How To Choose The Right Bible Translation For You

With so many versions of the Bible available it can be tough to find one that is right for you. This guide can help you find the right one for you.

It wasn’t so long ago that you only had one option for an English Bible, the King James Version. Fast-forward 150 years or so and now there’s as many Bible translations as there are options in the toothpaste aisle.

To complicate matters further, not all translations are equal or even done in the same manner. Some focus on a literal, word for word, translation. While others focus on translating the original meaning, thought for thought, of each passage.

I’m not going to go into all the technical details; there are people much smarter that have much better resources than I do. Rather I want to give a brief overview for the average person to make a better choice in choosing a translation.

More more on reading your Bible: How To Read the Bible (Better)

What Kind of Translation Do You Need?


This chart puts some of the popular translations on a continuum so that you can see how they each uniquely approach interoperation of the original text. This is not an exact chart, rather an overview to see which translations are more literal and which ones focus on the main ideas.

If you are like me you might assume that the more literal, word for word, translations are better. But it comes down to what you are reading it for. A more literal translation can be useful when doing an in-depth study of a passage. Whereas most prefer an easier to read, thought for thought, translation when just reading more devotionally.

How you are going to read the Bible will dictate what translation will best suite you. Most people aren’t going to be doing any in-depth studies so an easy to read or translation more in the middle will be best suited.

Easy Reading Bible – New Living Translation (NLT)

The NTL boasts a readable translation that uses verbiage and language that is commonly used in modern day. Many have found this to be one of the easiest to read translations. While it is far from a literal, word for word, translation it does a great job communicating the main thought of the original author. This is a great option for someone that wants the Bible in a readable format, but still maintaining the integrity of the authors original meaning.

Middle of Road – New International Version (NIV)

The NIV uses modern day language, but sticks closer to the original text than the NLT. It attempts to find the optimal balance between readability and exactness. This is one of the more popular Bibles, and many churches that you will attend on a Sunday will read from this translation. This is a great version for someone looking for a balanced Bible. 

Literal Translation – New American Standard Bible (NASB)

The NASB is arguably the best literal translation you can use. It is the best translation if you are looking at doing an inductive study on a passage or prefer to read as close to the original language as possible. However it can be difficult to read as this translation leans towards a literal translation. This is a good option for someone that wants to do an in-depth study or is looking for a modern literal translation. 

Different Perspective on a Passage – The Message

The Message is a great option to read WITH another translation. The Message doesn’t convey the words from the author but rather the main idea. Thus when you read this you will see drastically different words and phrases. It’s not a true translation, as the goal is to convey the tone and feel of the text rather than the text itself. This can be very useful when used with a more literal translation to help you see Scripture in a different light. However this is not the best version to read by itself.

One to Avoid – King James Version (KJV)

There’s two reasons I think you should avoid the KJV. I’m not going to go in-depth on this. I’m going to state my concerns, and you can look further into them if you would like. If you want a more detailed look on the KJV read this: Why I Do Not Think the King James Bible Is the Best Translation Available Today

My first concern is the reliability of the translation. They simply did not have the training nor the best manuscripts when this translation was made. Particularly in their words in the New Testament, the manuscripts they were working with were relatively new (in translating the older equals more reliable). The KJV was also heavily influenced by political forces that affect the quality of the translation. While there have been several revisions, this translation is still lacking when compared to others.

My second concern is the style of the translation; it’s in Old English. The majority of the New Testament was written in Koine Greek. It was a common everyday language of the day. Simple and easy to understand. That’s how I believe we should translate the Bible today. But the KJV is a dated language. Many of the phrases and words are no longer in use today thus making it very hard for most to understand.

My Personal Favorite – English Standard Version (ESV)

I read the ESV primarily, although I also enjoy reading the NLT. It can be a little bit more of a “formal” version. It leans more towards a literal translation, however not to the point of sacrificing readability. I find it reads relatively easy. This is a good translation for someone that wants an easier to read literal translation.

So which one is best? The bottom line is you should choose the translation that you most like to read. Read a few and figure out which one you enjoy reading. The best translation is the one you actually read. 

What translation do you use? Why did you choose that translation?

29 comments on “How To Choose The Right Bible Translation For You

  1. Pingback: How to Read the Bible (better) – rethink

  2. Thank you for sharing this! I enjoy reading about translations. I read the ESV during study and KJV for everyday reading. This has some interesting points.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the overview of choices. I personally use the NIV. I find it easy to understand. Other translations I have read don’t seem as clear to me. To your point, we need a translation that we want to read, not something we struggle to understand. If we struggle, we will find ourselves not reading and growing as we want to.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The Message states it is a paraphrase and not a Bible


    • You are correct that it is not a true “translation”. However I don’t think it’s a true “paraphrase” either. I didn’t want to get into that in the article and rather focus on a beneficial way to use The Message.


  5. Thanks. Great overview and very helpful. I tend to use parallel versions as I study (NASB, The Message, ESV) primarily.

    Be blessed. God is with you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. For reading the Psalms I like the NKJV. It is closest to the poetic KJV. For the rest I like the RSV. It is a solid translation that is as close to the original as you can get.


  7. Any thoughts on manuscripts? The question of origin and manuscripts is why people who advocate for the KJV/NKJV are so passionate about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I noticed you are living in Longmont, I lived there for 15ish years. I moved 2 years ago, but I love that area!

