This question is one that pastors still get asked frequently. At the risk of starting an argument, I want to give my personal answer to this question.
First of all, there are two equally bad extremes when it comes to the issue of Bible translations:
1. Believing that only one translation is “the” one
2. Believing that any translation is fine
Why do I say this? For many readers of this blog, we grew up in churches where the King James Version was the only accepted version. Some of us were taught that the KJV was the ONLY true translation and therefore the KJV alone was the Word of God. The purpose of this post is not to debate that issue, but I will say that the first King James Bible was printed in 1611. I have seen a copy of that true 1611 version. You would be hard pressed to read it due to the changes in the English language since then. It is certainly much different than the KJV you can buy at your local LifeWay store today. My point is that there are “versions” of the King James Version. On the other hand, some religious groups have printed their own versions of the Bible that change key passages to suit their own heretical theology. Just look up the history of the New World Translation to see an example of what I am talking about. So, we want to avoid the two equally bad extremes. Our favorite translation isn’t the only good one, but every translation isn’t a good one either.
With the rise of computers and technology there are more Bible translations available today than ever before. Why are there different versions of the Bible anyway? How do we sort through the maze of Bible translations today? Let me help you.
When translating from one language to another there are two basic issues: 1. Literally expressing the words of the original language in the new language. 2. Making the new translation readable and understandable. There are always choices to make. For instance, an absolutely literal translation of John 1:1 would read “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and God was the Word.” However, if you look at your favorite Bible version, it will read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Why is that? Because translators made the choice there to express the clear meaning of the language in a more understandable way in English. Choices like this are made in almost every verse of the Bible in every version. Sometimes there isn’t an exact correlation between a Greek or Hebrew word and any word in the English language.
What does all of this have to do with versions of the Bible? Some versions lean more toward being literal (meaning they aren’t as easy to read) and other versions place a greater emphasis on being readable (meaning they can’t be as much word for word). It’s not that one is right and the other is wrong; it’s just that the translators made different choices for different reasons. In my opinion, this is why it’s healthy to read from multiple versions of the Bible.
In light of this discussion, what are some good versions of the Bible on the market today?
The King James (KJV) and New King James Version (NKJV) Many of us were raised with the KJV and learned most of the Bible verses we know in the old KJV. If the KJV is your favorite, don’t feel bad. It is an excellent translation that is very literal in its approach. Unfortunately, it is not the easiest to read. The NKJV attempted to smooth out much of this difficulty while keeping the distinctive voice of the KJV. As a matter of fact, I preach from the NKJV for two reasons: It is an excellent translation and it is still familiar to so many who have the KJV.
The 2011 New International Version (NIV) A revision of the original 1984 NIV, this version favors readability over being literal. As a result, it has received some criticism. The Southern Baptist Convention even convened a task force of SBC scholars to evaluate whether or not LifeWay stores should sell this translation. Their recommendation was unanimous that it should. The very conservative and well known pastor/Bible teacher Dr. John MacArthur even offers the MacArthur Study Bible in this version. I have read through it in its entirety. Bottom line for me: it’s a good translation but far from the best.
The New American Standard 1995 (NASB) Long considered the “gold standard” in terms of being the most literal of the major translations. However, it is not the easiest to read, which is likely one of the reasons why it never became the most popular. The NASB remains a favorite of many scholars, pastors, and serious Bible students – including yours truly.
The English Standard Version (ESV) Published in 2001, the ESV is just as literal as the NASB but is somewhat easier to read. As a result, it has quickly earned a very large following across the board – both in the pews and in academia.
The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) Published in 2017, the CSB is the newest major translation, and it is an extremely good one that you should consider. I personally know two of the scholars who led the translation oversight committee on this version and they are deeply conservative, faithful scholars. I am reading through the CSB this year in my personal devotional time and I find it to be extremely strong and perhaps even on pace to supplant the NASB as my personal favorite.
So, there you have six good versions of the Bible that I personally have read and recommend to people. Are there other good versions out there? Yes, but these are six that I have the most personal experience with and use every week in my own study. In fact, when I am preparing to preach on a passage, I usually read it in these six versions early on in the study process.
Drum roll please…now for the moment you have all been reading for! The answer to my original question: Which version of the Bible is best?
Within the parameters of these six versions I have listed, THE BEST VERSION OF THE BIBLE IS THE ONE YOU WILL READ.