Which Bible translation is right for you?

Which Bible to read is an intensely personal choice. When I returned to the Lord, I became somewhat legalistic about only wanting to read the most accurate Bible translation. I know it sounds silly, but it is what it is.

For some time,  I would only read the New American Standard (NASB). I read it from cover-to-cover - not literally front-to-back, but in its entirety. The primary criticism of the NASB, if there is one, is that the language is "wooden". In my humble opinion, that criticism is ridiculous, but, more importantly, I'm a lawyer, so reading "wooden" text is my stock-in-trade. To this day, the NASB is still my primary reading and study Bible, although I spent a few years falling in love with the King James Version again.

While residing in Sweetwater, Texas, I attended two churches over the years, both of which had pastors who preached out of the New International Version (NIV) primarily. I do live in Texas so that's probably fairly normal. Therefore, the NIV is the version I read third most. My wife reads the New Living Translation (NLT) almost exclusively. Some time ago, I had the good fortune of reviewing the NLT Study Bible for Tyndale, and I immediately recognized that the NLT's language would be to her liking. It was. It was also perfect for her in her role as a children’s pastor because of its readability.

And that's about it for my house. I believe I do have just about every English translation available, and I do make reference to them from time to time. For example, on occasion I will refer to the Holman Christian Standard (HCSB) for its Old Testament Hebrew renderings. I like the way the HCSB translates a few of my favorite OT verses. I also reference a Catholic Bible when I'm looking for something in the Apocrypha. I have a pocket-sized English Standard Version (ESV) which I will occasionally toss in a backpack (full disclosure: I replaced my pocket-sized ESV with a pocket-sized KJV when I was rediscovering the KJV and I haven't looked back - that was about 10 years ago, now).

For research purposes, I use a Tanakh and a Complete Jewish Bible, but as for everyday reading...no. I've tried, but the translation is too unfamiliar. I've also had the opportunity to weigh in on the top-5 most authoritative Bible translations, for what that's worth. Honestly, I have poked around in about every translation imaginable trying to find "the one" or combination of "the ones," and I can confidently say, it doesn't matter all that much. If you want to know which Bible translation is right for you, try a few. And I don't mean just translations. Find a size, shape, color, style that fits you. Find a Bible that's to your liking, that you want to read, and stick with it.

If you are looking a Bible translation that's right for you, this may help:

Popular English Bible Translations:

King James Version or Authorized Version (KJV) - First published in 1611 by the Church of England, the King James Version or the Authorized Version (as it is know outside of the United States) was the primary English translation of the Bible for about 300 years. The King James Version is the most familiar English translation. The KJV is an excellent study and reading Bible for those willing to read in the King James English. If you have difficulty with the King James Version's language, then perhaps another translation would be better for you.

New American Standard Bible (NASB) - Published in 1971 by the Lockman Foundation, and updated in 1995, the New American Standard Bible is considered by many to be one of the most literal and accurate English Bible translations. The NASB is also an excellent reading and study Bible. I use the NASB as my primary reading and study Bible, and I would recommend it to anyone. If there is a knock on the NASB, it is its readability.

New International Version (NIV) - The New International Version is an entirely new English Bible translation concluded in 1978 and sponsored by the International Bible Society. Over 100 scholars across virtually all denominational lines participated in translating the New International Version. Today's New International Version (TNIV) was a revision of the NIV, and the 2011 Edition is the current version. The NIV is one of, if not the most popular English translation available. It is an excellent blend of readability and accuracy.

English Standard Version (ESV) - The English Standard Version was published in 2001. The ESV translation team also consisted of over 100 Bible scholars. Despite being the new kid on the block, the ESV has rapidly become one of the most popular English Bible translations. The ESV claims to be an "essentially literal," "word-for-word" translation. The ESV is about as accurate as the NIV, if only slightly less readable. As many of you know, I am somewhat partial to the publisher of the ESV because of the ESV Blog's prompt response to my post So Many Translations, So Little Time.

New King James Version (NKJV) - The New King James Version was primarily an attempt to update the vocabulary and grammar of the King James Version. In that effort, I would say it succeeds. In my personal opinion, the NKJV is probably as readable as the NASB. I also have a pocket-sized NKJV which I love primarily because of the ultra-soft cover, but it hasn’t replaced my pocket-sized KJV as my travel/book bag bible.

New Living Translation (NLT) - The NLT was first published in 1996 and updated in 2004. The NLT is highly readable, the translation philosophy tending toward "dynamic equivalence" or a "thought-for-thought" rendering. Those I know who read the NLT absolutely love it, but it has a fair number of critics (though they are less critical of the 2004 second edition). I, personally, would recommend this translation to new believers or anyone without a "churchy" background. And also for teens and twenty-somethings, and Sunday school teachers/children's pastors. The NLT is my wife’s preferred translation.

Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) - Although the HCSB continues to be one of the top-selling Bible translations, it just doesn't seem to get the attention that it deserves, and I don't know why. Admittedly, my HCSB is not my go-to Bible, but I would say it is in my top three or four. But, for some reason it just doesn't generate the attention of the NIV or NLT. Perhaps, just perhaps, this is a testament to the quality of the translation, that there isn't as much controversy which generates attention. It is a great translation, easy to read, but I don't know anyone who carries an HSCB to church. It's a shame really. Maybe the publication of the new Apologetics Study Bible will generate some real interest.

The Message (MSG) - The Message is not really a translation at all, but rather a paraphrase. The purpose of such undertakings is to reach audiences who might be otherwise unreachable through a more literal translation. That is not to say that The Message doesn't have a broad appeal, it certainly does. Go to any bookstore and the popularity of The Message is evident. It is not, however, a study Bible. But, it is great for what it is, a way to get the message to another audience.

New English Translation (NET) - The NET Bible is unique in that it made its transition from the net to print, rather than vice versa. The NET Bible was designed as a free internet resource and does not require users to obtain copyright permissions for use. It is still available to be downloaded for free. The NET Bible contains over 60,000 translation notes, and all of the Bible.org resources available free. The NET Bible is definitely one of the most innovative Bible projects ever.