According to Bible.com there are over 2,089 versions of the Bible in 1, 426 languages. Wikipedia states that there are more than 450 English translations of the Bible and BibleGateway has a list of over 50. With so many Bible translations available, how do you know which one to choose? In order to help find the best one for you, we will look at the types of translations, and provide some helpful ideas to guide you to the version or translations that is best for you.
History Of Bible Translations
The first translation of the Bible from the original languages of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic began in the Third Century B,C. as Jews, who were living in Egypt had forgotten their Hebrew language, speaking Greek. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and they began translating it into Greek. Then, in the 3rd Century A.D., the Christians needed to correctly interpret the Old Testament. A man named Origen stepped up and began the monumental task. Origen actually created the first side-by-side translation with the original Hebrew in one column, next the same text in Greek lettering, then the Septuagint, followed by 3 columns of translations by Christian Scholars. The Septuagint was a translation of the Old Testament by 76 Jewish scholars, six from each tribe of Israel, from Hebrew into Greek.
In the 2nd-4th Century A.D., the Old and New Testaments are translated into Latin, In 382, Jerome was commissioned to write the definitive Latin manuscript called the Vulgate which was completed in 405. In the meantime, a man named Ulfilas created the first known alphabet consisting oof 27 characters in order to translate the Bible from Greek into the language of the Goths.
By the late 14th Century, Wycliffe had created full English versions of the Old and New Testament. The BIble that Jerome had hoped would be in the hands of the common man, had become the property of the wealthy and powerful. Finally, by the 16th century, that idea takes hold again in the hands of Luther, Erasmus, and Tyndale. The product of that time is the King James Bible which became the standard for many years.
Since that time, Bible translations in every known language have exploded. Here is an example from HistoryWorld.net,:
One small local example can give an idea of the pace and energy of the missionary programme. In Papua New Guinea more than 800 languages are spoken. The first translation of the New Testament into one of these languages is not published until 1956. Yet by the 1990s the New Testament is available in more than 100 languages of the region, with almost 200 other versions in preparation.”
This brief history doesn’t even include the other nations that were also translating the manuscripts and letters into their own languages. Bible translations grew out of a need for everyone to have to access to the Word of God and to understand what they were reading, As new original manuscripts have been found, new translations have been written and old ones updated.
Types Of Bible Translations
Out of this multitude of English translations of the Bible, we have developed three primary types of translations. While most are translated directly from the three original languages, the translations each have a different basis for translation.
Word-For-Word Bible Translations – Formal Equivalence
Formal Equivalence is another way of saying word-for-word translation. The focus of this method of translation is accuracy and staying true to the original langauge. Blue Letter Bible tells us this about formal equivalence:
The idea behind formal equivalence is to render the text in the same form as the original. This can also mean using the same word order as the original language. With formal equivalence each word of the original language is represented by a word in the target or receptor language. Examples of formal equivalence in translations would be the American Standard Version of 1901, the New American Standard Bible, and the English Standard Version.
When I study the Bible, I want to know the meaning of the words used in the original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic. Translators using this method believe that it’s up to the reader to determine the actual meaning of a phrase like “gird up the loins of your mind’ as used in the KJV version of the Bible for 1 Peter 1:13. The expression means to ‘prepare for action’ but a formal equivalence rendered it as gird up the loins.
This form of translation may also present the words in the same order as the original language which is often quite different than the way we speak today. Also, a literal translation can be misleading by failing to impart the implied meaning of the verse, and be difficult to read. Bible translations are composed of a balancing act between literal words and intended meaning.
Meaning-For-Meaning Translation – Functional Equivalence
In this method of translation, the goal is to render a thought-for-thought translation of the original language by imparting thought or meaning rather than just focusing on grammatical form. This makes dynamic equivalence much easier to read.
The problem with this method is that the reader is left with the translator’s interpretation of the original language and is definitely open to disagreement. If you are using a functional equivalence translation to teach others, keep in mind that you are teaching other people’s interpretation of the original words. If you disagree with the translation, your students may feel that the Bible is somehow unreliable.
The best practice is to read more than one translation of the Bible. Word-for-word is very helpful in understanding meaning. But, the words must also be interpreted in context of the verses around it and the message of the Bible as a whole. This is why it is important to study and dig into the Word for yourself. While you don’t really need to worry about which method was used, it can be helpful in understanding the finished product and why one is preferred for reading while another is preferred for study,
Years ago, when I first read The Message Bible, I came across a phrase in the Book of Acts that upset me. In Acts 8, Peter and John had been sent to Samaria to lay hands on the new believers and impart the Holy Spirit to them. A man named Simon (Simon the Sorceror) had also been saved and as he watched Peter and John, he wanted the same power they had.
