Bible Translation Opinions

ATTENTION: Long Post.  (But hopefully it will be well worth your while.)

As the author of this blog, I’m privileged to see certain things that you, the reader, cannot. Mainly this is things like the statistics and such. One of the things I have found very interesting is that I can see the things people put in their search engines that bring them to this blog. Among the most common of these are questions about how the different English translations of the Bible compare. That’s good; I’m glad people are interested. What concerns me, however, is the fact that many of the articles I have written about those subjects were written literally years ago, some quite a few years ago. You see, my opinions change over time, just like everybody else’s opinions change. And in fact, my opinions on the different Bible translations are just that — opinions, educated opinions for sure, but opinions nonetheless.

So I have decided that whenever my opinions change, I should try and publish updates of those opinions. And at least once a year, I should publish an overall Bible opinion post, and so this will be the first one of those.

At the top of the blog front page, there is a link to my Bible translation preferences page. That page shows the translations I prefer to use in my own studies. This update will be an expansion on that page, including more information on each translation. I will begin with that list of translations, and then continue on with a few other translations which I have used in the past and others I am becoming familiar with but don’t use regularly. I hope this update will clear up questions and misconceptions you might have about the many different translations in use today. You may agree with my opinions of these translations, or you may not, but at least they may afford you some food for thought and research, if you so desire.


— The New International Version, Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

The New International Version of 1973, 1978 and 1984 became the unofficial Bible of American Evangelical Christianity. It was a whole new translation of the scriptures directly from the oldest available manuscripts. It was created by a committee of scholars from many different denominations and has very little indication of any denominational or theological bias. Later on, around 2000, it was revised by the committee to better reflect the then-current English vernacular. This revision was known as the TNIV, or Today’s New International Version. Unfortunately it was attacked by people pushing other translations as a “liberal” Bible, which did such things as portray God as female, change the meanings of passage to support a pro-homosexual agenda, and “dumb-down” the English used. In all honesty, none of those charges were true, with perhaps the last one being the exception. The TNIV never sold very well, and in 2011 the Committee on Bible Translation brought forth a new revision, called simply the NIV. It dialed back some of the things that had been criticized in the TNIV, but kept some of the changes in grammar that we saw in that version. The result is that the 2011 version of the NIV agrees 95% with the 1984 edition, and the grammatical changes still drive some of us crazy.

The NIV is actually the best combination of literal accuracy and easy-readability of all of today’s English translations, in my humble opinion. I prefer it to all others, except when I run across a “singular-they” which I find extremely distracting. But if one can get past the occasional unusual grammar, I would recommend the NIV over all others for the “one” Bible for any Christian. It is the one I have chosen for myself.


— The Holman Christian Standard Bible  Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville Tennessee. , also known increasingly as the Holman CSB, or simply the CSB.

The HCSB is also a completely new translation of the scriptures, done by a committee very much like the one that made the NIV. The first copyright date was 1999, but it has been updated a bit since then, the last time in 2009. The English style is easy-to-read, very similar to the NIV.

I have found the HCSB to be a refreshing translation to read. Renderings are fresh and new, usually making me feel like my eyes have been opened to the meaning of the passage I’m looking at. They don’t change the meanings of the scripture, but they find new and different ways to say the same thing. This can make for enjoyable reading; it can also make for confusion in a Bible study class, because it can sound like the passage you’re reading is very different from the normal text everyone else is reading. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Two passages that are good examples of the HCSB’s freshness would be their rendering of John 3:16, and Isaiah 53.

I highly recommend the HCSB as both a companion Bible for comparison study, and also as a person’t one main Bible. You could do a lot worse!


— The English Standard Version  Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

The ESV is not a new translation from the original languages, as are the previous two versions. To make the ESV, the people who wanted to make a new evangelical Bible to replace the NIV (which was thought to be going “liberal”) made a deal with the National Council of Churches in Christ to get the use of the old Revised Standard Version (RSV) as their base text upon which they would base their revision which is now known as the ESV. The old RSV was an excellent translation itself, (and still is!) but through the years its archaic English (sometimes referred to as Biblish) became unacceptable to most Bible readers. Even so, it was such an excellent translation that the ESV people saw it as a good base to work from.

