Best Bible Translations (how to choose the best one)

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With hundreds of Bible translations to choose from, it can be tough to know which is the best Bible translation. Or which is the easiest Bible version to understand. So, let’s jump in and see which are the best Bible versions and which one is best for you.

There are over 400 translations of the Bible in English alone. There are more translations of the Bible than there are toothpaste options at the store. That’s a lot. But with that many options, it can be hard to know what version of the Bible is the easiest to understand and which Bible translation is best for you. 

So, I want to give some clarity, explanation, and recommendations on Bible translations. Let’s start by looking at what exactly is a translation of the Bible. 

What Is A Bible Translation? 

The Bible is a complex book. In fact, it’s not even a single book; rather it’s a compilation of multiple books. It was written by many authors over thousands of years in several different ancient languages. The Bible you read today is a translation from the original language into a modern language. 

I’m not going to go into all the details of manuscripts, textual reliability, and all that other stuff. It gets pretty technical pretty quick. But if you are interested in learning about that check out this article: How We Got The Bible (from bible.org)

On the surface that might seem simple. But it gets complicated quickly because many of the words don’t have a one for one equivalent in modern languages. 

For example, love in the English language is used very broadly. I love my wife. I love ice cream. I love football. I love my son. I love my friends. I love traveling. I do in fact love all those things, but I love them all very differently. So, the word love gets twisted and shoved to fill multiple meanings. 

Now, much of the New Testament was written in Greek. In the Greek language, there are many words for love. Here’s a few: Eros (sexual), Storge (affection), Philia (friendship), and Agape (unconditional). Not all those words appear in the Bible, but I think you get the point. If you were to just translate the word love from ancient Greek to modern English you would be missing a lot. That’s why translating from one language to another is so complicated. 

The goal of Bible translations is to reproduce the meaning of a text from the original language into a modern language most people can understand. But how this is done varies from one transition to another. 

There’s two broad categories most translations fall into: Formal Equivalence (word for word translation) or Dynamic Equivalence (thought for thought translation). 

Both have their strengths and weaknesses. Formal versions risk miscommunicating the original meaning, think back to the example of love, by seeking a literal word. Yet they can be helpful for studying the formal features of the text. 

Dynamic versions more clearly communicate the meaning of the text in modern langue. Yet because they are more interpretive they run a much greater risk of misinterpretation. 

These categories aren’t either-or, most translations will fall on a spectrum from word for word to thought for thought. As you consider what the best Bible version you need to first look at where it falls on this spectrum.

Let’s take a look at the spectrum where some of the most popular English versions fall. 

Bible Translation Comparison

Best Bible Translations Chart

This chart puts some of the most popular translations on a continuum so you can see where they fall. This is not an exact chart, rather an overview to see which translations are more literal and which ones focus on the main ideas. The best Bible translation for you depends on what you are going to use it for. This chart will help you see what each translation is best suited for.

You might assume that the more literal, word for word, translations are better. But that’s not always the case. Remember, each end has their upsides and downsides. 

Really it comes down to what you are reading it for. A more literal translation can be useful when doing an in-depth study of a passage. Whereas most prefer an easier to read, thought for thought, translation when just reading more devotionally.

Just a word of warning, the “translations” such as the Message should be viewed more as a paraphrase of the Bible and not a translation. They can provide helpful insights into scripture but should be read alongside an actual translation and not in place of it. More on that later.

Alright now that we know where some of the most popular translations fall on the spectrum let me give you an example. Here’s John 3:16, arguably the most popular verse in the Bible. Here’s what it looks like in 3 different translations. 

Best Bible Version Comparison
For more about John 3:16 means check out: What John 3:16 Really Mean

This graphic shows you the difference between Word for Word and Thought for Thought translations. Some of the wording might look a little different, but the overall message of the verse stays the same.

With that in mind, let’s look at the best Bible translations.

Best Bible Translations

Now that you know a little more about Bible translations you are probably still wondering what the best Bible translation actually is. What is the easiest Bible version to understand?  

When choosing a Bible translation really it comes down to what best suits you. So, let’s look at some of the best Bible translations and what uses they are suited for. 

Easiest Bible Version To Understand: New Living Translation (NLT)

The NLT is one of the most readable translations of the Bible. It uses verbiage and language that is commonly used in modern day. While there are easier to read Bible translations, this one strikes a good balance between being literal and easy to read. 

While it is far from a literal, word for word translation, it does a great job communicating the main thought of the original author. This is a great option for someone that wants the Bible in a readable format, but still maintaining the integrity of the author’s original meaning.

Buy it here: New Living Translation Bible

The Most Accurate Bible Translation: New American Standard Bible (NASB)

The NASB is one of the best Bible translations for people wanting an accurate word for word translation. While considered one of the most accurate Bible translations that comes at the sacrifice of readability and comprehension. That’s because the NASB focuses on finding the closest word to translate and not what flows in the English language. 

