This will not be your average discussion about Bible translations. First of all, I’m not an expert on the subject of Bible translations, so I won’t try to make you think that I am. I’m also not a Greek or Hebrew scholar. Therefore, I can’t approach this subject from that perspective. However, I’ve done a lot of comparisons between all the major translations over many years, and have also done a lot of reading about translations on other websites. So I think I can provide some helpful information. Plus, I have a perspective about this subject that I believe may be helpful to the discussion. I’ll do this in the context of my own personal journey, where I share my history and personal viewpoints (rather than a scholarly comparison of Bible translations). Consider this a supplement to any serious reading you might do about this subject elsewhere. I’ll also make some recommendations along the way, and wrap it up at the end of the article. But again, I’m not an expert, so these will be according to my own experience and research. Therefore, all in all I think you’ll find this a little different than anything you’ve read on this subject. At the very least, perhaps you’ll find this article somewhat interesting?
There are only certain translations that I would consider using regularly. Those are the ones I will talk about and recommend in this article. That’s not to say there aren’t other good translations. I know there are. But I like to stay in the mainstream of things, both in doctrine and in translations. I believe majority voices are important. It provides a certain amount of credibility and safety not normally found in minority voices. Being unique in doctrine and in Bible translation is a red flag, and should normally be avoided.
I’m naturally long-winded, so I apologize now for the length of this article. It’s just the way I’m wired.
YLT – (Young’s Literal Translation)
RV – (English Revised Version)
ASV – (1901 American Standard Version)
KJV – (King James Version)
NKJV – (New King James Version)
MEV – (Modern English Version)
NASB – (New American Standard Bible)
NRSV – (New Revised Standard Version)
LSB – (Legacy Standard Bible)
LEB – (Lexham English Bible)
WEB – (World English Bible)
ESV – (English Standard Version
CSB – (Christian Standard Bible)
NIV – (New International Version)
NET – (New English Translation)
EXB – (EXpanded Bible)
RSV – (Revised Standard Version)
NLT – (New Living Translation)
GW – (God’s Word Translation)
NCV – (New Century Version)
NAB – (New American Bible)
LV – (Living Bible)
GNT – (Good News Translation)
ISV – (International Standard Version)
Phillips – (J.B. Phillips New Testament)
I first want to provide you with a little information about Bible translations in general. There are basically four types of translations or approaches to translating the Scriptures:
Formal Equivalence – This is the word for word type, the more literal rendering of the original writings. The goal here is to translate each word into English as much as possible, without providing meaning or interpretation. The translators stay in the proper word order unless it doesn’t make sense to do so, which is a regular occurrence.
Examples of: YLT, RV, ASV, NASB, LSB, LEB, RSV, NRSV, ESV, KJV, NKJV, MEV
Functional Equivalence (Dynamic Equivalence) – This is the thought for thought type, where the goal of the translators is to convey the meaning of the text. The idea is to make the Scriptures more understandable and more readable, to provide an awareness of what the writers meant by what they said in the use of their words, and how the original audience would have understood it—which isn’t exactly the same as interpretation, which involves explanation (teaching).
Examples of: NIV, GW, NCV, NAB,
Optimal Equivalence – This type of translation seeks a balance between Formal and Functional Equivalence. Here the translators use a more ‘word for word’ when it’s understandable the way it is, but provide a more ‘thought for thought’ when the more literal rendering wouldn’t be clear to the reader.
Examples of: CSB, NET, NIV
Note: The NIV is technically in the Functional Equivalence category, but I’m putting it here too because I think it’s just slightly less literal than the NET, and therefore, has good balance.
Paraphrase – This is a loose and free-flowing rephrasing of the Scriptures, where there’s basically no actual ‘word for word’ translating, but where the goal is to provide meaning and interpretation, and written in a very inventive and flowery manner.
Examples of: The Message, The Voice, LB, GNT, ISV, Phillips
In addition: Borderline Functional/Paraphrase – NLT.
I didn’t really know which category to put the NLT in, because it really doesn’t belong in any of the three groups—even though it’s regarded as a Functional Equivalence translation. However, I disagree. I think it’s too loose to fit in that category. Yet, it’s not so drastic to be a paraphrase either. It’s borderline between the two.
