How-to Choose a Bible Translation

With so many options available, choosing a bible translation can be overwhelming. Especially if you don’t fully understand the differences between them. You will notice throughout my posts I switch between translations and paraphrases (my current favorite is the Voice, which I believe is a thought-for-thought translation). I have found that by using a variety of them I am able to get a fuller understanding of scripture. But I also find knowing WHY the translations can vary so much is helpful and that is where the information below is invaluable.

The following is an excerpt from a post by Rebekah R. Jones called “The Complete Guide To Choosing A Journaling Bible + FREE Checklist.” It’s a great article in its entirety and her blog shares all about bible art journaling, which is so cool (I’ve done some albeit no where NEAR as gorgeous as what she does). Her explanation on the differences between the various translations/paraphrases is really well-stated and helpful. This portion in particular was something I wanted to nab and pass along, but the whole thing is worth a read so go visit her site 😉

Three Types Of American English Bible Translations

  1. Word-for-word (also called Formal)
    • Often used for in-depth study
  2. Thought-for-thought (also called Dynamic)
    • Often used for personal development
  3. Paraphrase
    • Often used for devotional reading and gaining new insights

Think of word-for-word being on one end of the spectrum, thought-for-thought being in the middle and paraphrase being on the other end. Every translation fits somewhere on the spectrum.

Here is a list of the translations represented in this guide, so you can see where they fit on the Bible translation spectrum. Start at the top with word-for-word and work your way to the bottom at the other end of the spectrum, paraphrase.

  • NASB (New American Standard Bible)
  • AMP (Amplified)
  • ESV (English Standard Version)
  • KJV (King James Version)
  • NKJV (New King James Version)
  • HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
  • NIV (New International Version)
  • NLT (New Living Translation)

Currently there are no purely paraphrase Journaling Bibles on the market (like The Message for example), so you don’t see that far end of the spectrum represented here.

Let’s look at the big picture and which Journaling Bible translations fit into these three types of the spectrum…


Word-For-Word

The idea with word-for-word Bible translation is to represent the original language text in a word for word manner, right down to the order of words in a sentence and even grammar.

Many prefer this type of translation because each Hebrew or Greek word is meant to generally be represented by the same English word. However, this can be tricky, because no two languages are able to be translated word for word, grammar for grammar, or even idiom for idiom.

My brief embarrassing personal story… I have called England home for many years after spending my first 25 years in America and even British English is not an exact translation of American English – the so called, “basically same languages”. Excuse the awkwardness here but, complimenting my soon to be father in a law (years ago), on his “pants”, went down embarrassingly wrong.

In American English, I was talking about the fabric that covers his legs (aka trousers). He is British, so heard me in British, and thus heard me compliment him on the color of his underwear! Needless to say, I picked up a few translation books shortly after. Thankfully those early on blooper moments are less frequent, as I gain understanding into the British English language.

Even languages which are a variation of each other, are different enough in word-for-word translation to leave room for misunderstanding at various points. See what I mean?

Translators of this type of Bible do their best to translate word for word, sometimes having to re-arrange sentences or make a few interpretive choices to help clarify the original message to the reader.

Benefits Of Word-For-Word Bible translations
  • These translations most accurately interpret the exact words of the original Bible text.
  • These translations are great for studying the Bible and can add a lot to your time in the Word. You just have to take time to understand the context it was originally written in, to grasp its true meaning.

Draw-Backs To Word-For-Word Bible Translations

  • These translations can feel more challenging to understand.
  • These translations require the reader to interpret the Bible text, which can be challenging if you are unfamiliar with the Bible.

Thought-For-Thought

The idea with this type of Bible translation is to interpret the meaning of each sentence or phrase in the original language text. Essentially to put the meaning of the original language into it’s modern context.

Because of this, many find these Bible translations more readable and easier to grasp.

Benefits Of Thought-For-Thought Bible translations

  • These translations are fairly easy to understand without straying from what the original text was trying to communicate. This is because the translator has attempted to do this interpretive step for the reader.

Draw-Backs To Thought-For-Thought Bible Translations

  • These translations have already been essentially interpreted for you, which can somewhat leave you at the grace of the translators Biblical views and understandings.

 Paraphrase

The idea with this type of Bible translation is to creatively communicate what the original Bible text meant to communicate.

Think of them as someone re-writing an English Bible translation to help bring new clarity and meaning to it for others. The translation is purely from the spiritual lens of the translator(s).

They are not meant to be accurate to the original language and instead a tool for gaining insights otherwise potentially missed.

Benefits Of Paraphrase Bible translations

  • These translations are great for people who are new to the Bible.
  • These translations are helpful in bringing new insight and clarity to Bible reading.
  • These translations can be a useful second Bible for devotional reading purposes.

Draw-Backs To Paraphrase Bible Translations

  • These translations often have so much freedom in translating from the original Bible text, that they can misinterpret or leave out important facts. This makes them bad for a main Bible.

Hopefully you will find this information helpful. In the years I’ve been studying you’ve seen me quoting everything from the King James Version and the English Standard Version to the Voice translation and Amplified to even the Passion translation as each book is being released (and of course I shared my notes from my quick read-throughs of both the Living Bible, a paraphrase, and the New Living Translation, which I believe is a thought-for-thought). Again, I find all of them have value in certain circumstances. The primary key is to spend time reading it! Regardless of translation, start somewhere and just keep going. 🙂

Blessings as you seek Him!

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