I often get asked this question: Which Bible translation is the best? This issue creates more polemics than you would believe. People become impassioned for or against certain Bible translations. I think we need to take a very balanced approach to this, understanding the “whats” and the “whys” of Bible translations.

All translations have their particular characteristic that makes them unique. Bible translations will distinguish themselves in two primary ways:

1. What underlying Greek text do the translation use? Is it the “Majority” or “Received” text (a group of late Greek text that primarily comes from the Byzantine area) or the Eclectic/Critical text (mixture of different types of manuscripts, primarily using the earliest text). The KJV, NKJV, and many older translations used the former, while the newer and more up-to-date Bible’s such as the NAS, NIV, ESV, NLT, NET, etc. use the latter. We should also use the latter since most believe that they represent the better manuscripts.

2. Bible’s also differ in purpose, all of which have their place. Was it written for study or reading? Was it written for the seminary or the church? When available, you should have a variety of translations for different purposes, but you must understand the differences. Here are the three translation methods:

  • Formal Equivalence: Translations that seek to translate word for word (although this is really impossible). Examples: NAS, KJV, ASV, ESV. Less readable, but better for study in contemporary languages. Why? Because they will usually attempt to make fewer interpretive decisions on any text that can be understood in many ways. This allows the reader to struggle through the options.
  • Dynamic Equivalence: Translations that seek to translate thought for thought. Examples: NIV, TNIV, NRSV, etc. Not quite as good for deep study, but usually better for reading and memorization. Dynamic equivalence translations make good pulpit or teaching Bibles.
  • Paraphrase: Translations that seek to use common language and idioms to get the basic point across in a very readable way. Examples: Message, Philip’s Translation, NLT, GNB, etc. While paraphrases are not good for study or memorization, they are very readable and cause you to read the text differently than you normally would. In this respect, they have great value.

Most of the translations can be found here at BibleGateway.

My suggestion is to have some of each. I recommend the NIV, ESV, NET, NAS, and the Message. The NET, in some ways, is the best of all worlds as it contains many study notes that explain when a passage should be translated differently. I guess the NET translation methodology could be called an eclectic (that is why I could not place it on the above chart–it may need its own category!). While I believe the NET is the best study Bible available on the market today, because of its unconventional translation philosophy, it is not very smooth in its reading and, therefore, does not make a good memorization or pulpit Bible.

Finally, what good would this post be without a chart?

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    81 replies to "Bible Translations in a Nutshell"

    • wm tanksley

      Well, since all of it is speculation anyway, I’m not sure why you want “support” for it.

      Are you seriously trying to make an argument in support of your position here?

      I think that there is evidence that prophets correct the text from within the book of Jeremiah itself, where the first prophecy undergoes revision in the second.

      Thank you. But I’m at a loss; there are quite a few prophecies in Jeremiah, and I’m not familiar with the numbering for the prophecies you’re giving here. Would you mind giving references to these so I can see them?

      I think there is evidence between the synoptics in both the OT and the NT, telling us that Scriptures can be molded to form the final canon, even in producing another book altogether (I would say the same thing for 2 Pet and Jude).

      Why do you presume that synoptics prove molding of Scripture? It seems that to show that, you’d have to show that the synoptics originated as a single document which was itself regarded as Scripture. There’s no evidence for that at all: and in the case of the more recent NT, we’d expect to have _something_. Even if Q actually existed, there’s no record of the kind of suppression that would be required to de-scripturalize it. The little evidence we have looks more like Q (if it existed) was used as a reference by the synoptic writers, rather than treated as Scripture and then edited.

      Finally, I have no idea what Abraham’s existence has anything to do with what we’re talking about.

      My fault.

      I’m saying that if Abraham existed but didn’t believe in God, either Abraham’s faith couldn’t have counted for righteousness or ours can’t. If Abraham didn’t exist, we are not his spiritual descendants. A number of NT passages depend on that.


