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How to Choose the Perfect Bible Translation

How to Choose the Perfect Bible Translation

Reading the Bible is hard enough on its own. Don’t make it any harder on yourself by using one whose language is difficult to understand.

The first step to making Bible study easier and more enjoyable is to use a Bible translation you can easily read and understand. Today I want to help you choose the perfect Bible translation. After reading this, you’ll be well on your way to Bible study bliss.

Some Thoughts on Bible Translation

Before we get into the how of choosing the right Bible, we first need to talk about Bible translation in general.

For starters, English is not the original language of the Bible. The Bible is an old book. At that time, the English language, oral and written, did not exist. Instead, three languages make up the Bible’s contents: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with a few places penned in Aramaic (like Daniel). Whereas, Koine Greek, the common tongue of the people of the Roman Empire, is the language of the New Testament.

With Greek being the common language, a team of scribes translated the Old Testament into Greek in the 3rd century BC. This version is commonly called the Septuagint. Common during the times of Jesus, the Apostle Paul often quotes from it in his writings.

The first step to easier Bible study is to use a Bible translation you can understand. Share on X

Any Bible we have today is translated from documents written in these ancient languages. This means there is no one right English translation, not even the good ol’ King James Version (KJV). The KJV is quite poetic with its thee’s and thou’s, but we don’t talk like that anymore. Not to mention, our understanding of these ancient languages has improved with time, aiding in our translation of the Scriptures. This is why we are searching for a Bible we can understand.

Unlike some would have you believe, there is nothing wrong with reading a Bible written in modern English. In many ways, it’s often the better choice.

With that said, let’s look at the different categories of translation.

Bible Translation Categories

Bible translations are placed on a scale that ranges from word-for-word translations of the original languages to complete paraphrases, with other types landing somewhere in the middle.

Formal Equivalences

Formal equivalence translations are essentially word-for-word. With these Bibles, the translation team’s emphasis is on preserving as much syntactical structure from the original languages as possible. The idea is to translate every single Hebrew or Greek word into English with some equivalent. Because of their focus on being literal, there is less of a focus on making interpretive decisions. Instead, translators let the reader make these decisions.

Examples of word-for-word translations include: the King James Version (KJV), New King James Version (NKJV), English Standard Version (ESV), Modern English Version (MEV), and the New American Standard Bible (NASB).


Paraphrases reside at the opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of literally translating the original languages into English, paraphrase translations opt to convey the larger thought of a passage and then summarize it in modern language. These Bibles are easier to read because they are not constrained by the original languages. This lack of constraint also means that some of the finer details & nuances of the language that can be important for understanding a passage get lost in translation, no pun intended.

The most popular paraphrase Bible is The Message.

These Bibles are great for getting the big picture and casual reading, but are not as useful for serious study.

Dynamic Equivalences

Dynamic equivalences (or thought-for-thought) translations offer a happy medium between the literalness of a formal equivalence and the looseness of a paraphrase. The goal of these types of translations is to make the meaning of each passage accessible to modern readers. This means the translators make interpretive decisions when necessary to convey the passage’s meaning. Whereas in a formal equivalence where such decisions are left to the reader, dynamic equivalences err on the side of readability & clarity.

The phrase “love of God” is an example of such an interpretive issue. Readers can interpret this phrase in many ways. In a dynamic equivalence, translators will make the decision for the reader, possibly rendering it as “love for God.”

Some Bibles that fall in this category make use of both formal and dynamic equivalence in their translations, such as the New International Version. Instead of choosing one method over another, Bibles in this category seek to make the most readable Bible possible without major sacrifice in translation.

With less of an emphasis on word-for-word translation, dynamic equivalences are easier to read, but are still good for study. Some of the more popular dynamic equivalences include: the New International Version (NIV), Christian Standard Bible (CSB), and the New Living Translation (NLT).

Choosing Your Bible

Now it’s time to choose your Bible.

But, there’s a catch. I’m not going to tell you which Bible translation to use. That decision is personal and entirely in your hands. You must choose the Bible you can understand, not what someone else tells you to read.

I won’t leave you empty-handed though. Follow the steps below and you will find the perfect Bible translation for you.

1. Consider owning at least two Bibles. One should be a formal equivalence and the other a dynamic equivalence translation. Which one you use as your everyday Bible is completely up to you.

2. Find out which translation your church or pastor uses. You may want to consider using that translation as one of your Bibles. It will also make it easier to follow along at church.

3. Go to Bible.com. Read the same passage in several translations. Make note of the ones you find easiest to understand.

4. Look at your list and see where they fall on a chart like this (or this one). Then pick a formal equivalence & dynamic equivalence from your list.

The Best Bible Translation

The best Bible translation is the one you use. This is why it’s so important to take time to find the one you can read & understand.

The best Bible translation is the one you use. Share on X

Take some time this week and experiment with different translations using the steps above. Find the one(s) that works best for you & start using it.

Then, send me an email or leave a comment letting me know the translation you chose.

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