What translation of the Bible should I read?

Hebrews 4:12 – For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

If you’ve been in church for any length of time, you’ve probably heard someone argue that the Bible translation they read is better than another translation and if you read a certain translation, you’re most certainly going to Hell. 

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic while the New Testament was written in Greek. The Protestant Reformation, especially men like Martin Luther and John Wycliffe who risked their lives to translate the Bible into German and English, brought the Bible back to people of the Church. Today, at least part of the Bible has been translated into almost 2,500 languages and the entire Bible is available in at least 438 languages. (1) 

While there are some translations that should be steered away from and are considered corrupt, there are many great translations of the Bible for different people, contexts, age groups, reading levels, and seasons. 

There are generally four categories of Bible translations to consider:

  1. Word-for-Word translations. This translation emphasizes that specific words actually matter (like “propitiation”) because specific words have specific meanings and contexts. This is translated more similarly to a legal document or a contract. (Examples: English Standard Version, King James Version, New King James Version, New American Standard Bible).
  1. Thought-for-thought translations. This is a middle ground between word-for-word and paraphrased, placing importance on words and their meaning but also on literary style. It tries to find the cultural equivalent to convey the same effect that the words had in ancient cultures. (Examples: New International Version, New Living Translation).
  1. Paraphrased translations. This translation, even more than thought-for-thought, focuses on readability in English and pays less attention to specific word patterns in order to capture poetic or narrative essences of a passage. For example, in a book like Psalms or some of the wisdom literature, that’s highly poetic, these translations try to keep that same style even though they’re going from one language to another that don’t have like wording. (Examples: The Message, The Living Bible, The Amplified Bible). 
  1. Corrupt translations. This seeks to actually change what was said, similar to the New World Translation (NWT) that Jehovah’s Witnesses use. In this translation, they completely take away the deity of Jesus. This one really doesn’t even count as a Bible translation because it’s not accurate, but it’s something people may try to pass off as a Bible translation. 

I generally read and preach from the English Standard Version (ESV), but I also like to mix it up because that’s how you find the legalists. Since most people are not fluent in Hebrew or Greek, as with any ancient document, the rest of us are all reading some kind of translation that is not the original wording as the authors wrote it. As long as you’re reading a version that’s not a corruption, what’s the best translation of the Bible? The translation that you’ll read. 

What translation of the Bible do you generally read from? I would encourage you to try another version in your studies as well to see if you learn anything new about a certain passage that you might not have picked up in the initial version you read from. 

  1. United Bible Society, “Statistical Summary of Languages with the Scriptures,” 2008, http://www.ubs- translations.org/about_us/#c165.

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