Which is the Best Bible Translation?

The Bible is the #1 bestselling book of all time. It contains the truth about sinful man, God’s plan to redeem man through His son Jesus Christ, along with many historical records and teachings. The Bible is God’s Word. It’s the way that the Lord speaks to His chosen people.

The original scriptures were in Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew. However, it has always been God’s desire that His Word reach everyone. Since the nations speak different languages and don’t understand the text, it’s necessary to translate it into English and other languages.

Many different English translations of the Bible exist. A common question is: Which translation should I use?

The choices are overwhelming.

We’re going to discuss the 3 different types of English Bible translations, and I’m going to give examples of each. Then, I’ll give you my top pick for each group.

Word By Word Translation

The Word-By-Word translation is the best translation if you’re looking to do deep studies of the Bible. The translators of these Bibles take the original manuscripts and translate the text word-by-word (hence the name). These translations stay in line with the original sentence structure and meaning of the text. Scholars consider word-by-word translations the most accurate translations available.

Because it’s translated so literally, Word-by-word can sometimes be difficult to read and understand. Some modern translations have made slight alterations to the structure, only in places where the original is very difficult to follow.

Here’s some examples of Word-by-word translations:

King James Version (KJV)

KJV is one of the oldest and most trusted translations available. If you’ve ever had a Bible in your home, chances are, it’s KJV. It follows a very strict word-by-word structure, and the writings have a poetic flow to them. KJV does contain much archaic, out of date language. It requires a higher reading level than most translations. The New King James Version (NKJV) updated much of this language and made it easier to understand, while still keeping to the strict, poetic structure. I don’t own a NKJV, but I do use it from time to time on BibleGateway to do translation comparisons. It’s a fine translation.

English Standard Version (ESV)

I really like this translation. It is a modern translation that follows word-by-word; yet, it’s been updated in some places to make the Bible easier to understand. The language is current, and the source manuscripts are actually older and more trustworthy than the documents that were available when KJV was translated. I have an ESV and use it as my study Bible.

Thought By Thought Translation

Let’s face it, the Word-By-Word translations don’t always make for a good story. The sentences can sometimes be choppy and feel out-of-order. This has to do with the different in language structures. While Word-By-Word strives to capture the original detail, the Thought-By-Thought is on  a mission to make the Bible easy to read.

As the name implies, the translators of Thought-by-Thought will take an entire phrase or sentence in the original language and translate it into English. This makes for a softer read of the Bible. However, it tends to slightly alter the text. God HAS preserved His Word. It’s all there. The Thought-By-Thought still teaches that man is sinful, Jesus’s death is the only way we are saved, and that we need to repent and turn our lives over to Him. However, it’s still a concern that by changing the structure of a sentence that God inspired, the original, deeper meaning could be lost.

I recommend the Thought-By-Thought for beginners and casual readers of the Bible. If you’re wanting study the teachings of God, use a Word-By-Word. If you want to dive into the Bible and get a good feel for the narrative, a Thought-By-Thought will do that. Once you’ve read a Thought-By-Thought translation and get a feel for what’s going on inside God’s Word, it makes it easier to understand a Word-By-Word.

Here’s some examples of Thought-by-Thought translations:

New International Version (NIV)

The NIV the most popular thought-by-thought translation. It’s been used for several decades. That’s actually where my gripe comes from. A thought-by-thought is about making it easier on the reader, but the NEW International Version is getting old. The language is becoming out of date. Who wears a tunic anymore?? They have updated it to the TNIV (Today’s New International Version) but I haven’t tried that one yet. If you have one of these, leave me a comment and let me know what you think about it.

New Living Translation (NLT)

When I first became a Christian, I got an NLT. I was a fun read. Up to that point in my life, I never thought I would say that about the Bible. The words were crisp, and easy to follow. I couldn’t get myself away from reading it. Since then, I’ve  gotten myself hooked on the ESV and moved away from NLT. But sometimes I go back to it for clarification on a verse or passage. I’ll warn that it’s very loose in structure and some passages are borderline paraphrase. The NLT is not for studies, but it’s great for a casual reading.

Paraphrase “Translations”

I don’t like paraphrase “Translations”. Notice the quotation marks around “Translations”. A paraphrase is where the translators take the original text and put it into their own words. Think about that for a second… putting God’s Word into your own words. Scary!

But… I was able to think of one situation a paraphrase might be good. If you don’t have a good English vocabulary (because English is your second language) and the Bible isn’t available in your first language, try the NLT (thought-by-thought). If that’s hard to follow, get a paraphrase.

For the rest of us, avoid them.

The Message is one of the most popular paraphrases. Eugene Patterson was the one man who wrote the Message. I’m sure he’s not a bad guy. I’m sure he meant to do good through translating God’s Word into his own words. But I don’t see the point when there’s so many good translations out there. I don’t use the Message, or any paraphrase.

My Bible Translation Recommendations:

  • Word-By-Word: ESV or NKJV
  • Thought-By-Thought: NLT
  • Paraphrase: None.. use NLT

Would you like to see a Bible Translation comparison chart? Check it out for more Bible Translations.

What translations do you recommend??


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