Bible Translations: What do I need to know?

“Personal Bible study is the Christian’s lifeline. It is never optional; it is always essential.”  Howard Hendricks

Have you ever been sitting in a church service following along as the pastor reads the Bible and noticed the words you are reading do not match what he is saying? The Bible you were reading must have been a different translation. NKJV, NIV, CSB, ESV, NLT, MSG are just a few of the different Bible translations. It can seem overwhelming to decide which translation to read from. We wanted to provide you with a brief overview of translations and a few simple tips.

There are 3 basic categories of English Bibles: word-for-word, thought-for-thought, and paraphrase.

  • Word-for-Word: translations desired to take the original Hebrew and Greek words and translate them into the closest corresponding English words.  They are useful for times when you need more of a literal translation.  
  • Thought-for-thought: these translations take the original thoughts as presented in Greek and Hebrew and then express them in English. The aim of these translations is greater readability; they are not as concerned with word-for-word correspondence. We recommend these translations for personal reflection or meditation.
  • Paraphrases: can be used to gain a new perspective when looking at a familiar passage. However, paraphrases should never take the place of an actual translation.

The majority of translations try to balance between being “literal” (staying as close to the original words and literary structure as possible) and readable (communicating the meaning of the passage in a way that the modern reader will understand). 

Here are three simple tips:

  1. Find out what translation your church uses. Ask your pastor what version he uses for preaching and his daily devotions.
  2. Think about why you are reading. You may use one translation for your Bible study and another for devotional reading.
  3. Have a few different translations. When reading a difficult passage, I like to read it in the ESV, NIV, CSB, and NLT to gain any insight I can from a variety of wording.

If you want to learn more about how to study the Bible:

If you want to learn more about how different translations can impact your view of God:

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