      Anyway… I assume you are referring to the Textus Receptus. Personally I think both sides blow the impact out of proportion. I don’t think that gives any credibility to the KJV, nor do I think that alone destroys credibility.

      For me the NT is the cause for concern in the KJV. With only 6 manuscripts all 500ish years newer than other modern translations, it’s tough to trust for me. To be fair many of the manuscripts found since then haven’t found major errors, but they do provide a better translation. The modern translations have much older manuscripts.

      I just don’t see evidence to back up those that view the KJV as superior. If you want to read it, that’s fine. But there are much more accurate translations available.

      You are probably a lot smarter than me… Any thoughts?


      • Yeah, I agree with you. I think it is misguided and uninformed to assume that the Textus Receptus is superior. I was just intrigued that it was not part of your discussion of Bible translations. I host a call-in radio show that airs on the Front Range every Monday and I get that question a lot. The station uses the NKJV exclusively, so it’s hard for me to speak against it, although I do often mention that I use the ESV myself.
        As for Longmont, did you pastor a church here? I’ve been here since 2012.


      • I thought about including more about the KJV and the TR. But the only people that care are the people that are devoted to the KJV and I’m not looking to convince that crowd with this article. I don’t think it’s harmful, just that there are better options available. So the KJV section was more directed for someone who was unsure, not showing a comprehensive “why”. I try to limit the length of my articles so they are still readable in a few minutes and that would take a lot of room.

        Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to write a separate article on the KJV version so I have more space. However that’s a little out of my wheelhouse.

        I worked for Rocky Mountain Christian Church for about 4 years as the Student Pastor in Frederick. I also grew up attending there, since 1999 I think. A couple years ago we left for Virginia and I work as a Connections Pastor now on the beach. I loved Colorado and living there! That’s awesome you get to do a call in show! What church are you at?


      • White Fields Community Church. I grew up in Denver, then spent 10 years as a missionary in Hungary, and then was invited to come be the lead pastor here. It’s been good and I really enjoy living in Longmont.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Good article. I cut my teeth on the NASB back in the 80’s shortly after accepting Jesus. I was in my college days, so I found the difficulty intriguing. It was my favorite translation during that period in my life.
    The ESV is more the standard for literal reading today, and like you I really enjoy it. I do find myself jumping over to The Message or Good News translations when I want to read something in the Old Testament that may seem a bit dry in the literal interpretation. In truth, we have a plethora of English translations these days. The best advice I have heard given is that everyone should take advantage of reading across these different versions. Each highlights a different part of scripture, either in verbiage or tone. Exposing one’s self to multiple translations will help deepen the meaning and knowledge of scripture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you are right about reading different translations. It’s so easy now with technology to read them too. I used to have a Bible that had the NASB, Greek (w/English words), and NIV side my side. That was cool to see, but now you can do that with many translations at a click of a button.


  9. Very, very well done, Jeffery. I also happen to agree with just about everything you said. Upon being saved back in 1986, I bought an NIV because it was the only one I could afford. For me, the NIV was perfect. Now that I’m much more familiar with the Bible, I’ve gone to the NASB (since 2011), and really enjoying it. Would be the best to begin with, but a fine one to transfer to later in the Christian walk.

    I also agree that the ESV is an excellent version, and equally agree that the KJV is to be avoided. I also don’t like the negative passion the KJV elicits in its readers, but that’s a different story.

    Again, nice job honing down a potentially long blog-topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! It was hard to figure out what to leave on the chopping board. But I try to keep everything short and readable.

      Interesting, I had a similar experience with my translations. I started off with the NIV, and sometimes the NLT. Now it’s mostly ESV and still with a little NLT. And occasionally NASB when I have to do some word/inductive study.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. BénédictWrites

    Thank you!


  11. I read from the KJV as well as NIV. When I don’t understand a verse in one, usually referring to the other helps my understanding (and that goes either way). I also use a commentary to help me study; my favorite is “Halley’s Bible Handbook”.


  12. Wonderful post!

    I enjoy several translations:
    – I listen to the Bible when I stretch in the morning, and usually refer to the NASB for my primary OT/NT passages, and vary the translations as I go through Psalms and Proverbs. For instance, on Monday my reading plan had me in Exodus and Matthew (NASB), and I used the ESV for Psalms 101-105 and Proverbs 29. Since I go through Psalms/Proverbs regularly, I mix up the translations each time through Proverbs and part of Psalms and find that this practice allows me to keep things fresh.
    – My church recently shifted to the ESV, after a long time w/the NIV. I prefer the ESV to the NIV generally, and much prefer NIV84 to the current version..
    – For my Bible study group, we use the NASB.
    – Otherwise, I enjoy the AMP, ESV, HCSB, NKJV, and NLT. I love comparing translations, too!

    You are right – the best translation for any person os the one that he/she reads. ✝️ Be blessed!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you for your post. Although I would disagree with you about the KJB AV1611, I respect your personal opinions.
    Communication is the key to establishing common ground as our mutual goal as believers is to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    And thank you for liking and following my blog too!


  14. I read the ESV, NET, The Complete Jewish Bible, Greek Septuagint, Greek N.T. all to see the different translation styles and textual variants.


  15. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:


  16. I love the NKJV but will have a look at the NASB now.


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