Which is the best Bible translation? - Bible Society

Which is the best Bible translation?

One of the most asked questions about the Bible is ‘what is the best translation?’ 

It all depends on who you are and what you will be using it for. It can help to know a few basic facts about translations...

How do I choose my Bible translation?

Many people find that they need more than one Bible and use different ones for different occasions. Due to the large number of translations available online for free it is very easy to have access to a wide range of different translations.

First of all, consider how you'll be reading the Bible... 

I'm new to the Bible

You might like to start with a translation that avoids too much technical language, look for one described as dynamic equivalent**.

I'll be reading the Bible aloud

A translation that focusses more on dynamic equivalence**.

I'll be reading with other people

Decide whether it would help you to have the same version as everyone else or a different one so that you can see how different translators have translated the passage you are reading.

I want to study a passage in depth

A translation that focusses on formal equivalence* will be most helpful

I'll be reading big sections at a time (e.g. following a Bible reading plan)

A translation that focusses more on dynamic equivalence**.

I want to get a sense of the complexities of the passage and what translators have wrestled with to create their translations

Read a range of translations, choosing at least two formal equivalence* translations.

* A formal equivalence, word for word, translation gives priority to what the original language says and how it says it. It aims to be a literal translation.

** A dynamic equivalence, thought for thought, translation gives priority to what the text means. It aims to make the text as readable for a modern audience as possible.

Translation guide

Click on the title to find out more about each translation. You'll notice that some of the same comments appears under pros and cons – this is because some people regard something as a positive, while others regards exactly the same thing as a negative.

  • Date first published: 1995
  • What kind of translation? Dynamic equivalence – still a translation but is often very colloquial and renders the original language loosely
  • Average reading age? 10+
  • Gender neutral language? Yes
  • Often stated pros of the translation:
    • Designed for people who do not know Bible ‘jargon’
    • Easy to understand and to read out loud
    • Intended for people who struggle to read other translations
    • In 1996 the CEV won the Crystal Mark award from the Plain English Campaign
  • Often stated cons of the translations:
    • Sometimes simplifying Bible jargon changes what it was originally saying (or only communicates part of what was meant)
    • Those who know the Bible already find that its richness has been lost
    • There is very little poetry in the translation
  • Sample verse: 'If we have all we need and see one of our own people in need, we must have pity on that person, or else we cannot say we love God.' (1 John 3.17)

See Contemporary English Version Bibles in the shop

  • Date first published: 2001
  • What kind of translation? Formal equivalence – literal, staying close to the original sentence structure but changing it where meaning is compromised
  • Average reading age? 15+
  • Gender neutral language? No
  • Often stated pros of the translation:
    • A revision of the RSV, undertaken by various iconic evangelical theologians
    • Has tried to keep some of the best loved passages in a translation that is close to the KJV
    • Avoids inclusive language
  • Often stated cons of the translations:
    • For some, the evangelical theology that has guided the translation is problematic
    • Avoids inclusive language
    • Some find the sentence structure hard to understand
  • Sample verse: 'But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?' (1 John 3.17)

See English Standard Version Bibles in the shop

  • Date first published: 1976
  • What kind of translation? Dynamic equivalence – still a translation but is often very colloquial and renders the original language loosely
  • Average reading age? 12+
  • Gender neutral language? Yes
  • Often stated pros of the translation:
    • Designed to be accessible to (and is very popular among) non-native English speakers, especially in Africa and the Far East.
    • Its line drawings are iconic and help with understanding the text
    • An easy to read and understand version
  • Often stated cons of the translations:
    • Often criticised for lack of depth in its phrasing
    • Some feel that, occasionally, it goes too far from the original text in its attempt to communicate meaning
  • Sample verse: 'If we are rich and see others in need, yet close our hearts against them, how can we claim that we love God?' (1 John 3.17)

