The Bible is one of the most translated literary works in human history. Since Tyndale’s New Testament of 1526, there are reportedly upwards of 900 different translations in the English Language alone, and now… you have to choose one.
Deciding on the best translation for you can be overwhelming, so we’ve created a list that will break down the basics of the Bible, how each translation is approached, and which we think might be right for you!
Always remember that the best Bible translations are the ones that are used and read, so don’t be afraid to change translations if you find one that works better for you. Bible scholars and Bible translators have poured over the original manuscripts for centuries in order to create these versions of the Bible, so we have the utmost confidence that each one listed here is a faithful translation of God’s Word.
What are the Top 5 Bible Translations?
- King James Version (KJV)
- New International Version (NIV)
- New Living Translation (NLT)
- English Standard Version (ESV)
- New King James Version (NKJV)
What is the Bible?
The Bible is a collection of sacred texts, or scriptures, divided into two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament tells of the history of God’s chosen people (the Jews) through which the Messiah, Jesus, is prophesized to come. The New Testament tells of Jesus’ arrival and is a fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. For a brief look at all 66 books of the Bible see our article here.
Some may understand the Bible as a singular book, but in reality, it is a compilation of many books, written by many different authors, across thousands of years. Considered the ultimate authority, the Bible is the inspired Word of God.
What is the History of Bible Translations?
The textus receptus is the name given to the New Testament Greek manuscripts used by Desiderius Erasmus in 1516 for his Greek New Testament. These were compiled from late medieval manuscripts, most of which dated from the 12th and 13th centuries. The textus receptus was used as the basis for translations of the Bible into Latin, French, Dutch, German, and English.
Which English bibles reference the textus receptus? The King James Version (KJV) is a translation of the Bible that was published in 1611 by a committee of scholars commissioned by King James I of England. The KJV is based on the textus receptus and is considered to be the most influential English Bible translation of all time.
Nestle-Aland Greek Text
Also known as Novum Testamentum Graece, the Nestle-Aland text is the basis for most modern English translations of the Bible. The text is a critical edition of the Greek New Testament that was first published in 1898. It is named after its two main editors, Eberhard Nestle and Kurt Aland.
The text has been updated several times since it was first published and is now in its 28th edition. The latest edition was published in 2012. The text is used by almost all major English translations of the Bible.
Tyndale’s New Testament
William Tyndale was an English reformer who is credited with the first translation of the New Testament from Greek into English. The translation was published in 1526 and was based on the textus receptus. Tyndale’s translation had a significant impact on later versions of the Bible, including the KJV.
The Bible Translation Spectrum
Firstly, let’s understand that at the base level of modern translations, no translation is technically perfect. English is not the native language of the bible, as they were originally written in several different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
Why can’t there be a perfect translation? Well, because language evolves over time. The English language today is vastly different from the English spoken in the 16th century when the KJV was first translated. This means that some words and phrases in the KJV are no longer easily understood by modern readers. Secondly, there is always a risk of human error when translating from one language to another.
This is why it’s important to choose the best Bible translation for YOU, one that you feel best understands the original meaning while also being readable. With that in mind, let’s do a Bible translation comparison and find where on the spectrum may work best for you.
Closest to a literal translation, formal equivalence Bibles make an effort to follow the original translations word-for-word with as little interpretation as possible. This can often make for a difficult read, as the text may sound choppy or unnatural in English. In effect, as accuracy in the literalness of the translation increases, readability is reduced.
These Bibles are a good translation for people who want to study the Bible in-depth and understand its original meaning. These types of translations are also useful for comparing different passages side-by-side.
Dynamic (or functional) equivalence translates entire phrases, disregarding the word order to be better understood. These translations of the Bible are generally written at a younger reading level and use modern language. Thought-for-thought translations of the bible are not necessarily less accurate, what these translations are trying to do is be accurate to meaning, not to words (or form).
Paraphrase translations make almost no effort to be literal translations of the text in order to provide an easy-to-understand translation. Entire segments are studied and paraphrased at an elementary level. Not only does this sacrifice include stripping entire meanings from words, but leaves too much interpretation for the author, falling far beyond the formal and dynamic equivalences mentioned above.
Paraphrase translations may allow experienced readers of scripture to see the Bible with fresh eyes, but this is not a translation we’d recommend any sort of fledging readers.
Is One Bible Translation Method Better than Any Other?
