What is the Best Bible Translation?

During a membership class at our church, Christ Presbyterian Church Blantyre, a couple of questions were asked regarding the best Bible translation. Here is my response:

Before answering the question, let me start by explaining the four types of Bible translations that are out there. The first is what is called word for word or formal equivalent translation. These translations tend to go from the original language directly into the translated language while preserving as much as possible the same word order and grammar as is in the original language. The main goal of these translations is to stay as close as possible to the words and phrases used in the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew and Greek). Examples of these translations include:  

  • King James Version (KJV)
  • English Standard Version (ESV)
  • New King James Version (NKJV)
  • New American Standard Bible (NASB)

The second type of translation is what is called thought for thought or dynamic equivalent translation. These translations tend to change word order or phrases to better match the translated language.  In other words, they strive to find exact or closest words, idioms or grammatical constructions in the translated language so that the reader can easily read and understand. The examples of this translation approach include:

  • New International Version (NIV)
  • New Living Translation (NLT)
  • Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
  • New American Bible (NAB)

The third type of translation is called paraphrase. These translations are more of an interpretation or a bit of a commentary for a modern-day reader than a translation.The main goal of these type of translations is to help the reader understand biblical passages using the best possible, informal, and easier to understand modern terms, phrases, and idioms. Some of the examples of this translation approach include:

  • Good News Bible
  • The Message
  • The Living Bible
  • Phillip’s New Testament in Modern English

The fourth type is what I would call bad or liberal translation. Please stay away from these translations! They are just plainly bad and unfaithful to the original texts of the Bible. Examples include:

  • New World Translation:  This is the bible of the Jehovah’s Witness.  It always strives to prove that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not God. For example, it translates John 1:1 which reads: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the word was God” (ESV) as “The word was in the beginning with God and was a god.”
  • Revised Standard Version: The main concern that conservative Christians have with this version is its translation of the Hebrew word “almah” as “young woman” in Isaiah 7:14. All the other translations have translated the word as “virgin.” So, since this is the prophecy of Christ’s virgin birth, the RSV’s translation could easily lead to rejection of the virgin birth of Christ.
  • Today’s New International Version (TNIV): the main concern has been its gender-neutral translations. For example, it changes “son” into “child.” To cut to the chase, TNIV is a pure liberal translation.

My recommendation:  

I believe that the word for word translation is the best. It keeps the historical distance between the original recipients and today’s reader at minimum and also limits the translator’s opinion when translating. We need to bear in mind that in every translation there is some element of interpretation as the translator strives to best convey the words or thoughts from one language to another. But interpretation is very much minimized in word for word translation.

However, this does not mean that we should throw away the other translations. I believe the thought for thought translation or paraphrase can be helpful when one finds it harder to understand a verse or phrase in the word for word translation and cannot read or understand the original languages of the Bible. Here the thought for thought or paraphrase could assist to grasp the meaning better.

All in all, I would recommend that you have at least one word for word translation and in addition, if you can, have other types of translations which you can consult whenever you need to. Internet technology has made life easier in this area because they are websites which have various versions and can even show you a number of translations side by side. Yet I still encourage you to have hard copies. Call me old timer but I just believe we all do need hard copies of the Bible. Anyway, that could be another discussion for another time.

8 Replies to “What is the Best Bible Translation?”

  1. Samuel Malasa Banda

    Thanks, Pastor Confex, this has been a very enlightening read. I have been following J. Vernon McGee’s Through The Bible where he has often issued warnings of why Liberal translations should be avoided but did not precisely point out the difference in the translations and why the word for word are the best. Once again, thanks for this write-up. Stay blessed!

  2. Bruce Kuiper

    I’m sending this to my men’s Bible Study and church members.

    Rev. Bruce R Kuiper
    President of Grace Legacy Builders:
    Equipping Men as Spiritual Leaders:
    By Following Jesus, The Christ, as our *Prophet, *Priest, *King in their Hearts & Homes, Churches & Communities.
    Our Vision:
    is that men would read the Bible to their families daily & bring then to church weekly.

  3. Katoto

    Thanks for the exposition. However, I still encourage young people in secondary schools to use GNB which matches their level of language and is available in schools most often. Thanks

  4. Rodney Chiwengo

    This is key to every Christian, the forgotten but important base of understanding the food for the soul. Thank you very much.

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