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Bible Translations: What Are They and Which Ones To Use?

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There are so many versions of the Bible available to us today. How are you to determine which one is right for you?
When I first became a Christian, I read translations that were easier for me to understand. My wife Tammy grew up reading the King James Version (KJV), a version that I had difficulty understanding. So, I started out reading a Good News Bible (GNB) and The Living Bible (TLB). Those versions were just fine for me at that time in my life. In one church we attended they used the New American Standard Version (NASB), so I started using that translation. Eventually, I began reading the New International Version (NIV) until the English Standard Version (ESV) was released in 2001.
In this survey I read from January, 2017, the King James Version was the most read version of the Bible in America, with the New International Version and English Standard Version trailing far behind in second and third place.
With so many versions of the bible available to us, how are we to choose which one to read? The translation philosophy used may be important to know. Tim Challies gives this helpful breakdown of the main categories of translations “On the one side of the spectrum, we have what we might call word-for-word translations. On the other side, we have what we might call paraphrases, and somewhere in the middle, we would have thought-for-thought. Okay, so, word-for-word, thought-for-thought and paraphrases.”
Word-for-word translations, also known as formal equivalence, attempt to match the original language words with the closest English language counterpart. Thought-for-thought translations, also known as dynamic equivalence, attempt to pair the ideas behind each phrase or sentence with a similar idea in the English language. Paraphrased translations use modern language and idioms to try to capture the thought and essence behind the original text. Below are translations that fall into each of these categories:Word for Word Translations

  • English Standard Version
  • King James Version
  • New King James Version
  • New American Standard Version

Thought for Thought Translations

  • New International Version
  • New Living Translation


  • The Living Bible
  • The Message
  • Good News Bible

One bible that doesn’t fit nicely into these categories is the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). They describe their translation as that of optimal equivalence, a translation philosophy that pursues both linguistic precision to the original languages and readability in contemporary English. Since its publication in late 2017, I have used the CSB Spurgeon Study Bible for my daily bible reading.
The version you choose to use may be based on readability or on accuracy in translation. A version such as the New American Standard Version has a reputation as being one of the most accurate, but it is not the easiest to read.
A solution is to have one translation for daily reading and one for your bible study, preferably a study bible. Here is an article in which I recommend four study bibles.
My personal preference for bible translations is the English Study Bible (ESV), which we sometimes jokingly refer to as the “Extra Special Version”. Here is the translation philosophy of the ESV.
In American, unlike many parts of the world, we are blessed to have so many bible translations, study bibles and specialty bibles. Which one(s) you choose to read may be based on a number of factors such as accuracy and readability.  A great FREE resource for you to try all of these versions and more is  Which translation do you use and why?

Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence ~ married to my best friend for more than 40 years and a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Before retiring I served as a manager at a Fortune 50 company; I'm a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary and in leadership at my local church. I enjoy speaking about calling, vocation and work. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop to their fullest potential and to utilize their strengths more fully. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinders themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony and Achiever, and my two StandOut strengths roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book and 2 Corinthians 5:21 my favorite verse. Some of my other favorite books are Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper, The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul, The Prodigal Son (originally titled A Tale of Two Sons) by John MacArthur and Crazy Love by Francis Chan. I enjoy Christian hip-hop/rap music, with Lecrae, Trip Lee and Andy Mineo being some of favorite artists.

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