Choosing the Best Bible Translation

by JSheaForrest

A guide to the different Bible translations and versions.

The Bible has been around a long time – thousands of years. In that time, there’s been hundreds of translations into over 400 different languages. There are dozens of English translations. While you may think, Don’t they all say pretty much the same thing? Does any difference really matter? You may find that some translations are better for different things. Some are better for memorizing, while others are better for a deeper study. Here’s how you know which is which.

Literal Translations

There are two main schools of thought in Bible translation. One goes for a very literal, word-for-word translation. This makes the translation very accurate and dependable. However, English grammar is different from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek grammar. So sometimes the resulting English translation can be difficult to read – and the more literal, the more difficult. Try reading through Genesis chapter 1 using Young’s Literal Translation via and see what I mean. These translations can be excellent for word studies. For instance, look up every reference to blood, or heart, or forgiveness. Since the same Greek or Hebrew word is translated the same each time, it’s easier to find every instance it was used in the original manuscripts and build a study off of what you find. Some good word-for-word translations are the English Standard Version (ESV), the New American Standard (NAS), and the New King James (NKJV).

 I personally don’t recommend the non-revised King James because the English language has changed a lot in the past four hundred years. And if you’re not an expert in Olde Ynglish, that can make it pretty confusing!  “Thee” and “thine” were originally the singular, informal versions of “you” and “yours”, (instead of being plural like you all/you all’s; "you" was the plural and formal form.) It's not some formal fancy speak like some people tend to think it means. And some idioms have changed dramatically. For instance, in the gospel of Mark, chapter 6, verse 25, the KJV states that Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist “by and by”. Nowadays, that means “when you get around to it.” Back then, it meant more like, “immediately”. Big difference in meaning, there!

Word For Word Translations

New American Standard Bible

5-1/4" X 8" Trim Size, Black Letter Edition, Concordance, 10 Full- page Maps. Discover the truth in the inspired Word of God by reading the New American Standard Bible. The upda...

$5.66  $17.98
Nelson's NKJV Study Bible

Chosen by pastors and lay leaders alike, Nelson's NKJV Study Bible, is the cornerstone Bible for anyone interested in serious Bible Study. Along with the New King James Version,...

Only $34.97
The ESV Study Bible

The ESV Study Bible, Personal Size compresses nearly all the features of the award-winning ESV Study Bible into a smaller size for easier carrying. This Personal Size edition re...

$27.99  $39.83

Thought-For-Thought Translations

The other school of thought in translating is thought-for-thought. These translations look at the broader meaning of the phrase, thought, or sentence and put that into English that is easy to read and understand.  A commonly used thought-for-thought translation is the New International Version. Others include the New Living Version, and the Contemporary English version.

Be wary of paraphrased versions though. Sometimes a paraphrase, while using very modern English, will say things that simply aren’t there in the original. But if taken with a grain of salt, and using a more literal version for comparison, these versions can help really bring to life the text. If reading the Bible seems dry and boring, a paraphrase such as The Message may help lift you out of that.

Easy to Read Translations

NIV Thinline Bible

Lightweight. Functional. Ready to travel. Whether you're going to church, heading to work, or touring the globe, the NIV Thinline Bible is ready to go with you. Its size makes i...

Only $15.0
Holy Bible Text Edition NLT (Bible Nlt)

This text Bible offers readers the clear and accurate New Living Translation along with features such as a topical verse finder, full-color maps, and a full-color presentation p...

Only $2.36
The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language

Improved design and enhanced features make this version of The Message Numbered Edition the contemporary translation of choice.This regular size Message features:• Handcrafted m...

$22.49  $15.95

Middle Ground

My personal favorite version takes the middle road between word-for-word and thought-for-thought. The Holman Christian Standard (and the Apologetics Study Bible I have with it) uses a mostly word-for-word translation but also uses thought-for-thought where necessary to make the translation easy to read and study from. (Plus, it’s a very thorough study Bible with lots of interesting facts, comparisons, short articles, and the like to help me go deeper in a study.)

Whichever Bible – or Bibles! – you decide to use, be mindful of its strengths and weaknesses, and may your study bring you closer to the One whose Word it is.

My Favorite

HCSB Study Bible, Jacketed Hardcover

2011 ECPA Christian Book Award Winner!Developed in direct response to what consumer focus groups asked for, only one study Bible delivers more than you'd expect-right where you'...

$26.71  $99.47

Which Bible Translation Do You Use?

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Updated: 07/18/2012, JSheaForrest
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Nitish on 04/27/2017

<a href=http://www.languageconsultancyse...
>English to German Translation Services</a>

Chris on 07/24/2012

I will have to see if I can find the Young's Literal Translations too. I think my younger one might like that. We are using one that has pictures in it. Really seem to be enjoying that one too. Not sure how accurate it is..

BrendaReeves on 07/18/2012

Very interesting article. I will take a look at Young's Literal Translation.

JSheaForrest on 07/18/2012

Good study Bibles have introductions to each book of the Bible that explain the context in which each book was written, making it much easier to understand the mindset of the individual author at the time it was written.

sheilamarie on 07/17/2012

Not only the individual meanings of words have changed; there's a whole mindset change that has also occurred. I think translations can sometimes use the prejudices of the day to add layers of meaning that weren't there in the original as well as to cover up or mask the intentions of what was actually written. You've mentioned that a person has to be careful that a translation suits his or her purpose, but my take is that a person has to also learn a little of the history of Christianity to know how accurate a translation is in the first place. Translating anything can be tricky, but in the case of the Bible, which for many of us contains the words of life, altering the message is something that has to be guarded against. The Bible is addressed to each of us, not just people who lived a long time ago, but are we listening to the words of Christ, or are we listening to what someone wants those words to say -- jazzed up to suit the times?

Sam on 07/14/2012

I like the one by Nicholas King ( for the New Testament and he now also working on translating the Old Testament ;-) He does a good job in translating the original text as it was meant in its historical context, because, as you rightly said, the meaning of words have changed considerably over time! SY

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