Which version of the Bible should I read?

Why are there so many Bible Translations? (2 minute read)

Have you ever wondered why there are so many versions of the Bible? Before 1881, the King James version was the only English Bible translation available to readers. Since then, scores of new translations have been printed. Currently, there are over 200 versions of the Bible in more than 70 languages.

Most people do not read Biblical Hebrew or Biblical Greek. Therefore, there was a need to translate the Scriptures into a language the reader can understand.

In addition, many advances have been made in the understanding and use of ancient words and customs. Any translation of the Bible that you see is the result of thousands of scholars’ hours deliberating, authenticating, and translating. Because the Bible was written in ancient languages within ancient cultures, some degree of interpretation is required to bring equivalence into English, no matter how literal the translation. 

This begs the question;

Which Bible translation is the ‘best’ for you?

Let’s look at the three basic approaches that translators use:

Word-for-Word / Literal (Formal Equivalence): Literal translations are often the closest English form of the Hebrew or Greek word. In this process, translators painstakingly review every single word to ensure they are as accurate as possible, called formal equivalence.

This form of translation is extremely helpful for academic study and works well with interlinear Bibles. However, the biggest drawback to word-for-word translations is that modern readers might misunderstand figures of speech, literary devices, and cultural references.


Thought-for-Thought (Dynamic Equivalence): Need more context? Looking for an easier read? Dynamic translations place a higher emphasis on summing up the biblical authors’ thoughts while still respecting the text. These thought-for-thought translations balance accuracy with approachability, perfect for light reading or a devotion.

The drawback though is that every tweak in the name of understandability is a step toward someone else’s textual interpretation. But if you want to draw your own conclusions about every matter, stick with the ‘literal’ category.


Paraphrase: This method seeks to reproduce the original meaning of Scripture using modern language and expression to communicate the message of the Bible. In translating a verse, a paraphrase is less concerned with providing an exact English word for each word of the original text as it is with communicating the basic meaning of that verse in an understandable way. 

Paraphrased Bibles are  useful for those new to the Faith or new to reading. Sometimes, a paraphrase is nice because it’s an interpretation; you can use it to gain a fresh perspective on a passage you’re reading.


Although the examples above are for English Bible translations, the same approaches are used for all languages translated into.

But how do I choose my Bible translation?

Many people find that they need more than one Bible translation and use different ones for different occasions.

First of all, consider how you’ll be reading the Bible:


  • I am new to the Bible: You might like to start with a translation that avoids too much technical language. Look for one described as ‘dynamic equivalent’.
  • I will be reading with other people: Decide whether it would help you to have the same version as everyone else or a different one, so that you can see how different translators have translated the passage you are reading.
  • I want to study a passage in-depth: A translation that focuses on 'formal equivalence' will be most helpful.
  • I want to get a sense of the complexities of the passage and what translators have wrestled with to create their translations: Read a range of translations, choosing at least two formal equivalence translations, together with commentaries and study bible notes.

The good news is that, while languages and translations may change, the message of the Bible is timeless and unchanging. ‘New’ translations are a testament to our growing understanding of Biblical languages, and for the reader, it is a great opportunity to engage with the life-giving Scriptures in a fresh way.