The answer is no, not really. Modern translations work better for different purposes and applications. It all depends on what you are looking to get out of your Bible reading experience. If you want to dig deep into the meaning of Scripture, a word-for-word translation is probably going to be your best bet. But if you just want to read the Bible for devotional purposes or accuracy in meaning (not words), a thought-for-thought translation will work just fine.
We will bang on this drum throughout the article, but there is no best Bible.
Bible Verses Compared
5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart;
and lean not unto thine own understanding.
6 In all thy ways acknowledge him,
and he shall direct thy paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6, KJV
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
6 Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take.
Proverbs 3:5-6, NLT
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths
Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV
The Top 5 Bible Translations Compared
1. KING JAMES VERSION (KJV)
Also known as the Authorized Version, the King James Version is the most widely used translation in the English language. A word-for-word translation that is easily misinterpreted by inexperienced readers, as the language is very dated, going back to the early 1600s.
While many believe it to be one of the most accurate translations, Bible scholars contest this claim and find that it isn’t more accurate than any other word-for-word, literal translation. Conversely, some side with the New American Standard Bible (NASB), but from a beginner’s perspective, Bible readers can be assured these are both accurate translations.
It was first published in 1611 by a group of scholars appointed by King James I of England who was looking for a translation that was accurate to the original texts, and not just an interpretation like the Geneva Bible (1560), which many Englishmen were using at the time.
While it can be hard to digest at first, the KJV Bible does have a poetic beauty to it in the same way an old Shakespeare play might.
Highly trusted and close to the original manuscripts, the KJV sees no signs of losing its popularity as many who start with a thought-for-thought translation may look here for a more literal translation to add to their collection.
Who is this the best Bible for: The KJV is for traditional readers who want to experience the beauty and poetic nature of the translation, and those looking for a more “authentic” word-for-word read, but are not dismayed by an older style of English.
The Thomas Nelson KJV Thinline Large Print Bible—featuring the timeless beauty of the trustworthy King James translation in a large, readable font size—strikes the perfect balance between portability and readability.
2. NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (NIV)
The New International Version is considered by many to be the best balance between word-for-word and thought-for-thought translations. It is currently the best-selling Bible translation because of its approachable style for people of all ages. The language is modernized while keeping its functionality as an adherence to the text and is great for Bible study.
This is one of various Bible translations that was written by a committee of scholars from a variety of Christian denominations in order to create a translation that was accurate and easy to read. First published in 1978, the NIV has undergone two major updates, with the most recent update being in 2011.
The NIV translation notably uses gender-neutral language even in places where the original text may have been referencing a specific gender. For instance, the phrase “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” is translated to “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” While this may be seen as controversial by some, it does make this Bible version more inclusive for all readers.
Who is this the best Bible for: The NIV is a great translation for beginners of all ages that finds the best balance between word-for-word and thought-for-thought translations.
3. NEW LIVING TRANSLATION (NLT)
The New Living Translation is one of the best Bible translations for readability and is a common choice for a reader’s secondary Bible. The NLT is very similar to the NIV translation, though leaning more towards the thought-for-thought side of the spectrum, it is still great for Bible study. This translation is technically a revision of a paraphrase Bible called The Living Bible. It is very approachable for all ages and can often be the Bible-of-choice amongst group settings because of how visual, and quotable, the text is.
This dynamic equivalence translation was written by over a hundred scholars from all over the globe and from various denominations. It was first published in 1996 with a complete revision in 2004.
One of its notable features is that it includes study aids and information within the text itself. For instance, words in italics are supplied by the translators for clarity, and there are footnotes with alternate readings and cross-references.
Who is this the best Bible for: Similar to the NIV, the NLT is a great translation for beginners of all ages, however, this Bible falls squarely on the thought-for-thought end of the spectrum.
4. ENGLISH STANDARD VERSION (ESV)
The English Standard Version is a translation published in 2001 with the goal of faithfulness to the original translations, as a literal translation. Similar to all word-for-word translations, the English Standard Version seeks to take God’s Word and translate it in a matter that most closely resembles the meaning of the original text. However, it doesn’t sacrifice readability compared to similar Bible’s on the Formal end of the spectrum and is a favorite to many, including the leaders of congregations.
The ESV was written by a team of scholars, who revised the 1901 American Standard Version. It was first published in 2001.
One of its notable features is that it is a deliberately poetic translation. This means that, compared to other translations, it seeks to maintain the rhythm, cadence and literary beauty of the original text where possible.
Controversially, the ESV translation does not capitalize “He” in reference to God in its text, though historically this is not an outlier as you can see in the translation examples above for Proverbs 3:5-6. The English Standard Version may be a victim of modernity as this is expected of newer translations and some may hold word-for-word translations to higher standards.
Who is this the best Bible for: Versus the KJV, the ESV is a smooth, easier read, that also falls under the word-for-word branch of translations. This translation is very approachable for those that are looking for accuracy without having to sacrifice readability.
5. NEW KING JAMES VERSION (NKJV)
A 1982 revision of the Authorized Version aka the KJV. While this translation is similar to the KJV in that it is derived from the KJV and a word-for-word translation, it is an easier read and better for understanding the Bible if you are a beginner. The New King James Version updates one of the most accurate Bible translations and manages to uphold the integrity and poetic beauty of the original while updating the vocabulary and grammar for the modern age.
The NKJV was written by a team of 130 scholars. It was first published in 1982 and has undergone multiple revisions.
Who is this the best Bible for: The NKJV is for those interested in the beauty and poetics of the KJV, without wanting to sacrifice as much to readability.
Trusted by millions of believers around the world, the NKJV remains the bestselling modern “word-for-word” translation. Perfect for serious study, devotional use, and reading aloud.
Which is the Best Bible Translation for Study?
When it comes to academic Bible study, you will likely want the most accurate translation possible to the original text. For this reason, a literal translation, such as the ESV or the NKJV, is popular among Bible students. For an article on our 3 favorite methods for studying the Bible, see our article here.
However, if you are looking for a more devotional, or relaxed, type of Bible study, you may prefer a thought-for-thought translation like the NLT. Ultimately, the best Bible translation for you will depend on your individual needs and preferences
What does it mean to do a Devotional?
A devotion typically includes a short reflection on a specific verse or passage of Scripture. It includes a reading, a short meditation, and a prayer to gain further insight into the text and encourage spiritual growth.
There are many different ways to do a devotional, but the basic idea is to take some time out of your day to reflect on God’s Word and draw closer to him. This can be an extremely valuable practice for Christians of all ages and can be done alone or with a group.
If you are new to devotionals, there are many resources available to help you get started.
There are so many translations out there worth mentioning, but for the sake of brevity here are just a few more:
The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) is a word-for-word translation that was published in 2017. The HCSB strives to be an accurate Bible translation and has a similar goal to the ESV, but with updated language for clarity.
The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) is a revision of the Holman Christian Standard Bible and is easy to read and understand, considering it is a more dynamic translation.
The New American Standard Bible (NASB) is a word-for-word translation that was first published in 1971 and revised in 1995. The NASB is a favorite of those that study the Bible in great detail because of its accuracy to the original text. Some scholars often crown the New American Standard Bible (NASB) as the most accurate bible translation.
Outside of an English Bible translation, our bilingual readers may be interested in the Reina Valera 1960 (RVR1960) which is a Spanish translation. The Reina-Valera 1960 became the standard Bible for Spanish-speaking Protestants and today has been widely accepted by Evangelical Christians in the Americas. This Bible version is comparable to one of the most popular translations of the Bible, the KJV.
What are the least accurate Bible translations?
Several Bible translations are considered to be less accurate than others. These include The Living Bible, the Contemporary English Version, and the Good News Translation, to name a few.
Unlike some of the most accurate Bible translations mentioned on our list, these translations are often criticized for being too loose with their rendering of the original text, which can lead to misinterpretation. While there is nothing wrong with using these versions of the Bible, it is important to be aware of their limitations and to compare them with other versions to ensure accuracy. You don’t necessarily need one of the literal translations, but we would highly advise beginners to seek one of the more accurate bible translations mentioned above.
What is the ONE Bible to avoid?
Contextually, readers will want to steer clear of the Interlinear Bible because it can be difficult to understand and almost illegible. This type of Bible includes the original language (Hebrew or Greek) written in text with a literal English translation beneath it. While this might sound helpful, it can actually be quite confusing for those that are not familiar with the original language because it’s difficult to follow along.
In reality, the Interlinear Bible is not trying to be an accurate translation at all. It is meant for those that are already familiar with biblical languages and want to study the text in its original form. Think of it as a tool for pastors, professors, and scholars rather than a Bible for typical reading.
There are so many bible translations and we would recommend readers carefully review each version and perhaps even consider getting multiple translations.
