Since the original bible was written in multiple languages that not a lot of people understand or comprehend (Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic), there are many versions or translations of the bible available today. There are well over 2,500 different versions or translations of the bible in hundreds of different languages being read by millions of people daily.
Many of these different versions are in English, but the English language has transformed and evolved overtime so some of the words mean different things to different people.
All versions of the bible can be divided into three different categories:
- Word for Word
This type of version or translation is usually translated to be extremely similar to the original text and scripture. The translations will most likely follow the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. These translations are the best translations to study and teach with because they are extremely close to what the original authors were trying to communicate.King James Version (KJV) and New King James Version (NKJV) are examples of this.
- Meaning for Meaning
These types of translations usually put the original text or scripture into more understandable words but still hold the same meaning. These are helpful in helping people understand the meaning but in a more modern language.This type of translation however, is said to not be a good version of the bible to teach with because in making it easier to understand the translators are often differing from what the original authors were trying to get across. An example of this type of translation is New Living Translation (NLT).
These types of translations have a main goal of being readable for a wide range of readers. These versions should not be relied on when a person is studying the bible, but are useful to better understand stories and characters of the bible. A lot of the time with this type of translation, the translators often interpret original passages to their own personal religious beliefs.An example of this type of translation is The Living Bible (TLB).
What is the Best Version of the Bible?
Firstly, there is no right answer to this question. Since every single person is different and interprets things in their own ways, a version that is the best to you may not be best for your neighbor.
There are many different factors to play with when you are debating which version of the bible is best for a person including; the age of the person, if the person is a child, if the person is literate or illiterate, if they using the version for studying or for reading, if English is their first language, and even if the version is easy for them to memorize.
Another point to consider when trying to figure out the best version of the bible for a specific person is the opinions of the translators, the translators may not share the same opinion as everyone and sometimes their opinion shows in their choice of words in the translations or versions of the bible.
Nine Best Versions of the Bible
These versions may not be best for everyone, but these are some common versions of the bible that are studied and read each and every day.
#1 – New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
This particular version of the bible was published in 1989 as a newer version of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) that was published in 1946. This version stays pretty close to the original scripture, but has some translations to make it more understandable where some word meanings may be mixed up.
There is gender neutral language in this version and it is approved by many churches as one of the versions to study. In fact, one of the praises that this version gets is for translating it so it is not a ‘male-only’ type language. The New Revised Standard Version is actually a favorite among many scholars, especially the scholars that have a strong interest in the Old Testament.
Some cons that people have with this version of the bible include that some of the language chosen to be more gender inclusive change some of the connections in the words and passages of the message.
A sample verse from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV): “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” (1 John 3.17)
#2 – King James Version (KJV)
This version of the bible was first published in 1611. However, if you are looking for gender neutral language, this version may not be best for you. The translation changes words and passages where the meaning of the words or passages could be compromised.
The King James Version (KJV) stays pretty close to the original text and has some words that may not be understood by a lot of people because of the time that the version was published, English words meant different things in the 16th century.
Since the version was translated in the 16th century, there were only so many Greek and Hebrew texts available to do so. A high con of this version is the use of Archaic language that many people today don’t understand. A lot of fans of this version claim that it is beautifully poetic.
A sample verse from the King James Version (KJV): “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3.17)
#3 – Contemporary English Version (CEV)
This version of the bible was first published in 1995. Pre-teens may be able to understand this version better than some other versions because it uses texts from the original version loosely. The Contemporary English Version (CEV) is translated in gender neutral language, and was originally intended to be easily understood by people that have difficulties understanding the translations in other versions.
This may be a version for those beginning their journey into their faith, a lot of already believers think that this version doesn’t capture the richness of the original text because of the translation being translated to make it easier for other people to understand. There are also complaints that this version has very little poetry.
It is also said that the message isn’t totally received because some of the translations only communicate part of what is actually meant. Although, the cons about this version didn’t stop it from winning the Crystal Mark award from the Plain English Campaign in 1996.
A sample verse from the Contemporary English Version (CEV): “If we have all we need and see one of our own people in need, we must have pity on that person, or else we cannot say we love God.” (1 John 3.17)
#4 – English Standard Version (ESV)
This version is said to be able to be understood by teenagers and adults. The English Standard Version (ESV) stays close to the original text but some translations have been changed where they believe the message may be confused. ESV was published in 2001 as sort of a revision of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) that was published in 1952.
There was nothing exactly wrong with the RSV, but the ESV was published because the language and texts in the RSV were no longer easily understood by the majority of believers.
