The following article outlines some of the distinguishing strengths and weaknesses of several of the English Bible translations available today. As mentioned in Xristian.org's article Why Are There So Many English Translations of the Bible? there are more than enough on the market; however, owning a few different sound copies from different parts of the spectrum of translation can better color one's understanding of the original text and legitimately meet different reading purposes.
The following translations are reviewed in somewhat of a combined chronological and logical order and implies no order of preference by Xristian.org. The conclusion does offer a recommendation on copies the reader may want to own as they read and learn from the Bible. Ultimately, however, reading ANY of the translations that retain some literal level of the original text will profit the reader.
The following figure might prove a useful guide to the reader, as s/he reads through the following article. Click on any of the boxes to read more about that specific version (Click Here for a printable copy in PDF format - 8KB).
The King James Version (KJV): Often called the "Authorized Version" and abbreviated "AV," this translation was introduced in 1611 after King James organized and managed the then "modern" translation of the Bible into English. The stated purpose was to "deliver God's book unto God's people in a tongue which they can understand," and it was a remarkable first in making the Bible widely available in English. The KJV was beforehand intended and afterwards declared to be the official Bible for the Church of England. It underwent minor revisions in 1629, 1638, 1762, and 1769 and is in many ways the "Mother" of all literal (formal equivalence) English translations.
Regarded by many still today as "the" Bible of choice, the KJV is a fairly literal translation of the original languages. It was produced by 541 of the finest Bible scholars of its time, but was written primarily using the Textus Receptus2. Because older and more reliable manuscripts of the original languages are now available, the accuracy of the KJV can be bettered by the modern translations. The KJV, though, stands as a very good translation today even if the Elizabethen English makes it a bit difficult to read.
Disadvantages: Unfortunately, the KJV is written in seventeenth century English and can be challenging for the average modern reader to use. Both the vocabulary and sentence structures are tough.
Advantages: Because of its age the KJV is considered public domain material (no one in the U.S. holds a copyright on the text), and it can be freely distributed and reproduced in part or in full. The KJV is the "classic" translation, which is of good accuracy and high literary quality. The KJV also established the traditionally well-known English wording of popular verses known by even those who do not read the Bible (such as recited in popular Christmas specials like Charlie Brown's Christmas).
English Revised Version (ERV): Frequently referred to as the "Revised Version (RV)," this translation was produced in 1885. The ERV was intended to update the KJV translation, using the latest manuscript discoveries at the time. The manuscripts, Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, were both made available in the late nineteenth century and Westcott and Hort had produced a Greek text of the entire New Testament in 1881, which weighted these older Greek manuscripts over the Textus Receptus and Latin versions of the New Testament, which were previously used in producing the KJV.
Disadvantages: This version retains much of the archaic English and is certainly less understandable by modern American English readers. The ERV is also not easily available today and known by few to even have existed.
Advantages: The ERV did not solely rely on the Textus Receptus, as the original text behind the translation and factored in more recent (at the time) textual scholarship and manuscript evidence. The translation is rather literal (as is the KJV) and choppy to read and has been improved upon by several legitimate and sound translations (ASV, NAS, ESV).
American Standard Version (ASV): The ERV was a joint British and American achievement, but the alternate American renderings were footnoted to the Appendix, while British English comprised the main text. In 1901, the American revisers of the ERV produced what is now known as the American Standard Version. The ASV embodied the American Appendix into the main text in place of the British English and made other changes that were decided against in the joint project. The ASV was extremely literal and where possible attempted to translate different but synonymous words from the original text with different words in the English (allowing the reader to appreciate the differences in the original text). The ASV is the foundation of several major 20th century American versions of the Bible (RSV and NRSV, NAS, the AMP, and the ESV).
Disadvantages: The ASV is over a century old and contains some archaisms for today's reader. The text also translates with strict formal equivalence, which results in very complex (and long) sentences in many places with awkward word ordering in the English. Naturally, the text is difficult to use for out-loud public reading.
