Shopping for a Bible is not for the faint of heart.
If you’ve ever wondered, “Which Bible should I use?” and wandered into a Christian bookstore, you’ve probably been overwhelmed by the rows of Bibles, not only in all colors and sizes but also sporting all kinds of acronyms: KJV, NIV, ESV, NLT, NASB. What do they all mean and how can you pick the best one for you?
To understand where all the translations come from, it’s helpful to remember that the Scriptures were originally written in Hebrew and Greek. There are several old manuscripts surviving, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, but unless you’re skilled in those ancient languages, you’re probably relying on a translation to understand the Word of God in your own language.
Now, translations are a tricky thing, as anyone who speaks two languages will tell you. When my family was in Romania as missionaries, we’d translate English songs into Romanian, and then our friends translated them into Rroma, the Gypsy language. But no matter how hard you try, a translation can’t maintain both the original meaning and the lyrical beauty of the text. Bummer.
But lucky for us (or should I say “blessed”?) we have plenty of translations to help give us exactly what we’re looking for.
So here are the three main types of Bible translations:
Literal Translations stay as close as possible to the precise words and grammar of the original language. They use each word as the unit for translatino. This minimizes interpretations and makes for a great study Bible, but it’s also a very rigid translation and may give the wrong impression of the meaning of a passage, since “literal” doesn’t always mean “accurate” (as is the case with idioms).
Examples of literal translations are the Interlinear Bible, the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV), and the Revised Standard Version (RSV).
Free Translations paraphrase the ideas of the author into concepts easily understood by the receptor language. The sentence is a whole is used as the unit for translation. This results in a very understandable translation, but it only reproduces the general sense of a sentence, it introduces variety unintended by the original author, and its integrity lies in the translator’s understanding of the original meaning.
Examples of free translations are the Amplified Bible, the New Living Bible (NLT), and the Message.
Dynamic Equivalent Translations
Dynamic Equivalent Translations attempt to translate both words and ideas from the original language into precise equivalents in the receptor language. This tries to balance accuracy and relevance and tends to produce a readable, contemporary translation. However, this method is difficult to achieve because it assumes a high degree of competance in both languages and it may become dated over time (as with the KJV).
Examples of dynamic equivalent translations are the King James Version (KJV) and the New King James Version (NKJV), the New International Version (NIV), the Good News Bible, and the New English Bible.
How To Pick the Right Bible for You
Is your head spinning yet?
If you just read that and groaned, “Yeah, yeah, but which Bible should I use?!” you’re in the right place. While some people hold hard and fast to a particular translation, the best way to determine which translation is best is to consider who needs it and for what purpose.
Here are a few scenarios:
- Buying a Bible for a new Christian? A dynamic equivalent translation like this one will help them easily read and understand the Bible.
- Looking to study a Bible text closely? A literal translation like this one will give you the most accurate translation of the original text.
- Wanting to read the Bible with a fresh perspective? A free translation like this one will re-introduce to you Biblical concepts in a new, sometimes shocking, way.
- Getting your child a Bible? A free translation like this one will work well for younger children and a dynamic equivalent translation like this one will work well for junior higher and up.
- Want to do a word study? An interlinear literal translation like this one will best guide you to finding the correct word in Hebrew or Greek.
- Gifting a Bible to someone who speaks English as a Second Language? A free translation like this one will introduce them to Scripture using words they may already know.
Once you find the translation you want to use, then you get to look at all the fun options:
- Journaling Bibles: for the artsy people in your life
- Parallel Bibles: for reading a text in different translations at the same time
- Study Bibles: for helpful commentaries at the bottom of the page
- Wide margin Bibles: for taking lots of notes
- Audio Bibles: for listening on the go