Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The BEST Bible Version

~ Which Bible is Best? ~

Some have jokingly remarked, “The King James Version was good enough for the Apostle Paul—so it is good enough for me!” In fact, the KJV was the standard Protestant Bible for hundreds of years and is an excellent translation. However, the question might be, is it the best translation for you?

A word of caution—beware of spiritual pride. Unfortunately the choice of Bible translation can become a source of pride. Consider for example what passes as comedy when people mock certain Bible versions. I have heard the RSV (Revised Standard Version) described as the “Revised Standard Perversion,” the NIV (New International Version) as a “Nearly Inspired Version,” and the NAS (New American Standard) as “Not Authentic Scripture.” I believe spiritual pride regarding which Bible version we read, including mocking legitimate Bible versions, is a form of “sowing discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:19)—something God “hates.” Spiritual pride is perhaps the worst kind of pride in God’s eyes. How that must hurt our God! Be careful about putting down God’s Word in any manner.

However, many Christians are in a legitimate quandary about which Bible version is best—a sincere desire to read the “right Bible.” This blog seeks to demystify Bible versions. First, we should be aware that some Bibles are translations and some, such as paraphrases, are not translations at all—rather the message of the Bible is put in the author’s own words.

Main Categories of Bibles

Word-for-word translations ~ These are heralded by purists. A current popular example would be the New American Standard Bible. Many would include the Authorized Version (nicknamed the King James Version), while others would move it partially toward the next category.

Thought-for-thought translations ~ These provide greater attention to the message, the idea, or the thought which the writer is trying to convey. A current example would be the Contemporary English Version (also known as The Promise). This is a particularly good translation for young people, second-language readers, and for reading aloud.

Idea-for-idea Bibles ~ This category emphasizes easy reading and getting the gist of the message across to the reader. These are typically not translations but rather the human author using his own words in a paraphrase to communicate the overall idea of the passage. Examples would be the Living Bible or more recently The Message.

Few Bible versions fit totally into one of these three categories. Most translations are somewhere between the first two categories. Current Bible versions which are both valuable and popular include the New American Standard Bible (word-for-word), the New King James Version (close to word-for-word), the New International Version (about half way between word-for-word and thought-for-thought), The Living Translation (thought-for-thought), and The Message (idea-for-idea).

Which is Best?

The word-for-word purists are often adamant that they are using the most “accurate” form of the Bible. But that claim depends on what the definition of “accurate” is. The key question which needs to answered: Is the most accurate Bible a word-for-word translation of one language to another language or is accuracy related to what the reader understands and how close the reader’s understanding is to the original intent of the writer?

One rather extreme illustration will suffice. In the Authorized Version (AV / KJV) Romans 1:13 reads as follows (emphasis added): “Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.” The New King James Version renders that verse more accurately: “Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles.” Note that over time the word “let” has completely reversed in meaning, resulting in this particular word-for-word translation conveying the opposite meaning from what the writer intended.

What is the best translation? You should decide. My personal view is that your primary Bible should be a translation rather than a paraphrase, and the best Bible translation is the one which you will read and learn from the most. Having available a supplemental idea-for-idea version is often also very helpful.

A FINAL WORD: A Study Bible can also be an excellent choice—but you should be even more careful in selecting a study Bible. Study Bibles contain much additional supplemental material which is not divinely inspired in the same way the Bible is. In choosing a study Bible, in addition to the translation question it is important to know who provided the study notes. What is their theology and base of understanding? Knowing this is of critical importance when choosing a study Bible. Your pastor or other trusted spiritual leader can be of significant help.

CONCLUSION: Any of the versions specifically mentioned in this blog can be a good choice—and there are others. Over the years I have migrated from time to time but my current favorite translation is the New King James Version and my current favorite study Bible is the Nelson Study Bible (more recently marketed as the New King James Study Bible). The General Editor for this study Bible is well-known and greatly-respected conservative theologian, Dr. Earl D. Radmacher, who oversaw the effort by many qualified editors and contributors (about 62 in all). In addition to the NKJV and my study Bible, I also frequently use other versions and paraphrases (such as The Message).


  1. "...the best Bible translation is the one which you will read and learn from the most."

    Be careful-differences between translations *do* exist and they are not all equal in terms of quality.

    First, is the translation based on Textus Receptus or Alexandrian texts (Westcott-Hort, UBS, Nestle-Aland)? You might be surprised to find out recent translations may delete phrases or entire verses (Matt 18:11, Acts 8:37,etc). A reasonable approach requires examining each translation to see how it measures up. None are perfect, they *all* have problems. The question is, do you know what the problems of your translation are? Which base text it uses? How much they paraphrase? Do they delete verses and/or phrases?

    I'd agree with you on one thing - generally if somone doesn't want to dive into textual analysis, the NKJV probably is the best.

    I've written a primer on some of these important issues:


  2. If you haven't heard of the NET Bible before, you may want to check it out. The best way to describe it is as a "translators Bible". It has the format of a study Bible, with comments at the bottom, but very few of those comments are study notes. Instead, the comments are translator notes. Any time a word or phrase has some ambiguity to it, the translators make notes as to why they interpreted it the way they did, and then those notes are put at the bottom. I still read my ESV and NASB on a regular basis, and often witness with a NLT because of its' ease of comprehension. But for really digging in or attending a Bible Study I take the NET. I have learned an awful lot from it, both about the Word and about translations. You might find it interesting!