal or wooden translation. These translations would include the KJV, NASB, RSV, and ESV.
2) Trying to blend the literal wording with the actual meaning. This is called dynamic equivalence. These translations would include the NIV, HCSB, and (to a lesser degree) the NLT.
3) Trying to put the Bible into an easy to read version regardless of the original wording. This is called a paraphrase. An example of a paraphrase would be The Message. It is not actually a translation but rather loose approximation of meaning based off of other translations.
Most serious Bible students stay away from paraphrases. While they create an easy to read story, they place fast and loose with the actual text. Since we believe that the original text was inspired, I would rather not give an approximation. On the other hand, being too wooden becomes very burdensome to read and makes for difficult comprehension.
For this reason I prefer a version that is a dynamic equivalent – one that cares about the original text and seriously attempts to bridge the original text with a contemporary vocabulary and comprehension (like the NIV or HCSB). The problem with dynamic equivalent translations, though, is that the translation involves much more interpretation than a wooden translation. What I mean is this:
A wooden translation focuses more on getting the words translated accurately than on meaning. In order to get to underlying meaning, translators of dynamic equivalent versions have to make some educated guesses as to meaning, context, etc. This means that the translators’ personal theology or ideology has a greater chance of coming through in a dynamic equivalent version than a wooden translation. You may not like the woodenness of the ESV or NASB, but they are less likely to include the personal biases of the translators.
In the end, I always tell people that the best version is the one that they will actually pick up and read! No matter what your decision, I have confidence that you’re reading God’s Word to humanity. So find one that works for you – one that you can dig into and spend time with.
Let your voice be heard: Which version is your “go to” version? Why?