We are very blessed, if we speak English, to have numerous translations of the Bible that we can choose from. Sometimes the question is asked, “Which one’s the best one? Which Bible translation should I be using?” That’s not an easy question to answer!
I think if you asked all the scholars who have been on the translation committees of various Bible translations (both recent and in the past), they would probably be tempted to say, “Well, the translation that I worked on is absolutely the best.” Why would they ever say anything but that? No one’s going to say, “Well, the translation that I worked on is not as good as the other one.” There’d be no sense in trying to come up with a new translation!
Be Thankful for the Variety of Translations!
First, I want to say, be thankful that you have so many translations! If you have more than one that you have access to, well, take advantage of that! You can compare one with another. They even make comparative Bibles.
I have a comparative Bible that has, I think, 23 different translations listed. They’re all merged together so I can look up a verse and I can see how all 23 translations render that verse. Actually, they don’t always give you all 23 because there are so many similarities!
Don’t Get Distracted by Subtle Differences in Bible Translations
That brings me to another point that is worth thinking about. When you get to the point that you have to defend your peculiar doctrine by pulling out a particular translation of the Bible, what you’re arguing about or what you’re trying to defend is probably not of the greatest importance!
In every translation of the Bible, John 3:16 sounds pretty much the same. “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.” The greatest commandment—to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength—that sounds pretty much the same in all of the English translations. Love your neighbor as yourself and do unto others as you would have them do unto you—these are all the same in all the translations.
Remember that when you stand before Jesus, He’s not going to give you a test on your Bible knowledge. He’s going to be evaluating you on the basis of whether or not you obeyed His Commandments. That’s what He told us to do:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you. – Matthew 28:19-20, emphasis added
Mistaking Spirituality with Bible Knowledge
A lot of folks mistake spirituality with Bible knowledge, or a mere head knowledge. They’re making really a big mistake!
Think about it. Back in Jesus’ day, the folks who studied the Bible they had at that time were so far from God! They, in most cases, were legalists who were scrupulously trying to follow the letter of the law as it was actually perverted by their perverse desires, all the while ignoring the spirit of the law.
Jesus criticized them for this saying, “You guys are swallowing camels and straining out the gnats” (see Matthew 23:24). That is, you’re making the big things the little things and the little things the big things.
I’m kind of getting that drift from some of the questions that we receive here at Little Lessons. I thank God for every single question that people send in, but some of them reflect the fact that people have very pet doctrines that they’re trying to defend or that they’re very interested in. Things that are really of no great eternal significance.
Let’s not be like the Pharisees, making the little things big things and the big things little things! Jesus said, speaking specifically to the scribes and Pharisees,
… you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. – Matthew 23:23
A Basic Explanation of the Different Bible Translations
Now, back to the original question, “Which Bible translation should I use?”
I personally use the New American Standard Bible. That is a word-for-word translation. They tried their best to take every Greek word that was there in the original manuscripts and get an equivalent English word. Using a word-for-word translation is a great way to get a very accurate text, but sometimes, when idioms are used, our eyes glaze over.
Then there are other translations that are more liberal, and they try to take a thought-for-thought translation. The Living Bible, which was translated decades ago, did that. They have tried to improve it with the New Living Translation. They really got the smart guys to do some work there and it became a much more accurate translation!
The Living Bible, the original one, was a paraphrase by Ken Taylor who was not a Greek scholar. He was just trying to make the Bible understandable and therefore accessible to your average Joe or your average Jane. (God bless him, he’s a great guy! I actually got to shake his hand once.)
Thank God for all these translations!
A Closing Thought and Challenge
Last but not least, along these lines, think about all the people who don’t have any Bible in their language. Maybe rather than buying one more translation so that you can add to your theological knowledge and get those little Greek nuances, maybe it would be better to think about those poor folks who don’t have the Bible in their language yet.
See if you can do something to help change this, because there are some great ministries out there that are involved in Bible translation and getting Bibles into the hands of people who don’t have them.
Oh my goodness, we are so blessed. Let’s not forget that. Let’s not forget people who we can be a blessing to. Thanks so much for today’s question and have a great rest of your day! God bless you.