Up until the mid twentieth century, that was an easy question to answer. The ol’ King James. Since there are a great many books, blog entries and web pages that are dedicated to the history of that translation, I won’t really go into that here. Contrary to popular opinion, the King Kames Version or the KJV or the Authorized Version as it is known to the snobs and elitists of this great translation, is not the first Bible translated into English. It wasn’t so long ago that your choices in choosing a Bible were limited to hardcover or soft, bonded leather or Morocco leather. Your choice in translation was limited to the King James or… the King James. Now, you can walk into any Christian bookstore and they have a wall full Bibles and Bible translation. It’s almost enough to drive you, but batty.
For many, reading the KJV is a task. They are not accustomed to reading English in such an archaic way. The KJV was written in modern English not old English. Old English is a Germanic language that had not been spoken in England since after 1066. Another thing about the style in which it was written is that it was not the colloquial English of the time, the translators used more of an exalted style when translating the source texts. Its influence on the English language since 1611 is immeasurable. If you want to see the difference in the style of English at the time, just compare the KJV to the Geneva Bible which was first translated in 1560, fifty one years before the KJV. It has a slightly different style and to me, it reads more modern than the KJV.
With all the translations to choose from, which is the best? Well, the one you read is the best. If you don’t read, or more specifically don’t study your Bible, it doesn’t matter which translation you use (or don’t use). There is no “best translation”. There are a few excellent translations, but since we do not have the original autographs and since some of us were smokin’ in the boys room instead of in fifth period Koine Greek or Hebrew class, we will have to settle for the translations currently available to us.
To any of you that are not surfers or skaters I’m going to present you to the idea of a quiver.
“A quiver” you say?
At this point in my surfing career, I can do with just one surfboard, but I haven’t surfed in quite a while so a board would be nothing more than a huge paper weight. But a surfer that that is out there almost everyday in every type of surf will eventually have more than one stick. I would not take a skateboard which I have set up for skating in a small bowl with tight transition to go bomb a hill, just like I would not take a long board set up for cruising into a long down hill ditch with smooth concrete, just like I wouldnt take that board into a big bowl or pool with easy transition and huge coping (like I could hit the coping now-a-days). Your Bible is an offensive as well defensive weapon… why limit yourself to only one translation?
You should have at least four translations. First, you should have a King James. Contrary to those KJV Only kooks, it is not perfect and it is not inspired. Its not even the most literal, but it does have an amazing literary quality that few can even come close to. Oddly enough, my first Bible was a King James. It had been in my house long before my conversion and that was what I used. I never had a problem with reading it, or with it’s cadence. The “thees” and the “thous” were not an issue. Before you start calling me an intellectual snob, it was the first Bible I had read. It didn’t sound or read any more difficult than a lot of other stuff I had read. I just didn’t know any better. If you introduce the King James to a teenager or pre-teen, they will find it much easier in their adult years than if they pick it up at a later time. Whether early or late, go out and get a KJV.
The other translation you need is the New American Standard Bible. Originally published in 1971 and later updated in 1995, it is the most literal translation available. The NASB traces it’s origins to the American Standard Version of 1901. Many people complain about it sounding “wooden”, whatever that means. It doesn’t use any of the archaic English found in the KJV, it is easy to read but there are a few places that may seem difficlut to follow becasue of how literal the translation is. It is a good reading Bible as well as a good reference Bible for use in study and not just sitting down to read.
The newest of the literal translations is the English Standard Version. The ESV is rather new as it was first published in 2001 but it traces it’s origins back to the KJV. The ESV is an “essentially literal” translation. It is intended to maintain the flow or idiomatic style of the KJV while being easier to read for todays reader. It’s lineage comes from the Revised Standard Version, last updated in 1971 but was originally published in whole in 1952. This in turn comes from the afforementioned ASV of 1901 and also the Revised Version from 1885, which is an updated translation of the King James. That is not to say that any of these are merely updated versions of the one prior. The translators have gone back to the original source texts to translate those while keeping the essence of the previous translation. To these eyes, the ESV is easy to read while being true to the KJV’s literary qualities.
The other Bible translation you should have is the New International Version. Published in whole by 1978, it is the most popular of the Enlgish translations. Even more so than the KJV. It is the easiest to read and is the least literal of the literal translations. It is not in the same league wih the NASB nor is it a parphrase like The Message. There are many who complain about it having a liberal slant to it, especially those of the King James Only movement. They tend to be crazy so it doesnt really matter what they think. This is a good reading Bible but maybe not your “studying” Bible.
Other translations to consider would be the New King James and the newly re-introduced 1599 Geneva Bible. The NKJV is easier to read than the KJV but that is it’s drawback. It doesnt have the same poetic quality as the KJV, it tries to maintain the same literary style but it falls short. It is none the less a good translation and I would continue to urge you to use it if you already do or subsitute it for any of the translations mentioned.
The 1599 Geneva Bible has been re-published by Tolle Lege and is nearly identical to the original except for a modern typeface and modernized spellng. The Geneva Bible was the Bible of the Reformers and of the Puritans that came over on the Mayflower. It was the household Bible of much of England even after the KJV was published. It is a great translation, I really enjoy reading it. It’s literary style is like Jack Kerouac as the KJV is like T.S. Eliot. look for a review of this Bible at a later date.
There you have it. Choose one translation as your primary translation but use the others for cross reference, easy reading or deep studying. You don’t have to carry these around with you and you don’t have to buy the most expensive one. Hardbacks tend to be cheaper and sometimes better made. Look for one with large print for easier reading and don’t be afraid to write in your Bibles. Be a Berean!
May God bless the study of His word.