18 Bible translations and why you should use more than one

Date: 19 Mar, 2009
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In: christianity, faith & religion

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Why are there so many Bible translations, why is there even more than one (per natural language: one French, one Spanish, one English, etc.)? Presenting a range of 18 translations that cover the gamut of styles of translation. Followed by some examples from a few of the translations.

Bible Translations from א to ת

[Inspired by: Christianity & Renewal December 2003, pages 28-32 are using their ordering; those funny letters are Aleph and Taf the first and last Hebrew letters.]

First are the literal translations (“word for word”), these translate as closely as possible the words used by the writer of the books. NIV is considered the middle ground by the C&R report’s author Andy Peck. Whilst the final group are those using dynamic equivalence in which the ideas are present usually using modern idioms and word patterns. This last group make for very readable texts at the expense of lack of fine detail.

In the following list the Bible versions are given in bold and images are affiliate links to Amazon Books. Text is taken from various sources including Wikipedia (retrieved 2009-03-19).

<word for word ~ literal equivalence>

NASB, New American Standard Bible – As its name implies, the NASB is a revision of the American Standard Version of 1901. This translation was begun as an alternative to the Revised Standard Version (1946–1952/1971), itself a revision of the ASV, but considered by many to be theologically liberal. Using the ASV as its English base, the NASB’s translators revised the ASV as literally as possible.

AMP, Amplified Bible – produced jointly by The Zondervan Corporation and The Lockman Foundation. The first edition was published in 1965. It is largely a revision of the American Standard Version of 1901, with reference made to various texts in the original languages. It is designed to “amplify” the text by using a system of punctuation and other typographical features to bring out all shades of meaning present in the original texts.

ESV English Standard Version – a revision of the 1971 edition of the Revised Standard Version. The first edition was published in 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

RSV, Revised Standard Version – published in the mid-20th century. It traces its history all the way back to William Tyndale’s New Testament translation of 1525 and the King James Version of 1611. The RSV is a comprehensive revision of the King James Version (KJV), the Revised Version (RV) of 1881-85, and the American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901, with the ASV being the primary basis for the revision.

KJV, King James Version – begun in 1604 and first published in 1611 by the Church of England. The Great Bible was the first “authorized version” issued by the Church of England in the reign of King Henry VIII. In January 1604, King James I of England convened the Hampton Court Conference where a new English version was conceived in response to the perceived problems of the earlier translations as detected by the Puritans.

NKJV, New KJV -The NKJV translation project, which was conceived by Arthur Farstad, was inaugurated in 1975 with two meetings (Nashville and Chicago) of 68 interested persons, most of them prominent Baptists but also including some conservative Presbyterians. The men who were invited to these meetings prepared the guidelines for the NKJV. The New Testament was published in 1979, the Psalms in 1980, and the full NKJV Bible in 1982. The aim of its translators was to update the vocabulary and grammar of the King James Version, while preserving the classic style and beauty of the 1611 version. Although it uses substantially the same Hebrew and Greek texts as the original KJV, it indicates where more commonly accepted manuscripts differ.

NRSV, New RSV -The NRSV was translated by the Division of Christian Education (now Bible Translation and Utilization) of the National Council of Churches, an ecumenical Christian group. There has also been Jewish representation in the group responsible for the Old Testament.This translation is meant to replace the Revised Standard Version, and to identify it in context with the many other English language translations available today. It is called the New Revised Standard Version because it is a revision of the Revised Standard Version,(1952) which was a revision of the American Standard Version,(sometimes called the “Standard Bible”),(1901), which was an American English revision of The Revised Version (or English Revised Version),(1885), which is itself a revision of the King James Version of 1611.

NAB, New American Bible – produced by members of the Catholic biblical scholars in cooperation with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, first published in 1970. The original languages were translated into English by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine according to the principles of Vatican II for use in the liturgy.

NJB, New Jerusalem Bible – an update to the Jerusalem Bible, an English version of the French Bible de Jérusalem. It is commonly held that the Jerusalem Bible was not a translation from the French; rather, it was an original translation heavily influenced by the French. This view is not shared by Henry Wansbrough, editor of the New Jerusalem Bible, who writes, “Despite claims to the contrary, it is clear that the Jerusalem Bible was translated from the French, possibly with occasional glances at the Hebrew or Greek, rather than vice versa.” (‘How the Bible Came to Us’. Also available online ). When the French version was updated in 1973, the changes were used to revise the Jerusalem Bible, creating the New Jerusalem Bible.

NIV, New International Version – The New International Version project was started after a meeting in 1965 in Palos Heights, Illinois between the Christian Reformed Church, National Association of Evangelicals, and a group of international scholars. The New York Bible Society (now the Colorado Springs-based International Bible Society) was selected to do the translation. The New Testament was released in 1973 and the full Bible in 1978. It underwent minor revision in 1984.

TNIV, Today’s NIV – The intent of the TNIV translators was to produce an accurate and readable translation in contemporary language. The Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) wanted to build a new version on the heritage of the NIV and make it a balanced, mediating version, one that would fall in-between the most literal translation and the most free.

NCV, New Century; ICB, International Children’s Bible; TYB, The Youth Bible – the NCV is a revision of the International Children’s Bible. The ICB is aimed at young readers and those with low reading skills/limited vocabulary in English. It is written at a [US] 3rd grade level (from the introduction) and is both conservative and evangelical in tone. The New Testament was first published in 1978 and the Old Testament followed in 1986. The ICB was revised somewhat to be a bit more sophisticated (reading level grade 5) and was dubbed the New Century Version. This revised version was first published in 1991.

