We’ve spent much of our time this year focusing on the Bible, and I pray that you have been encouraged to spend more time reading, studying, meditating on, and maybe even memorizing God’s Word. Certainly, I pray that you have been trusting God’s Word and applying it to your life every day. While I have emphasized the value of reading and studying the Bible, as it reveals God’s nature, his words and actions throughout history, and his plans and purposes for the faithful, I have not ever really dealt with an important question that comes up occasionally: “What Bible should I use?”
The fact is, there are quite a few translations of the Bible out there, and those who understand the value of God’s Word are rightfully concerned about whether a certain translation is a faithful, reliable translation of the original manuscripts. The fact that the Bible itself reminds us that it is “breathed” by God and useful (2 Timothy 3:16) and that it warns against adding to it or taking away from it (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Revelation 22:18, 19) should prompt us to seek and revere accurate translating and handling of the Scriptures. To answer the question simply: most modern translations are trustworthy, and it is mostly a matter of personal preference as to what translation you should use for personal study and devotional reading.
Certainly, there are a couple of important exceptions. The New World Translation, which is published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and is the “official” translation used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, is often inaccurate and inconsistent in its translation of the original languages of the Bible due to specific theological heresies of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, such as denial of the deity of both Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, among others. The Joseph Smith Translation, which is considered a sacred text among only a few sects of Latter Day Saints churches and referenced within several other sacred texts of the Mormons, is a revision of the King James Version of the Bible and also contains many additions that support the heretical teachings of Joseph Smith. Without hesitation: avoid these.
There are also several other versions of the Bible, such as The Message and The Living Bible, that cannot really be called translations, as they do not follow the word-for-word or thought-for-thought guidelines of translation. These are paraphrases, “translating” thoughts and cultural imagery and feelings evoked by the passages, which is what many of us find in the sidebars and notes of our so-called study Bibles instead of within the text itself. Such Bibles were written by folks who do have a high regard for the accuracy of God’s Word but who also want to communicate with a pastoral voice instead of a scholarly one. While such Bibles are not technically accurate translations, many people use them for devotional reading, often side-by-side with an actual translation.
As for the rest – the King James, the Modern King James, the New American Standard, the Revised Standard, the English Standard, the New International Version (1984, 2011, or Today’s NIV), the Holman Christian Standard Bible (or just Christian Standard Bible now), the New Living Translation – pick the one you like. Some are easier to read than others, which is a matter of opinion; for example, the King James Version is a favorite among many people, but the vocabulary can be difficult (the English language itself has changed dramatically since the original 1611 translation, even since the current standardized text of 1769). To be honest, most translations, if not all, reveal some sort of biases of their translators, whether cultural, linguistic, or even theological. However, due to the wealth of ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, modern readers of the Bible can be confident that these are trustworthy translations, despite the ability of scholars to debate the nuances of specific word choices and grammar, especially as they relate to theology, church doctrine, and personal application.
As for me, I will likely continue to use the NIV (1984) as I preach and teach, primarily because that’s the version we have in the pew racks in the auditorium; if we need to replace those Bibles, we will have to reconsider, as the 1984 NIV is no longer in print. If I had to pick a new favorite myself, I would probably choose the English Standard Version, which is technically more accurate than the NIV but easier to read than the KJV and NASB. With all that stated, whether you’re in the market for a new Bible or just want to change things up, just pick one and read it!