What Bible Translation Should I Use?

More than 60 English-language versions of the Bible are available today. We can divide them into three broad types:

  1. Word-for-word

  2. Meaning-to-meaning (also called thought-to-thought)

  3. Paraphrased.


Usually the introductory pages of a Bible will explain which of these approaches was used in its preparation.

Darris McNeely presents an introduction and explanation into the three broad types of Bible translations available today.

Three types of translations 

1 The word-for-word versions most accurately follow the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. The King James Version (or Authorised Version) and its modern counterpart, the New King James Version, are both word-for-word translations. You can easily find them in most bookstores or on the Internet.

The accuracy of a version is obviously of utmost importance. Although the King James Version contains some mistakes, to establish sound doctrines, your first choice of versions should be a more literal edition such as the King James or the New King James Version.


2 What about the meaning-to-meaning versions? They can be valuable in putting the Scriptures into more understandable wording. Compare these two meaning-to-meaning versions of the same verse:

Hebrews 2:17-18 (New King James Version)

"Why in all things it behooved him to be made like to his brothers, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself has suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted"...

Hebrews 2:17-18 (New International Version):

“For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

The New International Version explains the point more clearly for most readers today, although the New King James is a more direct translation of the original language. So, when the text is not clear, many times a modern meaning-to-meaning translation can help. The Revised English Bible, the Good News Bible and the New Living Translation are other popular meaning-to-meaning translations.

A meaning-to-meaning translation is also helpful in conveying the point of ancient figures of speech — idioms that would not make sense to us in modern language. Consider the modern American idiom "kick the bucket." This phrase may not be around centuries from now, and someone translating it then might need to use the word “die” instead. This is a meaning-to-meaning rendering rather than a literal one. Ancient Hebrew and Greek had such expressions as well, and in such cases a meaning-to-meaning translation is very helpful.

Meaning-to-meaning versions use more up-to-date language and they are easier to understand. But remember, they are not the best choice for establishing doctrine or teaching because at times they involve more interpretation, which may differ from what the original writers intended to say.


3 Paraphrased Bibles, such as The Living Bible or The Message Bible, also can be useful. Their goal is to make the Bible even easier to read in modern language. However, be very cautious in working with these kind of translations. Often the authors exercised considerable “poetic license” in interpreting biblical terms and passages according to their own personal religious ideas.

Paraphrased versions can be consulted to better grasp the story flow but should not be relied on exclusively to establish doctrine. Consider them inadequate sources for accurately determining the meaning of any text. I like to use this type of translation for passages in the Old Testament, like the books of Isaiah or the Kings or Chronicles in order to gain better understanding of the story and the characters.

Below is a listing of some Bible versions according to the type of translation they are.

Literal Translations:

(Word for word, most accurate)

  • KJV — King James Version
  • NKJV — New King James Version
  • NASB — New American Standard Bible
  • ASV — American Standard Version
  • RSV — Revised Standard Version
  • King James II Bible
  • The Holy Bible in Modern English
  • YLT — Young’s Literal Translation
  • JPS — Jewish Publication Society


(Remains close to original but with more modern language)

  • Jewish New Testament
  • Knox Translation
  • Today’s English Version
  • NEB — The New English Bible
  • The Bible, A New Translation (Moffatt)
  • NIV — New International Version
  • ESV — The English Standard Version
  • NAB — New American Bible
  • NJB — New Jerusalem Bible
  • REB — Revised English Bible
  • CEV — Contemporary English Version
  • Good News Bible

More Free (or Loose) Translations:


  • CEV — Contempoarary English Version
  • TLB — Living Bible
  • The Amplified Bible
  • Phillips Translation
  • MSG — The Message

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