BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

What Is the Best Bible Translation?

Learn more in BAS’s guide to Bible translations and editions

Various Bibles

Best Bible translation? Collection of Bibles in various languages. Courtesy Nathan Steinmeyer.

What is the best Bible translation? It’s a simple question, but the answer is far from straightforward. There are dozens of modern English translations and hundreds of different editions available. All these translations and editions vary in style, content, religious orientation, and more. Thus, before you can answer the question “What is the best Bible translation?” it is important to first decide what type of Bible you want.

FREE ebook: The Holy Bible: A Buyer's Guide 42 different Bible versions, addressing content, text, style and religious orientation.

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Best Bible Translation: Translational Differences

One of the biggest differences between Bible translations is the style of translation and how closely the translated text reflects the language and meaning of the original biblical text. In the Biblical Archaeology Society’s free eBook The Holy Bible: A Buyer’s Guide, expert Bible scholar Leonard J. Greenspoon breaks down Bible translations into three broad categories: literal translations, nonliteral translations with extended vocabulary, and nonliteral translations with limited vocabulary.

According to Greenspoon, “The literal versions come closest to providing a word-for-word translation in terms of the grammar, vocabulary, and style of the original. Nonliteral versions with extended vocabulary attempt to provide a Bible that remains close to the original but makes use of more up-to-date vocabulary and style. The other nonliteral versions restrict the scope of their vocabulary and the complexity of their grammar. Each of these approaches has its own appeal and drawbacks; for example, a literal version brings modern readers closest to the ancient text, but often at the expense of intelligibility. The less literal a version is, the easier it is for today’s readers to comprehend, but readers can easily lose the feeling that they are dealing with an ancient text.”

 

King James Bible

King James reference Bible. Courtesy Nathan Steinmeyer.

Within the category of literal translations are well-known Bible translations such as the King James Bible and the English Standard Version. If you want a word-for-word translation, perhaps one of these is the best Bible translation for you. But if you are looking for something a little easier to read, you might turn towards the nonliteral translations with extended vocabulary. Among these are the Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh as well as the very popular New International Version. If you want an even more accessible translation, you can turn to nonliteral translations with limited vocabulary. These are often written in modern vernacular and aim to connect with those who are not already familiar with the Bible, who want a more casual reading experience, or who might not be native English speakers. This category includes translations like the Easy-to-Read Version or the Message Bible.

 

Best Bible Translation: Content Differences

Another major difference in Bibles is their content. This is often, though not always, determined by the intended audience. While the term Bible is used widely, there are several different Bibles, recognized and used by different religions and groups. The Hebrew Bible (or Tanakh), for instance, is made up of 24 books. These same books are divided into 39 books in most Christian traditions. Meanwhile, Christian Bibles usually contain an additional 27 books, referred to as the New Testament. Some Christian traditions add another 15 books called the Apocrypha. Thus, depending on what you mean by “Bible,” the best Bible translation for you could be very different.

English and Hebrew Tanakh

Tanakh with both the English and Hebrew text. Courtesy Nathan Steinmeyer.

 

Best Bible Translation: Study Aids and Extras

One more big difference in various Bible translations is the inclusion of study aids. Although most modern Bibles include footnotes, the amount and extent of the notes can vary greatly. These notes can be as simple as clarifying the location of a biblical place or defining a technical term. However, footnotes may also include in-depth explanations of doctrine and theology. Other content, including commentaries, cross-references, maps, charts, and illustrations, may also be added to different editions. Some Bible editions are geared towards a specific demographic, such as Zondervan’s Dad’s Devotional Bible. Other editions might provide the Bible in various languages, either multiple modern languages or a modern language alongside the original text. This is the case in the Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh, in which the English translation and Hebrew text appear side by side.

English Standard Version Bible

English Standard Version with included study aids. Courtesy Nathan Steinmeyer.

 

The Holy Bible: A Buyer’s Guide

Still confused about what might be the best Bible translation for you? Let expert Bible scholar Leonard J. Greenspoon guide you through the content, text, style, and religious orientation of different Bible versions. BAS’s updated eBook The Holy Bible: A Buyer’s Guide provides straightforward, objective, and succinct information on 42 Bible versions and editions. The Holy Bible: A Buyer’s Guide is far from the first such effort, nor will it be the last. What distinguishes this Bible guide from others is that it allows each Bible version to speak for itself.

