God On The Net
"Which version of the Bible should I use?"
First, we must distinguish between versions
of the Bible, translations of versions,
and types of Bibles.
Technically, there are several versions of the Bible:
Interestingly, Smith had no training or knowledge of Latin or Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic, yet he still claimed that he did a "corrected" translation. Among other things, he just outright added text saying that a person has to believe in him in order to be saved. No early, medieval, or early modern manuscripts support his additions.
Just to make things confusing ... the word "version" is usually used to mean "translation!"
For instance, the New International Version,
the New American Standard Bible and most editions of the King James Version
are all translations of the Protestant Bible.
There are also different types of Bibles:
This website was written mainly in 1998-2000, long before tablets, iPads, smartphones, iPhones, and apps. Consequently, this webpage largely deals with physical Bibles and the most common physical editions – the ones most likely to be in stock at religious bookstores, church bookstores, or major bookstores such as Barnes & Noble. It also assumes that the average person will only have one or two Bibles and probably use only one.
I now have three Android tablets – including a 7" one I bought specifically so I don't have to carry around a physical Bible. Between Amazon Kindle and Bible apps, I now can carry many more books and many Bible versions. And because the publishers don't need printing presses, paper, storage facilities, shipping charges, etc., the prices of the Bibles are much less.
The app I recommend is Tecarta – available for both Android and iPad. Features I particularly like are the ability to change font size (I'm in my mid-60's, and it is physically painful for me to read small typefaces), and the ability to show two Bibles in parallel. To improve my Spanish I mainly read the NVI but I also have the NKJV displayed, for words only native speakers normally would know, such as construction terminology and different types of farm animals.
Overall, I have probably spent about $40 on various Bibles from Tecarta. For that amount I got:
For most modern copyrighted Bibles, Tecarta charges $5-6. Older versions for which the copyright has expired are generally $1. Study Bibles are generally in the $15-20 range. Equivalent printed study Bibles would sell for around $50.
There are many software Bibles now and, frankly, I'm not familiar with them. The program I bought more than a decade ago, which I still regularly use, is Ellis Mega Bible Library, www.BibleLibrary.com. It isn't "spiffy" with lots of fancy graphics common in modern software, but it has a lot of things generally available only in "professional" programs that clergy would use, and which sell for hundreds of dollars. For instance, you can parallel multiple Bibles, including literal translations of the Greek or Hebrew or a glossary showing transliterated Greek or Hebrew for the main words in a passage, together with definitions of those words.
"For physical Bibles, are there other things I should consider?"
The King James Version is a "must
have" for serious Bible study. It should not be your primary study
Bible because of the many words that have changed meanings and the many changes
in grammatical structure over almost four centuries. Nevertheless, it
is still referred to regularly by teachers, preachers, and others and is still
standard against which all
other English translations are compared.
This is the "granddaddy" of commonly-used English translations although it was actually based on the Geneva Bible English translation. Until the mid-1980's it was the most widely-used English-language Bible. It is the English-language Bible most often quoted, for a very non-obvious reason: Because it is so old, it is not copyrighted. Therefore, authors and publishers don't have to pay royalties.
In its time, the KJV was equivalent to today's NKJV -- it was a solid translation into good, readable English of the time. Today, the King James language is archaic. The translation was done in Shakespeare's time. If you can understand Shakespeare as easily as you understand a newspaper, then by all means use the King James. Otherwise, don't.
Even if you can easily understand the King James language, most people can't. Listeners find it extremely difficult to follow. Congregations find it hard to read in unison, often mispronouncing words or accidentally substituting other words and thereby changing the meaning of what is spoken.
Also, the words don't mean what they say! In King James' time testament was another word for covenant. Covenant is another word for contract. A contract is a legally enforceable agreement. The Bible is a set of books about two legally enforceable agreements God made with Man: the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Most speakers of modern English think "testament" has something to do with "testimony" or "last will and testament." Several hundred words have changed their meaning since the King James Version was translated. In King James' time ghost was a synonym for spirit, hence Holy Ghost. Today, ghost has assumed the much more narrow meaning of the spirit of a human being who has died.
Many people have raised the King James Version to an object of worship. There are Bible scholars who actually claim that the King James Version is the most accurate version of the Bible available today. They don't simply claim it's the most accurate translation, they claim it expresses God's message to mankind even more accurately than the original text in the original languages!
Jesus didn't speak in archaic language, but most people have come to think of the language of the King James Version as the way Jesus spoke.
