Which Bible is Best ...how to choose the right Bible

Psm 119:11 Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.


Which Bible is Best?


There are over 450 known English Bibles out today(i), with approximately a dozen or so main translations. Most translations or versions has multiple kinds of Bibles to provide maximum experiences, such as print size, age appropriations, study Bibles, denominational persuasions, and many other considerations. As such, Christians face a lot of confusion in the deciding of what translation of the Bible they should be reading or studying from.  As such, an understanding of translations, versions, or paraphrases should be examined. 

Translations or Versions 

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There is a difference between a translation and a version of the Bible.  A translation means translating from the early Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek manuscripts to another language, whereas a version means translating within the same language, regardless of its translation. Throughout the centuries, however, these words have emeshed with each other as many different kinds of Bibles have come into print.  As such, both translation and version have come to mean the same thing.

Word-for-Word, Thought-for-Thought and Paraphrase

Word-for-word translations come from research from the original manuscripts to another language.  The tighter the translation, the closer the correct meaning to the earliest Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek manuscripts, carrying the syntax, idioms, and mannerisms of the times it was translated. Often called a "literal translation," its work has been translated by multiple biblical scholars doing a word-for-word translation from its original language. The translators generally come from a multiple of denominations or Christian persuasions. To gain the Scripture's most accurate meaning, it is best to use a word-for-word translation - the tighter the better.

A simple warning for those who buy a word-for-word study Bible. Many people think that a study Bible will give the original meaning of difficult words. While often they may in their footnotes, we must always remember that a study Bible is simply a commentary by its translators, editors, publishing houses  or even some carry denominational slants in their commentaries. To find the meanings of difficult words, use instead a Strong's Concordance to research the correct Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek meanings of words. A Thayer's Lexicon is a great supplement to expand the correct meanings for New Testament words. Avoid a word-for-word study Bible unless it is used for reference not word meanings.

Thought-for-thought translations or versions are looser in its research, using more modern usage for the understanding of today's reader.  Often called a dynamic or dynamic equivalent, these translations or versions carry a thought-for-thought equivalent of the language of the day in which it may or may not be properly translated.  Again, its work has been translated by multiple biblical scholars, but not always from a multiple of denominations or persuasions. Its translation or version can come from one denominational persuasion, meaning the translators see through the lenses of their denomination and blind to other meanings that does not support their denomination.  A thought-for-thought translations are very popular Bibles today; however, they are a good supplement for Bible study, but should not be used for the accuracy of the Scriptures.  A challenge with a thought-for-thought Bible is variances in denominational sway by its translators, editor or publishing house. Avoid a study Bible in this translation or version unless it is used for reference, not word interpretation.

Idea-for-idea or Paraphrases are simply free versions and  the interpretation of one translator and cannot be trusted in its accuracy. It is meant to get the general idea across. It is an interpretation of one translator and NOT translated from the original Hebrew or Greek manuscripts, but generally taken from another version of the English Scriptures. The translator has interpreted the text according to his or her presuppositions, experiences and beliefs. Often the denomination of the translator has swayed the meaning of the text. Most paraphrases can be used for devotional reading and understanding the stories of Scripture; however, should never be used for biblical accuracy.  

For study or accurate interpretation, you should always use a translation or version that came from the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts - the tighter the better.  The looser the version, the more inaccurate the Scripture will become.  You can supplement it with the Strong's Concordance and the Greek Thayer's Lexicon. A study Bible is very effective for reference, but not for word interpretation.

Below are listings of the more popular translations - from the tightest to the most loose translations, versions, or paraphrases.

Word-for-Word Translations

King James Version (KJV):  William Tyndale of England was burned at the stake in 1536 for translating the New Testament in English. His last words were "Lord, open the eyes of the king." While other translations were done, they were not widely accepted until 100 years after Tyndale was burned at the stake, King James VI of England commissioned 30 Hebrew and Greek scholars to translate the Bible from its original language into English.  Referred to as the Authorized King James Bible, it was published in 1611 and became widely accepted by the people. Written in the language of the 16th Century English, it carries a language that makes this version more difficult to understand for today's reader. It is, however, the most accurate English translation of the Bible ever written, being the tightest of all translations. For almost the next 300 years, the KJV was the most widely accepted Bible in all of Christiandom and is the most widely used Bible translation worldwide. The KJV is copywritten by the English crown and published by Cambridge University Press. While the rights to the KJV is vested in the Crown - by permission, Thomas Nelson began its work with its publication in the United States over 200 years ago. and remains its publisher even today. 

The KJV has been used for biblical study for centuries. For those who wish to study from the Strong's Concordance, Thayer's Lexicon or other biblical research material, most of them are sourced out of the King James Version of the Bible. For serious Bible study students, a copy of the KJV is a must for biblical research.

