Choosing A Bible Translation

We have a huge blessing available to us in modern Bible translations. Not only do we have the Bible translated into our language, but we have multiple translations that are great for various walks of life and situations. We are abundantly blessed. So, don’t get yourself worked into a tizzy over which translation is the right translation. They’re all translations. You may prefer one, but our preference does not equal rightness. You may find yourself in a spiritual drought at some point, needing the Word to be fresh for you. A different translation can be all it takes to make the Word come alive again. You may find yourself discipling a child and need something on their level, but not a Bible storybook level either. You may find yourself reading the minor prophets in a new translation that makes it sound so poetic and beautiful and you experience Scripture in beauty for the first time. You may be helping a new Christian and need something readable for someone with no personal Christian history. Read on and find the translation for you now.

Translations are made one of two ways. Well, that simplifies it a little too much, but for the sake of this conversation, we’ll go with it. If you’re looking at a foreign language and you’re going to translate it, you can either translate each individual word or you can translate the whole thought. Translating word for word can lead to some things that just don’t make a lot of sense, since we arrange our words in English very specifically. (Did you know we even have a specific order for arranging adjectives?) So, in translating word for word, you can see you’ll run into problems. However, when translating thought for thought, you may not accurately convey the right word or the right emphasis. You find people complaining about the exact accuracy of thought for thought translations. But all translations will fall somewhere between an exact word for word translation and a thought for thought translation.

Each translation also comes in at a different grade reading level. Lower grade levels are typically going to have a less expansive vocabulary used.

King James Version (KJV)

This translation is a word for word translation with a very high reading level. (12th grade) While many people that grew up in a conservative church find this to be the Bible translation they are most familiar with, new Christians typically struggle to make sense of this translation. It is more like reading Shakespeare. It is incredibly beautiful in its language, but can be difficult to understand or get to the point. This translation is often a good one for memorizing Scripture because the poetic language is easier for some people to memorize. The flow just lends itself to getting lodged in the brain. However, for new Christians, people feeling spiritual draught, and younger Christians, the reading level is just too high and they have trouble making sense of the Word. This translation was published in 1611. This is a very common choice for a family Bible because it feels and reads like an old classic.

I John 1:9 “ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Psalm 40:2 “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.”

New King James Version (NKJV)

This translation is still a word for word translation. Modernized a little and the reading level brought down to a much more readable 8th grade level. It still has a lot of the poetic feel of the King James, but makes a little more sense and is easier for most people to study. This is often the choice of pastors for their preaching Bible translation. Again, Scripture memorization may be easier with this version as it is more poetic and sticks in your head like a song. This translation was published in 1982. It is a classic, conservative feel that is understandable by more people. I use this translation as our homeschool Bible. This is the translation my kids learn their memory verses from and we do our group reading from.

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Psalm 40:2 “ He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, Out of the miry clay, And set my feet upon a rock, And established my steps.”

New International Version (NIV)

This is a mixture of word for word and thought for thought translation. A little of both has made this a pretty standard choice. It is just below an 8th grade reading level, so it is pretty well understood by most people. This was published in 1978 and is now the most read and the most trusted translation choice.

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Psalm 40:2 “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”

New Living Translation (NLT)

Like the NIV, the New Living Translation is a balance between word for word and thought for thought translation. The reading level is just above a 6th grade level, so this is a very understandable translation for most people. This was not a translation of a translation, but a brand new translation undertaking by 90 Biblical scholars. This translation flows smoothly and makes a lot of sense. It is less poetic, but much more readable and understandable. This is an excellent translation for new Christians. Published in 1996.

1 John 1:9 “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

Psalm 40:2 “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.”

English Standard Version (ESV)

This is a word for word translation in a little above a 7th grade reading level. This is the most popular choice for Bible Journaling. It is very readable. It isn’t unnecessarily wordy and makes a great modern choice for Scripture memorization. Publish in 2001, it is an updated version of the Revised Standard Version. This makes an excellent family Bible. I use this translation in my Bible Journaling and we have a family Bible in this translation. This also makes a great gift Bible.

