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Your Guide to Choosing the Best Bible Translation

The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Therefore, translating Scripture is a daunting task. Translators aim to accurately bring the original text into their native language and do so in such a way that people can understand God's Word—but this means different interpretations produce different results. There are now more English translations of the Bible available than in any other language. So, where do you begin? Continue reading our guide, which will help you narrow your search and pick the best Bible translation for you.

Bible Translation Guide
Bible Translation Guide

Formal translations are more accurate and literal, because they are translated word-by-word. Dynamic translations are translated phrase-by-phrase and use more contemporary language, allowing for a smoother reading experience. Generally, formal translations have a higher reading level than dynamic translations, but both are used for in-depth study and personal development. In contrast, paraphrase translations put the most emphasis on readability, and thus are most often used for devotional reading and gaining diverse insights.

The Bible versions below are separated into formal, dynamic and paraphrase translations. Each features short descriptions to help you further understand what each Bible version offers.

Formal Translations
Amplified Bible | English Standard Version | King James Version | New American Standard Bible | New King James Version

Dynamic Translations
Holman Christian Standard Bible | New American Bible | New International Version | New Living Translation | New Revised Standard Version

Paraphrase Translations
Good News Translation | The Message | New International Reader's Version | The Living Bible

Formal Bible Translations

Amplified Bible

The Amplified Bible attempts to be as literal as possible and includes added context, through the use of additional words in brackets, parentheses and italics, as well as outside sources to assist readers in understanding the difficult parts of Scripture. This translation allows you to read a word-for-word translation but has amplified word meanings to help break down the language barrier.

Year Released: 1965, 1987 (expanded edition)
Reading Level: 11

Sample Scripture: "For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life." - John 3:16

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English Standard Version (ESV)

The English Standard Version was modeled after the highly accurate King James Version, English Revised Version, and American Standard Version, but provides far easier readability. It is noted for its "word-for-word" accuracy, as well as capturing the personal style of each Bible writer.

Year Released: 2001, 2011 (expanded edition)
Reading Level: 7.4

Sample Scripture: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." - John 3:16

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King James Version (KJV)

The King James Version of the Bible was originally printed in 1611, but has gone through three revisions since then, incorporating over 100,000 changes. While it was translated extremely well, many of the words used aren’t found in today’s English language or have different meanings. However, the KJV is still believed by many to be the most literal English translation available. It is widely used for memorizing Scripture and for worship.

Year Released: 1611
Reading Level: 12

Sample Scripture: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." - John 3:16

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New American Standard Bible (NASB)

The New American Standard Bible is considered one of the most literally translated 20th century English translations. The old English has been updated to modern English but still maintains a word-for-word translation style. However, because of its dedication to literalism, the readability is not as smooth as other contemporary translations.

Year Released: 1971, 1995 (updated edition)
Reading Level: 11

Sample Scripture: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." - John 3:16

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New King James Version (NKJV)

The New King James Version of the Bible maintains the accuracy of the original King James, yet presents Scripture with clarity to help today's modern reader understand God's Word. This updated version removes the “thees” and “thous” and applies more recent research and findings in archaeology, linguistics, and textual studies that the KJV didn’t take into account.

Year Released: 1982
Reading Level: 8

Sample Scripture: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." - John 3:16

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Dynamic Bible Translations

Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

The Holman Christian Standard Bible was translated with the goal of creating an optimal balance between word-for-word translation and thought-for-thought translation. Delivering a text that features contemporary English, this translation still stays faithful to the original languages of the Bible. The HCSB also takes into account more recent manuscript discoveries.

Year Released: 2000 (NT), 2002 (Psalms & Proverbs), 2004, 2009 (revised)
Reading Level: 7.5

Sample Scripture: "For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life." - John 3:16

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New American Bible (NAB)

The New American Bible is the first complete American Catholic Bible that was translated from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages. Every edition includes the Apocryphal books. It was translated by a team of 55 scholars, including some Protestants, with the focus being on a word-for-word translation that also reads well. Since 2002, the NAB is the only English Bible that can be used at Mass in dioceses of the United States.

Year Released: 1970, 1986 (NT revised), 1992 (Psalms revised)
Reading Level: 6

Sample Scripture: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." - John 3:16

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New International Version (NIV)

The New International Version of the Bible is one of the most popular translations in history, and the official Bible translation of many churches around the world. The NIV attempts to balance word-for-word with phrase-by-phrase translations, providing a mix of readability and staying true to the original Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew languages. Some people find the language too simple, though, sacrificing accuracy for more contemporary English. It is ideal for study, preaching and reading. Many good Bibles and study resources are available for the NIV.

Year Released: 1978, 1984 (revised), 2011 (revised)
Reading Level: 7.8

Sample Scripture: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." - John 3:16

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New Living Translation (NLT)

The translators of the New Living Translation set out to create a text that would have the same impact on readers now as the original text had on people who read it in their languages. The result is a translation that features contemporary English and translated thoughts rather than just words, which means an easy to read and understand version of the Bible.

Year Released: 1996, 2004 (revised)
Reading Level: 6.3

Sample Scripture: "For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." - John 3:16

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New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible is considered one of the most ecumenical translations, meaning scholars from many different denominations took part in its creation. This version draws from the same philosophy as the King James Version and the American Standard Version in its attempt to stay as literal as possible. The NRSV does use more gender-neutral language though, which some believe reduces its accuracy.

Year Released: 1989
Reading Level: 11

Sample Scripture: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." - John 3:16

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Paraphrase Bible Translations

Good News Translation (GNT)

Previously known as the Good News Bible or Today's English Version, the Good News Translation was published in 1976 as a "common language" Bible. It presents the text in clear and simple language, while still remaining faithful to the original languages. Many editions of the Good News Translation also include small drawings of biblical events to supplement the text.

Year Released: 1976
Reading Level: 6

Sample Scripture: "For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life." - John 3:16

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The Message (MSG)

The Message is a translation designed to get people reading the Bible, rather than studying it. Eugene Peterson translated The Message directly from the original languages, without using any English translations as references, and the result is a very contemporary translation. However, no verses are used, making it difficult to look up specific passages.

Year Released: 2002
Reading Level: 5.5 - 10 (depending on passage)

Sample Scripture: "This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life." - John 3:16

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New International Reader’s Version (NIrV)

The New International Reader’s Version follows a similar strategy as the New International Version, but simplifies the language even more. This simplification makes the NIrV particularly accessible to children and those who struggle with reading English. A great starter Bible to get your young ones reading the Word.

Year Released: 1996
Reading Level: 2.9

Sample Scripture: "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life." - John 3:16

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The Living Bible (TLB)

The Living Bible was created by Kenneth L. Taylor because he wanted to put the Bible in a language his children could understand. Using the American Standard Version (1901) as his base text, Taylor attempts to say exactly what the writers of the Scriptures meant, but in such a way that is clear to modern readers. It is particularly beneficial for people who haven't ever read the Bible or use English as a second language.

Year Released: 1971
Reading Level: 8

Sample Scripture: "For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." - John 3:16

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**The reading levels provided are meant as general guidelines, but people do not always agree on what the grade levels are for the different versions of the Bible. Regardless of which Bible translation you choose, the most important point is that you will be reading Scripture, growing stronger in faith and in your relationship with God.
…to look after orphans and widows in their distress. James 1:27
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