He approached them and said, “When Simon saw that the apostles by merely laying on hands conferred the Spirit, he pulled out his money, excited, and said, “Sell me your secret! Show me how you did that! How much do you want? Name your price!” Acts 8:18-19 The Message (full chapter).
Here is Peter’s response to him. I have edited it in order not to offend, “Peter said, “To h… with your money! And you along with it. Why, that’s unthinkable—trying to buy God’s gift! You’ll never be part of what God is doing by striking bargains and offering bribes. Change your ways—and now! Ask the Master to forgive you for trying to use God to make money. I can see this is an old habit with you; you reek with money-lust.” Acts 8:20-23 The Message.
I was offended! Then, I went to Strong’s Concordance and some commentaries to find the meaning of the words used there in the original Greek. I learned that one of the words used was ‘apoleia’ and is translated in other places as perdition. Perdition is defined as a place of eternal destruction which could be called hell – the opposite of heaven. The writer of The Message, Eugene Peterson, wrote this translation to help brand new Christians identify with and understand the meaning of the Word. In this case, Peter was horrified at Simon the Sorcerer’s request and was giving him a stern warning about the results of His lust for money and for using God to try to make money off the power he seen the Apostles exercise.
Here, from Bible Gateway is Eugene Peterson’s own description of what he wanted to accomplish in The Message translation of the New Testament:
Why was The Message written? The best answer to that question comes from Eugene Peterson himself: “”While I was teaching a class on Galatians, I began to realize that the adults in my class weren’t feeling the vitality and directness that I sensed as I read and studied the New Testament in its original Greek. Writing straight from the original text, I began to attempt to bring into English the rhythms and idioms of the original language. I knew that the early readers of the New Testament were captured and engaged by these writings and I wanted my congregation to be impacted in the same way. I hoped to bring the New Testament to life for two different types of people: those who hadn’t read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant and those who had read the Bible so much that it had become ‘old hat.'””
The Message is a very popular bible translation which has accomplished the purpose Mr. Peterson intended.
Why Are There So Many Versions Of The Bible?
I believe that the best answer to that question is – need. People need to understand the Bible and God’s message to them. Obviously, most of world does not speak Greek or even the original Hebrew language so there is a need for translation in all its forms. There are those who believe that the only translation we should read is the King James Version and I respect their opinion but do not agree,
For myself, I very much enjoy reading a variety of Bible translations while keeping one as my base. For me, my go-to translation is the New American Standard which is thought by most scholars to be the most accurate translation. Yet, I love to read The Voice and, one of the newest translations, The Passion. I also own an NIV Coloring Bible and truly enjoy it. I’m not afraid of being deceived by someone else’s interpretation because I also utilize Concordances, Commentaries, and a variety of Bible translations to make a decision whenever I am questioning a translation.
Which Bible Translation Is The Best?
The best translation is relative to each person’s need and purpose. The translation I want to read often depends on what my purpose is for reading. If it’s for study and to use in a blog, I research multiple translations and choose the one that seems to best impart correct meaning along with the thought I’ m trying to get across. I often use The Passion because it accomplishes it’s name – it imparts God’s passion toward us.
If I’m reading for pleasure, I love The Voice translation. It isn’t that popular and it’s quite wordy but the translators included poets in the process in order to maintain the poetic beauty contained in the King James Version. Because I’ve studied the Bible for many, many years I quickly recognize the differences and nuances of the various Bible translations. I read The Voice for its beauty and readability.
Top Bible Translations
Here are some of the most popular and best-selling bible translations. The ‘most-read’ translation continues to be the King James Version even though it is not the top-selling version. This may be due to the fact that some churches only allow this version, because it is public domain, and it is available for free in many places. This list of the Best-Selling Bibles is from Christian Book and was provided to them by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association in March of 2020. I have included affiliate links to Christian Book in case you would like to purchase one of these translations. Just click on the name of the version at the beginning,
- New International Version – this is considered to be best-selling translation and is a completely original translation. An engineer named Howard Long started this process and it was eventually taken over and completed by the Committee on Bible Translation along with many others. Here is their goal for this translation as stated in BibleGateway.com, “From the very start, the NIV sought to bring modern Bible readers as close as possible to the experience of the very first Bible readers: providing the best possible blend of transparency to the original documents and comprehension of the original meaning in every verse.“
- King James Version – is considered to be the most-read translation of the Bible and is one of the oldest complete translations of the Old and New Testaments. It is a word-for-word translation.
