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Choosing a Bible Translation?

We are blessed with a lot of choices for bibles in the English language. But how do we know that the translation we're using is good? What's the best bible translation?

There isn't a perfect bible translation. It's better to think of bible translations as tools that work in different situations. There isn't a perfect one-size-fits-all bible translation, but there are a lot of adequate choices for our needs.

Picking a good bible translation can be intimidating; a bad translation could cause a lot of harm. However, most translations are done by people of faith who have studied for many years. Most of the translations that are available today are good works.

The ancient languages of the bible can't be perfectly translated. Translators must make educated decisions about what they think the text is trying to say. Then they must express the meaning in a way the reader can understand. Every bible translation has been made with difficult decisions and compromises.

However, more disagreement comes from interpretation than translation. Even among people who read the bible in the original languages there is a lot of disagreement. Often the translation is clear, but the meaning is elusive. Translation adds a layer of complexity to understanding the bible, but it's certainly not the root of disagreement.

Its sometimes assumed that if only we had a perfect translation every door of understanding would be opened and every controversy would resolve. This is not the case. The key to understanding the bible is less in the sentence structure, and more in the spiritual context.

There are two types of English bible translations.

When it comes to picking a bible one should know that there are two main types of English translations. There are "word-for-word" bible translations and "thought-for-thought" translations. Most of the bible translations that are used today fall into these two groups.

It's not as though one group is better than the other. The word-for-word translations are more literal, and the thought-for-thought translations are more interpretive. These different styles of translation lead to them being used for different purposes.

Though-for-thought bibles are easier to read.

Less literal thought-for-thought translations seek to translate the text in a way that's easy to read. They are a more interpretive style of translation, and because of this there's more chance that false ideas will be introduced into them. These types of bibles might be easier to read, but they aren't as suitable for study.

Word-for-word translations are preferred for study.

The other main type of bibles are literal word-for-word translations. These bibles seek to translate the text as accurately and rigidly as possible, while maintaining some level of readability. They're preferred for scholarly work, because they're closer to the orginal text. However they aren't always the easiest to read.

One of my favorite literal translations is Jay P. Green's Literal Translation Version (LITV). The late Jay P. Green was a Greek and Hebrew scholar who created an excellent independent bible translation. His formula was simply to translate the text as fairly, accurately, and consistently as possible, while leaving it up to the reader to form their own conclusions.

A discussion of literal translations can't be complete without mentioning the King James (KJV). The King James is one of the oldest and still one of the best word-for-word translations ever done. It certainly has mistakes, but it's clear that great care was taken to produce a precise English translation from good manuscripts.

The KJV is so old that the English into which it was translated is itself outdated. This leads to people thinking that its a poetic translation, but this wasn't its intent. It's a quality word-for-word translation, and even though its over 400 years old, it still has widespread acceptance. Some people refuse to use any other translation.

Greek and Hebrew interlinears are the most literal translations.

Even literal translations have changes in them to make them more readable. If one still isn't satisfied with them, then there are options that are even more literal. Certain bibles, called interlinears, contain a copy of the original Greek and Hebrew texts, alongside a close as possible English translation. They are the most literal translations available for serious study. offers free Hebrew and Greek interlinears.

What translation of the bible should I choose?

One should use the bible translation that best suits their particular needs. If one is new to reading the bible or wants to cover a lot of ground quickly, then a thought-for-thought translation is a good choice. If one wants to deeply study certain parts of the bible then the word-for-word translations are preferred.

Among literal bibles I prefer the ASV, LITV, NASB, ESV, KJV (and KJV derivatives), and YLT. I don't have as much experience with non-literal translations, but I've found the NIV and NLT to be good choices. I stay away from bibles such as "the message" because they are closer to commentary than translation.

Because no translation is perfect, it's probably a good idea to use more than one, especially for serious study. This is where parallel bibles come in. Parallel bibles contain different translations layed out side-by-side for comparison. Often parallel bibles will contain a non-literal translation for easy reading, alongside a literal translation for accuracy. A parallel bible is a good choice for both new and advanced bible students.

People can be so overwhelmed by translation and other issues that they are discouraged from reading the bible. Some good advice for new students is to read the bible consistently, and not worry about translation. Ultimately, the best bible is the one you pick up and read.

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