Ever feel overwhelmed by the Bible section of the bookstore? It’s worse than the military with its litany of acronyms: NIV, NLT, NKJV…how is a girl to choose? Here’s my brief grouping of translations that will, I hope, simplify the array of options for you.
Think of a spectrum, or a timeline. On one end, we have translations that are as literal as possible. It is no small task to achieve literal wording when sentence structure and word order in original languages are often the opposite of English structures. The upshot of these translations is that they are the most technically accurate. Examples: KJV, ESV, NASB.
Of these, I prefer the ESV study Bible for its readability and excellent notes. The Wife of Leisure defaults to ESV. You might like the KJV for its familiarity if you grew up with it (I still read Luke 2 in KJV to my kids at Christmas), but some of its antiquated language may hinder understanding.
In the middle is a range of translations that attempt to better convey the meaning when a word-for-word expression is less clear. Some call this “thought-for-thought” translating. Basically, it avoids the “lost in translation” issue. My mom notes that, for instance, that in Genesis 43:33, the ESV’s literal wording does not make obvious that Joseph seats his brothers in age order. The NIV wording, while less literal, communicates this plot twist more clearly. These may be the easiest to read and understand. Examples: NIV, NLT.
I use NIV a lot because it is familiar to me, true to the original, and I’m lazy: it’s the closest copy on hand in my office.
On the far end, we find the paraphrase version. These try to get the general idea of a phrase or passage and put it into current vernacular. I would not recommend this as your primary source because they are pretty low on accuracy in some places. (I’m sure they leave the genealogies alone!) I know people who like to reference them for fresh perspective while studying a passage in another translation. Personally, I find it a little gimmicky. Examples: The Living Bible, The Message.
Sources and Further Reading:
Several comparison charts and examples: http://www.apbrown2.net/web/TranslationComparisonChart.htm
Site for passage-lookup in many versions and languages:
In-depth explanation of Bible translation, comparison of form/function, with charts:
Special thanks to my Dad, who knows lots of stuff.