    • John

      I agree that the NLT is a translation, not a paraphrase. It used to be easy to lump translations into literal or dynamic, but with so many English translations now it is hard to make a clear line. I think accuracy doesn’t always relate to a literal translation. If it did, we would just read an interlinear. English is so different from the original languages that you have to make changes So that it is not only readable but understandable. I don’t think word-for-word will do that unless you have a good understanding of both the original language and the ancient culture.

    • wm tanksley

      A comparison of GJohn with the Synoptics seems to be an example of this. As Charlesworth, I think, suggests, if all we had were the Synoptics and then sometime in the last century we discovered GJohn, what would we do with it? Consider it a Gnostic Gospel? Or what?

      It would certainly start a controversy, wouldn’t it!

      But if we discovered it with the kind of evidence that we have for GJohn now… I think it would be fairly quickly added to the scholarly texts, and would eventually make it into even the fairly conservative translations. Think about it — it’s the NT text with the earliest known exemplar.

      (I’m thinking of how the long ending of Mark is being removed, as is the story of the woman caught in adultery. Both will be gone from the next version of the NET, which I’d consider conservative.)

      And its text, aside from usages like “the Light” to refer to Jesus, isn’t Gnostic; it’s actually fairly anti-gnostic. “The Word became flesh…”

      Of course, it’s hard to judge; it would depend on when the text of John went missing.


    • EricW

      James H. Charlesworth mentions this in his book The Beloved Disciple: Whose Witness Validates the Gospel of John?. Charlesworth shows that GThomas has a lot more affinities with GJohn than with the Synoptics, and after examining the other theories that have been put forth re: who “the disciple whom Jesus loved” might have been, argues that it was likely Thomas.

      An interesting response: http://ramon_k_jusino.tripod.com/charlesworth.htm

    • wm tanksley

      It used to be easy to lump translations into literal or dynamic, but with so many English translations now it is hard to make a clear line.

      I agree.

      I think it’s fair to note that terms like “dynamic equivalence” were invented by the translators themselves, and if we use them we should use them as intended. “Dynamic equivalence” isn’t a point on a scale; it’s actually a specific translation strategy. There are many others.

      There are also many translators who are advancing the art and science of translation beyond where it was, and there’s some hope that the next generation will be better than any of the current generation in readability, accuracy, and even style — although probably not all three in the same text.

      There are some very interesting blogs on the subject of Bible translation.


    • John

      I agree that dynamic equivalence is a translation philosophy, it just seems that all translations use dynamic equivalents to one extent or another, even those touted as literal. If we had a completely literal translation it would be unreadable. And if it is entirely dynamic it would be more a commentary or paraphrase. Somewhere there is a happy median I would hope.

    • EricW

      #54 Wm Tanksley:

      Re: the Gnostics and GJohn:

      The author of the article I linked to argues that Mary Magdalene was the beloved disciple and the original author of GJohn. In his essay about this he explains the relationship of GJohn to the Gnostics:


      He writes in part:


      Today, the majority of biblical scholars, both Catholic and Protestant, assert that St. John of Zebedee did not write the Gospel that bears his name. They ascribe authorship to the “anonymous” Beloved Disciple. So, if the evidence pointing to John as author of this Gospel is so flimsy — how, then, did this book become known universally as the Gospel of John?

      The Fourth Gospel was initially accepted earliest by “heterodox” rather than “orthodox” Christians (Brown 1979: 147). The oldest known commentary on the Fourth Gospel is that of the Gnostic Heracleon (d. 180). The Valentinian Gnostics appropriated the Fourth Gospel to such an extent that Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202) had to refute their exegesis of it. Brown well notes the relationship between the Fourth Gospel and the early Christian Gnostics when he writes that there is “abundant evidence of familiarity with Johannine ideas in the…gnostic library from Nag Hammadi” (1979: 147). In contrast to this, Brown points out that clear use of the Fourth Gospel in the early church by “orthodox” sources is difficult to prove (1979: 148). This would seem to suggest that the contents of the Fourth Gospel, at one point, were not attractive to “orthodox” Christians yet very attractive to Gnostic Christians for some reason. In fact, the earliest indisputable “orthodox” use of the Fourth Gospel was by Theophilus of Antioch, c. 180 A.D., in his Apology to Autolycus. This strong connection between the Fourth Gospel and Gnostic Christians provides significant support for my thesis. …

