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What is the Most Accurate Version of the Bible?

With all the different translations out there, how can you tell which version of the Bible is the most accurate?

Growing Faith
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Unless you can read Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, and Greek, the language of the New Testament, the most basic tool you need for reading and studying the Bible is a good English translation. But the most popular Bible app offers a bewildering 73 options! 

Which one should you choose? That is, which one is the most accurate? 

What is the most accurate version of the Bible? 

If you’ve ever studied a foreign language, you might remember that translating something from one language to another isn’t as easy as you expected. If you attempt a literal translation, it will almost certainly make for clunky reading, and the meaning might not be clear at all. But if you opt for translating the overall meaning, you might miss the significance of certain words or grammatical nuances in the original language. So what do you do? 

This is precisely the challenge that Bible translators face. These dedicated scholars approach their task with excellence, but they are all aware that no translation is perfect. Their translation team has to make interpretive decisions along the way as they seek to be faithful to the original languages while at the same time enable the English reader to understand what they are reading.  

What’s the difference between translations of the Bible? 

Some translations try to be as “word-for-word” as possible, such as the English Standard version (ESV). But again, this can diminish readability and even obscure the meaning. Others go with a more “thought-for-thought” approach, such as the New Living Translation (NLT), but this can miss some important details. And still others seek to strike a balance of those two approaches, such as the New International Version (NIV). All of these are excellent translations, by the way; they’re just different in their approach. 

Adding to that challenge is the fact that the English language keeps changing over time. What made perfect sense in the 17th century, when the King James Version (KJV) came out, is often unintelligible and/or misleading today.  

For example, here’s how the King James Version from the year 1611 translates James 2:3: 

“and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:” 

And here’s how the New Living Translation of 2015 puts that very same verse: 

“If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, ‘You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor’—well,” 

Both of these are expressed in the plain English of their day, but you can see how vastly different the first one reads over four centuries later! 

How do I pick the right translation of the Bible? 

Let’s circle back to our question: What is the most accurate version of the Bible? The one containing the original Hebrew and Greek! Therefore, a better question would be: What is the best English translation to use? Here are four things to keep in mind: 

1. The best version to use will be a team-based translation, working with up-to-date biblical scholarship, as is the case with all of the ones mentioned above (ESV, NLT, and NIV; other good choices include the CSB, which takes an approach similar to the NIV, and the NASB, which takes an approach similar to the ESV).

2. The best version to use will reflect modern English, and all of the ones mentioned above do that pretty well. Further, they continue to be revised as needed, to keep pace with the English language as it evolves. The KJV, which has been around a long time and is much-loved, is simply outdated in both language and biblical scholarship—although the revised version, the NKJV, has updated the language.

3. The best version to use is one that you will actually read, because you prefer it and it makes sense—at least most of the time (yes, the Bible includes some hard-to-understand teaching, no matter how you translate it!). As a church, we feel that the NLT is the easiest version to understand, and therefore it is the one we use in our weekend teaching. This would be a great version to start with if you’re new to the Bible. 

4. The best version to use for studying the Bible is actually several versions. Because different translations take different approaches (whether more “word-for-word,” such as the ESV or NASB, or more “thought-for-thought,” such as the NLT, or a balance of the two, such as the NIV or CSB), it’s wise to look at several different versions when you are really digging into the Bible. Choose one from each of these three approaches, and enjoy learning more about what God is saying to us in his Word! 


After you land on a translation of the Bible to read, it's time to get started! Here are some tips for starting your Bible-reading journey.


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