 


Read more in Bible History Daily:

Troublesome Translations

The Holy Bible: A Buyer’s Guide

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

How Bible Translations Differ

How to Buy a Bible

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

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19 Responses

  1. Lisa Stewart says:

    We should be asking: is there a reason a reason they did not include the CEPHER Bible??? That book/version includes the books taken out of the american bibles, such as the book of Enoch, Jasher, etc. Those books are referred to in scripture & found with the books in the dead sea scrolls. These books that were removed should be known & included in Abbas Holy Word but were removed, not good for the men who decided to do that & go against Gods Holy command ” do not take away from or add to My Holy Word”.
    Highly recommend the Cepher version & NKJV for the fact that it Always Capitalizes: He, Him, Their, etc. when referring to God, Jesus & Holy Spirit.
    Sadely, things this article did not address:-(

  2. L. Glenn Thornhill says:

    The Bible is mankind’s instruction book of life. The “best” one is readable, understandable, and one that you are comfortable with. I’ve used the KJV, NKJV, and now the NASB95; but also have about 12+ other translations (full or in part). No one can make that “best” designation for you, but you. Accuracy, flow, vivid prose are the responsibility of the translator; but, if you do not read it, cannot understand it in the resulting translation, if you choose to reject the changes in your life it encourages, then no translation has any value to you. You are the key to whether any translation/rendering is “the best”. No one else – you.

  3. I prefer the NIV Archeology Cultural Bible. It gives theological, as well as historical and archeological references for better understanding of the life and times in Jerusalem.

  4. Dennis says:

    It would be nice if there was a similar guide to ebook versions of the various Bibles and Torah/Tanakh.

    1. Nathan Steinmeyer says:

      That’s definitely a good idea. Although most ebook or App bibles use the same translation as a published one, a lot of them have interesting extras. Especially apps which can have a lot of different dictionaries and commentaries and so on.

  5. K says:

    The Revised English Bible (1989; abbreviated as REB) is very good. It’s available in from Cambridge Univ. Press (hardcover editions) and Oxford Univ. Press (a study edition – with extra notes, footnotes, essays, etc. – in paperback or hardcover). It comes in editions with or without the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical Old Testament books. I recommend either of these editions: Cambridge Univ. Press 1996 hardback edition with Apocrypha – ISBN 9780521509404 (this is my favorite for just reading). Or the Oxford Univ. Press 1992 paperback “Study Bible” edition with Apocrypha – ISBN 9780195290004 (for extra notes). Also, a very good, practical, and very inexpensive Catholic edition with extensive footnotes, cross references, extra materials, and of course the Deuterocanonical Old Testament books, is the St Joseph paperback edition of the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE) Bible – ISBN 9780899429502.

  6. Don says:

    My favorite is the “Holy bible from the Ancient Eastern Texts,” George M. Lamsa’s translation from the Aramaic of the Peshitta. It explains a lot of the words and idioms.

  7. George says:

    Leading bible-teaching tours in Israel for years, I would always get this question from the tour-group. “What is the best bible translation?” For a while I’d launch into various pros & cons of popular translations but eventually settled on a simple and satisfying answer, “the one you best understand.” All modern translations have some doctrinal interpretation while the “good old” King James translators just translated. I was raised on it and still like it! The NKJV modernizes the archaic English.

  8. jerry williams says:

    When scholars began translating the Bible into the common languages of the times, English was one of the later translations. If my memory is correct, German was the first or close to it. The translators who created the KJV specifically chose to use variety in the words. A Greek word was sometimes translated as “evil” and other times as “evil one”. So what is the proper word(s) to use when saying the Lord’s Prayer? There are no easy answers, and the more you study, the more obvious that becomes.

  9. Dennis says:

    When will this ebook be updated? It is 9 years old.

    1. Nathan Steinmeyer says:

      The last update was actually in 2020.