    • Brett

      When translating the various books of the Bible, one of the major considerations is the consistency of a given translation, with the whole of the Bible. While a nonsynoptic document like GJohn in fact, represents some difficulties there.

      In many ways it IS extremely “gnostic”; emphasizing the “spirit,” and so forth. In fact, it begins almost as a spiritual/literary rewrite of Genesis: Genesis began with a God, creating a material world; whereas John rewrites Genesis; and starts with “In the Beginning, there was the word.”

      Still, the earliest fragments of the NT that we have, are from John; there are indicatations it was a very early text. And it seems its more extreme Gnostic tendencies were edited/amended; with a caution for example, that Jesus came in the “flesh” and so forth. While it and the letters of John take time now and then, try to try assure us that God does not “hate” the material “world.”

      To be sure, GJohn contains some of the most Gnostic material in the Bible; and the text has always represented a problem for translators and editors, in their attempt to make it consistent with the rest of the Bible. To this day, GJohn is often denegrated as not being a “synoptic” gospel.

      Personally though, I (against most scholars) entertain the possibility that it might actually have been the very first gospel, not one of the last; though later gospels were indeed needed, to correct its rather Greek/Platonic/gnostic tendencies.

      To try to introduce a new character into the Bible, even at the beginning to time – to insert Jesus into even Genesis – the text employed interesting phrases; like the “word.” Which was not clearly specified to mean either Jesus, or say holy words, holy texts. But is a rather ambiguous, open-ended phrase. One that would not conflict with the OT, and Genesis. But that at the same time, would be open to the interpretation that Jesus himself was the word. So that J. could be in this way subtly backfilled…

    • EricW

      59. Brett wrote:

      Personally though, I (against most scholars) entertain the possibility that it might actually have been the very first gospel, not one of the last; though later gospels were indeed needed, to correct its rather Greek/Platonic/gnostic tendencies.


      Evan Powell wrote a book a number of years ago that argues for Johannine priority among the Gospels:


      There are some things in the book and in his argument that many will no doubt dismiss – e.g., he treats the resurrection as Christ coming back from a near-death experience, IIRC – but his argument for the early date of John, and how he builds and supports his argument, are worth reading and considering.

      His thesis/argument posits an explanation for John 21 and the abrupt ending of GMark, and sees a conflict between the Johannine community and the Petrine community.

    • Brett

      How reliable are even the oldest complete texts we have? And were they accurately translated or edited?

      GJohn in fact ends with 21; in which the text suddenly begins to warn that at least one disciple has betrayed Jesus. Perhaps not only Judas, but others. Many disciples ask “is it I?” but Jesus does not specify. While indeed, “all” the disciplines fail him, when they fall asleep, on the Mount of Olives; then flee when the soliders come. Even Peter denies Jesus three times before the cock crows.

      How accurate are these books attributed to these disciples therefore? GJohn speaks of both an unreliable disciple and a oen that he “LOVESattempts to end with an assurance, by another, editorial voice, about “this” disciple (unnamed?); that “we” know that this disciple was surely reliable. Yet this was clearly an editorial voice after Jesus was crucified; and likely neither John nor Jesus himself, uttered this editorialization.

      How accurate are even the original accounts therefore – even if written by unreliable disciples? We like to say that tThe Holy Spirit is always around to protect us; but sometimes the Holy Spirit apparently stands aside, and lets all of us err, even the holiest disciples. “For we all make many mistakes” said the apostle James; including apparently even himself in this “we.” And perhaps we might find, they made mistakes, even in their holiest moments, writing our texts.

