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Which Bible Translation Should I Use?

Updated: Mar 28

Which Bible Translation Should I Use?

In this post, I want to briefly discuss some of the various English Bible translations available to us today, the differences between types of translations, and how we should think about them.

  • When it comes to hearing the Word of God, we want to make sure that we are reading and listening to an accurate translation of God’s Word. God inspired His Word originally in the languages of ancient Hebrews, Koine Greek, and some Aramaic. But today, most people in our part of the world read an English translation.

The Different Types of Translations

There are three different types of English translations available to us today. Each of them have strengths and each have drawbacks.

Word for word - These are the most accurate and the most reliable translations available to us. The goal is accurate, word-for-word translations. These are called Formal equivalence translations.

Thought for thought. - These are reliable and accurate, but they are not word-for-word translations. The goal is accurate communication of the thought/message. These are called Dynamic Equivalence translations. They seek to maintain the original message while accounting for modern language use.

Paraphrases - These are not formal translations. A paraphrase is an attempt to clearly state the author’s intention and message while achieving the greatest modern clarity possible. Paraphrases are not inaccurate, but they are the least accurate in this list. They should not be used as one’s primary Bible.

  • I personally utilize 2 paraphrases for devotional reading (Listed below).

1 - Word for Word Translations.

These translations seek to be as accurate and faithful to every single word of the original copies as possible.

  • Crossway (who publishes the ESV) describes their word-for-word translation philosophy this way, “Every translation is at many points a trade-off between literal precision and readability, between "formal equivalence" in expression and "functional equivalence" in communication, and the ESV is no exception. Within this framework we have sought to be "as literal as possible" while maintaining clarity of expression and literary excellence.”

Word-for-Word Translations

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

English Standard Version (ESV)

Christian Standard Bible (CSB — Formerly the Holman Christian Standard)

New King James Version (NKJV)

King James Bible (KJV)

2 - Thought for Thought Translations

These translations seek to be as faithful as possible while also polishing the English so that it is as readable as possible. These translations seek to communicate everything in the original while not sticking entirely to the original word ordering or structure.

Thought-for-thought Translations

New International Version (NIV)

New Living Translation (NLT)

Contemporary English Version (CEV)

**The NIV Controversy**: The TNIV.

In 1997, Zondervan, the exclusive publisher of the NIV translation, announced a project to produce a gender-inclusive Bible translation. In the late 2000’s, the "Today’s New International Version" (TNIV) was published.

  • The translation was met with harsh criticism (rightly so) and has since been discontinued.

The translation sought to change gender-specific pronouns to gender-neutral pronouns. For example, “Hebrews 2:6, echoing Psalm 8 and other Old Testament passages, has it, “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” TNIV has this: “What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”

Since that time, the NIV has gone through another revision, producing a good, trustworthy version under the oversight of New Testament scholar Dr. Douglas Moo.

  • It is important to note that some other versions that were produced in the mid 2000’s (2010-2016ish) used the TNIV as a source, so check the fine print in the front of your Bibles.

3 - Bible Paraphrases

A paraphrase is NOT a formal translation. It is a restating or retelling in someone else’s words. “The goal of this type of [translation] is to communicate ideas from one language to another without trying to maintain the exact structure and word use.”

Paraphrases are not bad, and they can be helpful. But paraphrases are not authoritative translations and should not be treated as such.

  • I personally use Phillips' and Peterson's paraphrases for devotional reading, but not for formal teaching and instruction.

Bible Paraphrases

The Good News Bible (GNB)

The Message - by Eugene Peterson

The New Testament in Modern English - by J.B. Phillips

The Living Bible (TLB)

A Personal Note

I choose to use the English Standard Version as my primary Bible. I preach, teach, and counsel from this version. But, I also regularly read from the NASB, the CSB, the NIV, and as I noted, 2 paraphrases.

I would suggest that you utilize Bibles from each category, while making a word-for-word or thought-for-thought translation your primary Bible.

I hope this helps!

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