What is the best Bible translation? People frequently ask which translation of the Bible I use when I preach. Also, people question why there are so many different translations of the Bible and which translation is the best.
So let me answer those three questions in today’s blog.
Question #1: Which translation of the Bible do I use when I preach?
I currently preach from the NIV (or the New International Version). The reason is simple. When you look up the amount of dollars spent on Bibles and the units of Bibles sold, the NIV leads the pack and has done so for a long time now.
The top 5 best-selling Bible translations are:
1. New International Version (NIV)
2. King James Version (KJV)
3. New King James Version (NKJV)
4. English Standard Version (ESV)
5. New Living Translation (NLT)
So, I primarily teach out of the NIV because it is the most popular version and the one that a vast majority of my listeners use. However, I suspect that the ESV (or English Standard Version) will continue to move up that list, so I have been reading from that version pretty consistently in my personal devotion.
Question #2: Why are there so many Bible translations?
This answer is both simple and complex. It is simple in that the Bible was not written in English and therefore every translator must take the text from its original version of Hebrew or Greek into the English language. And in doing so, many slight variations occur.
The more complex answer to this question is the “method” of translation used. There are three primary methods used in translating the Bible. The first is what is called “word for word”. The word for word method attempts to take the underlying Hebrew or Greek word in the text and translate it into the closest corresponding English word possible. Translations that use this method are the New American Standard, King James, New King James and the ESV. However, the downside of the “word for word” translation method is that the verses can often times seem to be difficult to read and a bit unclear.
The second method of translation is called the “thought for thought” method. In other words, translators using this method try to capture the original thought of the writer of Scripture and then translate that thought into a more easily read translation while at the same time maintaining faithfulness to the original text and thought of scripture. The NIV and the New Living Translation are good examples of the “thought for thought” translation method. The primary positive of this method is that it is usually much easier to read, but the downside is that it can lose some of the depth of meaning from the words of the original text.
The third type of translation is called “paraphrase”. The paraphrase translation rephrases, rewords or summarizes what has been written in order to be very understandable. In doing so, most of the depth of the biblical text is sacrificed; however, this translation is very applicable and easily understood. The Living Bible and The Message are probably the two most popular paraphrases. One side note is this. If you want to just read the Bible or a passage, a paraphrase is a good way to go. However, if you want to study the Bible, I would not recommend a paraphrase translation unless you are simply reading it for another perspective on the text. And, this leads me to my last question.
Question #3: Which translation is best?
And the answer is, that depends on your purpose. If you are looking to really study your Bible, you will want to choose a word for word translation. Like the New American Standard, ESV, KJV or the NKJV. Many people say the KJV is the best because it was the first English Bible widely available to the public over 400 years ago. However, first is not always best. Take cars for example. Were cars made in 1920 better than cars made today? The answer is simple. The speed, power, technology and safety features in today’s cars are vastly superior to the early model cars. Plus, when it comes to the King James Version, the word for word translation was made into the contemporary English vernacular of that day and not today! If you are a fan of the KJV and can easily read and understand it—stick with it.
If your purpose is to have a Bible that is easy-to-read and you are willing to dig deeper into commentaries, I would suggest a translation that is “thought for thought”.
Finally, I only recommend “paraphrase” translations like the Message or the Living Bible as supplemental reading. You have to see these paraphrased versions as the seasoning—not the meal. They can add spice, but they do not offer much substance.
So which translation is best? It is an individual choice, but from my perspective the best translation for you is either a “word for word” or “thought for thought” translation that you can and will read often.