Advantages: The ASV is a solid and very reliable translation of the Bible to study from and can be found online. However, the ASV can be bested by more current conservative and literal translations, such as the NAS and the ESV.
Revised Standard Version (RSV): A self-professed 1952 "revision" of the ASV, the RSV produced a slightly less literal and better flowing text. But, while it is true that the RSV reads easier than the ASV, the translators took a fairly liberal approach in translating the text, particularly the Old Testament. In fact, the Old Testament was translated within its own context and outside of the New Testament interpretation given it by Jesus and the Apostles. For example, the RSV translated Isa. 7:14, "young woman" instead of "virgin," in spite of the clear New Testament teaching that the Hebrew word for "young woman" did indeed carry with it the implication of a virgin. Decisions such as this one are ultimately what minimized the reception of the RSV by evangelical churches. The RSV never became a popular translation within the church and became even more liberal with the 1990 revision, the NRSV.
Disadvantages: Too liberal a methodology of translation, which contradicted even New Testament expositions of Old Testament texts. The RSV, while a more modern translation, is difficult to obtain.
Advantages: The RSV turned out to be a very readable translation of the Bible with a smoothed literal approach. Given the disadvantages above, the conservative and more recent ESV is a better choice for today's reader, who is looking for this level of readability with a tighter and more accurate translation.
The Amplified Bible (AMP): A 1965 production of the Lockman Foundation (which later published the NAS in 1971), this bible "amplifies" the text with alternate readings and renderings in parentheses or brackets. The translation is fairly literal, while the pregnant word expansions lead to much longer verses than usual. This Bible is too "amplified" to actually read from, but it serves as a nice study guide, since it is virtually a word study reference embedded throughout the text of the Bible. The Amplified Bible was revised in 1985.
Disadvantages: Not designed for public out-loud reading, as the amplification is drawn out and wordy. This Bible is not widely known to exist, but it is readily available in bookstores and online.
Advantages: A nice version to study from, since key words of the text are amplified throughout, giving additional meaning and understanding to the reader.
The Jerusalem Bible (JB): A 1966 production of Catholic scholars, the JB was the first Roman Catholic Bible that utilized the Greek and Hebrew texts, rather than the Latin Vulgate. The JB translation, although highly annotated, does not forward unique Catholic doctrine and was received well by churches across the Christian faith. The JB was revised in 1985 as the NJB.
Disadvantages The JB is out of print and not easily obtainable today, other than as the more neutered and "revised" NJB. In some of the annotations, the translators interact and sympathize with modern textual criticism, which - although not part of the translation itself - results in what could be called a liberal work.
Advantages: This translation is somewhat ecumenical and agreeable by both Protestants and Catholics. Not only is the JB a reliable translation, but it is also of high literary style and value.
New American Bible (NAB): First appearing in 1970 as a significantly paraphrased Catholic translation of the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek, the NAB retranslated the New Testament in 1986 and the Psalms in 1991. The NAB is now a more literal translation with dynamic equivalence incorporated to accommodate gender-neutral language. Although the NAB was sanctioned by the American Roman Catholic Church leadership, the gender inclusive language remained objectionable to the Vatican.
Disadvantages: The gender-neutral language certainly qualifies this translation as liberal. The NAB is notated with Catholic flavored commentary and therefore not ideal for non-Catholics.
Advantages: A Bible enjoyed by many lay Catholics. For non-Catholics, it can serve as a means of determining how Catholics interpret various verses of the Bible.
The New English Bible (NEB): A controversial production initiated in Great Britain, Xristian.org judges the NEB to have kicked off the modern movement of "original" and loose translations outside of the KJV heritage. Produced in 1970, the NEB forwarded a translational philosophy that employed "a contemporary idiom" rather than a reproduction of "the traditional 'biblical' English." In doing so, many novel but inexact renderings were made in the work, which undoubtedly led to its never being adopted by a significant portion of the Christian Church. The 1989 revision (the REB) attempted to more accurately and more literally update the NEB.
