In the previous article, we introduced some significant aspects to consider when deciding on an English translation for Bible study (formal versus dynamic equivalence, and transparency in the source material used, for example). While no translation can equal the value of studying in the original languages, we are very blessed to have quality translations available to us. It is worth repeating, as we begin to assess the specific translation options, that we have a wealth of resources for which we should be profoundly grateful, and which we should never take for granted. Remember – to whom much is given, much is required (Lk 12:48).
Most of the translations and versions described here are included because of their popularity (as evidenced by the Christian Book Sellers top ten list of unit sales), while others have been included here either because of their recommendable quality or lack thereof.
New International Version (NIV)
The NIV follows dynamic, rather than formal equivalence. It is a thought-for-thought version, and because of that it can be helpful in simplifying concepts, but it is not highly useful for in-depth study. Dynamic equivalence decreases the level of objectivity in the translating, introducing a highly subjective element of translating concepts rather than words – so that is a concern. It is also worth noting that while the controversial gender neutral Today’s NIV (TNIV) was discontinued, the current NIV (2011 edition) includes many adjustments (including gender neutral ones) from the TNIV. The current NIV is substantially different from the 1984 NIV.
Based on dynamic equivalence, The Voice is intended “to enable readers to hear God speaking, to experience His presence in their lives.” The publisher suggests The Voice “brings literary art to the Bible,” and that it “amplifies” God’s voice and those of the writers. Because if its extreme attention to dramatizing the narrative, it is not well designed for study, but is more like a story-book version of the Bible – with all the subjectivities inherent in that art form.
King James Version (KJV)
The King James Version (1611) actually was a translation that followed Erasmus’ Greek text, among others. Because of its “early to market” status and its being in the public domain the KJV continues to be highly popular. Because of its old-English literary qualities it is appreciated for being easier to memorize than other translations and versions. It is useful for study, though its archaic language presents challenges to some modern readers.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The ESV is a revision of the Revised Standard Version, so technically is not a translation. However, it claims to be an “essentially literal” translation that seeks to accurately represent the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words, while seeking to maintain “simplicity, beauty, and dignity of expression.” The ESV is largely grounded in formal equivalence, but in retaining some of the aesthetic aspects there is a higher degree of subjectivity than is found in the NASB, for example. The ESV is a good, readable version that is useful for general reading and intermediate study.
New King James Version (NKJV)
The NKJV is technically not a new translation, but rather a revision of the KJV. The NKJV (1979) retains much of the Textus Receptus base while updating a large portion of the English terminology. “The purpose of the New King James Version was to preserve the authority and accuracy, as well as the rhythm and beauty of the original King James while making it understandable to 21st century readers.” The NKJV generally meets this goal. One of the advantages of the NKJV is the attention it pays to transparency in sourcing and footnoting where there are variants in the manuscripts from which the text is translated. This improves the accuracy overall and shows a commitment to consistent formal equivalence. While the NKJV depends largely on the same manuscript families as does the KJV, there are many instances in which the NKJV relies on sources different than those relied on by the KJV (this is a good thing, in the estimation of this writer). The NKJV does a good job of being readable while maintaining a relatively high degree of faithfulness to the text.
New Living Translation (NLT)
The NLT is a translation derived from using both formal and dynamic equivalence, as the translators recognized a need for both. “The NLT translators rendered the message more dynamically when the literal rendering was hard to understand, was misleading, or yielded archaic or foreign wording. They clarified difficult metaphors and terms to aid in the reader’s understanding.” As a result the NLT is generally easy to read but not as useful for study as are the more consistently literal translations.
New American Standard (NASB)
The NASB is not on the CBA’s top ten list, but is included here because of its quality. The American Standard Version (1901) was translated from the critical text, and achieved a high level of fidelity to the original languages through formal or verbal equivalence (the representation of each word in the original text with the most comparable word in the receptor language) and was later revised to become the New American Standard Bible. The Lockman Foundation suggests (without argument from this writer) that the NASB is the most literally accurate translation from the original languages. Despite the sometimes unwieldy wording of the NASB due to the commitment to verbal or formal equivalence, the translation is very reliable and excellent for in-depth study.
Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
The HCSB utilizes what Holman calls “Optimal Equivalence,” an intended balanced approach for linguistic precision and contemporary clarity. The publisher explains that, “In places where a word-for-word rendering might obscure the meaning for a modern audience, a more dynamic translation is favored.” The HCSB is similar to the ESV in its translation, and is generally reliable in its rendering, but like the ESV, there are transparent departures from formal equivalence in favor of dynamic.
The NetBible is not on the CBA’s top ten list, but it is worth mentioning here due to its online availability, its scholarly notes, and its methodological transparency. The NETBible works from formal equivalence except where specifically qualified. Working from the Masoretic Text (OT) and critical text (NT), the NETBible is both translation and study Bible, containing many explanatory notes and translation comments. While those favoring formal equivalence may find some translations to be disagreeable (as does this writer), the translation is useful for study, both for its attempt at faithful translation and for its generally transparent approach.
New World Translation (NWT)
Also not on the CBA’s top ten, the New World Translation is worth noting here because of its popularity as the official Bible of Jehovah’s Witnesses (a pseudo-Christian group that holds to the non-deity of Jesus, among other doctrines incompatible with the Bible). The NWT is adapted largely from the KJV, with many passages deliberately changed to reflect Jehovah’s Witness doctrine. For example, the word cross is deleted and replaced with the word stake, to indicate that Jesus was not crucified on a cross, but rather hung on a stake. Passages that deal with Jesus’ identity are often edited to eliminate assertions that He is God, as in the curious case of John 1:1. Because the text is altered deliberately to change the meaning in key areas, the NWT is simply not a reliable or objective translation of the Bible.
So Which Translation Should I Use and Recommend?
Based on the observations described above, here are six translations I personally recommend in the order of their quality and faithfulness to formal translation from the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts of Scripture. Again, none are perfect, but each of these has enough merit to be effectively used for Bible study:
Here is a helpful translation comparison tool so that you can examine some of the differences for yourself. Ultimately, every translation is flawed, so the closer we can get to the original, the better. Every good translation has its own deficiencies, subjectivities, and strengths. Of the utmost importance is the translation’s faithfulness to the original words of Scripture. Don’t sacrifice quality for readability, even if the Bible is to be used by a new reader. People are smarter than we often give them credit for being, and dumbing things down does not help people grow. God’s word is God-breathed, is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). Let it do its job.
 Christopher Cone, Prolegomena on Biblical Hermeneutics and Method, 2nd Ed. (Euless, TX: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2015), 135.