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?