I get this question from time to time. On Sunday, I talked about three different translations as I began my message. Afterwards, a few people asked me for my recommendations, so I’m taking a few minutes to share my thoughts on which Bible translation I would recommend.
So, let me Bible Geek out on you for this post.
First, most of the Bible translations into contemporary English are quite good. Each translation is prepared by a team of scholar-experts in the languages and books of the Bible. These are the “heavy hitters” and they want to do a good job with an accurate translation. So, the differences in the English translations usually are about which English words best convey the Greek and Hebrew grammar and sentence structure.
Second, there are two big ideas in translations. There is the issue of accuracy to the original Greek and Hebrew texts and the issue of readability. So, there are two broad approaches.
There are very literal translations which seek to maintain rigorous accuracy to the original languages, even if that means awkward English. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) is a very literal, word-for-word translation. I have a new copy of this translation, but I rarely use it.
Then there are dynamic equivalence translations, which are still interested in accuracy, but want to make sure the reader has a great experience reading. Therefore, they will move away from strict, grammatically precise translations and look to capture the dynamics of meaning with readable English. The New International Version (NIV) is one of the best examples of this. This is still my go-to translation. I have worn out several Bibles in this translation. The translators did an update of the NIV in 2011 which had many small changes. This is the NIV version you will find online at sites like Bible.com. This version is the only one the publisher sells.
Some approaches take the dynamic equivalence so far they become a paraphrase. They take the sentences and meaning in the original, and then paraphrase its meaning to get the essential meaning of the sentence, and not the exact words. That is what the first Living Bible was. There is a major upgrade of the Living Bible, called The New Living Translation (NLT). The translators wanted to keep the great readability of the Living Bible and make it more accurate to the text. They succeeded. I like the NLT quite a bit.
And the famous (justly so) version called The Message by Eugene Peterson is NOT a translation (no matter what the publisher maintains). It is a paraphrase. I love The Message. I use it often. It stirs my imagination and it helps me think about the meaning of the verse.
A number of months ago, I bought a relatively new translation called The English Standard Version (ESV). It has been around for 15 years and is becoming more popular. I like it, but mainly have it on my reading table and use it to look up passages as I am reading and studying.
I also have invested in some unique Bibles, like the Saint John’s Bible, which produces the Bible in calligraphy, and adds beautiful illustrative resources.I often use these for lectio divina–prayerful, artistic readings of Scripture. This page is Matthew 5.
So what do I recommend?
Above all, the NIV, because that is the translation we use most often at Living Word. If you want one main Bible, this should probably be the one you use.
But, be a Bible Geek. Get other translations as well. From time to time, compare translations as you work through the devotional resources we provide.
And the beauty of Bible.com is that you can check out a lot of translations to see which one you like. But when you find one you like, don’t just use the Bible app, get a real Bible.
Remember, the word Bible comes from the Greek word biblios, which means book.
The word Scripture comes from the Greek word graphe, or writing.
There is just something organic and earthy and real about holding a Bible in your hands as you read it.
Pastor “Bible Geek” Brian
P.S. This is my home study collection of Bibles that sit on my desk and are an arm’s length away. (Plus the Greek and Hebrew versions, a prayer book, a devotional journal, and the Creeds of Christianity).