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 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 intended meaning of God's Word.
The first thing we must understand is that there are different kinds of Bibles that can be categorized by Version and Translation.
A Version of the Bible is an edition from a particular sect of Christianity. Examples include the Holy Bible (nondenominational) and Catholic Bible (versions used by Christians), the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh (the Jewish version is basically the Old Testament), the New World Translation or Mormon Bible (the Jehovah's Witness Mormon version used by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), and the Qur'an or Koran (the version for Islam and Muslims).
Versions should not be confused with Translations, which 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 Truth1). 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. Bibles that should not be used include the New World Translation, Mormon Bible, and Qur'an or Koran because they contain modified and/or added scripture that contradicts 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.
Bibles with authenticated Scripture include the 39 books of the Old Testament, 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 translations, because I have found errors of translation in all Bibles I've read. In my decade 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 made some interpretations less desirable in the latest prints, 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.
Another English translation you may want to consider is the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). I like it because it tries to preserve original Scripture's use of God's names instead of translating them to THE LORD, like the KJV and most English Bibles do. Most of the church has forgotten God's many names because of this.
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. Instead, use the other Bibles suggested above for your primary study.
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.
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. Most of us 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 by reading Scripture. This is not true and requires further learning about how to rightly divide God's guidance (see Marching From Behind The Veil2), how to use God's mind, and much experience in studying Scripture and its application. The main point of this article, though, is God's guidance cannot work to your fullest benefit with Bibles that are deficit in some way, so make it a priority to use ones that are recommended above.
1 "Errors of Truth." 3rd Compass - Christ Hephzibah Church
2 Light Within. 3rd Compass - Christ Hephzibah Church.