The question of which Bible translation to use is very important. After all, the book we call The Holy Bible does contain the most important words ever written, the very words of God. It is crucial to understand at the outset that behind each and every version is a fundamental philosophy of translation. At the end of the day, we want to make sure the version you use is faithful to what God has actually said in His Word.

Translation Philosophy: You can separate modern Bible translations into two basic groups—formal equivalency and dynamic equivalency. Formal equivalency attempts a word-for-word rendition, providing as literal a translation as possible. Dynamic Equivalency attempts to convey the original text thought-for-thought. Then, somewhat unrelated to either, there is what is called a Paraphrase, which is even more loosely translated than the Dynamic Equivalent.Since no single language corresponds perfectly to any other language, every translation involves some degree of interpretation.

A translation based on formal equivalency has a low degree of interpretation, and therefore is not invasive. The goal of formal equivalency is accurately translate the meaning of each particular word. When faced with a choice between readability and accuracy, formal equivalency translators are willing to sacrifice readability for the sake of accuracy. This method of translation is not invasive, as it involves little to no translation, but simply seeks to give a literal translation of the original text.

By its very nature, a translation based on dynamic equivalency requires a high degree of interpretation, and is highly invasive. Thegoal of dynamic equivalency is to make the Bible readable, conveying an thought-for-thought rendering of the original. This means translators must first decide what idea is being communicated and then how to properly translate it. For this reason, how the translators view Scripture becomes extremely important in the final product of a dynamic equivalent.

Sadly, there are those in the Bible-translation industry who have a low view of Scripture. They think the Bible is little more than a product of man containing mistakes, contradictions, and personal biases. Other translators have adopted the postmodern idea of elevating the experience of the reader over authorial intent. They make the contemporary reader sovereign over the text and demote the intended meaning of the historic human writers who were carried along by one divine author, The Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:19-21). Therefore, it’s vital that you find a translation that represents as faithfully as possible what the Holy Spirit actually said. 

Translation Survey: Choosing a Bible translation today can be overwhelming, simply because of the sheer number of translations to choose from. Below is a brief survey of the most commonly used English translations of the Bible. 

The six most widely used Dynamic Equivalency translations in English are the New International Version (NIV), Today’s New International Version (TNIV),  The Living Bible (TLB), the Good News Bible (GNB), the New Living Translation (NLT), and The Message (MSG), which is a Paraphrase.

Of those, the NIV is the most reliable. The NIV was completed in 1978. Its translators did not attempt to translate strictly word-for-word, but aimed more for equivalent ideas. As a result, the NIV doesn’t follow the exact wording of the original Greek and Hebrew texts as closely as the King James Version and New American Standard Bible versions do. Nevertheless, it can be considered a faithful translation of the original texts, and its lucid readability makes it quite popular, especially for devotional reading.

The four most widely used Formal Equivalency translations in English are the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the English Standard Version (ESV).

The KJV is the oldest of the four and continues to be the favorite of many. It is known as the Authorized Version of 1611 because King James I approved the project to create an authoritative English Bible. Although it contains many obsolete words (some of which have changed in meaning), many people appreciate its dignity and majesty.

The NKJV is a similar translation, taken from the same group of ancient manuscripts used by the KJV, that simply updates the archaic language of the KJV.

The NASB, completed in 1971 and updated in 1995, is a revision of the American Standard Version of 1901. It is a literal translation from the Hebrew and Greek languages that incorporates the scholarship of several centuries of textual criticism conducted since the original KJV. It quickly became a favorite translation for serious Bible study.

The ESV is the most recent translation, which stands firmly in the formal equivalency tradition. It is a very solid translation in updated language that aims to reproduce the beauty of the KJV. The result is one of the most poetic and beautifully structured versions that maintains a high degree of accuracy and faithfulness to the original languages.

Translation Choice: Which version is the best to use? Ultimately, it comes down to whether the very words of the Bible are inspired, or simply the thoughts. Scripture repeatedly claims to be inspired down to the very words. In fact, Christ claims that Scripture is accurate down to the very letters. Therefore, if the Bible is literally the Word of God and is inspired down to the word, then the only legitimate method of translation is formal-equivalency.

As a serious student of Scripture, familiarity with concordances, original word-study aids, and commentaries will prove invaluable.

*Content adapted from