Bible Translations - Which One is Right for You?

Over the years my students have asked me the following questions:

Why are there so many Bible translations in English?

Is the King James Version the most authoritative translation?

What methodologies do Bible translators use?

Why are some translations better than others?

Which is the best Bible translation for me?

On this page we shall answer these FAQs!

It All Began With King Jimmy!

A conference of religious leaders from various groups met at Hampton Court near London in 1604 to discuss religious tolerance. A proposal was made to produce a new translation of the Bible.

King James I of England (1566-1625) supported the idea and established the rule that no comments, which had divided churches, should be included in the new Bible version.

In 1607 forty-eight Hebrew and Greek scholars were appointed and divided into six working groups meeting in Westminster, Oxford, and Cambridge. Each group was given certain books to translate, and then the work of each was sent to the other two groups.

Published in 1611, the King James Version (also known as the Authorized Version) has been the most popular and widely accepted of English Bible translations for the last four centuries.

Modern scholars agree that the earliest and best manuscripts of the New Testament had not yet been discovered. According to Dr. Robert Gundry “the following centuries saw great advances in scholarly knowledge concerning the kind of Greek used in the New Testament.”

The only Greek text available to the KJV translators was based on late manuscripts, which had accumulated the mistakes of over a millennium of copying. According to biblical scholars Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart these mistakes oftenmake a difference in the meaning of specific texts.

“This is why for study,” they recommend, “you should use almost any modern translation rather than the KJV.”

With the impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls on Old Testament textual studies since 1947 and the enormous contribution to New Testament studies from the study of numerous papyri discovered during the last one hundred fifty years, many new versions of the Bible have appeared that claim a more accurate textual basis than the KJV.

Today there are three types of Bible translation.

Form Equivalent (literal or “word-for-word”) Translation

The translator attempts to render each word of the original language into the “receptor” language (e.g., English) and seeks to preserve the original word order and sentence structure as much as possible

Form equivalence translates the text fully in order to provide an English text that is accurate.

The most popular form equivalence translation is the King James (or Authorized) Version (KJV or AV). Its influence over the English speaking church has been enormous. Rather archaic today, it is still largely reliable. Some English words have changed their meaning in the last four hundred years, so take care.

Above: Israeli minister Effie Eitam reviewing a 16th century Hebrew Bible at the American Bible Society's Bible Library.

The KJV has been completely revised. The New King James (or Revised Authorized) Version (NKJV) is much preferable to the older KJV. The rusty and archaic language is gone, but without losing the powerful almost poetic tone of the previous edition. Among modern Bible translations, the NKJV is very accurate.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB), published in 1970 as a revision of the 1901 American Standard Version (ASV), is a very sound translation in modern English that can generally be relied upon to provide a close to exact translation.

The Revised Standard Version (RSV) was an attempt in the early 1950s to replace the King James Version, but its popularity is now in decline. There are some problems with the exact words used to translate some important New Testament teachings.

The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), published in 2005, is an updated and largely gender-neutral edition. The NRSV remains essentially a literal translation; however, paraphrase is sparingly used to compensate for deficiencies in the English language.

Dynamic Equivalent (“thought-for-thought”) Translations

This is a more recent development in Bible translation methodology, which often results in paraphrasing where a more literal rendering of the text is needed to reflect a specific meaning.

Dynamic equivalence translations are generally easier to read and understand than form equivalence translations. However, there is a danger of personal bias of the translators being imposed upon the translation.

The most influential dynamic equivalence translation is the New International Version (NIV).

This is a very popular translation today; however it has the tendency to drop into paraphrase type translation in places and is guilty of imposing interpretations on occasions. It is the most readable of our recommended translations.

The recent up-dated edition, Today’s New International Version (TNIV), replaces the generic “he” and the specific “father” with the gender-neutral “they” and “parent.”

While translators may be well intentioned in seeking not to offend, conservative scholars contend that the results are subtly changing meanings of the original texts. Vern Poythress and Wayne Grudem warns “such changes may sound more acceptable to modern culture, but details in the meaning of the underlying Greek text are lost.” The Good News Bible (GNB) or Today’s English Version (TEV), published shortly before the NIV and largely eclipsed by the latter’s market popularity, is a very readable and vivid translation, and strongly recommended.

A unique feature of the GNB is the delightful illustrations by Swiss artist, Annie Vallotton.

Another excellent dynamic equivalence version is the second edition of the New Living Translation (NLT). The first edition, published in 1996, has an easy-to-read quality but lacks precision.

The second edition, published in 2004, combines the latest biblical scholarship with a clear, dynamic writing style. This results in a translation that is easy to read and understand, while accurately communicating the meaning and content of the original biblical texts.

Right: God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! (Mt. 21:9, GNB)

Paraphrase Versions

In a paraphrase Bible translation only the thoughts underlying the original words are translated. The danger of an imposed interpretation is very high. While being an effective aid to devotional reading, I cannot recommend paraphrases for study purposes.

The two most widely used paraphrase Bible translations are the Living Bible by Kenneth Taylor and The Message by Eugene Peterson.

Peterson uses contemporary idiom keeps the language of the Message current and fresh and understandable.

Right: Eugene Peterson

Psalm 23:1-4 (The Message)

1. GOD, my shepherd! I don't need a thing.

2. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from.

3. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.

4. Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I'm not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd's crook makes me feel secure.

In a Christianity Today interview, Peterson acknowledges, "When I'm in a congregation where somebody uses it [The Message] in the Scripture reading, it makes me a little uneasy. I would never recommend it be used as saying, 'Hear the Word of God from The Message'"

Right-click to download this Bible Translation Chart pdf file here. This chart compares Matthew 4:19 using each method of translation.

Return from Bible Translations to Who Wrote the Bible.

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