This is the best translation if you are looking at doing an inductive study on a passage or prefer to read as close to the original language as possible. However it can be difficult to read. I use this translation when I’m studying a passage, but not in my personal reading. 

Buy it here: New American Standard Bible

The Best Middle Of The Road Bible Translation: New International Version (NIV)

The NIV is one of the most popular translations there’s a good chance the church you go to uses the NIV on Sundays. One of the reasons for this popularity is because it’s a hybrid of sorts. It attempts to find the optimal balance between readability and exactness. 

This combination of these two methods creates a unique literary style that many like, although some don’t. The NIV is a great choice for someone who wants something between a word for word translation and a thought for thought translation. 

The CSB is an other good option in this category. 

Buy it here: New International Version Bible

A Literal (but not too literal) Bible Translation: English Standard Version (ESV)

The ESV is my favorite translation, although I also enjoy reading the NLT. This translation leans more towards a literal translation, however not to the point of sacrificing too much readability. This translation is written in modern English, however it’s done in a way that reminds readers of the KJV and RSV. 

If you are looking for a more literal translation that is a little easier to read than the NASB I would recommend the ESV.

Buy it here: English Standard Version Bible 

A Different Perspective: The Message (MSG) 

The Message is not a Bible translation. It’s a paraphrase. The MSG doesn’t convey the words from the original author but rather the main idea. That’s important because the criticism it gets is because people confuse these two. 

Thus when you read the MSG you will see drastically different words and phrases. It’s not a true translation, as the goal is to convey the tone and feel of the text rather than the text itself. This can be very useful when used with a more literal translation to help you see Scripture in a different light.

If you do pick up a copy of the Message I would highly encourage you to not read it by itself. The MSG is a great option to read WITH another translation. 

Buy it here: The Message Bible

A Word Of Caution About Paraphrase Translations: 

The danger with any paraphrase of the Bible is that the “translation” can be more easily influenced by those translating and can stray too far away from the original text. Many of these versions of the Bible contain ideas that are not found in the original texts. I have found the Message to stay relatively close to the original meaning of scripture, albeit with different wording. However, not all versions in this category do. Some are pretty egregious in how they handle the text. 

Thus we should read a more thought for through translation. We should always read it with a grain a salt knowing it’s not a literal translation and it’s possible the author has placed their own agenda (knowingly or unknowingly) into the text. They should always be read alongside a more literal translation to help us navigate what the Bible actually says. 

A Translation To Avoid: King James Version (KJV)

I know this isn’t a popular opinion and I probably won’t persuade any KJV Only enthusiasts. That’s okay. I don’t think the KJV is bad, actually I think it’s a good translation. The issue is there’s better translations out there. If you love reading the KJV, keep at it. But if you are trying to choose a Bible translation to get into I would like elsewhere. Here’s why. 

There’s two reasons I think you should avoid the KJV. I’m not going to go in-depth on this. I’m going to state my concerns, and you can look further into them if you would like. If you want a more detailed look on the KJV read this: 7 Things To Know About The King James Version Of The Bible

My first concern is the reliability of the translation. The KJV was originally written in 1611 and has since had made revisions. The writers were certainly experts and were working with the best manuscripts they had. But we’ve since discovered much older (in translating older is better) manuscripts that most modern translations use. Particularly in their words in the New Testament, the manuscripts they were working with were relatively new. 

While the KJV was undoubtedly the most accurate translation when released by today’s standards, there’s better, more accurate translations available. 

My second concern is the style of the translation; it’s in Old English. The KJV is filled with archaic terms that can confuse modern readers. While those who grew up with the KJV might enjoy that, for most of us it just adds to the confusion of what the Bible is trying to say. This doesn’t negate the accuracy of the KJV, the translators were simply translating into their language. But language changes over time and translations need to be kept up to date. 

The majority of the New Testament was written in Koine Greek. It was a common everyday language of the day. Simple and easy to understand. That’s how I believe we should translate the Bible today. But the KJV is a dated language. Many of the phrases and words are no longer in use today, thus making it very hard for most to understand.

So, if not the KJV then what? The simplest answer is the New King James Versions (NKJV). It reads reminiscent of the KJV but in a more modern context. If you don’t care about the thee and thous I would recommend the ESV. It’s the modern equivalent of the KJV. 

Buy it here: New King James Version Bible

Final Thoughts About The Best Bible Version

So, out of the best Bible translations which one is the best for you? The simple answer is, the one you read. There are so many great options out there it comes down to which one you prefer. Go check out BibleGateway you can read several of them side by side and see which you prefer. Then go buy your favorite. 

The bottom line is you should choose the Bible translation that you most like to read. Read a few and figure out which one you enjoy reading. The best Bible translation is the one you actually read.

Let’s hear from you! What is your favorite translation? What do you think is the best Bible translation?

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