Bible Study Begins by Selecting a Bible Translation

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

One of the keys to Bible study is to get a good translation. You know, of course, that the Bible wasn't written in English, but in Hebrew (and a bit of Aramaic) in the Old Testament and Greek in the New Testament. A translation tries to render the original languages into clear, accurate English. There are two types of translations:

  1. Literal word-for-word translation. This makes for accuracy, but can be pretty wooden to read out loud. A good example of this type is the New American Standard Bible (NASB).
  2. Dynamic thought-for-thought correspondence. Here the translator takes a thought in the original language and tries to translate it into the same concept in good English, without being tied to the exact words in the original. A good example of this might be Today's English Version (TEV).

The best Bible for Bible study purpose will probably contain a balance of both. You want a careful, accurate translation, but one that reads easily and clearly for family devotions or public worship.

Another issue is the underlying Greek and Hebrew text. The KJV translators worked with the best texts available to them in 1611, but in the last 150 years we have gained a much more accurate understanding of what the original text must have been. Nearly all modern translations are enriched by the translators working from the most accurate Greek and Hebrew texts possible.

Here are some of the most popular English translations. Your church or tradition may have a particular preference, but any one of these might be a good choice for you:

  • The King James Version (KJV, 1611) is, of course, the granddaddy of our English Bibles. For its day it was a very accurate translation and is still used in many congregations today. In 1984, the New King James Version (NKJV) was published as a whole Bible by Thomas Nelson. Translators modernized the language of archaic words substantially and removed most of the "thee's and thou's," through the original text it was based on remained the same as the KJV of 1611. For churches with a strong King James tradition, the NKJV is a popular choice.
  • The New International Version (NIV) was first translated as a whole Bible by evangelical scholars in 1973, with revisions in 1983 and 1988. It provides an excellent balance between readability and accuracy of translation. For years it has been the most popular newer translation in the United States, especially among evangelical churches.
  • New American Standard Bible (NASB or NASV), translated by the Lockman Foundation, was published in the whole Bible in 1971 and revised in 1977. Its big strength is its consistency in literally translating words and tenses. It is known as a very accurate translation, though perhaps not as easy to read aloud as some others.
  • New Revised Standard Version (NRSV, 1989) and its predecessor the Revised Standard Version (RSV, 1952) are careful translations in the King James tradition. Several Protestant denominations prefer the NRSV. It is both accurate and readable.

Of course, there are many other modern translations, many of them good for serious Bible study, too numerous to list here. The original Living Bible and The Message are not translations, but paraphrases. They can be refreshing to read but aren't good Bibles for careful study.

As you prepare yourself for serious Bible study, carefully select a Bible translation that will make it easier for you to learn exactly what the Bible teaches. Of course, in the end it's not the Bible that we seek to know, but the God of the Bible whom we seek after -- and for that quest any Bible will do.


Dr. Ralph F. Wilson has pioneered Bible study on the Internet since 1996 with his JesusWalk® Bible Study series ( The site offers more than a more than a dozen no-cost interactive online Bible studies, plus books and DVDs designed for personal and group study.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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