The ESV itself, in my humble opinion, is just an average-quality translation. It’s too bad they changed the RSV as much as they did, because the RSV is better quality. However, the fact that the ESV has become the standard Bible translation for evangelical Reformed Christians is something serious to consider, and because of that I do recommend it to Christians whose churches use the ESV and can deal with the sometimes-awkward and clumsy wording. My personal complaint is that the ESV uses some archaic language, but more often uses some idioms that are not common to American English speakers (Jesus was “at table”), and it also seems to use a lot more words to convey an idea or concept than some of the other translations.

The ESV is available in a plethora of variations, small Bibles to big Bibles, tiny print to super giant print, (Keep in mind that even with large print, the text notes and cross-references in ESV Bibles can be maddeningly tiny.)  paperback to premium leather and paper, cheap Bibles to fine, expensive Bibles from such printers as Cambridge, Schuyler, and R.L.Allan. As for Study Bibles, the ESV Study Bible is now considered to be arguably the gold standard of Study Bibles. So whatever you’re looking for in a Bible, you should be able to find what you’re looking for with the ESV.


— New King James Version,  copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson

The NKJV is one of the older “new” translations, that is, those that came out since 1960. It hasn’t been updated since it was first brought out, so it’s very stable in that way. It is not a whole new translation from the original manuscripts, as are some, but it is actually a revision of the old King James Version, or Authorized Version, but as I understand it, the translators went back to the original Majority text that was used for the old KJV, and used that in comparison with the original KJV text. So the NKJV is based on the same text that the old KJV is based on, unlike the claims of the KJV-ONLY crowd. Basically what the NKJV translators have done is update the English from the Olde Englishe that was used in the KJV to a much more modern English. It may be said by some that the NKJV contains some archaic English, but I don’t really think so. It has been written at a higher reading level than most books today. It used to be said it was written to a 12th grade reading level, but with the current state of American education, I doubt that most bachelor’s degree holders would be able to understand it today. If we need to use a dictionary at times to understand what is being said, so be it. The higher reading level has resulted in a much more concise Bible. It uses words that are uncommon today, but those are the best words to use to convey the concepts being presented. Most other Bibles use far more words because they choose to explain those concepts within the text, rather than using one or two words to convey the idea. It’s a very good thing, but unfortunately it makes the NKJV harder for most people to understand.

That being said, I find the accuracy of the NKJV to be outstanding, making it one of the most desirable Bibles. I strongly recommend it if you can understand it.

On top of that, the NKJV has one of the very best set of text notes and cross references of any Bible on the market today — just frosting on the cake.


— the New American Standard Bible, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

Generally accepted as the most accurate English translation of the Bible today, the NASB is available in both the 1977 and 1995 versions. I own copies of both. The 1977 version is an interesting translation, in that the word order is a bit closer to the word order of the original languages, though it’s still easily read by the English reader. I find I can get great insights into the actual meaning of some of the more obscure passages by reading the 1977 version, but it has to be difficult to read it out loud. The 1995 update made the NASB a smoother, easier Bible to read, but it’s still more difficult to read out loud than most other Bibles. Many Bible scholars say the style of the English in the NASB is “wooden” and “stilted”. You might want to spend some time reading the NASB before you decide to actually purchase one.

That being said, I do recommend the NASB very highly. If you only have one Bible, you could do far worse than the NASB.

A further positive would be that the NASB has possibly the very best text note and cross-reference system of any Bible I’ve ever used.


— Modern English Version, copyright 2014  by the Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House

The MEV is a recent revision of the old King James Version. Basically what they did was go through the KJV Bible and update the archaic language, period. It does make for a nice translation, virtually as good as the KJV itself. However, the change to modern English means that many words were changed to more modern equivalents, which causes the beautiful cadence of the KJV to often come to a screeching halt. Otherwise, the MEV has a nice, KJV-like feel to the translation, obviously. Because of the language update it is generally much more understandable than the KJV, but then, that’s true of pretty much all the translations made since 1960.

I won’t say you shouldn’t buy a copy of the MEV; if you want a nice KJV-like Bible, go ahead. It can be a decent companion Bible. But if you’re counting your pennies and looking for that one Bible for the rest of your life, look somewhere else.


