In the evangelical world, there are countless Bible translations to choose from. Some people–mostly skeptics–criticize that. To me, it’s mostly good. The amount of Bible translations we have helps in regards to understanding what we’re reading. However, with the amount of Bible translations comes the fine line between choosing a Bible translation that we can read and choosing one that does the text of Scripture justice.
So, with that being said, we have to ask the question: does it really matter what Bible translation we use?
Yes, it absolutely matters what Bible translation you use. And in this post, I seek to show you why that is. Different translations have different goals in mind. Some translate the text more literally, word-for-word. Other translations do it more thought-for-thought.
ESV. There are many word-for-word translations that are very readable as well. For example, the ESV (English Standard Version) is what I use; it’s word-for-word and also very easy to read and understand. Of course, there are spots where the sentences are structured confusingly that leave you saying, “I’m sorry, what did I just read?” We can certainly sympathize with Peter when it’s one of Paul’s letters (2 Peter 3:16).
If you want a Bible translation that is easy to read and also does the text justice, you can’t go wrong with the ESV.
NASB. The most literal translation of Scripture I’ve ever read is the NASB (New American Standard Bible). This Bible translation is very good. For me, the difference in the NASB and ESV is the sentence structure and the slight difference in word choosing. The only reason I don’t exclusively read the NASB is because it’s a bit more difficult to understand than the ESV.
There are other translations that lead towards word-for-word but I’ve found that those two are the most popular. Look at the graphic at the top for the full spectrum.
NIV. Next, you have thought-for-thought translations, which is also called dynamic equivalence. By far, the most popular thought-for-thought translation–even more so, the most popular translation in general–is the NIV (New International Version). This translation of Scripture is extremely readable and, for me, used to be one of my favorites. The only reason I don’t use the NIV as my regular Bible is for two reasons: 1) the ESV is more literal and does the text more justice; and 2) and it is still very readable. With that being said, you can’t go wrong with reading the NIV, but it’s not the best, so to speak.
CSB. The CSB (Christian Standard Bible) was formerly known as the Holman Christian Standard Bible. A few years ago, they made revisions and changed it up a bit. If you’d like to read why they changed things, go here. With that being said, the CSB is kind of in the middle between word-for-word and thought-for-thought. I enjoy the CSB very much. I have their Pastor’s Bible and, in my opinion, it’s extraordinary! If I had to choose between the CSB and NIV, I would certainly choose the CSB. It’s more reliable and just as readable as the NIV.
NLT. So, we have the word-for-word translations and thought-for-thought, then we have paraphrases. The most popular of the paraphrases is the NLT (New Living Translation). When I first got saved, my then-girlfriend, Shale, bought me an NLT Bible. I still have it and never plan on getting rid of it. The more I understood Scripture, the more I didn’t need the NLT. It’s not the most reliable translation, but it definitely works for new believers and children.
As a matter of fact, I plan on using that Bible for reading to our child(ren). It has at least one hiccup in it, where it translates Genesis 6:3 as, “…their normal lifespan will be no more than 120 years.” It’s self-evident if your reading in context that God is not saying that the lifespan of man will be no more than 120 years (people live longer than that after!); He is saying He will destroy the earth via flood in 120 years.
Anyway, the point is this: don’t use the NLT as your regular Bible or for study. There are, of course, more versions that are paraphrases, but the NLT is most popular.
And Then You Have The Message
We have translations, paraphrases, and then you have The Message. This version was written by the late Eugene Peterson, who did it because he wanted to read it to his kids. However, The Message has taken the Christian world by storm–and if you ask my opinion, that’s not a good thing.
The Message is not a translation; it’s not even really a paraphrase. There countless areas where you say, “How did he get that from this text?” Please do not use this. The only reason we should ever use this is when reading to children. However, even with that, you could use the NLT and be just fine!
Use Discernment but Don’t Be a Translation-Pharisee
It’s very important to have discernment when choosing a translation. We need to know what God’s Word says accurately so we can know God biblically. However, that doesn’t mean you need to become the KJVO (King James Version Only) version of the NASB, ESV, or what have you.
And here’s an important anecdote: the Bible translations we have today, believe it or not, are not infallible. As Christians, we believe the original manuscripts are inerrant and infallible–but not the translations. That doesn’t mean we don’t have God’s Word accurately given, but my point remains.
So, friends, if I had to give a recommendation, I would say read the ESV. It’s reliable and readable.
Soli Deo Gloria
Cover photo courtesy of @sixteenmilesout at unsplash.com
4 Comments Add yours
Wonderful post. People who are new to Christ, and maybe even some who are not, need to understand that. Me, I am of two mind for different purposes. I am a NASB fan for studying the word but at night when I just want to relax, I will pick up the NLT for light reading before turning in. If you are sincere in your study, God will open your eyes and draw you where you need to be.
Amen. I have found that reading the NLT in a — like you said — relaxed fashion is fine IF you already understand what the text is saying.
Fully agree. And sometime it will bring up a question that I need to go dig for so it can be an encouragement as well.