How to choose a Bible version

While all Bible versions are God’s Word, not all are equal. Some Bible translations are taken as literally word for word from the original languages as possible while other Bible versions try to capture the thought of each sentence or paragraph instead of the meaning of each word.

Why do we need so many Bible versions in the first place? Or as some may ask, “Isn’t the King James Version all we need?” The English language is constantly evolving. How fast? Oxfordreference.com updated 5,500 entries in March since their previous update in January. In short, words lose their meaning over time. The Bible doesn’t change nor does the meaning of it, the English language changes.

Dr. Lewis Foster, one of the people who helped translate the NIV and the NKJV once said, “It is necessary to continue making new translations and revising old ones if people are to read the Word of God in their contemporary languages. With the passage of time, words change in meanings. For instance, in King James’ day the word ‘prevent’ could mean ‘come before’ but not necessarily in a hindering way. So the translators in that day rendered 1 Thessalonians. 4:15, ‘For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.’ But today the word ‘prevent’ has lost that earlier meaning (come before), so it must be translated differently to convey the proper meaning: ‘According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not ‘precede’ those who have fallen asleep’ (NIV). …To keep the translation of God’s Word living it must be kept in the living language the people are using.”

“Which Bible translation is right for me?” depends greatly upon how you intend to use your Bible. For starters, know what Bible version is read most often in your church. It can be confusing if you are trying to follow along with the preacher and he is reading a different version than you are. Some churches only read the King James Version and some are pretty adamant that this is the only version to be used. Others use the NIV, NASB or any number of other versions.

You may want one Bible to take to church and another for your personal study at home. Outside of your church are you going to use your Bible for in depth study or do you want something that is more readable and will give a more general picture? If you intend on taking a word or phrase from a Bible verse and making a theological argument from it, it is important that those words are translated as literally as possible from the original language. On the other hand, if you are reading to get the general idea and it doesn’t matter if someone was paid six drachmas or six coins, then a Bible that captures the intended thought of the writer may be more suitable for you.

There are many Bibles along the scale from very literal “word for word” to translations which capture the ideas “thought for thought”. Choosing a Bible translation does not have to be an either/or decision. If you are really interested in how translations differ, you can even purchase a parallel Bible. A parallel Bible has two or four translations side by side in columns so that you can see how the different versions translate verses.

For a list of Bible translations from most literal word for word to ones translated thought for though, see the translation continuum. See here for a description of the most common Bible versions.