Throughout history – until recent years – the primary way of translating the Scriptures has been more word for word (Formal Equivalence). While The Living Bible was the first paraphrase to break that mold, the NIV was the first major translation of the thought for thought type (Functional Equivalence). Since then, many translations are now in the more ‘Functional’ category. As you’ll see in my “Bible journey,” I grew up in the Formal Equivalence era. When the NIV came out, it created quite a stir. I remember it well. It wasn’t received well by many, believing it was too loose by those who believed the Scriptures should be translated “word for word.”
However, what needs to be understood is that all translations provide some meaning and interpretation. The original languages don’t allow translators to do otherwise. To do so simply wouldn’t make any sense in the English language. Adjustments are required—which involves meaning, interpretation and restructuring of word order. There’s no way around it. Even the most literal translation requires at least some of this—even the KJV, for all you KJ-only types. Also, literally speaking, there’s no such thing as a literal, word for word translation. Again, the original languages of the Bible don’t allow that kind of transition into the English language.
Therefore, when we place translations in the above categories, it simply represents the translations that fit those categories the best. Some translations are borderline. For example, as you can see above, I put the NLT in the Functional/Paraphrase category. It’s not quite either. It’s not quite a paraphrase like the Living Bible (from which it was based), but it’s also not quite as Functional as the NIV.
The CSB and the NET are also borderline—between Formal Equivalence and Functional Equivalence. I don’t think it’s inaccurate to place the NIV in the same category. They all represent a good balance.
Throughout my life I’ve always favored Formal Equivalence translations. However, over the past few years as I’ve been reading and learning about translations, I’ve come to appreciate the value of the thought for thought translations—particularly the NIV. I now believe it’s important to present the same meaning of the text as the original audience would have understood it—to the best of the translator’s ability to do so.
Therefore, the translations that I believe provide the best balance and understanding are the NET, the NIV and the CSB. I believe these translations represent faithfulness to the original writings in both translation and meaning. Accordingly, I believe these three translations are perhaps the most helpful of all translations. Keep in mind, this is my own opinion based on my own reading and comparing of translations. Also, don’t misunderstand, I still have a high regard for the more word for word translations—such as the ESV, which has been my primary Bible since it came out in 2001. However, my respect for thought for thought translations, as well as for their translators, has grown much in recent years.
Everyone wants to know which translations are the most accurate. But that depends on how we define “accurate.” Those who favor Formal Equivalence translations, believe those are the most accurate because they are more word for word, with less interpretation and meaning added to it. On the other hand, those who favor Functional Equivalence translations, believe those are the most accurate because they provide the best sense of the Scriptures, which they believe provide a better understanding, and therefore, more useful to the average Christian.
The bottom line is, there are no perfect translations—no matter which category they fall in. They all have certain inadequacies. The best we can do is choose a translation that we believe in and consider to be the most helpful to us personally, based on our viewpoint about translation methods—without criticizing others for their choice. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t translations we shouldn’t avoid—such as The Message, which I will talk more about at the end of this article. I’ll let you know now, I’m against paraphrases. I have no problem saying that they exceed the limits of proper translation principles. The Functional Equivalent translations work just fine. There’s no responsible justification for going beyond that.
I know I’m dating myself, but in my younger years (1970s) the KJV was the primary translation among Christians. I think my first Bible as a kid was a pew Bible that I got from our church (given to me), which was the KJV. After that, I acquired the Living Bible in high school. The first true translation I ever bought after high school was a King James Thompson Chain Reference Study Bible (great study Bible, by the way). The KJV really didn’t have much competition in those days, except for the NASB (1971, 1st edition). Also being used at that time was the RSV, the RV (my parents had this one), and the 1901 ASV—which was the American version of the RV. And that was really it. I think by that time (mid 70s) those three (RSV, RV, ASV) were well on their way out because of the arrival of the NASB, which was designed to replace all three of them. Both the NASB and the RSV were based on the ASV, which was based on the RV. I stayed with the KJV for two or three years before I went to the NASB-1971. I stayed with the NASB for several years before becoming a King James-only follower for several years (SMH). After some research (I’ve done much more since then) and finding the KJ-only arguments unconvincing, I went to the NKJV and stayed with that for about ten years. Going from the KJV to the NKJV was like a breath of fresh air. It brought new life to my Bible reading and study. I loved it. I was a KJ-only when the NKJV came out, so I didn’t make the switch until a few years after the NKJV was made available.
