There is a confusing array of Bibles in use today. Some of them are good translations of scripture from the original languages for the most part, but many others were not very reliably translated. In fact, some Bibles contradict scripture and should be avoided altogether. This article focuses on identifying "problem" Bibles and directing you to ones that more closely align with the God's intended meaning of in His word.
A way to categorize different kinds of Bibles is by Version and Translation. A Version of the Bible is an edition from a particular sect of Christianity or Judaism. Examples include the Holy Bible (nondenominational) and Catholic Bible, the Hebrew Bible or Torah and Tanakh (Jewish versions are basically the Old Testament), the New World Translation (the Jehovah's Witness version), the Mormon Bible (the version used by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), and the Qur'an or Koran (the version for Islam and Muslims).
Translations, on the other hand, are versions translated into different languages or using different modes of translation. "Version" is often used in the context of a translation by many publishers, such as the New International Version and King James Version of the Bible are actually different translations and not really different versions by the definition used here.
We can use the main category of Version to quickly narrow our selection of Bibles so that we have scripture that was evaluated to be authentic (see Errors of Truth for more). This authenticated scripture consists of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments considered as the rule and standard by the early Christian church.
However, Bibles that contradict, add to, change, or omit parts of this standard of authenticated scripture must be avoided. Scripture that should not be used include the New World Translation, Mormon Bible, Qur'an or Koran, and Mishnah, Halacha, and Talmud Jewish texts, because they contain modified and/or added scripture that contradicts or corrupts scripture that was authenticated.
Versions of the Bible that contain the correct foundation of valid scripture are largely those of the Protestant Reformation, like the New American Standard Bible (NASB), New International Version (NIV), and King James Version (KJV).
Many Catholic Bibles also contain the correct foundation. However, the Apocrypha, which is included in many Catholic Bibles, is not
considered authenticated scripture by the standards of the early church,
so I would read it with caution. I have found many writings that are
popular in today's church to be influenced by the enemy.
The same goes for Jewish books and teachings that augment scripture. The Lord labeled Jewish teachers and synagogues, even in the time of Yeshua - Jesus and the first apostles, as corrupted by Satan (John 8:42-44; Revelation 2:9, 3:9), so any teachings coming out of Jewish books, like the Talmud, Kiddushin, Mishnah, Halacha, Haggadah, and Gemara, I treat like the Apocrypha and other spiritual books. They may have some truth and good teaching in them, but they are also corrupted false beliefs and teachings, so treat them accordingly.
What I treat as most authoritative are Bibles with authenticated scripture that include the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament. There are many translations of this version, like the NASB, NIV, and KJV, but what I suggest for proper study is to use at least two or three good translations, because I have found errors of translation in all Bibles I've read. In my time of Biblical study, I have not found any single translation to be completely reliable by itself. I even noticed the NIV has changed a lot since I started study and they have made some interpretations less desirable in the latest editions, so I prefer the 1984 edition of the NIV.
Some Bible translations also use overly "liberal" interpretation to bolster certain church doctrine. This is obviously not true and faithful translation and is difficult for the layman to identify, so this is another good reason to use more than one Bible for study.
To start, you should choose a modern English version like the NASB or NIV for your daily Bible reading, because they are the easiest to read and understand. I often use both of those translations. Your modern Bible should then be supplemented with the 400 year old KJV, which has been a standard for centuries and is the only English translation I know of that is exactly as God wanted it, even though it contains some errors of translation. It is considered by experts today to be a very accurate translation of authenticated scripture. It often preserves both the literal meaning and intended meaning of scripture in a way that many modern translations have not matched.
The main problem with the KJV is that it uses archaic Old English, which can be very confusing to read and understand. However, its faithfulness to scripture from the original Biblical languages is often used as a double-check for modern Bibles. I use it as an additional reference, not as the final word on correct translation, because I've seen many instances where the KJV does not translate God's original words correctly.
Another big problem with most Bibles is they do not preserve original scripture's use of God's names. Instead, they replace most instances of them with THE LORD, or in the case of Jewish Bibles, like the CJB, they replace God's names with Adonai, the Hebrew word for Lord. Most of God's People have forgotten His many names today because of this, so I make it a point to put back what was in God's original words when I quote scripture. This is why you see me using God's name, Yehovah, in many Old Testament quotes instead of simply the Lord.
Questionable English translations
include the English Standard Version
(ESV), New King James Version
(NKJV) and The Voice
(Voice). These Bibles have more serious problems with correctly translating God's meaning in His original words or skew its meaning too much. If you use them, they should not be your main reference. Jewish Bibles can also have questionable translation and interpretation
, so I would be cautious using them, such as Bibles from Israel 365
(The Israel Bible
), a ministry I evaluated to have incorrect teaching.
Instead, I suggest using the NASB, NIV, and KJV for your primary study, and the NIV Study Bible for more serious study. The NIV Study Bible has the best reference notes of the Study Bibles I've seen, but I must note that the NIV uses more liberal paraphrasing (translation) of the original words in scripture, so I rate the NASB and KJV as more faithful to God's original words. And as a note for all study and reference Bibles, like the NIV I recommend, their notes, charts, maps, etc. should not be considered the final word on matters, as they do have errors of interpretation and incorrect analysis that come from incorrect doctrine, carnal thinking, and incomplete data. A good student of God's word needs to be able to discern plain, unskewed truth from the interpretations of man and viewpoints coming from incomplete information.
Other bad translations that have gained popularity are The Message (MSG), New Living Translation (NLT), and New Life Version (NLV). They are very easy to read, but they should not be used because they use excessively liberal paraphrasing, which means they reword scripture to try and make it easy to understand.
However, this rewording often misinterprets God's original words. Understanding scripture correctly requires a reliable translation that keeps as much error out of the result as possible, so translations like The Message, New Living Translation, and New Life Version should not be used for serious study. At most, they should be used for young children (pre-teen) because they are easy to read, but if they are used for that the children should be taught the translations are not God's actual words and they should be given better Bibles when they've matured. I don't suggest using any Bibles with questionable translation even for children, but instead read to them and let them study good translations from the start, so their thinking is not so influenced by bad translation or interpretation.
If you can only afford one Bible, I would recommend a Reference Bible because the academic notes included with them are invaluable for understanding scripture better (I suggest the NIV Study Bible, as I said). Most people have not studied the historical and cultural context of Biblical times, so the extra meaning in these details can give understanding that helps ward off errors of interpretation.
In addition, to further avoid errors of interpretation, we also need to reference the original language manuscripts and dictionaries, such as Strong's Concordance, because there can be meaning in the original languages that was lost in translation.
Whichever good translations of the Bible you choose, remember that understanding God's word correctly requires wisdom. Keep context in place and view scripture in its entirety. God's word is not meant to be understood with only a few verses or interpreted any number of ways. The meanings God intended in His words are the ones we need to understand. However, it has been assumed this meaning comes automatically and easily, simply from reading scripture. This is not true and requires further learning about how to rightly divide or correctly handle God's guidance (2 Timothy 2:15), and how to use God's mind (His Spirit) (1 Corinthians 2:10-16), which is also essential because interpretation belongs to God, not man (2 Peter 1:20-21; Genesis 40:8) and no one can truly understand God's words except by His mind or Spirit, “For who among people knows the thoughts of a person except the spirit of the person that is in him? So also the thoughts of God no one knows, except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11).
Much experience in studying scripture and discerning true and false guidance and good interpretation is needed to treat the word of truth accurately (2 Timothy 2:15). The main point of this article, though, is God's guidance cannot work to your fullest benefit with Bibles that are deficient in some way, so make it a priority to use ones that are recommended above.