Bibles The majority of the books of the Bible were written in Hebrew (the Old Testament) and Greek (the New Testament). Eventually the Bible was translated into other languages such as Latin and German, and then English. In 1611, the King James version (KJV) of the Bible was released and it remained the most popular English translation for over 300 years. In the last 100 years, there have been many other English translations, resulting in literally dozens being now available. 

Essentially, there are three types of translations:

  1. A Literal Translation – this is an attempt at a direct 'word for word' translation. The New King James Version (NKJV) and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) are literal translations.
  2. A Dynamic Equivalent Translation – this type of translation endeavors to translate the broader sense of the phrases, not just the literal words. The New International Version (NIV) and the New Living Translation (NLT) are dynamic equivalent translations.
  3. A Paraphrase – this is a translation into modern English. The Good News Bible (GNB) and the Message Bible (MB) are paraphrases.

Each of these types of translations have to try to balance readability with faithfulness to the original text. Because of this, there is really no fixed boundary between these three types of translations. They simply represent a range of translation methods.

The New Testament was written in Koine or 'common' Greek, which was the local street language of the day used for speaking with your neighbors or shopping at the market NOT in classical or 'proper' Greek, which was used for writing history, philosophy or poetry. As Eugene Peterson says, 'Our Bible was not written in the educated and polished language of scholars, historians, philosophers and theologians but primarily in the common language of fisherman, prostitutes, homemakers and carpenters." It was said about Jesus, "… and the common people heard him gladly (Mark 12:37 NKJV)." The Bible is meant to be readable as it is. It is not a book of secret knowledge accessible only to the academic elite. It is written plainly for plain men and women.

So which is the best translation? The Hebrew and Greek, of course! But unless you read these languages, you'll need an English translation. The best translation depends on your purpose. For something closer to the original words, use a literal translation. For something more readable, use a dynamic equivalent translation. For something fresh and contemporary, use a paraphrase.

The King James Version (KJV) was ‘contemporary’ 400 years ago. Unless you still speak to your neighbors like this – “Yea, verily, whither dost thou goest and how art thou?” … it's probably time to move on.

The main Bible that I use is the NIV, but I also really like the NLT, as well as the Message Bible.

For further information on choosing a Bible translation, I recommend the following two books:

Thankfully, with powerful Bible software anyone can now discover the meanings of Bible words in the original languages and do all sorts of interesting background studies. I recommend PC Study Bible.

8 thoughts on “Which Bible Translation?

  1. NLT rocks. 🙂
    My main one is NKJV but if I’m sleepy or just mentally tired, the accessibility of NLT makes it great to pick up and just… read.
    For mine the best to give to unsaved people

  2. I think the NLT is great! Picked it up about a year ago now and haven’t put it down since. Sorry NIV but I firmly believe this is the version for the 21st century simply because the language is better pitched for us today. Been encouraging all my mates to switch to it.
    Incidentally Mark, meant to say the NLT has since had a revision so there is a Version 2 which I use. Been noticing some of the verses flashed in church tended to be Version 1. Version 2 (I think) has tried to steer the language closer to contemporary translations so they sound more akin to verses we are used to.

  3. I would recommend TNIV, the revised version of NIV. Gordon Fee (one of the authors of the books recommended by Mark) is among the translators of this new version. You can see that many of the concerns regarding the NIV in Fee’s commentary on 1 Corinthians have been incorporated in the TNIV. (But Fee would also recommend NIV – that is, before TNIV was available).
    A good example of the differences between TNIV and NIV is John 4:23, where in the NIV it says “the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth”. The TNIV has changed it to “in the Spirit and truth”. That is, we worship in the Holy Spirit, rather than in the human spirit. (I am quite sure that this view is supported by good biblical scholarship today.)
    Like Mark, I would strongly recommend Fee and Stuart’s book! (The revised version of this book also recommends the TNIV.)
    Of course the NRSV and the Message are good too.

  4. oh interesting. When I first became a Christian I read the Good News Translation/ TEV – mainly because it was the Bible I used in my years attending Catholic school. I read the Message the whole way through, and nowadays when doing Bible study my favourites are the NKJV and Today’s New International Version (the updated NIV). I try to use a variety of Bible styles just to get a wider sense of the meanings of the text… I got the idea from that book ‘How to read the Bible for all its Worth.’