    • EricW

      “For we all make many mistakes” said the apostle James; including apparently even himself in this “we.” And perhaps we might find, they made mistakes, even in their holiest moments, writing our texts.

      Blasphemy!!! 🙂 😀 😕 🙁 😐 😉 😮 😡

    • mbaker

      Re: #61

      Speaking of translations, are we seeing the ghost of Dr. G? You sure sound like him, Brett, or perhaps his alter ego 🙂

    • Brett

      Well, by now I know Eric fairly well. And we both might accept that this particular post on translation/transmission, is a somewhat educated/academic forum/post; in which all sorts of ideas can be at least, theoretically considered? To be rejected in the end of course?

      In any case of course, even the Apostles themselves warned us about … the apostles themselves. As befits a humble person.

    • mbaker


      “And we both might accept that this particular post on translation/transmission, is a somewhat educated/academic forum/post; in which all sorts of ideas can be at least, theoretically considered? To be rejected in the end of course?”

      Ah, such a fine example of the paraphrased translation of Dr. G..

    • EricW

      Oh, no, Dr. G.!!! 😮

    • mbaker


      Yepper, got on his Super Philosopher’s uniform again. 🙂

    • Brett

      Huh? I might sound like a wayward Dr. G.. But of course, I wouldn’t want to be identified with him. Since he was chased out of this blog with pitchforks.

    • cherylu


      For someone that doesn’t want to be identified with him, you certainly do sound identical. That last comment of yours sounds like it was made by his identical twin if not by Dr G himself!! And that is not the only one that sounded like him by a long shot.

    • cherylu

      By the way, I don’t reacall any pitchforks in use here!

    • Brett

      well, I agree with many of Dr. G’s ideas.

    • D Buck

      Wm Tanksley

      Back in comment 54 you said that the long ending of Mark and the woman caught in adultery would be removed from the next version of the NET Bible.

      Do you mean removed completely or indented and side noted? And from what authority do you speak/how do you know this? Are you involved with the team at Bible.org?

      That’s a pretty big claim and I was just curious.

      all about Christ,
      D Buck

    • wm tanksley

      D, I read this claim about half a year ago on one of the “translation expert” blogs, who claimed that he’d done a lot of work in the process of convincing the translation committee of the importance of making that change. I actually don’t recall anything else. But from what I do recall, we can clearly deduce that whoever it was, he wasn’t actually on the NET Bible committee, and so isn’t the best possible source. (And let me add: I’m even worse; I can barely read Greek.)

      Let me add something I just found while hunting: the official plan for the NET Bible used to be to release the 2.0 version of the text this year (2010). According to the official site, the team changed their mind and decided to continue with the same text for at least 5 more years. So we won’t see whether or not my source was correct until 2015.

    • Brett

      In any case, the example of Mark, demonstrates that translation and editing, can make enormous differences in our Bibles. The ending of Mark – Mark 16.8 to Mark 16.20 – was often entirely left out of many Bibles; or inserted as questionable. This difference is not inconsequential either. In one ending, we are told that believers should be able to handle snakes and poison; which led to years of snake handling, among other differences.

      But of course, the really major example of how translation/editing can radically change the content of the Bible, was the moment when the Protestant Reformation ripped seven whole books out of the (till then,Catholic) bible. Helping to create a difference as momentous as the difference between Protetantism, and Catholicism, at least.

      Does anybody really think that ripping seven whole books out of the bible made no difference? 1) Tobit;2) Judith, 3) Song of Songs, 4) Sirach, 5) 1 Maccabes, 6) 2 Mac, 7) Baruch?

      Enough of a perceived difference, to lead to 400 years of armed warfare between Protestants and Catholics.

      Translation, editing, is self evident, and/or makes no difference?