Disadvantages: The English is British and not international. The loss of traditional wording makes the text sound completely foreign to the reader already familiar with the Bible. The idiomatic approach combined with the desire for novelty produced many verses, which are inexact and loaded with interpretation, leaving the reader with ambiguity about the original content of the text. Additionally, this translation is unknown by most and not easily available.
Advantages: Looses the archaic Elizabethen English of the KJV and attempts to be more readable (dynamic equivalence), but at the cost of accuracy and precision. For a non-literal translation, this version is inferior to the very readable and broadly accepted NIV.
New American Standard Bible (NAS): A revision of the ASV, which was produced by thirty nine translators at the Lockman Foundation in 1971, the NAS is probably the most literal English translation of the Bible. Additionally, unlike the RSV (which also claimed to be a revision of the older ASV), the NAS was translated conservatively, leaving behind many of the liberal influences found in the RSV (i.e. it translates the Old Testament under a Christian paradigm). The NAS removed mast of the older English which made the Bible difficult to understand by modern readers. The NAS was updated in 1995 (NASu) to improve the choppy reading.
Disadvantages: Very choppy reading in some places, since the translators stuck to a word-for-word translation of idioms, which did not translate smoothly into English. Therefore, this translation is not the easiest to read out-loud or listen to when being read in public.
Advantages: Widely accepted translation of the Bible. It is precise to the Hebrew and Greek languages (but in English), reserving specific English words for specific Greek words. An excellent, if not the best, translation for studying word by word or verse by verse from the Bible.
The Living Bible (TLB): A 1971 interpretive paraphrasing of the English Bible, produced by Kenneth Taylor. Taylor had little to no understanding of the original languages and produced the TLB by drawing from existing English translations, primarily the ASV. It was aimed at not only being used by children, but also by adults. In 1996, the publisher released the NLT as a revision for the TLB, although the former was actually an entirely new work.
Disadvantages: The TLB is loaded with interpretations of its translator and is therefore very unreliable for understanding what was originally written.
Advantages: It is very readable and potentially useful for teaching young children.
The Good News Bible: The Bible in Today's English Version (TEV): A 1976 work by the American Bible Society to render the text of the Bible into every day English that a non-churched or church individual of any basic education level would be familiar with. This version certainly falls under the "dynamic equivalence" form of translation (actually in some places it is paraphrased) and its head "translator" held many liberal views. It was updated with inclusive / gender-neutral English in 1992.
Disadvantages: This bible looses lots of the depth of theology by dumbing down many verses and concepts (such as avoiding the biblical phrase, "blood of Christ," and replacing it with terms like "sacrifice"). In addition to losing theological depth and precision, many of the verses depart so much from their traditional wording that all power and literary value is lost.
Advantages: Perhaps useful for teaching young children, those with special needs, or individuals whose second language is English. Also used by translators in mission fields, who are attempting to put the Bible into a language in which they are not firstly proficient.
New International Version (NIV): The best selling translation in America, the NIV was produced in 1978 by a broad team of over one hundred evangelicals. Like the NEB, the NIV was an entirely original translation, not following in the heritage of the KJV. The major aim of the NIV was to produce a very readable text. The translators operated under a conservative mindset, but moved away from the word-for-word approach (formal equivalence) in translating with a moderate level of idea-for-idea or phrase-for-phrase (dynamic equivalence). Unfortunately, the NIV was revised in 2002 as a gender-neutral Bible, although the original NIV is still sold and available.
Disadvantages: While very readable, the NIV is subject to some level of subjectivity as an idea-for-idea translation in many places. Consequently, it is not the best edition for a verse by verse study. The NIV, being so readable, also dulls some of the text by removing unique and original wording.
Advantages: Very well known and readily available translation today. Produced by conservatives, this text is used by many evangelical churches in their services for public out-loud reading. It has a readability level suitable for those with a middle school education and higher (the NAS or KJV reader must have a high school diploma to read and understand the English of those texts).