I would like to veer a little here and address the King James only position, which is a significant part of my Bible translation journey. Much of the KJ-only position it is based on faith, rather than on sound scholarship and sound reasoning. In other words, it’s largely a faith-driven position on the Scriptures, and promoted primarily by legalistic, fundamental, separatist Baptists (Independent, Fundamental Baptists – IFB), which I was a part of for about ten years. They believe that God has continuously preserved His Word in a line of ancient manuscripts and translations that led to the King James Version—and stopped with that translation. By the providential plan of God the Scriptures were always headed toward the KJV as the ultimate goal, in their view. Nothing beyond that. The question must be asked: why did the translation line have to stop with the King James Version? Why didn’t it stop with the Geneva Bible, for example? This was the translation of the day while the KJV was being worked on. It was highly regarded by scholars and widely used by the average Christian—so much so that when the KJV came out (officially known as The Authorized Version), the KJV wasn’t selling well because of the lack of acceptance by the Christian community. It wasn’t until King James himself banned the printing of the Geneva Bible that the KJV started to advance. Yet, it was the Geneva Bible that first made it to the shores of America, and that too according to the providential plan of God. The KJ-only position simply makes no sense.
Regarding the ancient manuscripts that differ from the KJV line of manuscripts, the KJ-only loyalists naturally assume that they must be corrupt. Therefore, they assume all Bible translations that come from those manuscripts are also corrupt (they even believe the NKJV is corrupt!). However, the differences aren’t that significant. Furthermore, one should be able to see the providence of God in all this. Ironically, as I already indicated, it’s the providence of God that KJ-only loyalists cling to. However, the same providence of God that led to the KJV and which God has used for His glory, has also led to other translations that God has used for His glory, which came through different manuscripts (Critical Text). This began with the English Revised Version (RV) of 1885, which has led to all the top translations that we have today, except for the NKJV. Either God has control over His own Word or He doesn’t. We know that He does. Therefore, we should acknowledge the providence of God in preserving both lines of ancient manuscripts and translations, because He has used both in His Church, and through His Church to spread His Word around the world. People are getting saved and Christians are growing in their faith through both translation sources. Is God not sovereign over these things? Of course He is!
I wasn’t planning on taking this detour about the KJ-only position, but it naturally introduced itself as part of my journey.
From the NKJV I went to the ESV. I bought it when it was hot off the press in 2001. I must have been one of the first to purchase that Bible. I love the ESV and used it as my primary translation from that time on, until a couple years ago when I began reading other translations—particularly the NET Bible. The ESV is beautifully written and has a wonderful flow. The language has a traditional sound to it. It’s one of the most accurate translations there is of the Formal type. I’ve had so many ESV Bibles it’s ridiculous. But I was sold on it for a very long time, and that still hasn’t changed. But it’s always good to read fresh translations now and then, because it gives you a slightly different perspective.
During all those years, I vacillated a bit between the KJV, NASB, NKJV and the ESV—and even the ASV, which I have a very high regard for. But those occasions never lasted long. I always returned to the primary translation that I was using at the time.
As I already indicated, a translation I’ve used a lot the past couple years or so is the NET Bible, which I’ve really grown accustomed to using. I’m very drawn to this translation; I keep coming back to it. It has a good balance between Formal and Functional. I’ve vacillated a lot between the ESV and the NET. While I still have a soft spot for the ESV because of my history with it, at this point in my life I’m finding the NET to be more helpful—not only in the way it’s written, but also via the NET Translator’s Notes. While I believe the NET to be a sound translation by itself (overall), I recommend using it with the Notes, because I think it tends to be a little too novel and interpretive in places. On the other hand, there are places where the NET appears to be more precisely accurate than other top translations—and the Notes normally explain why. So it tends to balance out. All in all it’s a great translation. It’s very readable. Where the translation seems too strange (novel), the Notes always give you the more literal rendering and explain their reasoning for their translation. Again, I find this very helpful.