      1. Dennis says:

        I’ll go check. The last time I did was back around then but it may have been just before the new edition was posted. It would help if you put the edition number or date on the cover that is shown.

  10. Thomas Baldwin says:

    I like the KJV because it was translated at a time when the vast majority of people did not read. They had to have it read to them by clergy or some literate person. Knowing that was the situation the translators tried to make it sound well. Hence the KJV is at its best when read aloud. The words and phrasing were picked that would roll off the tongue is a pleasing sounding manner. It may not be the most literal translation, but it is the best sounding and most spiritually moving of the translations, and that is what religion is all about.

  11. Janet says:

    Chabad.org: The Complete Jewish Bible

    1. RWL says:

      Yes! But I like the Complete Jewish Study Bible, read along with the Jewish New Testament Commentary by Stern. I also recommend the Orthodox Jewish Bible by Goble. I hoping that someone create an Orthodox Jewish Study Bible, using Goble’s for the original text. Several other Bible’s, that I recommend, is the Cepher, Hebrew Roots Bible, & George Lamsa’s Holy Bible.

      1. Janet says:

        Chabad.org: The Complete Jewish Bible is a Jewish Tanakh not a christian version. These other “bibles” are christian bibles in disguise

  12. Denise says:

    New Bible translations come from a corrupted text made up of less than 10 manuscripts found in the sands of Egypt. The King James Bible comes from over 2000 extant manuscripts that agree with each other, further, the Old Testament is from the Ben Chayyim Rabbinic Bible – a pure translation of the OT. The new versions come from the corrupt Stuttgartdensia – the translation behind of which is Kittel – a Nazi antisemite.

    The King James Bible also has a pure translation technique from translators living at a time that were intimately familiar with the Koine Greek and also Hebrew. As a result, they were able to preserve the built in dictionary that God put in the Bible to define his word. That is destroyed in the new versions.

    The words in the King James Bible, contrary to the marketing hype, pass at a 6th grade reading level due to most of the words being one or two syllables and are not Latinized, making teaching reading from a King James Bible ideal. It is also better for foreign language students to quickly learn to read.

    1. NASIRU MAIKUDI says:

      (NIV) NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION

      1. Because is very simple words to understand especially we here in West African countries, particularly Nigerian.

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


19 Responses

  1. Lisa Stewart says:

    We should be asking: is there a reason a reason they did not include the CEPHER Bible??? That book/version includes the books taken out of the american bibles, such as the book of Enoch, Jasher, etc. Those books are referred to in scripture & found with the books in the dead sea scrolls. These books that were removed should be known & included in Abbas Holy Word but were removed, not good for the men who decided to do that & go against Gods Holy command ” do not take away from or add to My Holy Word”.
    Highly recommend the Cepher version & NKJV for the fact that it Always Capitalizes: He, Him, Their, etc. when referring to God, Jesus & Holy Spirit.
    Sadely, things this article did not address:-(

  2. L. Glenn Thornhill says:

    The Bible is mankind’s instruction book of life. The “best” one is readable, understandable, and one that you are comfortable with. I’ve used the KJV, NKJV, and now the NASB95; but also have about 12+ other translations (full or in part). No one can make that “best” designation for you, but you. Accuracy, flow, vivid prose are the responsibility of the translator; but, if you do not read it, cannot understand it in the resulting translation, if you choose to reject the changes in your life it encourages, then no translation has any value to you. You are the key to whether any translation/rendering is “the best”. No one else – you.

  3. I prefer the NIV Archeology Cultural Bible. It gives theological, as well as historical and archeological references for better understanding of the life and times in Jerusalem.

  4. Dennis says:

    It would be nice if there was a similar guide to ebook versions of the various Bibles and Torah/Tanakh.

    1. Nathan Steinmeyer says:

      That’s definitely a good idea. Although most ebook or App bibles use the same translation as a published one, a lot of them have interesting extras. Especially apps which can have a lot of different dictionaries and commentaries and so on.