New King James Version (NKJV): Completed in 1982, the NKJV translation modernized the expression of the KJV Bible by incorporating a modern, more up-too-date language for greater clarity. Over 130 biblical scholars, consulting with editors, church leaders and Christian laity were commissioned to work on this translation at they maintained true to the original Greek and Hebrew texts. The NKJV is widely used by many Christians today who desire a more modern-day language for understandabiity, yet maintain the integrity and accuracy of the KJV of the Bible. This is the version I carry as my main Bible, but for research I always go back to the KJV.

American Standard Version (ASV):  The ASV was completed in 1901 and was meant to revise the King James Version into a more modern-day language of 100 years ago. Over 30 English biblical scholars from many denominations gathered together to research a modern-day translation from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. This translation has earned the reputation of being a rock solid translation of the original Hebrew and Greek texts.  It was first called the Revised Version of 1885 by Oxford and Cambridge University until unauthorized copies began appearing in the United States. Because of the Crown owning the rights to the KJV, a Revised Version was adapted and revised into the American Standard Version (ASV) in 1901 with minor variations in wording. It then became copywritten as well.  All copyrights are expired and this version is now part of the public domain.  

The Revised Standard Version (RSV): Published in 1952, this translation is a revision of the American Standard Version of 1901 and the first to make use of the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah in its biblical research. The RSV was the work of 32 scholars, one being Jewish, drawn from the faculties of 20 universities and theological seminaries intending to modernize the wording for greater understandability for the common reader(ii). In later years, the RSV would serve as the basis for two revisions—the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of 1989, and the English Standard Version (ESV) of 2001.

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV): Pubished in 1989, the NRSV was published by the National Council of churches by an ecumenical committee of scholars from many denominations. It's purpose was to preserve older versions (KJV and RSV) using modern-day English. It is a literal and clear translation adhering to the original texts, yet remain free in its understanding. It drew on the Dead Sea Scrolls and other arhaeological findings. It gave new understandings of Greek and Hebrew grammar and clarified some of the more obscure passages and claims to be an improvement over the RSV. The NRSV has been widely accepted by churches around the United States. This version is also available in a Catholic version with the Apocraphal.

New American Standard Version (NASB): Published by the Lockman Foundation, the NASB was completed  for release in 1971, but wasn't published until 1995 and revised in 2020. It is an revision of the American Standard Version of 1901. Considered a literal translation, going back to the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts, this translation preserves the structure of the original language.  Numerous translators were used in this translation, supported by other scholars, educators and pastors. There are some who claim this version is the most literal translation of the 20th-century English Bibles.

The English Standard Version (ESV): The ESV is a translation of the Bible done in contemporary English, going back to the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek manuscripts. The ESV is a revision of the Revised Standard Bible; claiming to adhere to a literal view by over 100 leading evangeical scholars and pastors, going back to the original manuscripts. Published in 2001 by Crossway Publishing, this publishing house publishes a lot of reformed theology material. In addition, the original translation committee of the ESV Bible are all strong reformed theologians (Calvinism).  The claims of the ESV Bible is they are the most accurate translation on the market today.  It must still be noted however, in my opinion, the publisher and those endorsing the ESV, such as Wayne Grudem, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, who openly claim to be reformed theologians, holds a "reformed" bias in their translation. As such, I cannot recommend this translation. 

New International Version (NIV): The New International Version (NIV) is a Modern English translation of the Bible which was first published in 1973 by Biblica (formerly the International Bible Society). Originally called the Contemporary English Translation, it later became known as the New International Version. In North American, the secular Zondervan Publishing owns the commercial rights for the NIV Bible. This translation was published to meet the need for a modern translation, done by over 100 Bible scholars using the earliest manuscripts of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek available. It was first published in 1973 with a minor revision in 1984. The downside of both the 1973 and 1983 revision is the watering down of the importance of the blood of Jesus. 

 An easy-reader' version, New International Reader's Version (Niv), was published in 1996 and was written at a third-grade reading level. Then in 2002 and 2005 a revised of NIV came out called Today's New International Version (TNIV). Sadly, it used gender-neutral language, taking "he" and "man" out of the Bible, dimishing the diety of God and making it more gender neutral. In 2011 a new revision of the NIV was published and the TNIV and 1984 version was discontinued and sadly, the gender-neutral of the TNIV was incorporated in this newest version of the NIV, just not quite as heavily done as the TNIV. In its time, over 450 million printed copies of the NIV Bible has been sold.  As such, I cannot recommend any NIV published Bible beyond the years of 1984. The NIV carries a balance between word-for-word and thought-for-thought; therefore, I have placed this translation at the bottom of the word-for-word translations. 

New American Bible (NAB):  Translated by the World Catholic Press in 1987 and revised in 2011, this translation is based on the word-for-word "principle" by fifty translators. Unlike previous Catholic Bibles, the NAB is based not on the Latin Vulgate, but on original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, representing the most recent textual scholarship. Although the NAB is intended for official use in the Catholic Mass, its authors collaborated with scholars outside of Catholic circles in an attempt to make the translation more suitable for use by all Christians. This version contains the deuterocanonical (Apocraphal) books of the Old Testament and complete publisher notes that expand on translation context and meaning.