- New Living Translation – has moved up steadily on the list. It was originally started to revise the Living Bible but then turned into a full-blown translation from the original languages. “The challenge for the translators was to create a text that would make the same impact in the life of modern readers that the original text had for the original readers. In the New Living Translation, this is accomplished by translating entire thoughts (rather than just words) into natural, everyday English.” BibleGateway.com
- English Standard Version – this represents the more classic lines of the Bible from Tyndale to the Revised Standard Version. “The ESV is an “essentially literal” translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. It seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.” BibleGateway.com
- New King James Version – followed the original beauty of the King James Version, Nelson Publishers undertook the project as a completely new translation. “With unyielding faithfulness to the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts, the translation applies the most recent research in archaeology, linguistics, and textual studies.” BibleGateway.com
- Reina Valera – continues to be the most used translation in Spanish-speaking churches and ‘is the most beloved translation of Spanish-speaking Christians because it retains the traditional style of the Spanish language.” BibleGateway.com
- Christian Standard Bible – Published by Holman, the same company that publishes the Holman Christian Standard Bible, this translation was started in 2016 and complete in 2017. It has quickly become a best-seller. “The CSB was created using Optimal Equivalence, a translation philosophy that balances linguistic precision to the original languages and readability in contemporary English. In the many places throughout Scripture where a word-for-word rendering is clearly understandable, a literal translation is used. When a word-for-word rendering might obscure the meaning for a modern audience, a more dynamic translation is used. This process assures that both the words and thoughts contained in the original text are conveyed as accurately as possible for today’s readers.” BibleGateway.com
- New International Reader’s Version – is a revision of the New International Version. Changes were compared to the original languages. Here are a few of the changes made: “We did some other things to make the NIrV a helpful Bible version for you. For example, sometimes a Bible verse quotes from another place in the Bible. When that happens, we put the other Bible book’s name, chapter and verse right there. We separated each chapter into shorter sections. We gave a title to almost every chapter. Sometimes we even gave a title to the shorter sections. That will help you understand what each chapter or section is all about.” BibleGateway.com
- New American Standard Bible – the full Bible was first published in 1971 with a major update in 1995 and is still considered to be the most accurate translation from the original languages. “The original NASB has earned the reputation of being the most accurate English Bible translation. The NASB update carries on the NASB tradition of being a true Bible translation, revealing what the original manuscripts actually say–not merely what the translator believes they mean.” BibleGateway.com
- The Message – This widely popular version is a translation. “The goal of The Message is to engage people in the reading process and help them understand what they read. This is not a study Bible, but rather “a reading Bible.” The verse numbers, which are not in the original documents, have been left out of the print version to facilitate easy and enjoyable reading. The original books of the Bible were not written in formal language. The Message tries to recapture the Word in the words we use today.” BibleGateway.com
Tips On Choosing a Translation
The best recommendation I can make to you is this. Go to BibleGateway.com or YouVersion.com. Choose a section of Scripture you are familiar with in whatever translation you are currently reading, Then, look it up in multiple Bible translations – NASB, NKJV, NIrV, CSB, Message, etc. – and read an entire chapter. Go the Old and New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs, and read to see how you like it.
Ask yourself if it fits your need. How readable is it? Do you click with it? Sometimes, you can read a version and realize that you just don’t really like the way it’s put together. That’s exactly why there are lots of choices so take advantage of the free resources before you purchase a new Bible.
Then go online to places like Christianbook, Nelson Publishers, or Amazon and look at the styles of Bible that are available. I won’t go into Styles here but just look it over and see what you think. Or, ask to see a friend’s Bible – if they like it, you might too! I’m currently using a Spirit-FIlled Life BIble in the New King James Version. I enjoy all of the commentary, maps, and other helps included. There are so many Study Bibles that I can’t go into them here but will soon. Go look around at all the Bible Translations and types and, if you can’t decide, buy a paperback version (if available) and then, if you love it, you can buy a sturdier one. And, if you don’t like it, you haven’t spent too much money!
Enjoying the Bible Translations
Hopefully, you see why there are so many Bible translations. The goal of every translator is to make the Word of God more and more accessible to a greater variety of people. The Word must be understood and applicable to our daily lives and each translation is loved by someone for whom the Word of God was suddenly opened and made alive!
You might also enjoy reading – How To Study The Bible