I think the NET is comparable to the NIV in the way it’s worded in style, except the NIV reads a little more traditional, which is one reason I think it’s so popular. People relate well to it (NIV), especially the older folks who grew up on the KJV or the NKJV. While the NIV is certainly a trustworthy translation and one of the top translations I would recommend, I still find the NET to be a little more helpful. But that’s me. Perhaps for most, if the NET Notes aren’t being used, the NIV may be a better choice for them. Either way, both are great choices. Although I use the NET in my own reading and studying, my pastor uses the NIV in his teaching, so I’m very comfortable with it.
Aside from the NET Notes, the way it’s worded provides a good understanding of what the original language is conveying (generally speaking), similar to the NIV in that regard. As I mentioned before, while I believe it to be a sound translation in general, there are verses where I think the translators try to be, perhaps, too different by using alternate renderings that other major translations don’t use—which is why I suggest using this translation with the Notes so you’re aware of those exceptions to the norm. For me personally, I’m familiar enough with the Bible that I usually know when I come to those particular verses. As good as the Notes are, that too has its own drawback, because the notes may cause some Christians to have doubts and questions about the accuracy and reliability of our translations—which is one of the arguments that the KJ-only folks make about all the different translations—and they’re not wrong. But I think for most seasoned Christians, that shouldn’t pose a problem, especially for those who understand the translation process. Aside from that risk, I think the NET translation with all their Notes is a most valuable resource.
Another reason I like the NET is because of their copyright policy. They’re very generous in the use of their translation—so much better than all other modern translations (the LEB policy is similar to the NET). This is one reason I use it so much on my website. Plus, I like to honor those who honor God’s Word above financial profit. Speaking of which, the WEB – which is an update of the ASV – has a totally free-use policy (Public Domain), which again, is why I use it on my website. It’s a good translation, by the way, because the changes to the ASV seem to be minimal. However, it was updated by one person, so one still needs to be careful.
Two translations I had high hopes for are the CSB and one of the two recent updates of the NASB—which is the NASB-2020 (the other is the LSB). I thought perhaps I would like one of them (CSB, NASB-2020) well enough that I could start using it as my primary Bible. After doing a lot of reading and comparing with other translations, I find that I like the CSB quite a lot. As I talked about earlier it has a great balance between a Formal and Functional Equivalence translation. I actually didn’t like the CSB very much when I first started reading it, but the more I read it the more it grew on me. At first I thought it read too choppy, but I discovered that the short sentences are helpful and to the point—not too wordy. I also believe it to be a highly accurate translation, right up there among the top translations. I could easily adopt it as my primary translation, but at this point I’m staying with the NET Bible—at least for now.
As for the NASB-2020, it’s a good translation, because it does follow the NASB-1995 fairly closely—but I do think it’s an improvement. However, I’m a little disappointed, as I don’t really like the way it reads—but that’s my own opinion. I know there are others who love it. It’s certainly a good choice for those who like a gender-accurate translation (which is what the CSB is also). The NASB-2020 is the only gender-accurate version in the NASB line.
It appears to me that many ESV readers have switched to the CSB. While I really like the CSB, I think between the two, the ESV provides a better reading experience, and the ESV certainly has a more traditional sound to it. However, I do think the CSB has better balance between literalness and readability. But readability is not as important as accuracy, and so, again, the CSB appears to be a very accurate translation, just as the ESV is—although the CSB is gender-accurate, where both males and females are being referred to. The ESV is not gender-accurate, and that’s one of the biggest differences between the two. That difference will turn some to the ESV and others to the CSB. I personally don’t have a problem with gender-accurate translations, when it’s clear that both male and female are in view. Others are highly against it, for whatever reason. While “brothers and sisters” may not be a literal translation, it certainly provides a more accurate understanding when both genders are being referred to. I don’t know how that can be a problem.