  5. K says:

    The Revised English Bible (1989; abbreviated as REB) is very good. It’s available in from Cambridge Univ. Press (hardcover editions) and Oxford Univ. Press (a study edition – with extra notes, footnotes, essays, etc. – in paperback or hardcover). It comes in editions with or without the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical Old Testament books. I recommend either of these editions: Cambridge Univ. Press 1996 hardback edition with Apocrypha – ISBN 9780521509404 (this is my favorite for just reading). Or the Oxford Univ. Press 1992 paperback “Study Bible” edition with Apocrypha – ISBN 9780195290004 (for extra notes). Also, a very good, practical, and very inexpensive Catholic edition with extensive footnotes, cross references, extra materials, and of course the Deuterocanonical Old Testament books, is the St Joseph paperback edition of the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE) Bible – ISBN 9780899429502.

  6. Don says:

    My favorite is the “Holy bible from the Ancient Eastern Texts,” George M. Lamsa’s translation from the Aramaic of the Peshitta. It explains a lot of the words and idioms.

  7. George says:

    Leading bible-teaching tours in Israel for years, I would always get this question from the tour-group. “What is the best bible translation?” For a while I’d launch into various pros & cons of popular translations but eventually settled on a simple and satisfying answer, “the one you best understand.” All modern translations have some doctrinal interpretation while the “good old” King James translators just translated. I was raised on it and still like it! The NKJV modernizes the archaic English.

  8. jerry williams says:

    When scholars began translating the Bible into the common languages of the times, English was one of the later translations. If my memory is correct, German was the first or close to it. The translators who created the KJV specifically chose to use variety in the words. A Greek word was sometimes translated as “evil” and other times as “evil one”. So what is the proper word(s) to use when saying the Lord’s Prayer? There are no easy answers, and the more you study, the more obvious that becomes.

  9. Dennis says:

    When will this ebook be updated? It is 9 years old.

    1. Nathan Steinmeyer says:

      The last update was actually in 2020.

      1. Dennis says:

        I’ll go check. The last time I did was back around then but it may have been just before the new edition was posted. It would help if you put the edition number or date on the cover that is shown.

  10. Thomas Baldwin says:

    I like the KJV because it was translated at a time when the vast majority of people did not read. They had to have it read to them by clergy or some literate person. Knowing that was the situation the translators tried to make it sound well. Hence the KJV is at its best when read aloud. The words and phrasing were picked that would roll off the tongue is a pleasing sounding manner. It may not be the most literal translation, but it is the best sounding and most spiritually moving of the translations, and that is what religion is all about.

  11. Janet says:

    Chabad.org: The Complete Jewish Bible

    1. RWL says:

      Yes! But I like the Complete Jewish Study Bible, read along with the Jewish New Testament Commentary by Stern. I also recommend the Orthodox Jewish Bible by Goble. I hoping that someone create an Orthodox Jewish Study Bible, using Goble’s for the original text. Several other Bible’s, that I recommend, is the Cepher, Hebrew Roots Bible, & George Lamsa’s Holy Bible.

      1. Janet says:

        Chabad.org: The Complete Jewish Bible is a Jewish Tanakh not a christian version. These other “bibles” are christian bibles in disguise

  12. Denise says:

    New Bible translations come from a corrupted text made up of less than 10 manuscripts found in the sands of Egypt. The King James Bible comes from over 2000 extant manuscripts that agree with each other, further, the Old Testament is from the Ben Chayyim Rabbinic Bible – a pure translation of the OT. The new versions come from the corrupt Stuttgartdensia – the translation behind of which is Kittel – a Nazi antisemite.

    The King James Bible also has a pure translation technique from translators living at a time that were intimately familiar with the Koine Greek and also Hebrew. As a result, they were able to preserve the built in dictionary that God put in the Bible to define his word. That is destroyed in the new versions.

    The words in the King James Bible, contrary to the marketing hype, pass at a 6th grade reading level due to most of the words being one or two syllables and are not Latinized, making teaching reading from a King James Bible ideal. It is also better for foreign language students to quickly learn to read.

    1. NASIRU MAIKUDI says:

      (NIV) NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION

      1. Because is very simple words to understand especially we here in West African countries, particularly Nigerian.

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