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Psalm 40:2 “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

This is a modern word for word translation at a higher reading level, 11th grade. It has a more formal feel than most of the other modern translations. Published in 1971, updated in 1995. This is very readable, but also more of a scholarly translation. This is a great choice for a preaching Bible or a Christian ready for deeper Bible study. Not always the best for Scripture memorization as it does get a little wordy. This also makes an excellent family Bible.

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Psalm 40:2 “He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.”

Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

This is more of a word for word translation. It has a 7th grade reading level. This version is clear and concise. It is excellent for Bible study. It can also be a great translation for New Christians. I think my primary recommendation is for Christians experience spiritual dryness in their life and need the Word to come alive again. This is the translation that you can read the stories you’ve heard your whole life and see something completely new and shocking in it that has always been there, but you are just seeing it. It is a good eye opening translation for personal study. I think it would make a great preaching Bible, as well, but I don’t know many pastors who actually use it for that. This is the Bible I use as my church Bible and for personal Bible Study.

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Psalm 40:2 “He brought me up from a desolate pit, out of the muddy clay, and set my feet on a rock, making my steps secure.”

International Children’s Bible (ICB)

This is a thought for thought translation in a third grade reading level. This is a translation meant for children. If you’re a children’s pastor, this would be a good preaching and teaching Bible for you. This is a good choice for a first Bible for a child. It is very easily understood. Published in 1982. This can be difficult for kids to follow along in service or Bible study if the leader isn’t using this version.

1 John 1:9 “But if we confess our sins, he will forgive our sins. We can trust God. He does what is right. He will make us clean from all the wrongs we have done.”

Psalm 40:2 “ He lifted me out of the pit of destruction, out of the sticky mud. He stood me on a rock. He made my feet steady.“

The Message (MSG)

This is a thought for thought, paraphrase version. A lot of hate out there for this version, but I think it definitely has its place. This translation is excellent for seekers who have no Christian back ground or experience. It was published in 2002, and can sometimes seem too flippant for many conservative Christians. But a teen who has never read the Bible will find this an invaluable source of God’s Word. And not just teens. The reading level varies with the passage, but it is about a middle school average. This can also be a good version for those experiencing spiritual aridity, but it doesn’t make for a very good study Bible. You will hear and notice things you didn’t before, but not in the same way you will with the CSB. This is a difficult version to follow along with in service or Bible study because of the paraphrasing.

1 John 1:9 “ On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing.“

Psalm 40:2 “ He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip.“

New International Reader’s Version (NIrV)

This is a blend of word for word and thought for thought. This has the lowest reading level of any of the translations, just below 3rd grade. This is a translation for very young children. This was published in 1994 and updated in 1998. It is a beginner’s Bible. Excellent choice for a first Bible for brand new readers. This is a good resource for homeschooling parents to use to teach young kids to read or write using the Bible. This is the translation I usually buy my kids as they are learning to read.

1 John 1:9 “But God is faithful and fair. If we confess our sins, he will forgive our sins. He will forgive every wrong thing we have done. He will make us pure.”

Psalm 40:2 “I was sliding down into the pit of death, and he pulled me out. He brought me up out of the mud and dirt. He set my feet on a rock. He gave me a firm place to stand on.”

This isn’t all the Bible translations available to you. Check out biblegateway.com if you want to compare more translations. These are just a few that I hope might help you in choosing the Bible that is right for your situation.

Another note: I used to find myself feeling bad for owning multiple copies of the Bible. That was surely a luxury many in this world do not have. And that is correct. There are many who don’t have the luxury of owning one single full copy of God’s Word. So, it often felt very first world of me to own many copies. However, I have come to accept that a Bible used in my house by me or my children is to God’s glory. No matter how many Bibles we have- if we are using them, it is for His glory. Also, supporting Bible publishers is supporting Bible translators. These companies can do good around the world with my support. Supporting them is supporting the work of furthering the spread of the Gospel. Choosing to put my money in their pockets is better than what I would have spent it on elsewhere. Also, I am always willing to give my Bible away. Whatever copy I may have in my hand at the moment, if someone else has no copy- I’m always ready to give mine away. I am not hoarding Bibles, though it may seem that way.

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