See Good News Bibles in the shop

  • Date first published: 1966
  • What kind of translation? Dynamic equivalence – does not try to follow original sentence structure and focusses on what the text means
  • Average reading age? 16+
  • Gender neutral language? No
  • Often stated pros of the translation:
    • A Catholic Bible containing the 73 books of the Catholic canon
    • Literary in style with some well-known writers involved such as J.R. Tolkien
    • Some passages are beautifully poetic
  • Often stated cons of the translations:
    • Some claim it is more a paraphrase than a translation (translated from French)
    • Criticised for being insufficiently literal
  • Sample verse: 'If a man who was rich enough in this world’s goods saw that one of his brothers was in need, but closed his heart to him, how could the love of God be living in him?' (1 John 3.17)
  • Date first published: 1611
  • What kind of translation? Formal equivalence – literal, staying close to the original sentence structure but changing it where meaning is compromised
  • Average reading age? 17+
  • Gender neutral language? No
  • Often stated pros of the translation:
    • Beautiful poetic language
    • Language that has influenced many phrases in modern English
    • Very close to the original text
  • Often stated cons of the translations:
    • Archaic language that many people do not understand
    • Based on the Hebrew and Greek texts available in the 16th century.
    • Some words used in the KJV now have very different meanings (e.g. the word suffer as in ‘suffer the little children’)
  • Sample verse: 'But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?' (1 John 3.17)

See King James Version Bibles in the shop

  • Date first published: 1971
  • What kind of translation? a paraphrase, starts with the text in a language other than the original
  • Average reading age? 12+
  • Gender neutral language? No
  • Often stated pros of the translation:
    • One of the very few genuine paraphrases, based on the American Standard Version translation
    • One of the earliest accessible versions of the Bible
    • Careful to communicate the meaning of each passage
  • Often stated cons of the translations:
    • One of the very few genuine paraphrases
    • The language is not at all elegant
    • Sometimes the verses or passages are given unusual interpretations.
  • Sample verse: 'But if someone who is supposed to be a Christian has money enough to live well, and sees a brother in need, and won’t help him—how can God’s love be within him?' (1 John 3.17)
  • Date first published: 2002
  • What kind of translation? Dynamic equivalence – still a translation but is often very colloquial and renders the original language loosely
  • Average reading age? 9+
  • Gender neutral language? Yes
  • Often stated pros of the translation:
    • A fresh easy to read, idiomatic translation
    • It often presents a different insight to a passage
    • It captures some of the passion of the original
  • Often stated cons of the translations:
    • Some people love the Message; others hate it. Its colloquial style works for some and not for others
    • It is quite ‘American’ and some find this difficult
    • The translation is very free (causing some to wonder if it is a paraphrase which it isn’t)
  • Sample verse: 'If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God's love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.' (1 John 3.17)
  • Date first published: 1971 (updated in 1995)
  • What kind of translation? Formal equivalence –very literal, as close to the original sentence structure as possible
  • Average reading age? 16+
  • Gender neutral language? No
  • Often stated pros of the translation:
    • Considered by many to be the ‘most literal’ translation
    • especial care was taken to reflect the same verb tense as in the original
  • Often stated cons of the translations:
    • Often almost impossible to understand in English
    • Conservative theology affects translational decisions
  • Sample verse: 'But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?' (1 John 3.17)
  • Date first published: 1996
  • What kind of translation? Dynamic equivalence – does not try to follow original sentence structure and focusses on what the text means
  • Average reading age? 7+
  • Gender neutral language? Yes
  • Often stated pros of the translation:
    • All the advantages of the NIV but easier to read
    • Designed so that people can go on to read the NIV if/when they want to
    • One of the clearest and easy to read translations around
  • Often stated cons of the translations:
    • It does sometimes slip more into interpreting the text than simply translating it
    • Some avoid it because of its advertised low reading age
  • Sample verse: 'Suppose someone sees a brother or sister in need and is able to help them. And suppose that person doesn’t take pity on these needy people. Then how can the love of God be in that person?' (1 John 3.17)
  • Date first published: 1978 (updated in 2011)
  • What kind of translation? Mixed dynamic and formal equivalence – attempts to adopt a midpoint between staying close to the original text and communicating its meaning in a way that is easy to understand
  • Average reading age? 12+
  • Gender neutral language? No (1978), Yes (2011)
  • Often stated pros of the translation:
    • One of the few translations that tries to balance literal translation with an emphasis on meaning
    • Is often clear and easy to read
    • Has tried to keep an emphasis on literary beauty, making it a good translation for reading in Church
  • Often stated cons of the translations:
    • It attempt to maintain clarity has caused it to introduce words that are not in the original
    • Some people do not like its style of writing finding it bland or lacking in poetry (others love it!)
  • Sample verse: 'If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?' (1 John 3.17)
  • Date first published: 1985
  • What kind of translation? Mixed dynamic and formal equivalence – attempts to adopt a midpoint between staying close to the original text and communicating its meaning in a way that is easy to understand
  • Average reading age? 13+
  • Gender neutral language? A little
  • Often stated pros of the translation:
    • A heavily revised version of the Jerusalem Bible
    • Introduces some inclusive language
    • Attempts to make the translation a more literal translation than the Jerusalem Bible
  • Often stated cons of the translations:
    • The attempt to be more literal loses some of the poetry of the Jerusalem Bible
    • Introduces some inclusive language
  • Sample verse: 'If anyone is well-off in worldly possessions and sees his brother in need but closes his heart to him, how can the love of God be remaining in him?' (1 John 3.17)
  • Date first published: 1982
  • What kind of translation? Formal equivalence – literal, staying close to the original sentence structure but changing it where meaning is compromised
  • Average reading age? 12+
  • Gender neutral language? No
  • Often stated pros of the translation:
    • A maintenance of the poetic language of the KJV updated into modern English
    • Uses as much as possible the same version of the original text as the KJV did
    • Often follows the translation in the KJV
  • Often stated cons of the translations:
    • Its attempt to be very literal can make it hard to read
    • Largely based on the Hebrew and Greek texts available in the 16th century.
    • Often follows the translation in the KJV
  • Sample verse: 'But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?' (1 John 3.17)

