Aka: What’s the deal with all of these different Bibles?
If you wander into a Christian bookstore or browse online looking for a Bible, it can be confusing as you are inundated by a storm of different Bibles. NIV, KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV, NLT… what?
First things first: it is important to understand that the Bible was not originally written in English! The majority of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the most of the New Testament was written in Greek. There are a variety of translations from the original languages into English available on the market today – because they are all translations, none of them are exact. The translators have done their best to give us the most accurate English versions possible, but because there is not always an exact equivalent between the ancient languages and our modern English, and because their methods and purposes vary, the translations will differ from one another.
Some versions focus on providing the most accurate word-for-word translation from the original languages to English. These translations are highly respected and very accurate, but can be choppy or more confusing to read. Commonly used “word for word” translations include NASB (New American Standard Bible), KJV (King James Version), and NKJV (New King James Version). These versions are reliable and excellent choices for serious Bible study.
Other translators have attempted to look at the original text and translate it “thought for thought.” Instead of looking at individual words, they look at larger phrases and attempt to translate the thought the original author was communicating in Greek or Hebrew into an equivalent thought in English. The NIV (New International Version) is a “thought for thought” or “dynamic equivalence” translation. Many people find the NIV to be easier to understand and smoother to read, making it a very popular choice. The NIV is largely trustworthy, although there has been debate over portions of the text – it’s a good choice for devotional reading, Scripture memory, or to read aloud, but it would not be my choice for serious Bible study. If you do use the NIV for daily Bible study, I would recommend that you use it alongside a more precise word-for-word translation.
A third general category for Bible translations would be paraphrases – some Bible students despise them and others love them! In a paraphrase, the author interprets the passage based on his understanding of the passage, rather than on the original language and its English equivalent. This makes a paraphrase much more prone to error or the author’s theological bias. Examples of paraphrases would be The Message and The Living Bible (TLB). Paraphrases can be useful – I enjoy pulling them out to read passages that are very familiar to me in the NIV or NASB; suddenly reading them in different wording often gives me a fresh perspective. Some people like to use them for devotional reading. Just be aware that a paraphrase is more like a devotional than a translation – the person writing the paraphrase is often seeking to explain it in a new way, rather than just present exactly what the text says. This can limit the text and add a spin or bias from the author.
The issue of translations can be a hotly debated one. Ask ten solid Christians which translation you should purchase and you will end up with a huge variety of answers. Keep in mind that no matter what you purchase, each version has strengths and weaknesses. Make an informed decision, use them as tools, lay them out side by side. You can even look verses up in a wide variety of translations using only your computer and internet access – BibleGateway.com or the Online Parallel Bible are great places to start comparing translations and noticing the differences between them.
What an amazing privilege we have – not only do we have access to the Scriptures in our own language, but we have access to it in a mind-numbing array of options! Be thankful, and dig in!