There are numerous translations of the Bible out there, and finding the best choice for yourself can sometimes be overwhelming. We tried to sum up a few of the most popular versions out there to help you navigate a version to try, whether a more literal or a more interpretive translation. You should try to find one with a vocabulary and style that suits you. It is, however, best to refer to multiple translations to get the full breadth of what is being said in the Bible as both a literal (word-for-word) translation and interpretive (thought-for-thought) translation each have different pros and cons. Having variety also helps highlight some of the tricky spots translators wrestle with. If there are crucial differences in certain words or phrases between translations, it can show you where the original language was especially difficult or controversial and give you insight into what was really meant when it was written, without having to know the original languages (Hebrew or Greek) yourself. We hope you’ll gather knowledge from many translations and can find one or a few that will help you learn God’s Word and grow in your faith on a regular basis. —Cailin Henson
The King James Version (KJV)
Translation: A word-for-word translation, in 17th-century language. Most difficult to read for some, using “thee”, “thou” and other Old English words.
Best For: Good for reference and study. The King James translation has been around for centuries and is considered by some to be a classic. However, the foreign-sounding vocabulary and word order can make it a challenge to read for those brand new to reading the Bible. In addition, knowledge of the language found in the original texts has grown over the years since the King James Version was first translated, so much of the vocabulary has become dated.
Example: (Colossians 2:1-3): For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
The Amplified Bible (AMP)
Translation: Amplified word meanings in addition to word-for-word translation that helps describe words in more understandable ways.
Best For: Deeper understanding. This heavily interpretive version offers some unique insight into the text that can be valuable. However, it can be better to read this version in addition to a different translation to help you come away with your own interpretation, instead of relying solely on the interpretations of other people, no matter how wise and versed in scripture they are.
Example: (Colossians 2:1-3): For I want you to know how great is my solicitude for you [how severe an inward struggle I am engaged in for you] and for those [believers] at Laodicea, and for all who [like yourselves] have never seen my face and known me personally. [For my concern is] that their hearts may be braced (comforted, cheered, and encouraged) as they are knit together in love, that they may come to have all the abounding wealth and blessings of assured conviction of understanding, and that they may become progressively more intimately acquainted with and may know more definitely and accurately and thoroughly that mystic secret of God, [which is] Christ (the Anointed One). In Him all the treasures of [divine] wisdom (comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God) and [all the riches of spiritual] knowledge and enlightenment are stored up and lie hidden.
The New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Translation: Word-for-word translation, in formal modern English style.
Best For: Good for study with reliable representation of literal meanings, but it is not gender-inclusive and can be awkward at times because of its simple straightforwardness.
Example: (Colossians 2:1-3): For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Translation: A thought-for-thought translation using common everyday language.
Best For: A revision of The Living Bible, the NLT is good for getting fresh insight into the text. However, some argue that the thought-for-thought translation can lead to some inaccuracies, and it is best read in addition to a more literal translation.
Example: (Colossians 2:1-3): I want you to know how much I have agonized for you and for the church at Laodicea, and for many other believers who have never met me personally. I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself. In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
The Message (The Message)
Translation: A paraphrased version that uses modern language and is as much interpretation as it is translation.
Best For: Getting overall understanding of events and ideas. Not recommended for studying in depth because the translators take great liberty in using modern, more culturally relevant language that was not available when the Bible was written. This version is an easy read, which can help you get a good handle on principles that you can later study more fully.
Example: (Colossians 2:1-3): I want you to realize that I continue to work as hard as I know how for you, and also for the Christians over at Laodicea. Not many of you have met me face-to-face, but that doesn’t make any difference. Know that I’m on your side, right alongside you. You’re not in this alone. I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God. Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery. All the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in that mystery and nowhere else. And we’ve been shown the mystery! I’m telling you this because I don’t want anyone leading you off on some wild-goose chase, after other so-called mysteries, or “the Secret.”
The New International Version (NIV)
Translation: An easy-to read modern English version that blends word-for-word and thought-for-thought translations.
Best For: A good all-purpose version, more accurate than other thought-for-thought translations, but less eloquent than other word-for-word translations. This version offers many the best of both worlds, but still needs to be read alongside other translations.
Example: (Colossians 2:1-3): I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
English Standard Version (ESV)
Translation: A word-for-word translation that tries to be more mindful of style and readability.
Best For: Essentially a modern English version of the King James Version, the ESV offers a word-for-word translation with improved readability by balancing a little added style with its literal translation.
Example: (Colossians 2:1-3): For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
The Bible is a harp with a thousand strings. Play on one to the exclusion of its relationship to the others, and you will develop discord. Play on all of them, keeping them in their places in the divine scale, and you will hear heavenly music all the time. –William P. White
DISCOVER FOR YOURSELF
This is just a representative sample of different Bible translations and is not meant to be extensive. For help with reading your Bible, an excellent resource for further discovery is How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart.