Thursday, January 18, 2024

The Quest for the Right Bible Translation

Big Idea: Five useful questions to find the right Bible translation for your need.

This series is about Bible study tools including both by physical book and their electronic version, cost and how to use.

The Quest for the Right Bible Translation

There are hundreds of English Bible translations. Since the Bible was written over 2000 years ago in ancient languages, it has since been translated into many languages.

The English Bible has been translated over 100 times.

The challenge for Bible translators is to remain faithful to the original text, and make it easy to understand.


Is it faithful to what the original text said? This is called a word-for-word translation.


Is it easily readable and understood? This is called a thought-for-thought translation.

1. Why are there so many Bible translations?

Two hundred years ago there were few English translations, primarily the King James Bible written around Shakespearean times.

Updates emerged about 100 years ago, such as the Revised Standard *Version.

Bible translations come from different perspectives.  Catholic, Protestant, for children to understand, and so on. 

In the past 50 years translations and versions have grown exponentially. This is for several reasons.

  • To bring the wording into more modern phraseology.
  • To ensure the latest archaeological finds reflect the most accurate translation (i.e. Dead Sea Scrolls found in the 1940s).
  • New understanding of the ancient Bible culture and sometimes gives greater understanding to an idiom or rare word choice in the original languages.
  • To seek to create a more accurate translation (word-for-word type) or to create a more easy to understand version (thought-for-thought type).
  • To address the understanding of a specific population such as children.  

Different Bible publishing companies and groups have felt their team could accomplish a useful new Bible translation. It could be for the perspective of church use, personal study, or for someone brand new to the concept of God.

2. Who should use a word-for-word translation?

The word-for-word Bible translations can be very literal to the original language sounding awkward, but would be considered the most accurate.

Someone doing serious Bible study, such as a ministries student, or someone studying the Bible inductively will want to use this type of Bible in their studies.

Examples of this are the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the English Standard Version (ESV).

3. Who should use a thought-for-thought translation?

A thought-for-thought Bible translation is easy to read because it sounds like the way people talk. If you’re new to the Bible, it is helpful to have an easy-to-read Bible.

Anyone, even the serious Bible student, can find refreshing insight reading a thought-for-thought Bible translation. It is a valuable devotional tool.

Since it is in plain English, it can be useful for sharing with people totally unfamiliar to the Bible.

Examples are: The New Living Translation. The New International Version is closer to thought-for-thought than word-for-word. Both of these are reliable well used translations.

4. Should I pick just one Bible translation?

While every Bible translation wants you to understand what God is saying, there are many nuances in the original languages of the Bible and in our own English language.

There are idioms from the ancient languages and illustrations foreign to us.  Sometimes a Bible author has used a word that occurs only once in the Bible and we have very little information on what it meant in ancient days.  

If you read or compare more than one Bible translation you may get a better picture of the Biblical intent.

Parallel Bibles exist with 2-4 columns of side-by-side different translations. This is useful for serious Bible study to see how different Bibles translate a verse.

Understand doctrinal deviations should not occur with different Bible translations. Comparing usually gives greater understanding of a verse, not confusion.

5. How many Bibles does one need?

Honestly, it is good to have one Bible for personal study, marking it up with insights and notes to go back to. Long-term Christians may have collected several Bibles, but going out and buying many of them can be expensive.

Fortunately, today we have YOUVERSION and that provide many translations for free that you can peruse and study.

The most important thing is, just start reading the Bible! 

It is like bread for a starving soul!

*  The difference between a Bible translation and Bible version is that the translation comes in direct comparison to the original Hebrew and Greek. The words are at times interchangable. A version may still be a translation like the New International Version but less literal. Some versions take a previous translation and explain it, called a paraphrase.

Previous: Which Bible is Right for Me?
Up next: Three Tips for Choosing a Study Bible


1. What does a thought-for-thought Bible translation mean? How might that be helpful for you?

2. When might it be good for you to read a more accurate translation of the Bible?

3. How many Bibles do you have in your house?

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