Question: So About Bible Translations



amazeofgrace asked:

Hi again! So, Bible translations. Are you a supporter of any specific one that you think believers should at least possess? Or are you more like which ever one suits your fancy as long as you pray for the Holy Spirit to lead and guide? I know there are some like the Message that are pretty much so universally disliked, but yea, translations. Thanks!


Please first humbly allow me to point to this chart, which you may have seen:


While I don’t have a perfectly straight answer on this one, I can tell you that overall it doesn’t really matter.  It bugs me when preachers yell, “That NIV is so weak right there,” because that shakes the confidence of non-scholars (who are most of us) when we get alone with the Bible. 

Find one you like and stick with it.  I like some better than others, but nearly all are just fine.

God gave us diligent people to translate the books into tons of languages; it appears English is the only translation that people go NUTS over.  Most translations are good ones, and I hope the church doesn’t divide yet again over one more issue. 

To go into more detail:



You’ve probably heard the terms “dynamic” and “formal” equivalence.  Dynamic is thought-for-thought while Formal is word-for-word. 

The downside of Dynamic is that it tends to lean towards interpretation which can be dangerous for more specific doctrine.  The upside is that it’s easier to read and understand.  The downside of Formal is that it’s often stiff, weirdly phrased, and doesn’t catch the “feeling” of the original text.  The upside is that you’re getting a very functional text with little creative influence. 

I personally use the NIV (the 1984 version, not the updated 2011).  I think it has just the right mix of word-for-word with a moderate dynamic phrasing that suits my brain.  I use it for preaching, personal study, and QTs.

But I also consistently use other translations for clarity and nuances.  I like the NASB for its near-direct translation, the NLT since it’s easiest to read, the AMP because it clarifies tons of multiple meanings, and the NKJV because it has a royal feel to it.  I’ve read the entire Bible in NIV-1984 and NLT.

While the ESV is super-hot right now, it’s not anywhere near my favorite translation.  It pretty much reads like a Sears catalogue and has some ridiculous phrasing.  The company Crossway has done an extremely good job of marketing it to megachurches, when really the ESV is just a conservative rehash of the NRSV, which was a liberal hack-job.  I’m sure many will disgree on that, but I’m not saying to quit using your ESV.  Just saying that it’s ubiquitous because of clever marketing and not as perfect as everyone claims.

About the Message Version: I’m not sure where it’s “universally disliked.”  I love the Message Version, and I know plenty who read it (sometimes secretly). 

Pastor Eugene Peterson actually transcribed the Message translation directly from the original languages (Hebrew and Greek), so he was trying to capture the “feel” of the text more than any other version out there.  I would say he has done admirably well (just read Colossians 1, it’s incredible), and Pastor Eugene himself recommends not using it for preaching sermons or to use it alone.  He was well aware of how it should be used.



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