See New King James Version Bibles in the shop

  • Date first published: 1996
  • What kind of translation? Dynamic equivalence – still a translation but is often very colloquial and renders the original language loosely
  • Average reading age? 11+
  • Gender neutral language? Yes
  • Often stated pros of the translation:
    • Began as a revision of the Living Bible but became a full translation from the original language
    • Kept the Living Bible’s emphasis on accessibility
    • Changes some metaphors from the Bible into more understandable phrases (e.g. being ‘in sorrow’ rather than ‘beating their breasts’)
  • Often stated cons of the translations:
    • Its emphasis on accessibility sometimes makes it feel a long way from the original
    • The change of metaphors into more modern language often changes their meaning more than what was intended
    • Not one of the strongest among the accessible translations
  • Sample verse: 'If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?' (1 John 3.17)
  • Date first published: 1989
  • What kind of translation? Formal equivalence – literal, staying close to the original sentence structure but changing it where meaning is compromised
  • Average reading age? 16+
  • Gender neutral language? Yes
  • Often stated pros of the translation:
    • Used up to date language (in particular it used less archaic language for God)
    • The Old Testament was translated to reflect Jewish interpretations of the text
    • Used more up to date versions of the Hebrew and Greek text
    • Tried hard to avoid ‘male’ only language
  • Often stated cons of the translations:
    • The Old Testament was translated to reflect Jewish interpretations of the text (The problem for some here is prophecies that were later seen to be about Christ.  Some think they should always reflect this; others that they should be translated in such a way as the original audience might have viewed them.)
    • Sometimes its choice of inclusive language obscured connections in the text
  • Sample verse: 'How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?' (1 John 3.17)

See New Revised Standard Version Bibles in the shop

  • Date first published: 1989
  • What kind of translation? Dynamic equivalence – attempts to adopt a midpoint between staying close to the original text and communicating its meaning in a way that is easy to understand
  • Average reading age? 11+
  • Gender neutral language? Yes
  • Often stated pros of the translation:
    • One of the few modern translations to originate in Britain
    • Aims for a mix of accuracy, poetry and comprehension
    • It is especially good for reading in public
  • Often stated cons of the translations:
    • It isn’t widely used and so is quite hard to get hold of
    • Because it doesn’t follow the best known translations, sometimes its phrases sound unusual
  • Sample verse: 'If we have all we need and see one of our own people in need, we must have pity on that person, or else we cannot say we love God.' (1 John 3.17)
  • Date first published: 1952
  • What kind of translation? Formal equivalence –literal, staying close to the original sentence structure but changing it where meaning is compromised
  • Average reading age? 17+
  • Gender neutral language? No
  • Often stated pros of the translation:
    • Intended to be a readable though literal translation (at the time)
    • The Old Testament was translated to reflect Jewish interpretations of the text
    • Used more up to date versions of the Hebrew and Greek text
  • Often stated cons of the translations:
    • Language has moved on and it is no longer up to date
    • The Old Testament was translated to reflect Jewish interpretations of the text (The problem for some here is prophecies that were later seen to be about Christ. Some think they should always reflect this; others that they should be translated in such a way as the original audience might have viewed them.)
  • Sample verse: 'But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?' (1 John 3.17)

See Revised Standard Version Bibles in the shop

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