Now I want to highlight the 1901 ASV—which again is what the NASB is based on. It’s a slight and improved revision of the English Revised Version (RV). While I think it’s a little difficult to read because of the archaic language (I think it’s still easier to read than the KJV), I love this translation. If someone removed the archaic language, it would be a good choice as a primary Bible. I like the history of it and the historic feel it has, much like the KJV. It’s commonly regarded as one of the most accurate translations ever produced. Based on my reading, many believe it to be the most accurate translation of all English translations—at least among Formal Equivalent translations. So this is certainly a translation you can trust. The ASV was held in high regard for a long time, and was once widely used in seminaries. In general, it seems to be a little more accurate than the 1995 NASB. From my point of view, they made too many changes to an already superb translation. I say that because in a very large number of places in the NASB footnotes, it gives the literal Greek or Hebrew rendering, which is often the way the ASV has it. At least in most cases, I have to wonder why they didn’t go with the literal rendering when it seems perfectly acceptable as it is. Anyway, if you like the old English style, then the ASV is a great choice. But again, because of the archaic language and difficulty of reading, it will present a challenge. But that’s up to you. Some may like the challenge, while others will have a hard time with it. If you’re already used to reading the KJV, the ASV will not pose a problem. But regardless, I think the ASV is a translation that everyone can benefit from by using it for comparison. The only real issue I have with the ASV is that it uses “Jehovah” for God’s personal or covenant name (YHWH) in the Old Testament. On this subject, I encourage you to read my article titled, “Use of ‘Yahweh’ in Bible Translations.”
Another reason I like the ASV is because it’s in the Public Domain, which means I don’t have to get permission to use it on my website no matter how many verses I use. I used it for my commentary on Revelation. If I had used the NASB or most other modern translations, I would have needed their permission. I’ve also written a commentary on Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians and Philippians, but they need to be updated. When I finally get around to doing that (Lord willing), I’ll probably use the ASV as the verse by verse translation (if I don’t use the NET)—or maybe even slightly update the ASV language myself, which is something I do from time to time when I use it on my website.
I think one of the best written translations ever produced is the NKJV. But I can say the same thing about the ESV. They’re actually quite similar. When you read them side by side, they sound much alike, because the wording is much alike—often using exact wording. That could explain why I used both of these translations for so many years. Not only are they both beautiful, high quality translations that flow well, they also sound alike. I think they have an unsurpassed combination of understandable literalness, accuracy and elegance. Whenever I read either of them, they just feel right. However, while the NKJV is a great translation, it does have one drawback: it’s based on the Textus Receptus for the New Testament (because that’s what the KJV is based on)—as opposed to the Critical Text that most modern translations are based on (ASV, NASB, ESV, NRSV, LSB, LEB, CSB, NIV, NET, etc.). Therefore, I believe the ESV is more true to the original writings than the NKJV. However, the NKJV generally provides the differences between the two groups of manuscriptures in the footnotes, which is helpful. But when you add up the number of differences, it’s actually quite a lot—although mostly insignificant (but a few are). That said, I would choose the NKJV over the KJV, because not only does it read a lot better, it also corrects many of the inaccuracies of the KJV. If you’re currently using the NKJV, but have come to the same conclusion I did many years ago that the manuscripts used for the NKJV are a little less accurate to the originals, then I would recommend the ESV. I think there will be a familiarity about it that you’ll appreciate, and thus making it an easy transition. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think that’s why I was so comfortable with the ESV when I made the transition from the NKJV.
I would also like to include the MEV in the discussion regarding the NKJV. It’s a fairly recent update of the KJV (2014). It’s a literal, word for word translation that reads very well and is similar to the NKJV.
The NRSV came out in 1989, and is a good translation (Formal Equivalence) that has wide acceptance across denominational lines. However, since it was published by the liberal National Council of Churches (NCOC), some won’t even consider using it. However, from my point of view, I think that’s an unwarranted position to take, because I don’t believe the association with the NCOC has any bearing on how well it was translated. Published by is not the same thing as translated by. It’s a very trusted translation and used by many.
