There is no one size fits all answer to this question. My aim with this article is to educate you on what the major differences are between various Bible translations. Ultimately, you will have to make the decision as to which Bible translation is right for you.
Word-For-Word Bible translations
What are word-for-word Bible translations?
The word-for-word Bible translations adhere to a strict word and grammatical translation.
- it reduces human interpretation
- it's not translated 100% word-for-word to maintain comprehension
- it uses memorable descriptive words over common language
- it's best understood when paired with a Bible study tool
King James Version (KJV)
Many people believe this is the only true translation, mainly because it is one of the oldest English translations and it was widely used. The original translation took place in 1611, 355 years before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Scientists have authenticated these scrolls as predating those used to translate the King James Version.
Is the King James Version right for you?
If you enjoy reading Shakespeare for fun, and you are convinced that the King James Version is the only true interpretation of the Holy Bible, then this is the Bible translation for you.
New King James Version (NKJV)
This version was published in 1982 and uses the 1967/1977 Stuttgart edition of the Biblia Hebraica. It also has comparisons to the Ben Hayyim edition of the Mikraot Gedolot (1524–25), which was used for the King James Version. To update the language, changes were made in the word order, grammar, vocabulary, and spelling.
Is the New King James Version right for you?
If you are convinced that the King James Version is the true interpretation of the Bible, but need a version updated with more common English, then this may be the Bible translation you are looking for.
English Standard Version (ESV)
This version was published in 2001 and is sourced from the Revised Standard Version. Crossway classifies this translation as “essentially literal”, considering "differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages."
Is the English Standard Version right for you?
The plain language and word-for-word translation does make for a more understandable read. There is some controversy, however, about whether it is a faithful enough translation to be relied on.
Amplified Bible (AMP)
The Amplified Bible was first published in 1968 and revised as late as 2015 by Zondervan and the Lockman Foundation. It is a revision of the American Standard Bible. It provides synonyms and explanations in brackets throughout the text. It acknowledges that no single English word can accurately describe the original Hebrew or Greek text.
Is the Amplified Bible right for you?
Explanations and synonyms throughout the text help to increase the understanding. Being a newer translation, the updated common American English help discern a truer meaning of the text.
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Some consider the New American Standard Bible as the most literally translated 20th-century English Bible translation. It claims to be true to the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, grammatically correct, and understandable. It was published in 1971 by the Lockman Foundation.
Is the New American Standard Bible right for you?
Keeping true to the original text while remaining understandable make this the Bible for many people. It ensures that the translation stays the same, word-for-word.
Uses the original Hebrew text for the Old Testament and Greek for the New Testament. This combined with Strong’s concordance helps the reader compare the original manuscripts with the King James Version and the New American Standard Bible.
Is the Interlinear Bible right for you?
Unless you are interested in learning Hebrew or Greek, probably not. This is a great Bible translation for Bible scholars or seminary students, but the everyday reader might find it more confusing than picking up any of the other translations on this list.
Thought-For-Thought Bible translations
What are thought-for-thought Bible translations?
The thought-for-thought Bible translations aim to maintain the original meaning of a passage.
- it relies more on interpretation of translator
- it's not 100% thought-for-thought to guarantee authenticity
- it uses common language to increase understanding
- it can be easily studied without Bible study tools
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The New Revised Standard Version was published in 1989 by the National Council of Churches. It is a revision of the Revised Standard Version, which itself was a revision of the American Standard Version. It was intended as a translation to serve devotional, liturgical and scholarly needs. It should be noted that this contains not only the Protestant Canon, but the books of the Apocrypha as well.
Is the New Revised Standard Version right for me?
The Old Testament of the RSV was published before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. This translation updates the Old Testament to include updated information from these texts. If you are looking for a translation that includes the Apocrypha as well, this might be the translation for you.
New International Version (NIV)
Published in 1978 by Biblica, the New International Version reportedly worked from the oldest copies of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts to complete this translation. Each passage was translated multiple times, then the team of translators gathered and agreed on the most faithful translation. It is one of the most widely used Bible translations.
Is the New International Version right for me?
The plain language and scrutiny employed when writing this translation make it a good candidate for many people. If you can ignore the controversy surrounding missing verses (see the info box below), it is a highly understandable translation keeping true to the earliest Biblical manuscripts.
New Living Translation (NLT)
The New Living Translation used translators from various Christian denominations. Weights and measures, money, dates and times, among other items, are described in modern terms, with footnotes giving the literal translation.
Is the New Living Translation right for me?
Some claim this to be a less accurate translation as the focus is more on understanding the idea behind a passage instead of a literal translation. This translation was not created with study in mind, bur rather for an easier understanding of the text. If you struggle to understand the Bible, then this may be the translation for you.
New International Readers Version (NIrV)
The New International Readers Version was published in 1996 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). It uses a similar philosophy as the New International Version. It uses an easier and more reader friendly version of common American English in the text. The NIrV strives to make the Bible more understandable for children.
Is the New International Readers Version right for me?
If you struggle with reading other books, this simplified version may be right for you. While not a literal translation, the thought for thought translation here is much easier to understand and comprehend.
The Message is a paraphrase text written by Eugene Peterson and published in 2002. It is Petersons own interpretation of the scriptures worded in plain English. While many use this in addition to other translations for Bible study, most scholars agree that using only The Message for Bible reading isn’t recommended.
Is The Message right for me?
If you want to gain a more plain understanding of the Bible, and you are using another translation in addition to The Message, then this might be a translation for you. I would not recommend using The Message as the only Bible you read, however.
Which Bible translation do I use?
The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) or The Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
Published in 2004 by the Holman Publishing Company, the Holman Christian Standard Bible is a mix of word-for-word and thought-for-thought.
Using both the sources used for the King James Version and the Dead Sea Scrolls, the translators printed what they agreed was the best potential material in the text, then added alternatives in footnotes.
The goal of this translation was to “to convey a sense of the original text with as much clarity as possible”.
The Christian Standard Bible was published in 2016 and is based on the 2009 version of the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
It changes all translations of the tetragammon (YHWH or YHVH) to “LORD” instead of “YAHWEH” and changes instances of “brothers” when speaking of believers to “brothers and sisters”.
Is the Holman Christian Standard Bible or the Christian Standard Bible right for me?
I recommend this translation to most everyone I encounter. I prefer the Holman Christian Standard Bible because I feel it maintains more of the original word-for-word translation it gleans from the original King James Version sources while being plain and easy to understand.
Your Bible Translation
You’ll have to determine that on your own. While I could ask you questions and probably recommend the best Bible translation for you, it’s still your choice. I’m hoping to create a quiz soon that may help you find your perfect Bible translation, so keep checking back if you’re interested.