Many people think The Bible is not understandable because of the King James Version's archaic language. They don't say "I don't understand this translation, I'll get another one," they say "I tried reading The Bible and I couldn't understand it, so I stopped reading it."
This is the most widely-known translation. Because is not copyrighted, it is generally the only one available free or cheap. It is a fairly literal translation. It is a good translation; the problem isn't the quality of the translation, it is the changes that have occurred in the English language since.
Over the years, there have been numerous updates to the King James Version. The more modern ones are the RSV and the NRSV.
King James is a good translation; there is no reason to totally abandon it. These updates build on a solid base and make it more understandable to modern readers. Also, many people were raised hearing particular phrasing and feel uncomfortable with a completely new wording, even if it is an accurate translation.
The NRSV is a good, modern English translation, similar to, but different from the NKJV.
Neither of these updates has become particularly popular; hence, if you are reading one in a group, the chances are you will be the only person with that translation.
Regarding the RSV, words spoken directly by God are still translated with "thee" and "thou" instead of "you." Most of the Psalms are still translated with archaic words such as "doth" and "hast."
The NRSV updaters go out of their way to be "gender neutral". In doing so, they are changing the text, e.g., using "brothers and sisters" where the original says "brothers."
This is a completely new translation that has endeavored to keep the phrasing and tenor of the King James Version while updating the individual words. Although it uses the name "King James" it is not simply an update. The NKJV translators/updaters originally planned to simply replace obsolete words and verb forms and archaic word order, e.g., update "thy servant thou hast forgiven" but they found out that so much of the text would remain unchanged that they could not copyright the new version, so they did more extensive changes. However, they kept the name "King James", giving the general public the impression that it is an "official" update.
This is a highly-regarded translation into modern English. It builds on a solid, established, good translation, the KJV. Of the three major modern-English translations (NKJV, NIV, NASB) it follows the original language closer than the NIV but not as close as the NASB. Special care was given to "beauty" of the final text. There is "something special" about the phrasing, etc. It has the benefit of a "pedigree" that gives it credibility with many people who consider other translations as altering the word of God.
Like the NIV and the NRSV, the NKJV completely does away with antiquated language such as "thou, thee, thine, hast, hath, doeth."
Although NKJV is a good translation, it has not caught on as well as the NIV. In a study group or congregation it is more likely that listeners will have an NIV than an NKJV.
Because the NIV uses more "dynamic equivalence", because the NIV editors deliberately concerned themselves with modern English literary style and usage rather than trying to track King James style and wording where possible, and because the NIV aims specifically at seventh-grade reading level, it is somewhat more readable than the NKJV, which uses language closer to a college level. I teach in Children's Church and I often have to rephrase NKJV text so the children will understand.
It is important to realize that none of these "disadvantages" are really negative – they have nothing to do with the quality, accuracy or usefulness of the NKJV.
The NKJV is an excellent translation. I highly recommend it as a primary Bible for serious study. I find that as people get more into studying the Bible, they start to prefer the NKJV over the NIV. Also, I would particularly recommend it for high school students, as it will improve their reading skills.
Personal side notes:
I have had KJV's, RSV, New Living Translation (NLT - actually a paraphrase), Complete Jewish Bible (CJB), JPS Tanakh, NJPS Tanakh, NASB study bible, NIV study Bible, New Amerian Bible (NAB), NKJV, New English Translation (NET), Contemporary English Version (CEV), Nueva Versión Internacional (NVI - Spanish equivalent of NIV), Reina-Valera 1960 (RV-1960, the Spanish equivalent of NKJV).
I use the NKJV as my primary English-language Bible and NVI for Spanish. (I studied Spanish in high school and college, so I find the text easier to read than, for example, RV-1960.) I have found that most of the ministers in training at my church (Methodist) gradually also gravitate to the NKJV. At the Messianic Synagogue I attend most people use either the NKJV or the Complete Jewish Bible.
There are three reasons I mainly use NIV on this website, none having to do with the quality of the translation:
This is the most popular of the modern translations and since the mid-1980's has been the best-selling English-language translation. If a church's leaders do not specifically insist on using the King James Version, they will most likely recommend that the congregation use the New International Version.