Now let’s talk about the LEB. It’s no doubt one of the best and most accurate English translations today among the Formal type. It’s a very literal translation, much like the ASV, the NASB, the LSB and the KJV. I’ve done a lot of reading in the LEB, and although I don’t like the way it’s worded in places, I think it’s a superior translation to most. It’s a welcome addition to other translations that are more word for word (instead of thought for thought). It has a good balance between literal accuracy and readability. This is a translation that you can trust, and is ideal for studying. Translations that are more literal are normally the best translations for studying (I consider the NET w/notes to be the lone exception), and so the LEB is a great choice for serious students of God’s Word. The downside is that the LEB is not yet available in print, although I know that’s something they have considered. Not sure where they’re at on that. Hopefully they’ll come out with one soon. It was originally produced as an Interlinear Bible, so it’s only been available online or in Logos Bible Software. Anyway, while no translation is perfect – as they say – I believe the LEB to be a top-tier translation. However, it uses “Yahweh” for God’s personal name (YHWH) in the Old Testament. Again, I encourage you to read my article about that here. I would like to see them return to the traditional use of “LORD” for YHWH, which is something they can easily do, since they haven’t printed any LEB Bibles yet.
Another reason I like the LEB is that it has a very generous copyright policy. In other words, you can use it extensively without their permission. It’s much like the NET in that regard. As I mentioned earlier, I like to honor those who honor God’s Word above financial profit. It’s sad to me that the other major translations don’t follow their example.
We now come to the latest update of the NASB line of translations, and that’s the Legacy Standard Bible (LSB) — which has just recently been introduced to the public. This is an update of the NASB-1995 translation by John MacArthur and his seminary (The Master’s Seminary). It’s a wonderful combination of literal accuracy and readability. I’m not crazy about MacArthur’s dispensational theology (as you can probably tell, if you’ve done any reading on this website), but I’ve always respected him for his high regard for God’s Word. If there’s one thing about John MacArthur I’m sure of, it’s that when it comes to God’s Word, he’s very serious about it and wants to get it right. He wouldn’t associate his name with an inferior translation. And if he believes this is a highly accurate translation, then I’m confident that it is. For starters, the NASB is already considered to be one of the most accurate English translations ever produced. So if his objective was to make a good translation even better, then I believe he probably succeeded in doing that. I’ve been reading the LSB New Testament and comparing it to the NASB-1995, and the LSB is a much smoother read. In fact, as I compare it to the ESV in the NT, there’s not much difference between the two; they read much the same, because they both have their roots in the ASV (I haven’t done much comparing in the OT yet, but so far, they appear to be fairly close in how they read). I think the LSB also reads better than the LEB. I would agree that it’s an improvement over the 1995 version. Is the LSB the most true-to-the-original writings of any English translation to date? At least among the word for word translations? I don’t know. But considering that it’s intended to be an improved version of the NASB-1995, it may be. However, I believe there’s little difference between the LSB and the ESV, because all three translations—the NASB, the ESV and the LSB, are founded on the ASV. So the differences between them will be minimal. But this is really a discussion for the experts. Many reviews of the LSB are sure to follow, so we’ll see what they have to say.
While I have high regard for this translation (LSB), and trust it, I’ll probably never adopt it as my primary Bible, because like the LEB, it uses “Yahweh” for YHWH in the OT (see article about that here). I would prefer going with a translation that uses the traditional LORD in the OT. The NASB-1995 and the other NASB update – which is the NASB-2020 – are both top-tier translations, and they follow the traditional use of LORD in the OT. So the NASB gives you great options. I’ll continue to read the NT in the LSB for comparison, but I’ll read other translations that use LORD in the OT. If the LSB continued the traditional use of LORD for God’s personal name, I would probably consider making the switch to it. The MacArthur team should consider providing an LSB option that uses LORD instead of Yahweh, because not everyone shares the same conviction about that. This way readers have a choice. If I did make the switch to the LSB, I would simply say “the LORD” in my mind when I came to Yahweh, which is my current practice when reading those particular translations anyway. It’s also much easier to read that way too, especially in the Psalms where you find it so often.
I’ll finish With These Thoughts
While there are many positives of having numerous good translations to choose from, I’ve grown weary with the constant outpouring of new translations. I mean, where does it stop? At what point does it become enough? At what point have we reached the height of accuracy and readability? I believe a lot of these new translations are money-motivated, or someone or some organization is trying to make a name for themselves by being distinctly responsible for or associated with a particular translation. The truth is, unless a collection of ancient manuscripts of the New Testament are discovered that prove to be closer to the originals, we would be in very good shape with the translations we currently have if no other translations are ever produced before the Lord’s return.