Thought-for-Thought Versions

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The New Living Bible (NLT): To honor the well established paraphrased Living Bible, the New Living Translation was developed and completed by Tyndale House Publishing in 1996 and bought over by HarperCollins in 2012. The purpose was to have 90 biblical scholars go back to the earliest manuscriptsto to create a thought-for-thought Bible instead of another paraphrase. The NLT is not a word-for-word translation, but created for devotional reading or young Christian reading. It is not meant for serious Bible study. 

The Amplified Bible - Classic AMPC: A unique Bible version designed to reveal, along with the most accurate single word equivalent of a Hebrew or Greek word, the various shades of meaning that a word may have. This translation uses as many words as are necessary to convey the original meaning, which makes it more difficult to understand when reading. Often these extra meanings convey what the Strong's Concordance reveals about the meanings of the Hebrew or Greek words, making this version a good supplement to biblical research.

The Amplified Bible (AMP): Revised in 2015, the goal of the AMP translation was to enhance the appeal of the Amplified Bible Classic by refreshing the English and refining the amplifications for relevance and clarity.  This version is easier to read over the Amplified Classic.  I use this and the AMPC as supplements for biblical research.

The Complete Jewish Bible (CJB): To understand the Scriptures from a Jewish perspective, in a modern-day thought-for-thought by David Stern, as a single translator, did not make a whole new version, but incorporated many translitered Hebrew names and words to help Christians appreciate the foundational nature of the Old Testament in relationship to the New Testament from a Jewish perspective. He used Jewish terminology, including understanding the feasts and sacrifices that are pertinent to all serious Jews, I use this version often as a supplement in my biblical studies.

The Good News Bible (GNT): Published by HarperColins, this thought-for-thought version of the Bible was translated a simple modern-day English language from the Masoretic Hebrew text and the Greek New Testament. First published in 1976, it was aimed to be a Bible suitable for children and those learning English. This version is widely used by many different Protestant denominations, but should not be used for biblical study.

New Century Version (NCV):  Published by Thomas Nelson Publishing, the NCV of the Bible is a revision of the International Children's Bible (Written at the 3rd grade level) aimed at young readers and those with low English reading and vocabulary skills. When revised to the NCV, it was revised at the 5th grade level. It's purpose was to be faithful to the original manuscripts and the use of language clear enough for anyone to read and understand. A team composed of the World Bible Translation Center and fifty Bible scholars and translators DID NOT go back to the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek manuscripts, but created this translation from the NIV, NASB and the NKJV Bibles along with the Septuagint and other Hebrew and Greek texts.  This is a great version for devotional or light reading, but not recommended for biblical study.

Paraphrased Bibles

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The Living Bible:  This paraphrase was one of the ealiest paraphrases out on the market.  Created by Kenneth Taylor, who reinterpreted this paraphrase from the New American Standard Version, he translated this simple to understand paraphrase so his grandchildren could under the scriptures.  The Living Bible was a best-seller in the early 1970s, largely due to being the easiest to read of all English Bibles, which made passages understandable to those with weak reading skills, or no previous background in Bible study. This paraphrase carries a bias Baptist slant to the text.

The Message Bible:  While the Message Bible was taken from the original Greek language, it was written by "one" translator, done in contemporary English in a free-flow modern-day (almost like a novel) understanding. It was written by Greek scholar and pastor Eugene Peterson in 2002 and only available in the New Testament. Often the correct Greek meanings have changed and this should never be used for biblical study.

The Passion Translation:  This newly popular Bible is neither a translation nor a paraphrase.  It comes out of mystical imagination of Brian Simmons, carrying passionate language to the text.  This rendering reflects and promotes the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) theology, which is a cultic entity of Christianity. I once purchased this version, but after shortly reading it, I returned it claiming it to be heretical without even knowing its history. I not only refuse to recommend this version, but implore you to never buy this version.

What Bible is best for me?

It becomes obvious that anyone serious about correct biblical study, and those serious about wanting the truths of the Word of God need to own more than one translation or version of the Bible.  A suggestion would be to have at least two word-for-word Bible, one thought-for-thought, and one paraphrase for devotional reading.  The tighter the translation in a word-for-word, the more reliable that translation will be. I personally have over 50 Bibles in my possession and use many different Bibles for biblical study. I spend most of my time in a word-for-word translation Bible because those are the ones to be most trusted. 

I hope this has been helpful with you finding the right Bible or Bibles for you.

(i) https://www.patheos.com/answers/how-many-versions-of-the-bible

(2) Biblical literature - RSV, Canon, Interpretation | Britannica

Written by Pastor Joyce A. Erickson

Believers Bible School, Founder https://believersbibleschool.com/