"Dynamic equivalence" means that a translator doesn't always translate the words, but rather the meaning. All translations use "dynamic equivalence" to some degree. For instance, there is a Russian proverb "One soldier does not make an army." One Russian translator translated that into English by substituting the English proverb "You can't fight City Hall." Many places in the New Testament refer to specific amounts of ancient currency, e.g., "200 denarii". The NIV translators often substitute the value, e.g., "eight months of a man's wages", whereas the NKJV translates literally "200 denarii."
Note that "dynamic equivalence" is not a paraphrase. Dynamic equivalence applies to individual words or phrases, not whole sentences or paragraphs.
In some places the NIV translators deliberately mistranslate pronouns to make it clear whom is being referred to.
The NIV is highly-respected for its accuracy in conveying meaning. According to the translators, the text is aimed at seventh-grade reading level. Even people of less than average education or intelligence can understand the language whether they are reading it or hearing it. The footnotes usually indicate where the translators have substituted words. If someone is not using the King James Version, it is most likely he will be using the NIV.
The NIV completely does away with antiquated language such as "thou, thee, thine, hast, hath, doeth."
Dynamic equivalence is both a benefit and a problem. For deep, scholarly evaluation substitution of words is sometimes a problem, but for the average reader it helps.
This is a highly-respected, high-quality modern translation, although it is less popular than the NKJV or NIV. Generally, the same comments that apply to the NIV apply to the NASB. The major difference is that NASB uses the least dynamic equivalence. In other words, it follows the original text somewhat more closely than either the NIV or the NKJV.
Do not confuse the New American Standard Bible (NASB) an interdenominational Protestant version, with the New American Bible (NAB), which is a Roman Catholic version that includes the Apocrypha.
This is a modern English Roman Catholic version that includes the Apocrypha.
Often this is an excellent translation -- about the same as the NKJV. The biblical text is fine for use by both Protestants and Catholics. English has more words than any other language; hence, it allows finer shades of meaning than other languages. This translation often uses words that are slightly different from other translations and seem to give a clearer sense of the meaning of the original text. However, considering problems I have found (especially with the Ezekiel translation), I would suggest that you always compare the translation to another highly-regarded text (such as the NKJV or NASB), and if they differ, the other version is probably more accurate.
The Apocrypha provide important historical and cultural background information about the intertestamental period, the period between the Old and New Testaments.
Sometimes the authors take severe liberties with the text. For instance, their chapter 10 in the book of Ezekiel contains verses from three different chapters, and not in the original sequence. Their sequence is:
Protestants do not consider the Apocrypha divinely inspired and point to various teachings that directly contradict Protestant, and in some cases even Catholic doctrines. (Note: my standard practice on this website is to use purple when quoting text outside the Old and New Testaments that is regarded as scripture by a recognized major religious group such as Roman Catholicism or Islam.)
Do not confuse the New American Bible (NAB), which is a Roman Catholic version that includes the Apocrypha with the New American Standard Bible (NASB), which is an interdenominational translation of the Protestant Bible.
This is a paraphrase of the Bible! It should not be your primary study Bible!
The New Living Translation specifically aims at presenting text in conversational American English. The language of this Bible is very easy to understand. In many instances a listener cannot tell whether he is hearing normal conversation or a portion of text being read. In some instances text has been added to make it clear what the writer is referring to without being distracted by footnotes.
Often, series of items are displayed in list format, making it much easier to remember or see patterns.
This is a particularly good Bible for:
The New Living Translation is not intended to be a primary Bible for serious study. For detailed study each individual word of the original text is important, and a paraphrase does not attempt to maintain textual accuracy.
Large portions of the Bible are poetry or couplets, e.g., most of Proverbs. The New Living Translation specifically aims at presenting all the text in conversational American English. Thus, the form, sense and feel of the poetry is entirely lost -- there is no attempt to preserve it.
Any translation requires a certain amount of theological interpretation. For instance, the original texts had no capitals and no punctuation, yet English translators routinely distinguish Spirit, referring specifically to the Holy Spirit, from spirit, meaning any spirit, and the Word of God, referring to Jesus, from the word of God. The New Living Translation had to make a greater number of such choices than true translations.
This Bible, and all paraphrases, lack credibility with many Christians, particularly those who are very conservative theologically.
The New Living Translation and other paraphrased Bibles should never be relied upon or quoted in articles, etc.
Most people are not used to reading conversational English silently. The New Living Translation is particularly good to read aloud, even alone. Often, a passage from an accurate translation will be difficult to understand, but on hearing the New Living Translation paraphrase read aloud the meaning is immediately clear.
(c) 1998-2015 by Rick Reinckens, last revised May 2015