Which Bible Translation is the Best?

Which Bible Translation is the Best?

This is not an easy question to answer, because there are a number of things that must be taken into account first.

To keep things simple, we can classify all English Bibles into three categories; formal equivalence, dynamic equivalence, and paraphrase.

Okay, you might be thinking, “that’s not keeping things simple – I feel lost already!”  No problem.  Let me break that down some more…

Formal Equivalence – Another way of understanding this fancy term is “word for word” translation.  The translators who follow this discipline read the Hebrew and/or Greek manuscripts and then try to find the best English word (or words) that match the original word.

The advantage of this type of translation is that the reader can know that they are likely reading the English equivalent words of the original.

One of the problems with a “word for word” translation is that they can feel choppy, and sometimes are not easy to understand. If the original writer of the Scripture used a play on words (as found in Amos 8:1-2), then that pun will likely be lost in this type of translation.

Good examples of “word for word” Bibles are the King James Version, the New King James Version, the New American Standard Version, and the English Standard Version.  The translators of these Bibles were committed to trying to find the best English word to match the word in the manuscript.  Of these Bibles, the New American Standard Version is probably among the best, in that it consistently provides a good translation.

Dynamic Equivalence – This type of translation is often called a “thought for thought” translation.  It is less committed to following the exact words of the original manuscript.  Rather, it attempts to give the reader the “thought” of the scripture passage.

An example of the advantage of this type of translation would be to compare the play on words found in Amos 8:1-2 in the New American Standard Version with the same passage in the New International Version (NIV).  You will note that the NIV seems to make better sense of the passage.  That is because they did not give the exact words of the passage; but gave the meaning of the passage.

Now, one of the problems with this type of translation is that the translators have to make a decision on what the passage means.  If they’ve made a wrong decision, then the reader will not get the correct meaning.

Probably the most famous version of this type of translation is the New International Version.  It is easy to read and understand, and is very popular.

Paraphrase – In this version of the Bible, the editors were not committed to finding the exact words of the original text at all.  Rather, they purposely chose different words to try and give the text a “fresh” or updated feel.

The advantage of this type of Bible is that is very easy to read and understand.

The disadvantage of this type is that often the final reading is very distorted from the original text.  The reader has no guarantee that he or she is reading what the writer intended to say.

Examples of this type of Bible would be the Good News Bible, The Living Bible, and The Message. 

If you are very detailed oriented in your study, then I would recommend that you read from several of the “word for word” translations.  This should guarantee that you are staying as close to the original as possible.  Keep in mind, however, that even these translations will vary a little, and that it is a good idea to consult other versions while studying.

If you like to curl up on the couch and just read the Bible, then you may be interested in a “thought for thought” translation, such as the NIV.  You will find it easy to follow.

As far as the paraphrases go – well … I guess if you are the kind of person who likes to read and you don’t care much about words, then these versions are for you.

The bottom line for me is this: find a Bible and read it.



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