— New Revised Standard Version, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America

The NRSV has been the Bible of the mainline Protestant Churches in the United States for quite a number of years. It has usually been rejected by the evangelical groups as a “liberal” Bible, while the mainline “liberal” churches have embraced it with open arms, as have the mainline seminaries. In fact, for students in those mainline seminaries, it is the only acceptable Bible, not because it’s necessarily better, but because it is “their” Bible, it is the “correct” Bible.

That being said, the NRSV is an excellent translation, one worthy of being found in any Bible scholar’s collection. It is just what it claims to be, a new revision of the old Revised Standard Version (RSV). It is certainly an easy-reading Bible, for the most part, though not as easy as the newer Bibles that are specifically promoted as “easy-to-read and understand for the new Christian”, Bibles like the New Living Translation, the New Century Version, the Contemporary English Version, and the God’s Word Translation. It’s a good translation for serious Bible study.

The NRSV has not been promoted very well at all over the years. You can get nice leather-bound copies from such places as Oxford, but the US publisher has generally given us inexpensive hardcover Bibles and Bibles in odd or unusual shapes, as well as providing a poor selection of font sizes. NRSV-based study Bibles generally have quite “liberal” study notes as well, making them less than useful for evangelically-minded Bible scholars.


— the Common English Bible, Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible

The Common English Bible was originally created by a group of scholars in mainline denominations working under the oversight of the United Methodist Publishing House. Their main reason for the CEB was the desire for an easier-reading Bible than the NRSV, and one those mainline denominations could control and use in their official publications and curriculum.

The CEB has been innovative in the extensive use of contractions in the Bible text, much more like people today actually speak. It is an easy-to-read translation for sure. However, the translators also chose to translate the phrase “the Son of Man”, a title Jesus liked to use for himself, as “the human one”. This is extremely controversial, and one I personally don’t approve. Still, I can easily recommend the CEB as a companion Bible for use in comparative Bible study. The CEB shouldn’t be too hard to find; it is being promoted better than the NRSV has been, but it’s still not as readily available as the more popular Bibles such as the NIV and ESV.


— the King James Version, or the Authorized Version, Public Domain

The King James Version was ordered by King James I of England, and work was begun in 1604 by a team of fifty of the kingdom’s finest language scholars. The new Bible was first published in 1611. It was not the first English Bible, but it was one of the earliest. The age of the KJV translation means that the English it employs is necessarily far out-of-date when compared with today’s English. It is simply an archaic form of English; it is Elizabethan English, what is often referred to today as “Olde Englische”. The important fact about this is that today’s readers will usually have quite some difficulty reading and understanding it. Many of the words are no longer in regular use in today’s English, and many of the words that we still have in our language today have quite different meanings than they did when the KJV was originally written. Therefore, I can only recommend the KJV to someone who already uses the KJV as their regular translation; and I would still say to them that they need to be sure of the meaning of the words they read in the KJV.

The KJV is a beautiful translation and was purposely written with cadences in order to make it easy for the common person, the ploughboy in the field if you will, to memorize it.

Unfortunately there is a group of people today who believe the KJV is the only Bible ordained and preserved by God, and that all other translations are of the devil. They are known as KJV-ONLY. They believe that all other Bibles have left verses out that were in the KJV and changed meanings of verses in the Bible, thus corrupting the Bible. They come to sites belonging to good, evangelical Christians who use such Bibles as the NIV and ESV, and even the NKJV, and harass them. They are stubborn, obstinate, and shameless, and spread hatred and division because of the different translations people use. They are not welcome here at this blog, and you would be well-advised to avoid them.

However, please be aware that not everyone who likes and uses the KJV is KJV-ONLY. I have many dear brothers and sisters who prefer the KJV and use it all the time, and they wouldn’t think of forcing the KJV on anybody. So don’t automatically assume that if a person uses the KJV that they are part of that group.


— the New Living Translation,  copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation.