Always approach your choice in a Bible translation with an open mind, and, especially if you are a beginner, consider that sticking with one Bible translation may lead you to ask questions about how another translation ‘doesn’t sound like the Bible I know.’ There isn’t just one translation that does everything, as they are designed with different goals in mind, the core of your decision lies with whether or not you want to do the interpretive lifting yourself (word-for-word) or have the text already interpreted (thought-for-thought).
As we’ve described, the key here between each version is where it stands on the word-for-word vs thought-for-thought spectrum, and having several translations across that spectrum may better help your overall comprehension. Maybe you purchase a KJV translation as your primary bible, but secondarily have a copy of the NIV for when you get caught up on what the text is trying to say, or when you get bogged down by the intricacies of the English language from 400 years ago.
The Bible is an essential book for Christians, and everyone should have a version that they can easily read and understand.
We hope our Top Bible Translation comparison guide has helped you consider the different features of some of the most popular Bible translations currently available. Remember to always keep an open mind while also doing your own research in order to find the best Bible translation for you.
1. Which Bible has the most accurate translation?
There is no one “most accurate” Bible translation because accuracy can be defined in different ways. Some people might define accuracy by a more literal translation and how it adheres to the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts while others might define it by how well a translation communicates the meaning of the original text in clear and understandable language. There are plenty of English Bible translations available today, and all of them are accurate in different ways.
2. What is the difference between a word-for-word and thought-for-thought translation?
A word-for-word translation tries to translate the biblical text as closely as possible to the original language (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). A thought-for-thought translation tries to translate the meaning of the biblical text rather than translating the text word-for-word.
3. What are some good Bible translations for beginners?
Some good Bible translations for beginners include the NIV, NLT, ESV, and NKJV.
4. Why do different Bible translations sometimes “sound” different?
There are many reasons why different Bible translations might “sound” different, but the main reason is that they are translated from different texts. For example, the King James Bible is translated from the Textus Receptus, while the New International Version is translated from the Nestle-Aland Greek text. Each translation is trying to capture the meaning of the original language in a way that is understandable to modern readers, so it is natural for them to sound different.
5. What is the best Bible translation for study?
There is no one “best” Bible translation for study because people have different preferences. Some people prefer word-for-word translations because they want to see exactly what the original text says, while others prefer thought-for-thought translations because they want to understand the meaning of the text more clearly. It is important to choose a Bible translation that you are comfortable with and that will help you to understand the text in the way that you want to.
6. I’m not sure which Bible translation is right for me. How do I choose?
There is no one perfect Bible translation for everyone, so the best way to choose is to try out a few different translations and see which one you prefer. Each Bible translation has its strengths and weaknesses, so it is important to find one that fits your reading style. You might also want to ask a friend or family member which Bible translation they prefer and why.
7. I’ve heard that some Bible translations are easier to read than others. Is this true?
Yes, some Bible translations are easier to read than others because they are translated into more modern English. For example, the New International Version is written in simple, easy-to-understand language, while the King James Version uses more complex, old-fashioned language. If you are looking for an easy-to-read Bible translation, the NIV would be a good choice.
8. What is the difference between a study Bible and a regular Bible?
A study Bible is a Bible that includes extra resources to help you understand the text, such as footnotes, maps, and concordances. A regular Bible does not include these extra resources. If you are just starting out in your faith journey, a regular Bible might be all you need. But if you want to dig deeper into the meaning of the text, a study Bible might be a better choice.
9. I’ve heard that there are different Bible versions for Catholics and Protestants. Is this true?
Yes, there are different Bible versions for Catholics and Protestants, but they are not all that different. The main difference is that Catholic Bibles include books called the “Apocrypha,” which are not included in Protestant Bibles. Other than that, the translations are mostly the same. If you are looking for a Bible version that is specifically tailored to your faith tradition, then a Catholic or Protestant Bible might be a good choice for you.
10. What are the “Apocrypha”?
The “Apocrypha” are a set of books that are not included in the Bible, but which are considered to be authoritative by some Catholic and Orthodox Christians. These books were originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, but they were not included in the Bible because they were not considered to be inspired by God. Some of the most famous books from the Apocrypha include the Book of Tobit, the Book of Esther, and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.
11. I’ve seen Bibles that are specifically for women or for men. Are these different from regular Bibles?
Yes, there are Bibles that are specifically for women or for men, but they are not all that different from regular Bibles. The main difference is that they include extra resources that are tailored to the needs of each. For example, a Bible for women might include articles about motherhood, marriage, and other topics that are important to women. If you are looking for a Bible that is specifically tailored to your needs, then a women’s or men’s Bible might be a good choice for you.