Which Bible translation is the best?

Dear C,

Thanks for writing; you ask a really good question. We in the United States are unmistakeably blessed to have such ready access to God’s Word. Not only do most Christians in the States have their own Bible, many have several copies in various translations, and each translation serves a purpose; each translation adds to the picture being painted by the biblical authors.

There are basically three different kinds of translations: paraphrase, phrase-by-phrase, and word-for-word (Click here to view a helpful chart with summaries of each different translation from Mardel Christian Bookstore). I find that having one translation from each of these categories on hand (or on your PDA, or via the Internet) is ideal for studying a passage of Scripture. But as far as daily reading is concerned, really whichever translation you like the best is just fine: whichever one is easiest to read for you, that is the one the Holy Spirit will use to work in your life. Personally, I think the New Living Translation, The Message, and the English Standard Version. [And whadya know? That essentially lines up with our handy-dandy chart’s reading level assessments. Mardel could have hired me, paid me in books, and saved some money.]

Another consideration when choosing a translation is your personal history. For example, are you new to the Family of Faith or just new to reading the Scriptures for yourself? Or perhaps you are you quite familiar with the Scriptures. Do you already have a favorite translation, or one you’re pretty familiar with?

For me, since I’ve been reading the Bible myself for a long time, it is really important for me to mix it up. I am currently working my way through The Message, which helps me see things I never saw before and understand things in fresh ways. This is good for my heart; it helps me not to become complacent, thinking to myself: Oh, I already know this… (I used to think The Message was unreliable as a translation, but after learning about the process Peterson went through to create it, I had myself quite a serving of humble pie.)

Finally, C, I realize you might have been hoping for a simple answer, but the truth is, the richness and fullness of God’s Word can’t be contained by one translation (and it’s a good thing it can’t). If after looking over that website with the comparison chart and summaries you would still like help deciding which translation is best for you at this stage in your life, please don’t hesitate to email me back.

God bless, C!

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5 Responses to Which Bible translation is the best?

  1. Joshua says:

    Thought the MSG was a periphrase, rather than a true paraphrase?

    After you get done with it, you might wanna try out the NET Bible. It’s free w/ copious notes on decisions for exegetical choices, text sources, etc.

    You also forgot the availability factor for cheapskates. Currently have a copy of the ESV from a church and RSS lectionary and old KJV. My fav though was a $5 NRSV w/ Apocr./Deuteronomical works from Barnes&Nobles. I feel robbed w/out a dynamic equivelence translation.

    • reneamac says:

      The Message certainly could be considered a periphrase [rhetorically speaking, the use of more words than are necessary to express the idea], but that doesn’t exclude it from also being a paraphrase [a restatement of a text or passage in another form or other words, often to clarify meaning]. I’d probably argue that all those words are necessary to clarify the meaning therefore rendering The Message not a periphrase; however, I wouldn’t be able to deny the periphrase quality of The Message which is so irksome to many people. :]

      Several of my friends at church and colleagues at Probe really like the NET Bible for exactly the reasons you’ve mentioned. I definitely need to remember to take advantage of it the next time I’m slotted to teach or just want to look further into a passage. I noticed they’ve got a daily reading; I think I’ll take your suggestion and take advantage of that as my next means of “mixing it up.”

      Yeah, Bibles can be expensive; that’s a bit of what I was hinting at in my opening comments. I bought my copy of The Message secondhand at Half Price Books for around $5. It’s neon green and has someone else’s name in it, but what do I care about that? (Actually, I kinda like the neon green. :))

      Good notes, Josh. Thanks!

      • Josh says:

        Yea, not familiar with the Message. Just heard that “somewhere” from what “they say”, you know how that goes.

  2. I have the ESV Study bible–I absolutely love it. The commentary seems balanced. Each book has a ton of history and education that it lays out before you jump into the book. Plus each bible comes with a code for the online version which has really great features. One of which is listening to an old man read it to you!!!

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