Bible Translations: Which One Should I Use?

by Michael Gilbert

If I wanted to buy an English Bible for a friend or my children…which one should I buy?

Every bookstore contains numerous translations of the Bible. Should a Christian use the King James Version, the New King James Version, the American Standard Version, the New American Standard Version, the English Study Bible (NT only), the New World Translation (the Jehovah’s Witness translation), the New International Version, the English Standard Version, the New English Bible, the Revised Standard Version, Today’s English Version, the Living Bible Paraphrased, or The Message (a new paraphrase version) just to name a few? Here are a few helpful hints for when you purchase a copy of the Bible in today’s bookstore.

Understand that no translation of God’s Word is without its problems. When the dust settles from the argument over which translation to use, the tired arguer must concede that there is no perfect translation of God’s Word. This is not to say that man cannot know God’s Word since we have no infallible translation. The Christ even used a translation in His brief time on the earth called the “Septuagint,” or the “LXX.” It has been said, by those of the scholarly sort, that even the Septuagint was not flawless, nevertheless, Jesus considered it the Word of God (Jackson, pg. 27-28). Whatever translation a Bible student uses, he or she should be diligent enough in their studies to recognize any error which may be taught in the version due to a mistranslation of the original text.

Read the translator’s notes to the reader. There are basically two translation philosophies which will be uncovered in the preface of any version of the Bible. The first one, called Formal Equivalence, attempts to translate the original text as literally as possible into the vernacular (common) language—inasmuch as clarity will allow. The second philosophy of translation, called Dynamic Equivalence, seeks to translate the original text into the vernacular language with little regard for the literal wording of the original (Jackson, pg. 8).

Although there are drawbacks to each philosophy, which we will not discuss in this short article, the Formal Equivalence philosophy is a more reliable way to translate the Scriptures. The following is one reason why the student of God’s Word is encouraged to choose a Bible whose translator’s adopted the Formal Equivalence approach. The Dynamic Equivalence philosophy could very easily become a commentary on the original text, rather than a translation. Often, the inspired writers would make doctrinal arguments based on the tense of a verb (Gal. 3:16). This could easily be seen in a more literal translation (the Formal Equivalence approach), but could possible be lost in the more loose translations of God’s Word (the Dynamic Equivalence approach). Why would a Bible student desire to read what someone believes the inspired writers meant, when the student can read word-for-word, inasmuch as possible, what the inspired writers wrote?

While there may be other reliable translations, the author may not be familiar with them. Therefore, the Bible student is encouraged to obtain a copy of the King James Version, the American Standard Version (1901), or the New King James Version of the Bible since each of these have been translated in such a way that the student can actually read what the original text said, rather than reading a commentary on it!

In the last few years, two new translations have appeared, which I really enjoy. One is the 21st Century King James Version (KJ21). It simply updates a few awkwardly worded phrases and updates several archaic words (e.g., “prevent” has been updated to “precede” in 1 Thess. 4:16). The updaters chose to leave certain words unchanged (such as the “thee’s” and “thou’s”) and this might turn some readers off, even though the words are easily understood. Nevertheless, it is a good version for those looking for an “easy-to-understand” modern version.

The other version appeared in 2001. It is called the English Standard Version (ESV). This is an excellent word-for-word translation of the Scriptures into modern language. For those who want to give an “easy-to-read” and “easy-to-understand” Bible as a gift, I would highly recommend this translation because of its accuracy.

In closing, I still recommend the King James Version because of its accuracy. Many would disagree, saying that the King James Version is old and hard to understand. I would kindly suggest the problem is not in the KJV, but in the Bible student. The Word of God cannot be learned in the same manner that we get our “fast food”. It takes time, diligence, and hard work to learn the teachings of our Master. A young Bible student once bragged on the knowledge of his Bible teacher saying, “I wish I knew the Bible as well as you!” A water trough happened to be nearby, and the teacher grabbed the student, placing his head under the water! The student fought to free himself, finally getting his head above water. Angry, yet perplexed, the student asked “Why did you do that”? The teacher replied, “When you want to the know the Bible as well as you wanted to get out of that trough, you will learn it”. It is a matter of desire, not the difficulty of the translation we use.

Note: For a more in depth study of this question, see Wayne Jackson’s book, “The Bible Translation Controversy,” published by Apologetics Press, 1995.).

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About dekalbcoc

Local preacher for the DeKalb Church of Christ
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