The NLT is a fine, easy-to-read translation designed simply for that purpose – to give the Christian an easy Bible to read and understand. And to that end it succeeds very well. The good people at Tyndale used a translation philosophy known as “dynamic” or “thought-for-thought”, as opposed to the more traditional “formal” or “word-for-word” translation philosophy. It provides a better chance of getting the actual concept or idea of a passage across to the reader more accurately. The reader isn’t bothered by dealing with strange idioms from other languages and cultures that are not easily understood by people in our American culture of today. The translator has done that for us. However, that same philosophy tends to open up the translation to corruption by the translator’s own understanding of what the passage says, whether or not the translator sees that as actually happening. The biggest problem I can see with the NLT is what I, being a life-long Methodist, would call a clear Baptist leaning in passages referring to baptism. So if you’re Baptist, fine, have at it. If you’re in another denomination which has a different theological understanding of baptism, you might find this translation will bother you a little bit at times.

Tyndale House has done a very good job of marketing the NLT, with these Bibles being readily available in many different forms and in many different locations. You could do far worse than to buy a NLT Bible. But then again, in my humble opinion, you could do better, too.

NET Bible

— the New English Translation, or the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C.

I first ran across the NET Bible back in the early 2000s when the people there were working on it pretty much right there in the open on the internet, and actually asking people like me to weigh in on the translation decisions they were making. They welcomed our suggestions (though I didn’t personally make any.) The NET Bible was first published on the internet at their website and was free to download, the entire Bible with the 60,000 plus translators’ and study notes. This is actually why the name NET Bible came about, because it was right here on the net, or internet.

The NET Bible is an extremely valuable tool for Bible study because of the aforementioned 60,000 plus notes which often explain why certain words in the original languages were translated they way they were. The translation itself is fairly easy to read, but it doesn’t have that beautiful cadence you will find with the KJV, or even the familiar feel of the NIV. The real value is in those wonderful notes!

The NET Bible promotion is limited by the organization’s funding, though they do have a few actual printed Bible’s you can buy, hardcover and imitation leather, and occasionally real leather. You can sometimes find them in catalogs like CBD; I doubt that you will find it in Bible bookstores, though you might. They are all easily available on their website, I believe they still have the free download available as well as other resources. I highly recommend the NET Bible, especially in its online iterations. If you do Bible study, it’s an invaluable resource, a treasure at your fingertips!

The Voice

— The Voice Bible Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society

The Voice is not a Bible I own, nor have I had a lot of experience with it. In my local church we have a pastor currently who likes to use it, because it does make the Bible much easier to understand. I have spent some time with it, but not enough so I can make a very trustworthy recommendation about it. I can tell you this: it’s an easy-to-read dynamic translation. Along with the text there are separate “boxes” which contain further explanations of the passage in question. Some people may possibly think these explanations are part of the scripture as well, but I don’t really think that is a problem. They do make it quite clear that they are separate explanations. However, I would be cautious about accepting these explanations as being unbiased. My experience has been that the theologian writing the explanations sometimes lets his own interpretation creep in.

Thomas Nelson has not been promoting The Voice very aggressively. There are a few variations available in the catalogs, and you might be able to find a copy in the bookstores. But it is readily available on http//:wwwBibleGateway.Com.

The Message

— The Message, the Bible in Contemporary Language, Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

I will say right up front that I do not own a copy of The Message, nor have I ever used it extensively, so I can’t give you a very good recommendation concerning it. But I have seen many some Christians using it from time to time, and I occasionally use it in comparative Bible study, so I’ll tell you what I know about it.

The Message was written by Eugene Peterson. Here is his short bio from the Amazon website:

Peterson, now retired, was for many years James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. He also served as founding pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland. In addition to his widely acclaimed paraphrase of the Bible, The Message (NavPress), he has written many other books.

The Message is a paraphrase of the Bible as written by one man. This can be cause for concern, because it’s a paraphrase for one thing; it’s not a direct translation from the original languages. Furthermore, because it’s done by one man, we get only the viewpoint of one man. This alone could disqualify The Message as far as our use of it. On the other hand, Eugene Peterson is actually an excellent Bible scholar, and shows in The Message that he is a good and faithful witness to what the scripture says. We can look at The Message as almost a sermon, the verse-by-verse commentary of a pastor. In this it is a good resource. I wouldn’t recommend you use The Message as your one-and-only Bible, but it can be a valuable companion to a good translation of the Bible, a good Bible resource.

If you have further questions  concerning Bible translations and which one to choose, I would welcome your questions in the comments.