Christians believe that the Bible is the Word of God. The majority of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, a minority in Aramaic, and the New Testament was written in Greek. English-language renditions of the Bible are called translations and there are many available today. Do Christian denominations prefer one translation over another?
Leading Protestant denominations like Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Assemblies of God don’t mandate that their members read from one particular translation. Some churches use a certain translation in their liturgy and as a result, many members choose one of those translations.
Why don’t denominations mandate using a particular English Bible translation? What are important factors in choosing a Bible translation? What are the major differences between the best-reviewed and most popular English translations? Keep reading to learn more.
Why don’t denomination mandate the use of a certain translation?
Unlike Roman Catholicism, Protestantism has no central authority figure or governing body. Baptists are independent of Methodists, Presbyterians are independent from Assemblies of God, and so on. The same spirit of autonomy is found in every Protestant denomination to different degree. One result of this is that people who attend a church that belongs to a Protestant denomination have the freedom to choose their Bible translation.
Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and other Protestants may select the English translation that best suits their needs. In the majority of Protestant traditions, no single translation is more sanctified than any other. All major translations are trustworthy in regard to communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ and the rest of the Bible’s message.
Do some people read more than one translation? Yes. Some Bible readers study different translations because it helps them to understand passages and verses to consult more than one rendering. Others read one translation for their daily reading, but take another translation to church because it’s the one their pastor uses (more below).
What are important factors in choosing a Bible translation?
How do people choose an English translation to read? Some people read the Bible without knowing what translation they are using. The Bible may have been a gift or they may have purchased it based on a reason that didn’t involve what translation it contained, like the study notes found within it. Nevertheless, it’s important for people to know what translation they are reading. Here is why people choose one translation over another:
- Reading level: A translation’s reading level is often referred to as “readability.” English Bible translations have different levels of readability, which are often described according to grade level. Translations with a high level of readability measure at a lower grade level. For example, the New Living Translation reads at a 6th-grade reading level and the New American Standard Bible reads an an 11th-grade reading level (more below).
- Accuracy and precision: All major English Bible translations are trustworthy in relation to communicating the message of the Bible. There are, however, different levels of accuracy because of how one language is translated into another. The more precise one translation is rendered into another, the rougher it will read. If a translation’s focus is on a smooth reading, the word-for-word translation accuracy is reduced.
- The translation their pastor or Bible study uses: Many people use the translation that their pastor or minister uses. They do this because (1) they trust their leader’s choice of translation, and (2) it’s easier to follow along during times of preaching and teaching. Other people choose a translation based on Bible study groups in which discussion is involved.
What are the major differences between English translations?
The Bible translations listed below are popular for a reason. In general, most people can understand them and they are also accurate and trustworthy. Well-known Bible scholars with distinguished reputations participated in producing each translation.
Each translation has it’s own history, translation philosophy, and has a measurable reading level. Readers are encouraged to consult the preface and other introductory information found at the beginning of Bibles to learn more about the translation. Reputable translations don’t keep secret the translation committee who worked on them or the methodology they used for key theological passages.
|NIV||The full text of the New International Version (NIV) appeared in 1978. Over 40 years later, the NIV maintains a wide readership, especially among conservative evangelicals.||Thought-for-thought; the meaning of each thought, not necessarily each word, is the aim of translators||7th grade|
|ESV||Published in 2001, the English Standard Version (ESV) reworks the Revised Standard Version (RSV), which first appeared in 1971. Conservative evangelical scholars produced the ESV, so it’s not a surprise that it has been growing in popularity among conservative evangelical readers in the last two decades.||word-for-word (“essentially literal”)||8th grade|
|NASB||The New American Standard Bible (NASB) Update appeared in 1995 with the purpose of improving the translation’s clarity and updating outdated English styles (e.g. removing words like “thou”). Since it’s first appearance in 1971, the NASB has been a favorite among people who prefer a word-for-word translation.||word-for-word (“strictly literal”); also known as “formal equivalence”||11th grade|
|KJV||The King James Version (KJV) first appeared in 1611, then underwent several revisions in the following centuries. The KJV is the most popular English translation in Protestant history.||word-for-word (“essentially literal”)||12th grade|
|NKJV||The entire New King James Version (NKJV) first appeared in 1982. It’s creators declared it to be an update on the KJV. Scholars from different denominations like Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Assemblies of God made up the translation team.||word-for-word (“essentially literal”)||9th grade|
|NLT||The New Living Translation (NLT) is an update of the Living Translation (LT). The LT didn’t translate from biblical manuscripts in their original languages of Hebrew and Greek, it only re-worded the American Standard Bible (ASB) of 1901. 90 conservative scholars worked on the NLT, which was published it in 1996.||dynamic equivalence; often employs paraphrasing to maximize clarity||6th grade|
If a person is unsure which translation to use, they should talk to their pastor or minister. They can also explore all major translations, including the ones listed above, online for free. Most major denominations have free apps. A person can read through a book of the Bible using one translation and then another using a different one and compare them. But they shouldn’t delay because regular Bible reading is a joyful and necessary part of the Christian life.
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