Friday, August 15, 2008

Thinking of Buying a New Bible?

I am often asked my advice about what Bible translation is best or if Providence has a translation we recommend. English-speaking people are more blessed today than any other people the world has ever known regarding options for great Bible translations. There are generally three categories of Bibles: word-for-word, thought-for-thought, and paraphrases. 

In short, the goal for a word-for-word translation is to be as literal to the original Greek or Hebrew as possible. This may mean good accuracy, but it usually means less readability. As with translating anything, there are idioms and nuances that can be difficult to understand, and sentence structures and word order differ radically from one language to another. Interpretive judgments are kept to a minimum and the result can be English that is a little on the wooden side. 

On the other end of the spectrum, paraphrases are the easiest to read, but sometimes suffer from a lack of accuracy as the "translators" use much more interpretative liberty. Paraphrases are great for kids, people reading the Bible through (or perhaps devotionally), and people new to the Bible, but serious students of the Bible prefer a true translation. 

Thought-for-thought translations seek to straddle the line between paraphrases and word-for-word translations. The goal is to find the sweet spot of accuracy and readability. 

As you can imagine, there are degrees within each of these categories. 

There is no such thing as a perfect translation! Language changes. And translating is an ever-changing challenge! It is good for the serious Bible student to own more than one for the sake of comparison (I have about 20 translations that I keep handy in my study).

For your primary Bible, I can only offer you the following advice: 

If you are quite familiar with the Bible and want to do in-depth, inductive study, a word-for-word translation is probably for you.

Recommended word-for-word translations include the English Standard Version (ESV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the New King James Version (NKJV), and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). Of these, I prefer the ESV right now, but all of these are fantastic. The ESV is pretty new and is gaining popularity among many well-known evangelical expositors. I find myself using it in my sermons more often than not.

Others may want to buy a thought-for-thought translation. Recommended translations in this category include the New International Version (NIV), the Today's New International Version (TNIV), and the New English Translation (NET). The NIV is still hard to beat--there's a reason why it is the most popular in America. The TNIV suffered some bad PR when it first came out (due to its "gender-accurate" language), but it corrects some of the NIV's peculiarities (read more about the TNIV--see my post entitled "Question of the Week" September 26, 2007). Both are concerned with accurately translating meaning and thought flow, not just the exact words and idioms that may be difficult for today's English readers to understand. The NET is one I'm using quite a bit in personal study right now. I like it. You can read more about it (or even download it for free!)HERE

We usually do not recommend some popular old translations like the KJV and ASV because the translators did not have access to some of the best manuscripts, and the language is antiquated. We also do not recommend translations that were done by translators who did not hold a presupposition of biblical inerrancy (meaning, they were theologically liberal and assumed that the Bible was not the very Word of God) like the RSV, NRSV and Phillips. We don't usually recommend paraphrases as a primary Bible. 

What About a Study Bible?

I like the NIV (or TNIV) Study Bible, the Life Application Bible, the MacArthur Study Bible (It only comes in NKJV or NASB however), and the Ryrie Study Bible. You can get most of these for around $30 (in hardback) or pay more for a leather-bound version. Coming soon is the ESV Study Bible which really sounds like it will be good. I hope to get one when they come out in October. (Update 2009: I recently got it and it is really good! I highly recommend this study Bible!)

Remember that the people who wrote the notes at the bottom of the pages in study Bibles are NOT perfect, but these Bibles do provide many helpful tools like introduction notes, explanations for difficult passages, charts and maps, etc.

If you want to read more on English Bible translations, check out A User's Guide to Bible Translations (by English Baptist pastor David Dewey). And remember, Bible Gateway is a great resource that gives you instant access to many good translations!

There are so many great options! The most important thing is that you READ one and live in God's truth. Email me if you have a specific question and I'm glad to help (

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