The Bible was originally written in ancient Hebrew, Greek, & Aramaic. Therefore, Bible translations are necessary. A translation of a written work is necessarily an interpretation of the original language version because words of a language do not have exact equivalents in other languages. The idea is to express as closely as possible the meaning the ancient text in the form contemporary language. There are many Bible translations because scholars disagree about the meaning of the original languages of the Bible and the English that best conveys that meaning.
Bible translations can be divided into three basic types: Verbal translations, Dynamic translations, and Paraphrases. Verbal translations are the closest, most literal kind of translation. Paraphrases are the loosest, least literal. Dynamic translations are somewhere in between, with some features of each.
Note: When an existing English translation is "revised" (e.g. the NRSV, NASB, or ESV), the new English version is usually based on both the previous English version and the original language texts. The English is updated and also a more accurate translation is made of the original.
Verbal Bible Translations attempt translate as literally from the original to the English as possible, sometimes translating word for word or maintaining word order of the original language.
King James Version, 1611 (KJV)
The King James Version (also known as the Authorized Version) is the English translation of the Bible that is probably the most widely read. Its style of language is what people think of when they imagine what the Bible sounds like. The English of the King James Version is so beautiful that it is considered a masterpiece of English literature. Some Christians, especially very conservative Christians, believe that the English of the King James Version was inspired by God word for word.
From a scholarly point of view, the King James Version is inferior to most modern translations. There are three major problems with the King James Version: 1) The English language has changed in the last four hundred years. Words have changed meaning or are no longer used over time. 2) Our understanding of the original languages has changed in the last four hundred years. Modern Bible translations are more accurate because scholars understand the ancient languages of the Bible better. 3) There have been many discoveries of older, more accurate manuscripts of the Bible. The original manuscripts of the biblical texts have not survived: What we have are copies of copies of copies... etc. There are thousands of manuscripts and thousands of differences, usually in insignificant details, in these manuscripts. Scholars compare these manuscripts in order to come as close to the wording of the original texts as possible. The King James Version is based on the best manuscripts that were available in 1611 (called the Textus Receptus or Received Text), but scholars today can reconstruct the wording of the ancient texts much more accurately (these reconstructions are called critical editions). The King James Version has been revised many times in order to minimize these problems.
The Revised Standard Version, 1951 (RSV)
This Bible translation is the first major revision of the King James Bible in the 20th century. It updated the outdated English of the King James Version and made revisions to the text based on the many recent manuscript discoveries and advances in biblical scholarship. The style of the King James Bible was maintained as much as possible.
The New American Standard Bible, 1971 & 1995 (NASB)
Many conservatives felt that the Revised Standard Version had a liberal bias, so they made their own revisions of the King James Bible. The New American Standard Bible is probably the most literal translation of the Bible in English. Even the word order of the original languages has been preserved as much as possible. This translation is very accurate and great for study, but harder to understand than other translations. It is often too literal to be read in worship or for devotional use. The translation was further revised in 1995.
The New Revised Standard Version, 1990 (NRSV)
This revision of the King James Bible is the translation of choice for use in public worship and study for moderate, liberal, and even some conservative church leaders and scholars. It builds on the work of the Revised Standard Version in staying true to the King James style, while incorporating the results of further manuscript discoveries and further advances in biblical scholarship. The NRSV also uses inclusive language when the original is inclusive. For example, humankind instead of mankind, or "brothers and sisters" where both women and men are being addressed, instead of "brothers." The NRSV is the only English translation to be approved for use by Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox churches. The language of the NRSV is formal enough to be read in worship, clear enough to be used in private devotions, and literal enough to be used for study. The NRSV has been chosen as the translation for the highly reputable Study Bibles of Oxford, Cambridge, and HarperCollins publishers.
The New King James Version, 1982/1973 (NKJV)
The New King James version updated the English of the King James Bible, but used the same biblical manuscripts as the original King James Version (called the Textus Receptus or Received Text). Some conservative scholars believe that the Received Text is the most accurate reconstruction of the original language manuscripts. However, most scholars agree that the Received Text is much less accurate than modern critical editions of the biblical texts. Thus, the New King James Version has a lot of the same problems as the first King James Version.
The English Standard Version, 2001 (ESV)
The English Standard Version is a new revision of the Revised Standard Version made by conservative scholars. They wanted there to be an updated and more literal translation of the Bible available, in contrast to translations such as the New International Version which is less literal than translations in the King James revisions. The English Standard Version is more literal than the New International Version and less literal than the New American Standard Version. They felt that the most recent conservative translations were not close enough to the original languages. The English Standard Version is a good conservative alternative to the New Revised Standard Version.
The New American Bible, 1970, 1986 (NAB)
The New American Bible is a Catholic Bible translation that is accurate and easy to understand. The translation, introductions, and notes express a Catholic perspective, but are based on mainstream biblical scholarship. The New American Bible is less literal than other verbal translations, but the New Testament is more literal than dynamic translations.