    • Carl D'Agostino

      #74 And Thecla and Thomas too. Translation/editing really has influence content according to agenda of translators like proto-orthodox who won. This is why I have trouble calling it all scripture except for the red letters. And if Paul’s epistles are edited, it makes whole NT suspect. (Have no use for OT because if it speaks to OT Jews, non Jesus accepting, how can it speak to Christian?. )Have I carried this to extreme conclusions as several on this blog assert that I have?

    • D Buck

      Carl D’Agostino,

      Curious. You said you “have no use for OT because if it speaks to OT Jews, non Jesus accepting, how can it speak to Christian?” Did the OT Jews have a chance to accept Jesus? They had a hope in Messiah (unrecognized at this point) and their faith in Messiah unrecognized is what drove them. We have a hope in Messiah recognized.

      By having no use of the OT are you not throwing out what God has presented first to the Jew then to the Gentile? What Jesus taught was many times “you have heard it said/written” referring to the OT? Jesus never taught contrary to the Old Testament, maybe contrary to traditions, but never contrary to the OT.

      Paul referred to the OT as the school master in Galatians. I don’t still have a school teacher, but their lessons are a part of me to this day. The OT is just as important as the New. The Bible as a whole is God’s revelation to man.

      Am I missing what you are getting at?

    • Carl D'Agostino

      Yes of course OT doesn’t get chance to accept NT. The God of OT is a pretty scary fellow. Very anthropomorphic. Has anger, jealously, rage, is murderous in aiding Hebrews to slaughter their enemies, is vindictive, punitive, arrogant, demanding. But also OT , He’s loving, caring and restorative, guiding The first descriptions do not speak to me as they have no congruency with loving God of NT So I am still at a loss to understand OT as revealing anything to me but cruelty and yet cannot deny, as you state that NT morphs from OT and Jesus OT dynamic too. If Jesus presents us with a New Covenant is anything in the Old Covenant relevant to the Christian? OT requires the Law for enter Kingdom. Jesus dismisses this (Good Samaritan) and so does Paul which gets him into dispute big time with Peter. NT God does not lead Christians to slaughter their enemies. Have received more than a few admonishments on blog re my Marcionite leanings, but I don’t assume to be expert, still trying to figure it out.

    • D Buck


      I don’t know if I would say, at least from my study, that the understanding of God in the OT is less wrathful than the NT understanding of God. Personally, I think God is more wrathful in the NT. Specifically, I am thinking of the wrath and eternal damnation that is poured out in Revelation, but that wrath is expressed and alluded to through the Gospels and Epistles. Not just the enemies of the Jews in the OT but the enemies of God will meet an eternal end in Hell…according to the NT. The NT simply offers grace to everyone.

      Jesus himself said He didn’t come to destroy the Law (OT) but fulfill it. Paul says the OT Law was never meant to get someone to Heaven, in fact you can’t find that sentiment anywhere in the OT that following the Law = salvation. I am still trying to figure it out myself, how the Law and Grace coincide, but from my readings and study, they do. Thankfully we are saved by grace, through faith and I rest well in that.

    • Brian Moyer

      Why was the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) excluded from the article, graph, etc.?

      It is one of today’s finest mediating translations and was available for review at the time the article was written. It is notable, by comparison with the NIV 2011 and NET, in that it has not been gender modified.

    • […] find on the bookshelf to date. In my study of Biblical translations, I discovered that there are three types of Bibles: (1) Word-for-word (literal), (2) Thought-for-thought (dynamic equivalent), and (3) Paraphrase […]

    • minimus

      If YOU have not read the ENTIRE BIBLE and are criticizing any other translation, take this post as a correction (or even rebuke) and FINISH READING THE BIBLE! THEN reevaluate which translation you’ve read, and what you should read.

      I recommend the NASB with Strong’s or KJV/NKJV with Strong’s on either Olive Tree Bible (for Palm, smartphones, even dumb phones) or E-sword.

      Looking at the Greek and Hebrew is sooo helpful!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.