What is the best Bible translation?
Bible readers often wonder how to know the best Bible translation. Bibles may either be translations of the original texts or paraphrases of translations. It is important to understand that all Bibles are one or the other; the original texts written by the biblical authors no longer exist. The Bibles that we read today were translated or paraphrased from ancient manuscripts -- Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic. When choosing a Bible version, individuals should select a version that has been translated from the latest, most authoritative texts. For the Old Testament, the accepted most authoritative texts would be the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia; for the New Testament it would be the United Bible Societies' third or fourth edition of the Greek New Testament.
Five popular versions of the bible fall into the following categories of translation:
A strictly literal or literal translation takes the words from the original manuscripts and translates them literally, or word for word. When a Bible is said to have been translated as thought-for-thought, it means that the translator has taken the original words and applied exegesis, which is to say an understanding of the thought behind the words; this is conveyed in the rendering of the verse.
The NASB is considered to be strictly literal.
The KJV and NKJV are considered to be literal.
The NIV is considered to be thought-for-thought.
The NLT is considered to be functionally equivalent.
A functionally equivalent translation such as the NLT seeks to be literal but with greater freedom of exegesis. The difference may be seen in the rendering of Hebrews 1:3a. See how the five versions render the words:
"And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature" (NASB).
"Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person" (KJV).
"Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person" (NKJV).
"The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being" (NIV).
"The Son reflects God's own glory, and everything about him represents God exactly" (NLT).
Note that the translators differ not only in the rendering of specific words but also in grammar, usage, punctuation, and sentence structure.
The best Bible translation will ultimately be determined by personal preference. In order for a translation to be considered good, it should be reliable and readable. Translators do well when they adhere to updated research with respect to original manuscripts and also to changes in the language. Meanings of words have changed over the years.
A classic example is Genesis 2:18: "And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him" (KJV).
"The LORD God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him'" (NIV).
Note how the phrase in the King James Version, ". . .I will make a help meet for him," has become totally archaic. The word meet is no longer used to mean fit or suitable as it was in the seventeenth century.
The best approach for Bible readers is probably to use several versions of the Bible. A version such as the NASB might be used for study, while the NIV or NLT might be used during meditation or personal devotions. The choice of Bible version will ultimately be a personal one; however, a serious Bible student would do well to research those versions that are considered most reliable and accurate. Paraphrased Bibles such as The Message and the Living Bible are not translations; these Bibles have been put into the contemporary language of the authors' own words. They are helpful for personal Bible study.
Learn More about the Origin of the Bible!
Like this information? Help us by sharing it with others using the social media buttons below.