Over the past several years and in the many different Bible studies and small groups that I’ve led, I’ve been asked this question countless times: What version of the Bible do you use? Which is the best version? Are they all the same Bible? So, I thought I would address these questions here, assuming that there are many others out there that might be wondering the very same thing.
First of all, the word “version” can be slightly misleading, causing one to think that there are many different Bibles. We must remember that there is one Bible, God’s written Word. A better word to describe this would be “translation”. When approaching God’s Word, it’s important to understand that it was originally written in mostly Hebrew and Greek. In order for us to read it today, it needed to be translated into our language. Many Greek and Hebrew scholars over time have taken different approaches to this process of translation, thus resulting in many different translations. So, to give a brief overview, I will separate the major and most commonly used translations into three categories.
The versions that would fall into this category would be the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV), and the King James Version (KJV). Of course there are others, but again I’m highlighting the major translations. A word-for-word translation seeks above all to maintain the integrity of the original text, thus making every effort to translate word-for-word from the original Hebrew and Greek. You’ll notice, however, that even these three translations will differ from time to time, because ancient Hebrew and Greek is difficult to translate into modern English. Although these versions might be a little more difficult to understand, they are the closest translation to the original text. Translations that fall into this category are best for studying the Bible.
The New International Version (NIV) and the New Living Translation (NLT) would perhaps be two of the most popular translations that would fall into this category. These translators sought a common goal – to translate the Bible into contemporary English, thus being more readable and understandable to most readers. Instead of the word-for-word approach, scholars desired to convey the intended thought of the original writers, still holding to the integrity of the original languages. Although useful in understanding Scripture, these versions should be coupled with a word-for-word translation when studying the Bible.
It’s important to understand that these paraphrased versions are the interpretation of Scripture based on what the author thinks the Bible says, not necessary what the Bible says. The most commonly known paraphrase versions would be The Message and The Living Bible. Although these versions offer a “plain English” reading of Scripture and are very easy to understand, there are many passages of these versions (The Message in particular) that do not accurately render the original meaning of the text. These versions can serve as an additional resource or commentary in Bible study but should not be used as your primary text when reading and studying Scripture.
I hope that my brief summary has proven helpful to you in your own study of the Bible. I’d also suggest that it would be most beneficial to find a translation within the first two categories, seeing as those hold most closely to the original text. When we venture out into the third category, we must be mindful that we are reading someone’s thoughts on Scripture as opposed to Scripture itself. So, which translation do you read? I would love to hear your thoughts and responses to this. I personally love both the ESV and the NIV, especially when I read them side by side, comparing the language. What about you?