Published: 8 July 2013

So Many Bibles!

There are so many different kinds of Bibles, which one should I use? Which version is the best or most accurate? There probably isn’t one version of the Bible which is particularly better than the others. It generally makes more sense to use several good versions rather than relying on just one. Why is this so? The languages that the original Bible documents were written in were Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. So, unless you are fluent in all three of these ancient languages, you are going to rely upon a translation. Each Bible translation has its strengths and weaknesses. When you casually read the Bible, any well respected translation will do. When you need to intensely study some passage or topic, you will probably find it insightful to see how several different translations read.

Respected English Language Versions

The King James Version (KJV) — Translated in 1611 by 47 scholars. In spite of its age, this is still a very good Bible translation. For hundreds of years it was the version of choice in the English speaking world. The 1769 edition is the one popularly in use today. Its Elizabethan style Old English is difficult for modern readers. This is still a good translation for those who can handle the Old English.

The New King James Version (NKJV) — Translated in 1982 by 130 translators. This is a revision of the King James version updated to modern English with minor translation corrections and retention of traditional phraseology. If you really like the style of the KJV but don’t want to get tripped up with the Old English words, this version may be for you. This is a very good and well respected version.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) — Translated in 1971 by 58 scholars with the most recent edition released in 1995. The NASB has been widely embraced as the most literally accurate English translation from the original languages. While it may not be as fluid on the tongue or sound as poetic as the KJV or NKJV, it is a very accurate and reliable translation.

The New International Version (NIV) — Translated in 1978 by over 100 translators. This version is very easy to read and often makes difficult passages easier to understand. This may come at the expense of accuracy. The NIV does not attempt a literal word-for-word translation, but instead seeks to translate the message of the original language. This means there is the danger the translators may not have fully or accurately understood that message. Therefore, they may have rendered passages incorrectly. Overall it is a good version, but be aware of its weaknesses.

There are many other versions but the four mentioned above are more than adequate for any serious Bible student. Which version should you use? Why not use all the ones you can get your hands on? It’s often very helpful and insightful to be able to compare the way a passage is rendered by the various translations.

Beware of paraphrased versions

There are several Bibles which are not really translations at all but are paraphrased renderings of other Bibles. These versions make no attempt at actually translating from the original languages but merely interpret the text of other translations. Such “interpretive” versions may or may not reflect the thoughts that the original languages conveyed. Two examples of interpretive or paraphrased Bibles are “The Living Bible” and “The Message”. These are popular Bibles, but should never be relied upon as a study Bible. They should always be compared to scholarly and well respected translations such as the ones mentioned above.

“King James Only”?

In recent years some have come to hold the extreme view that the KJV represents not just a very good English language translation, but that it is absolutely perfect and without flaw. They believe that God infallibly guided its translators to choose exactly the right wording, punctuation and italicization in every single case. This view is most likely a reaction to the newer translations that have appeared over the last 100 years or so. Lets face it, some people just don’t like change.

When someone takes this position, they are implying that God’s message wasn’t available to English speaking people prior to 1611. Did the inspired writings of God exist prior to 1611 when the KJV was first published? Of course! They also overlook the fact that minor translation and printing errors in the 1611 edition were corrected in the 18th century. Clearly if God had infallibly guided the translators in 1611, such corrections wouldn’t have been necessary. In addition, if the KJV is the only Bible “inspired” by God, are non-English speaking people expected to become fluent in English in order to benefit from God’s message? Clearly, the “KJV Only” position doesn’t hold up to even minor scrutiny. As noted above, the KJV is an extremely good translation, but it has its strengths and weaknesses just like any other translation.

Not just on paper any more

In addition to traditional paper copies of the Bible, many excellent Bible programs are available for use on your computer. Most of these programs have the popular English versions available. Perhaps the most impressive “electronic Bibles” are available on portable devices such as smart phones and tablets. With the Bible reader applications that are available for these devices, you can literally carry a stack of Bibles in your pocket!

Never before has there been such a wide array of Bibles and Bible study materials available for Christians. Make the most of it!