We live in a time when we always want the latest and best of everything, and it’s no different with Bible translations. In 1560, the Geneva Bible was the latest and greatest. In 1611, the KJV was the latest and greatest. In 1885, the RV was the latest and greatest. In 1901, it was the ASV. In 1971, it was the NASB. In 1978, it was the NIV. In 1982, it was the NKJV. In 2001, it was the ESV. In 1995, it was the new version of the NASB. Today in 2022, it’s the LSB. All these translations are supposed to be the latest and best translations because they’re based on “new information” and “better understanding of the original language” or “changes in the English language.” Or whatever. So after 2000 years we still may not have it right?! Seriously? I have to agree with the KJ-only loyalists, that so many translations are unnecessary and have brought confusion—and I’m referring primarily to the abundance of poor quality “translations.” I say enough is enough! Let’s be thankful for the few solid translations we have today and focus on those.
At this point, I think if another translation comes out that claims to be the most accurate translation, I may not even bother looking at it (of course I say that now!). Again, some amazing discovery of ancient manuscripts would have to occur before I would be willing to consider another translation than the ones we already have. As much as I recognize the value of the top-tier translations such as the ESV, the LSB, the NIV, the NET, the CSB, etc., and appreciate the contributions of other translations, we would have been in good shape if it had ended with the 1971 NASB and the NKJV. I would also add the NIV to that, as it often provides an understanding that is not readily apparent in more literal translations. Further still, we also would have been in fine shape if the translations had ended with the KJV and the ASV—although I’m thankful it didn’t! Nevertheless, as I discussed earlier, I do see the providence of God regarding the solid line of translations leading up to this day. At the same time, we’re to live according to wisdom and spiritual discernment, and at some point I believe we’re to recognize when it’s time to cease and focus on the excellent translations we already have—while rejecting all the bad so-called translations that will surely continue.
I’d like to add one more thing to this discussion. Because of copyright laws and such a large number of translations, it forces translators to change the wording and word order so copyrights are not infringed upon. This inevitably results in inaccurate translations. As I’ve already indicated, many translations can’t even be called a translation, where they provide merely the gist of God’s Word. I don’t believe God is in that. The Message is a good example of these gist-type translations. There are many others that fall into that same category, but The Message may be the worst of the worst. They add words and ideas that aren’t in the originals, and they remove words and ideas that are. I suggest avoiding this paraphrase completely. It has no true value. It never should have been written or accepted so widely by the Christian community.
The frustrating thing about all translations, no matter how good they are, none of them are perfect. They’re all flawed in one way or another. They all have verses that either aren’t written well or they don’t appear to be as precisely accurate as other translations. That’s the reason it’s so difficult to choose between translations these days. There’s just too many good options, but each with their own flaws. It was a lot easier back in the day when the main choices were the KJV, NASB, NKJV and the NIV—and even easier when it was primarily between the KJV and the NASB.
On the positive side, we do have some wonderful translations to choose from today. Between all the translations I’ve mentioned in a positive light, it’s not so much about accuracy as it is style and personal taste. All the translations I’ve highlighted are accurate. Therefore, it really boils down to which type of translation method you believe in (see beginning under “Translations”), which translation you relate to most in how it’s written, and which one allows you to understand the Bible better than the others. That will vary from person to person, because we’re all wired differently, and we’re all at different stages of learning and experience.
So how do we know which translation method is the best? Formal or Functional Equivalence? Well, since most of us aren’t Greek or Hebrew scholars, and since even they disagree with each other on this topic, I think it best to take the balanced approach—as I indicated in the beginning of this article. There I suggested that the translations that provide the best balance and understanding are the NET, the NIV and the CSB. In my opinion these three provide the best balance between the two methods of translation. As I consider all the top translations, I don’t know of any other translations that really fit in that category. However, I think it’s always a good practice to compare these with the more literal translations. On the other end, it’s also not a bad idea to compare them with the NLT. What I don’t recommend is comparing them with the paraphrases. We can’t trust them, so why bother?