Some of the cons about this version is that there are a few sentence structures that are harder to understand, the version is said to avoid inclusive language, and for some people the version’s translation is problematic. Although it does have a few cons, this version gets a lot of praise for keeping some wider loved passage translation similar to those you would find in the KJV.
ESV is a very popular version among readers because of it being one of the most literal translations and wonderful words choices in its translation to capture the beauty and lovely words of the original text or scripture.
Sample verse from the English Standard Version (ESV): “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3.17)
#5 – New American Standard Bible (NASB)
This version was first published in 1971 but was later updated in 1995. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) is considered by many believers to be the best literal translation out there due to the translations staying as close as possible to the original text. Also getting praise for reflecting the same verb tense as what was in the original text.
The cons with this version include the conservative theology of the translators showing through the text, and it is said to be almost impossible for the average person to understand, even if they’re first language is English.
Sample verse for the New American Standard Bible (NASB): “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3.17)
#6 – New King James Version (NKJV)
While the KJV was published in 1611, the New King James Version (NKJV) was published in 1982 as a revision of the KJV. Unlike some revisions, the NKJV tries to follow closely to the original KJV. Many readers feel that this version however should have updated some of the translation because they had more texts available to them at the time to translate from, but the translators chose to use the 16th-century texts to keep the version almost identical to the original KJV.
Since the text of the version is similar to that of a text that was published in the 16th century, it makes it extremely hard for the average person to understand the message because they do not understand the language. Even though the translators chose to keep the version almost identical to KJV, the NKJV is said to still maintain the beautiful poetic language with some translation that makes it easier to read in the modern English language.
Sample verse from the New King James Version (NKJV): “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” ( 1 John 3.17)
#7 – New Living Translation (NLT)
Published in 1996, this version of the bible is said to be able to be understood by children, mainly in their preteens because the translations are different from those of the original text. There is gender neutral language used in this version.
At first, this version was supposed to just be a revision of The Living Bible (TLB) that wasn’t translated directly from the original text but more of a paraphrase that was published in 1971, but the New Living Translation (NLT) went a slightly different route and was a full translation from the original.
In the accessibility of the words in this translation, many complaints are that the translators took it too far from the original. As well as taking it too far from the original text, many complain that this translation also changed the true meanings behind some of the words and passages.
Sample verse from the New Living Translation (NLT): “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion – how can God’s love be in that person?” (1 John 3.17)
#8 – New International Version (NIV)
Published in 1978 with non gender neutral language but later was updated in 2011 with some revisions along with making the language more neutral to gender. The New International Version (NIV) was translated in a way to make it easy for readers of a wide age range to read, but in making the version easier for multiple age groups and people to understand it is a complaint that the version tends to introduce words that are not what was meant in the original text.
In addition, another complaint on this version is that the texts and passages lack the poetry of the originals and are often found to be bland and boring to read.
Sample verse from the New International Version (NIV): “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 John 3.17)
#9 – Good News Bible or Today’s English Version (GNB or TEV)
This version is very popular among non native English speakers (especially readers in the far east and Africa), it was actually specifically translated for readers that don’t have English as their first language to be able to understand. This version of the bible has drawn illustrations to help readers understand the text, these drawings have actually become iconic.
Many readers however, feel that this version goes too far away from the original content and meaning that it misinterprets the message that is meant to be understood. The Today’s English Version or Good News Bible (TEV or GNB) is often criticized for its lack of depth in the words and passages. Being published in 1976, it is very easy to understand for readers even as young as preteens because of the use of modern English in its translation.
Another pro of this version is the language being in a gender neutral translation and tone.
Sample Verse from the Good New Bible or Today’s English Version (GNB or TEV): “If we are rich and see others in need, yet close our hearts against them, how can we claim that we love God?” (1 John 3.17)
How Do You Choose the Best Version of the Bible?
As mentioned, the best version to you is probably not the best version or translation for another person. It is important to consider how many translators worked on translating a specific version of the bible, because if only one translator has translated the versions words and passages may be based off of that individual translator’s opinion.
Some translations of the bible are simply written to sway people into a certain way of thinking, these ways of thinking are usually non-biblical.
It is also important to consider how the version is translated, like if the translator(s) have taken original difficult words and swapped them for words easier to understand or if they have used original words to stay as close to the original words and passages as possible. Although reading reviews from people that are well experienced in the biblical field, you must also remember that their reviews will reflect their opinions as well.
In conclusion, it is often recommended for believers and bible readers to own or at least read multiple versions. To figure out which version or translation works best for each reader, it is simply best to research and read different versions to find out which works best. It is always better to compare versions so that a person can understand, study and embrace each word and passage that they are reading.