New King James Version (NKJV): A 1982 revision of the KJV by over one hundred translators, the NKJV was based on the same underlying Hebrew and Greek text (the Textus Receptus). The NKJV strove to produce a more modernized and readable version of the KJV with its twentieth century English. The NKJV maintained a formal equivalence (literal translation) throughout its work and is probably second to only the NAS in terms of degree of equivalence. The NKJV was revised in 1984.
Disadvantages: More readable than the KJV, but the NKJV does retain similar sentence structure as that of the KJV and as a strongly literal translation is a bit choppy. The NKJV does not make use of modern textual discoveries and relies on what was available in Hebrew and Greek in the seventeenth century.
Advantages: A reliable translation of the Bible, which today's reader can better understand than the KJV. The NKJV retains a nice literary flow throughout the psalms and proverbs. Additionally, the NKJV is readily available on the web and in print.
The New Jerusalem Bible (NJB): A 1985 revision of the original JB, the NJB was an attempt to make the text more literal, where the JB was too inexact. Some of the changes, however, were a result of making the language more inclusive, but the NJB is generally not considered "gender-neutral." The NJB is the most widely used Roman Catholic Bible outside of the United States.
Disadvantages: This Bible is so highly annotated with theological and textual commentary that the reader can easily mistake the commentary for the text itself. Additionally, the scholarship behind the translation is rather liberal and subjects the reader to some dangerous ideas and hearsay.
Advantages: The text of the NJB is generally agreeable to both Catholics and Protestants around the globe.
New Century Version (NCV): Published as the NCV in 1987, this translation had several predecessors. The work started as a New Testament Bible translation for the deaf and was called the English Version for the Deaf in 1978. In 1980, the translation was remarketed to adults as the Easy-to-Read Version. And, in 1983 the publisher then released it as the International Children's Bible. Clearly not a scholarly work of literal interpretation, the text was written to a third grade level of education and remains fairly simple today.
Disadvantages: Being such a stripped down translation, where paraphrasing rules, this translation is much like the others of its class (the TEV/CEV, and the TLB/NLT). It is not the right choice for study of how the scriptures originally read. Far too much subjectivity hides the original wording beneath the English paraphrasing.
Advantages: Perhaps useful for teaching very young children, the uneducated, or those with special needs.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV): A 1990 revision of an already "liberal" RSV, the NRSV stands, perhaps, as the most liberal modern scholarly translation of the Bible. The NRSV translators used more recent Hebrew/Greek manuscript evidence in their work. However, the text is less literal than the RSV and strongly forwards gender-neutral language throughout.
Disadvantages: Certainly, the NRSV is easier to read than the RSV with its modern English; however, the translation continued to keep Christian interpretation (by the New Testament authors) out of the Old Testament (e.g. Isa. 7:14). The neutered NRSV is also not faithful to the original text.
Advantages: Used for pulpit reading in liberal mainstream churches and Xristian.org is hard-pressed to find any significant advantage in one's selecting this translation today. Those looking for smooth public reading would do better with the NIV, while those looking for something literal but not too choppy would benefit from owning a copy of the ESV.
21st Century King James Version (KJ21): A very cautious "update" of the KJV, only the most outdated words (those that are now obsolete) were replaced in this "version." Otherwise, this translation is nearly identical to the original KJV and is found agreeable by even KJV-only purists.
Disadvantages: The KJ21 relies solely on the Textus Receptus, rather than modern manuscript finds. Also, the sentence structure of the KJV is strictly retained within the KJ21, which makes reading less smooth to modern readers, particularly out-loud public reading.
Advantages: The KJ21 retains "beautiful biblical English," as the publisher advertises. Memorable texts are familiar to the reader. This translation is a nice bare-minimum update to make the KJV more readable by words in use today.
