How to Choose a Bible Translation

Since the Bible was originally written in ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, it must be translated for most of us to read and understand it. In English, we have several options. But how are they different? How do you choose a Bible translation? Should you have more than one?
Here’s your guide to finding a Bible translation.

What’s the difference?

Translating from an ancient language is a balancing act between precision and readability. The more strictly a translation holds to the word order of the original, the harder it is to read, and the smoother the translated language, generally the farther it strays from the original wording. Some translations sacrifice readability in favor of an extremely precise translation (like the NASB). Others play loose with the original word order and achieve a very smooth, highly readable final product (like the NLT). Most fill the space between those extremes.
There are four major translation methods:

  • Verbal equivalence—translate with strong preference to use the same word order as the original
  • Dynamic equivalence—translate with freedom to rearrange the order of words in the final product to enhance readability
  • Hybrid—a combined approach in which a committee of scholars decide which method to use in each situation
  • Paraphrase—translate with freedom to rearrange or use different words to express the author’s intent
    (Some scholars argue this method is not even a translation, but something different.)

Do I need more than one?

Yes.
While some teach that highly readable translations are better for children and new believers, it’s wise for everyone to pair a precise translation with a highly readable one, especially when dealing with a more complex passage. The readable one may lead to faster understanding, while the precision can clarify that understanding.

The NASB, a highly precise translation, pairs well with NLT, a smooth reading.

The ESV, a balanced translation with a tendency toward precision, pairs well with NIrV, which prefers readability.
You can learn more about choosing Bible translations in this short course from Logos Mobile Education, or explore the different translations that come free inside Logos Basic.
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Written by
Ray Deck III

Born in WV, Ray escaped to North Carolina at a young age. He came to Logos after an 8 year stint at a faith-based nonprofit in New York. When he is not assembling sequences of words, he’s probably running, surfing or shooting skeet, but you should probably go look for him. He has a terrible sense of direction and is probably lost.

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Written by Ray Deck III