  5. Thanks for everyone’s comments. Another thing I like about the NLT is that it is ‘gender inclusive’, which means that, where appropriate, it uses ‘brothers and sisters’ instead of just ‘brothers’. The TNIV is also gender inclusive and seems to be a good translation (though there has been some controversy over it). I have just bought a copy but have not read it that much yet. Thanks for the tips on version 2.0 of the NLT – I wasn’t aware of that. The TEV is a paraphrase, and is also an easy read.

  6. I have been using the TNIV for two years, I think. It seems to be good. My Greek and Hebrew are not good enough to comment further. But I did check who were on the translation team. Notably Gordon Fee, Richard T France, Bruce Waltke and Douglas Moo are on the team. Fee and Waltke are from Regent College, Vancouver, with Fee being a well-known Pentecostal. Moo is from Wheaton. And France is a well-known evangelical scholar in England. Between them we have some of the finest commentaries available in both the Old and New Testaments. But I would recommend NRSV also.
    I have been listening to the TNIV audio Bible too. It’s quite good.

  7. My apologies to those who really like the NLT. I hope the following won’t offend anyone, but I think Mark and the readers of this blog love the Scripture so much that you would be willing to consider the following.
    As far as I know, the NLT is an update of the Living Bible, which is in turn (like the Message) a paraphrase. Fee and Stuart’s book (How to Read the Bible for All its Worth) has a good diagram showing the spectrum of Bible translations. The NLT is somewhere between a “dynamic equivalent” and a “paraphrase”.
    As you know, the Message consists of the interpretation of one person’s (Peterson’s) interpretation of the Bible. It’s a good interpretation, but nonetheless it comes from mainly one person. The NLT is better. Most of the books in the Bible have been translated by three scholars (instead of one), and there is a general reviewer.
    But this is quite different from the NIV and the TNIV, where there is a translation committee.
    Also, it seems that the NLT is translated by scholars from a particular persuasion. For example, Romans is translated by Borchert, Moo and Schreiner. If you read the commentaries written by Moo and Schreiner, you will know that they share a similar theological thinking. This is not to say that they are not good scholars, but that they come from similar theological background. In a “semi-paraphrase” translation, we need to be aware that the translators’ preferences will influence the translation itself. So I would strongly recommend that we cross-check it with a more literal translation like NKJV or NRSV.
    An example, Romans 1:17a:
    NLT: “This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight.”
    NIV: “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed”
    TNIV: “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed”
    NKJV: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed”
    NRSV: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed”
    New American Standard: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed”
    As you can see, the NLT has taken a fair amount of liberty to “interpret” the original Greek text, and turns it around to say that the gospel (“good news”) is about our right status before God. But the Greek, as the more literal translations tell us, probably says that the gospel is about “the righteousness of God”.
    Interestingly, the NIV says “a righteousness from God”, which is possible from the Greek (I think). This is somewhat closer to the NLT. But then the TNIV (the updated version of the NIV) changes it back to “the righteousness of God”. This is where the translation committee thinks that the more literal translation is in fact a better “dynamic equivalent”.
    So, what makes it important in practice? Why do we bother about the subtle difference? Does it affect how we live today?
    I would think yes. The emphasis of the NLT (and the NIV?) is “our” relationship with God. This is not wrong in itself. The gospel is of course about our right relationship with God through Jesus the Messiah. This is an important point Paul makes in Romans.
    But “the righteousness of God” puts the emphasis on “God himself”. That is, the gospel is about God’s own righteous character. He is the good God who always does what is right and just because he loves us. And it is because of that that he graciously sent Jesus to die and rise again so that we can have a right relationship with God through faith.
    In the worst scenario, if the emphasis is on “our” relationship with God, the gospel can become a “self-centred religion” (ie. how can we get a ticket to heaven”). This is of course not the intention of the NLT translators. Nor is this the thinking of most Christians using the NLT.
    But the TNIV (and many other translations) helps us to focus on God himself. The gospel is about “his” grace pouring out to us exuberantly. There is no room for self-centredness. It is all about God, and what he wants us to do.
    Obviously there are many examples whereby the NLT is very different from other translations. So may I call on everyone who loves the Word of God to cross-check other translations if a translation such as the NLT is used.

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