Contemporary English Version (CEV): A 1995 "translation" of the Bible by the American Bible Society. The CEV is very similar to the TEV in that it is a paraphrasing of the original text to make it readable by those without much of an education. In fact, the CEV is supposed to be of an even lower reading level than the TEV.
Disadvantages: This translation is not for serious study of the Bible. Certainly, the depth of theology found in the Bible is compromised. Also, it removes all gender-oriented language from the scriptures and obliterates the biblically based male-female distinction and role relationship from the text. Finally, the CEV makes great efforts to prevent the New Testament from seeming offensive to Jews by removing the term (Jews) from various texts. The CEV, therefore, is by Xristian.org's estimation hardly a translation at all, since it purposely alters the text it is translating.
Advantages: Perhaps useful for teaching very young children or those who do not have a satisfactory vocabulary to draw from.
New Living Translation (NLT): Like the TEV, the NLT is a paraphrased translation of the Bible from the original languages (unlike the TLB), which attempts to make the text readable by children and the uneducated. The translation was completed in 1996.
Disadvantages: As with the other paraphrased versions of the Bible, the NLT loses theological precision and depth. It loses truth and accuracy for readability and is clearly not a Bible of choice for study or teaching.
Advantages: Perhaps useful for young children or the uneducated.
Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB): Much like the ESV, the HCSB was a conservative response to the modern trend toward liberal and gender-neutral versions of the bible. Unlike the ESV, though, the HCSB is considerably less literal and closer to versions like the NIV in its equivalence. Completed by multi-denominational scholars in 2001, the HCSB was originally initiated by the Southern Baptist Convention.
Disadvantages: Rather idiomatic and less literal than the NAS or ESV, although more literal alternate renderings are frequently footnoted. As a new version of the Bible, the HCSB is much less established and not broadly accepted yet.
Advantages: The HCSB requires a lower reading level than many other translations (including the ESV). It avoids the politically correct gender-neutral language which some of the more liberal translations have succumbed to.
English Standard Version (ESV): A 2001 revision of the RSV, this edition improves the accuracy of several texts and removes the liberal de-Christianized renderings of the RSV. The work was also a response against the modern trend toward liberal and gender-neutral versions of the bible. The ESV is a nice compromise between the rigid formal equivalence of the NAS and the loose dynamic equivalence of the NIV.
Disadvantages: The ESV is a new and not yet broadly established translation.
Advantages: This translation is nice for readability, while still being a fairly literal translation. The wording is precise and at the same time retains the original style of each author of the books of the Bible.
Which translation is the best one for you? That somewhat depends on which one you will read. Presuming that you are able to read at an adult level3, Xristian.org would recommend at least one literal translation to study from (NAS or AMP), as well as one that is more "readable," perhaps the NKJV or ESV. Due to its popularity, the NIV is also a good translation to own, although it is too idiomatic to rely solely on for study. In the end, any study of the scriptures will benefit from the reading a few different English translations, so that you can best determine what the original authors intended. And always be suspicious of a doctrine that requires the use of a single specific translation.
1Fifty-four translators were nominated for the task by King James. Only forty-seven are known to have participated in the work, though.
2The Textus Receptus was the final product of Erasmus' sixteenth century efforts to compile and publish (for the first time) the entire Greek text behind the New Testament. Prior to Erasmus, Bible translators worked off of independent and assorted manuscripts to get to the Greek and relied heavily on Jerome's Latin Vulgate to produce English copies.
3If you cannot read at an adult level, Xristian.org does not have a recommendation on a child's Bible. While we do not find those Bibles and their use to be heretical, we believe that there are plenty of basic books (not Bibles) aimed at helping to explain and teach the gospel, which such readers can benefit from. The Bible, in our best estimation, is the Bible and teaching aids, teaching aids. Many basic books can simplify teaching and still utilize direct scripture quotations, which when combined with the Holy Spirit may be effectual in the heart of the hearer/reader (see the result of Ezekiel's preaching to the dry bones in Ezek. 37:1-14).
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