The New Jerusalem Bible, 1986 (NJB)
The New Jerusalem Bible is another Catholic translation. The original Jerusalem Bible (1966) was more of a dynamic version, but the New Jerusalem Bible is more literal. The New Jerusalem Bible was designed to be used for study. It includes helpful introductions and notes from a moderate Catholic scholarly perspective that is based in mainstream biblical scholarship. There is a Readers Edition which is less expensive and comes without the introductions and notes.
The New International Version, 1973 (NIV)
The New International Version is a conservative evangelical Bible translation which is highly rated by even non-evangelicals. The conservative perspective is seen in passages where scholars don't agree on the best translation and/or interpretation. The New International Version is less literal than other verbal translations, but literal enough for study. The New International Version and the New International Study Bible represent the best conservative evangelical biblical scholarship.
Holman Christian Standard Bible, 2004 (HCSB)
The Holman Christian Standard Bible is a new conservative translation, translated mostly by Baptists. It is published by Broadman and Holman Publications, which is the book division of the LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern baptist Convention. The goal of the translators was to produce a translation that balanced the literalness of verbal translations with the readability of dynamic translation. It is more literal than the New International Version and less literal than the English Standard Version.
Dynamic Bible Translations attempt to translate thought for thought the ideas from the original to the English. They attempt to express the meaning of the ancient text in contemporary English.
The Revised English Bible, 1998 (REB)
The REB is a revision of the New English Bible (1970). The New English Bible was a new British Bible translation which was designed to break away from the tradition of the King James version and translate the ancient languages of the Bible into elegant contemporary British English. The English of the Revised English Bible is less British and very readable.
Good News Bible/Today’s English Version, 1976 (GNB/TEV)
The Good News Bible was published by the American Bible Society in order to provide a translation that takes the style of the ancient biblical languages and expresses their meanings in clear and simple contemporary English. It does a good job of preserving the flavor of the biblical languages while still being easy to read. The Good News Bible is especially suitable for children, people who speak English as a second language, and people unfamiliar with the Bible and biblical language. The English of the Good News Bible was the English of the 70's, so it is now somewhat dated.
Contemporary English Version, 1995 (CEV)
The Contemporary English Version is a new Bible translation published by the American Bible Society. It was designed to take the place of the Good News Bible and be even easier to understand. Complex theological language is simplified and language that may be unfamiliar to those who have little experience with the Bible is clarified. Attention was paid to how the book would sound when read aloud. Like the Good News Bible, the Contemporary English Version is especially suitable for children, people who speak English as a second language, and people unfamiliar with the Bible and biblical language.
The New Living Translation, 1996 (NLT)
The New Living Translation is a revision of the popular Living Bible made by Evangelical scholars. It is much closer to the original languages than the Living Bible. One of the aims of the New Living Translation, like the Living Bible, is to communicate the meaning of the the Bible on an emotional level.
New International Reader’s Version, 1996 (NIrV)
The New International Reader's Version is a revision of the New International Version with much simpler English. It is intended for children, adults who read below the fourth grade level, and people who speak English as a second language.
Paraphrases are often revisions of an existing English Bible translation, rather than based on the original texts. They attempt to convey the essential meaning of the ancient original in common, informal English. Paraphrases are more heavily based on the theological interpretations of the translator than Dynamic or Verbal translations.
Living Bible, 1971 (LB)
This paraphrase by seminary trained publisher Kenneth N. Taylor has been extremely popular. Taylor says that he is coming from a "rigid evangelical position," which amounts to a fundamentalist bias. Taylor extends some passages, shortens others, harmonizes contradictions, and reduces the humanity of Jesus.
The Message, 2002 (Msg)
This paraphrase by Presbyterian pastor Eugene Peterson is very popular, especially with younger people. The language is usually very current, informal, and has a very spiritual feel.
How to Choose a Bible Translation
There is no Bible translation that is best for all situations. The translation or kind of translation to use will depend on why one is reading the Bible in a given situation.
Verbal translations are usually best for study. Most Verbal translations are designed to use language stately enough for public worship. A dynamic translation or paraphrase may be better for private devotions.
If someone is new to reading the Bible, especially if they don't come from a church background, a dynamic translation may be a good choice since they are generally easier to understand. Dynamic translations are also good for children or people who speak English as a second language.
A dynamic paraphrase can also be helpful in shedding a new light on a familiar passage. However, paraphrases are highly interpretive so they are best used in comparison with a dynamic or verbal translation.
It is best to make a habit of using more than one Bible translation. There are Bibles available that print two or more translations in parallel columns or on different pages. For example, there is a Bible that has The Message and the New International Version on opposite facing pages. Parallel translations are also good for study. Especially with the aid of notes, one can get to know the biases of a translation and why certain passages are translated one way instead of another.
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