NLT, New Living Translation – the translators set out to render the meaning and style of original texts to the closest natural equivalent in clear, contemporary English. The words and phrases were translated as simply and literally as possible. If the literal approach resulted in a hard to understand or misleading translation, a more dynamic approach was used to clear up difficult metaphors and terms. The goal was “to create a text that would make the same impact in the life of modern readers that the original text had for the original readers”.

NIrV, New International Readers Version – Translated by the International Bible Society on the same philosophy as the New International Version, but written in a simpler form of English, the NIRV seeks to make the Bible more accessible for people who have difficulty reading English, for example because they are non-native English speakers.

GNT, Good News Translation; TEV, Today’s English Version – by the American Bible Society, first published as the New Testament under the name Good News for Modern Man in 1966. It was anglicized into British English by the British and Foreign Bible Society with the use of metric measurements for the Commonwealth market. It was formerly known as Today’s English Version (TEV), but in 2001 was renamed the Good News Translation because of misconceptions that it was merely a paraphrase and not a genuine translation.

CEV, Contemporary English Version – test studies were made that focused on how English was read and heard. This led to a series of test volumes being published in the late 1980s and early 1990s such as Luke Tells the Good News About Jesus (1987) and A Book About Jesus (1991). In 1991, the 175th anniversary of the American Bible Society, the CEV New Testament was released. The CEV Old Testament was released in 1995. In 1999, The Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books were published.

TLB, Living Bible – is an English version of the Bible created by Kenneth N. Taylor. It was first published in 1971. Unlike most English Bibles, The Living Bible is a paraphrase. Mr. Taylor used the American Standard Version of 1901 as his base text.

The Message – was created by Eugene H. Peterson and published in segments from 1993 to 2002. It is a paraphrase of the original languages of the Bible. The New Testament was published in 1993. The Hebrew Bible Wisdom Books were published in 1998. The Hebrew Bible Prophets were published in 2000. The Hebrew Bible Pentateuch were released in 2001. The Books of History came out in 2002 and the entire Bible was released that same year.

<thought for thought = dynamic equivalence>

The last entry, The Message,  is what is known as dynamic or functionally equivalent translation as it portrays the precise meaning in a way which the translator thinks the writer would do so in modern times, i.e. using modern idioms and turns of phrase without changing the meaning.

Parallel Bible translation examples

These examples are taken from Bible Gateway’s presentation of the different versions. Remember that the original texts will not have had punctuation nor have been separated in to Chapters and Verses but instead be written as continuous prose on a single scroll per book / epistle.

Genesis 1:27

NASB: God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

NIV: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

NLT: So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

CEV: So God created humans to be like himself; he made men and women.

Message: God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female.

Exodus 20:17

NASB: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

KJV: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

NIV: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

NLT: You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.

CEV: Do not want anything that belongs to someone else. Don’t want anyone’s house, wife or husband, slaves, oxen, donkeys or anything else.

Message: No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s.

Matthew 5:3

NASB: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

NIV: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

NLT: God blesses those who realise their need for him, for the kingdom of heaven is given to them.

CEV: God blesses those people who depend only on him. They belong to the kingdom of heaven!

Message: You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

John 14:6

NASB: Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

NIV: Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

NLT: Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.

CEV: “I am the way, the truth, and the life!” Jesus answered. “Without me, no one can go to the Father.

Message: Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me.

John 18:14

NASB: Now Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people.

NIV: Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people.

NLT: Caiaphas was the one who had told the other Jewish leaders, “It’s better that one man should die for the people.”

CEV: This was the same Caiaphas who had told the Jewish leaders, “It is better if one person dies for the people.”

Message: It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it was to their advantage that one man die for the people.


We see just from these few examples that the translations are have subtle differences in the feeling they give. But we also see that they each present the same idea. No matter what version you read it’s clear from John 14 that Jesus is the route to God, the only route to the Father.

Don’t get caught out

Occasionally when doing a bible study we can get caught up on specific words used or a particular turn of phrase – whenever this happens it’s always worth considering a couple of other translations. You can be pretty sure it’s not worth arguing over what the Bible says about an issue if the argument disappears when you consider some other translation. For example, reading The Message at John 14 one might attempt to claim that only Jesus can go to the Father (“No one […] apart from me.”) – this would be a simple failing of the reader in putting too much emphasis on the translators words and not on the whole message. This translation goes on to say “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!” which puts the lie to such a potentially damaging inference.

It is widely accepted that The Bible should be used to aid its own interpretation but, unless you’re a Biblical scholar able to understand the nuance of the original languages, I would argue this self reference requires multiple translations (preferably from different parts of the spectrum above) to avoid naive errors of interpretation.

Grace & Peace

Some other webpages on associated subjects

Figurative language involves “the representation of one concept in terms of another because the nature of the two things compared allows such an analogy to be drawn. Nearly all figures of speech come out of the life of the speaker or writer who uses them. This means that the student who understands the background of the writer will better understand his figurative language. Most writers, for example, use comparison to explain the unfamiliar by that which is already familiar to the reader.”

Value and Limitations

The value of the New International Version can be found in its readability. The goal of the translators for clarity and literary quality has been accomplished. This is confirmed by the fact that the Gideons now are placing the New International Version rather than the King James Version in hotels and other public places.

  • Translations of the Bible, a tabulated list from Thomas Nelson (a publishing house) not unlike the list here but featuring a note on distinctive features, a comparison on Hebrews 1:1,2 and a note on the “Theological Affiliation” of the particular translations.
  • The Bible online, this resource includes many translations in many languages as well as supporting documents and other study aids.

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[…] a follow on from my last post on the 18 Bible translations across the literal-to-dynamic range here’s a look at Google Trends for Bible translations over the last […]


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