One of the most common questions I get during the Christmas season isn’t about Christmas, it’s about Bibles! The reason is because a new Bible makes an excellent Christmas present, but when one gets to a Bible store --Wow! There are so many translations available. And it seems new ones appear almost every year. Which one should I pick? Which are the best?
I am not talking about Bible formats here (study Bible, teen Bible, boy’s Bible, left-handed hunter’s Bible, etc.), but translations. Since the Bible was written mostly in Hebrew and Greek, all of our English versions are translations. But as in all translation, the purpose of the translator is important to consider. Is he aiming for precision (word for word), or to make the ideas familiar (thought for thought)? All translators attempt to balance these things, but usually they end up leaning toward one approach more than the other.
When we ask which are the best, do we mean easiest to read, or the closest to the original text? The New International Version (NIV) and Today’s English Version (TEV) were written at a level for readers whose comprehension is below High School level. These are easy to read, but a little less precise, sometimes annoyingly so. Also easy to read are works that aren’t really translations at all, but paraphrases. These works, such as The Living Bible (1971), The New Living Translation (1996), and The Message (2002), add words and phrases not found in the original languages, so care should be taken regarding their use. They are more like a commentary than a translation, because they mix the author’s interpretation in with the text. The best of the paraphrases is probably The New Living Translation.
The folks who made the very popular NIV seem to be phasing it out in favor of the TNIV or Today’s New International Version. The TNIV has come under heavy criticism for changing biblical words for political correctness, especially involving gender issues. I think these critics are on to something and would discourage buying this particular Bible.
Serious Bible study requires accuracy. Translations that labor to be faithful to the original languages that are widely used today are The New American Standard (1971, updated in 1995) and the English Standard Version (2001). The ESV is an update of the Revised Standard Version, and it seems to be catching on today with many good Bible teachers, but I personally prefer and still preach from the NASB. I should let you know that my NASB predates the update, so when I am reading in church, you may notice God is addressed as Thou and Thee. In the update, our Lord is addressed as You. Other changes in the NASB update are very slight.
What about the King James Version? Well, it is still good news for 17th century man! Seriously, though, no Bible can or probably ever will match the beauty and majesty of the KJV. However, it does contain many archaic words. That means many words simply don’t mean what they once did, such as Phil 3:20, “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence we also look for a Savior…” Conversation would mean “talking” to most modern readers. In the 17th century, it meant dwelling in a place, but now it means talking! Quite a change. If you love the KJV, I would recommend The New King James Version, because it has updated truly archaic language while preserving the beautiful style and wording as much as possible. Phil 3:20 in the NKJV says “Our citizenship is in heaven…” Much better.
I always say pick a Bible that is suitable for you; however, being who I am, I suggest picking one that stays close to the original text. You can use looser versions as helps, as you would a commentary. No translation is perfect, but since we are dealing with God’s holy and inspired word, I think staying close to the original is the most important thing.
Yours in Christ
Originally printed in The AFBC Pony Express. Vol. IV, No. 12, December 2011.