All things considered: For balance, I recommend either the NET, the NIV or the CSB—probably in that order. If you choose to use the NET as your primary Bible, I suggest using it with the Translator’s Notes. The reason I put the NET first is because it’s an unsurpassed study Bible. Normally, I would say the more literal translations make the best study Bibles, but I think the NET is the one exception to that rule. Those Translator’s Notes provide a means of study no other translation provides. Therefore, in my opinion, the NET with Notes is the most helpful translation available. If you buy a print NET Bible, I recommend getting one without the Notes, because it’s a large Bible with very small print, and pages are filled with Notes. I suggest using either Bible Gateway or Bible.org for the Notes. But that’s up to you. If you’re not going to use the NET Notes, I might suggest the NIV or the CSB for most people. For me personally, even without the Notes, I’m still going with the NET, as I’ve grown accustomed to using it.
After those three, I would recommend the ESV and the LSB first—in that order. They both have their roots in the ASV, which is regarded as one of the most faithful-to-the-originals ever produced in this category of translations. Overall, between accuracy and readability, I think these two are a cut above the others among the Formal Equivalence translations. As I mentioned earlier, they’re pretty close in how they read, especially in the NT. The biggest difference between the two, of course, is that the LSB uses Yahweh in the OT for God’s personal name, and the ESV uses the traditional LORD, which is what I prefer. For that reason, I would actually choose the NASB-2020 over the LSB. The 2020 version is still a very solid translation. However, if you don’t like the gender-accurate language of the 2020, then the NASB-1995 may be more suitable for you.
The LEB is also a great choice, although it doesn’t yet come in print.
After the LEB, I think the NRSV should be considered.
If you’re ok with archaic language, you can’t do better than the ASV. Unless you’re a KJ-only, if you’re going to use a translation with archaic language, I believe the ASV is the more accurate option.
On the Textus Receptus side, I would go with either the NKJV or the MEV. Both are improvements over the KJV. I encourage you to compare the two translations on Bible Gateway. They’re both “word for word” translations, both accurate and read well, so that will be a difficult choice.
I want to say something more about the NLT, since it’s so popular. Even though it was the third best selling Bible in 2021 (behind the NIV and KJV), I can’t see it as a primary Bible. However, many would disagree with me. As I mentioned earlier, it’s good for comparison, but I think it’s too loose to be used as your primary. It’s closer to a paraphrase than an actual translation. It’s not suitable for serious study. However, I do think it’s helpful for clarification of difficult verses, which is what I use it for (carefully). In other words, I think it’s good as a commentary, but not as a true translation. However, having said all that, I do think the NLT is fine for new Christians or the young in age. That’s the one exception I would agree with. At the same time, I think the NIV serves the same purpose.
A translation I recommend using as a reference – and is along the same lines as the Amplified Bible (which I also recommend) – is the EXB. Like the Amplified, it provides additional information within the text. This includes alternate renderings, different nuances, interpretation and historical content, etc. I find this helpful and I use it regularly, especially for Bible study. However, like the Amplified, since it’s not strictly a translation, I don’t recommend it as a primary Bible, but only as a supplement.
Whichever you decide on as a primary Bible, it’s always wise to practice comparing translations, especially when engaged in Bible study and want to learn all you can about a particular verse or passage. However, don’t do so much comparison between translations that you get side-tracked and it becomes comparison shopping. Most of your attention should be on your primary Bible—trusting it, learning it and memorizing it.
Those of us who live in America and other free countries, I think we’re spoiled and make a bigger issue out of this than we need to. There are many followers of Christ who live in countries where Bibles are outlawed, and it wouldn’t matter to them which translation they had, as long as they knew they had the written Word of God in their hands. We’re a blessed people and a blessed generation with so many good Bible translations available today. So let’s just choose one and be thankful for it. Let’s not overthink it and spend too much time trying to decide. I think we can spend too much time reading for the sake of finding the right translation, and not enough time reading for the sake of learning and applying it to our lives. Let’s choose one that is known to be an accurate translation and one that reads well to us personally, and then be done with it. You can’t go wrong with any of the translations I recommended. Switching back and forth from one translation to another is not a helpful practice.