There are a lot of great Bible translations and some that are not so good. But it is important to remember that no Bible translation is going to be perfect. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. We advise everyone to find a good translation for the study of God's word, but we also recommend that from time to time you compare translations and use other helps to better understand the Bible.
The Bible was orginally written in Hebrew and Greek. Some of the first translations were made into the Latin language. A common urban myth is that the Bible has been translated so many times that its no longer reliable. Not at all! We still use the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible, and our church only recognizes these as the authoritative word of God.
Martin Luther's Translation
Martin Luther was one of the first theologians to translate the Bible into a language that many people could read. His German translation is still foundational today not only for the Bible but for the German language itself. One of his passions was for everyone to be able to read the Bible for themselves.
The King James Tradition
King James I of England commissioned the translation named after him in 1604, and it was published in 1611. The King James Version (KJV) was to the English language what Luther's translation was to the German language. It became so influential that it continued to be used long after the English language had changed. Today most English speaking Christians still pray the Lord's Prayer in the according to the King James translation "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name..." We do this even though we don't use the words "art," "hallowed," or even "thy" very often if at all. Nevertheless the KJV was basically a very good translation because it was founded upon a careful examination of the original languages. In many places the KJV translated the Hebrew and Greek in a very literal way. Since it was first published we have discovered better Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, so there are a few passages especialy in the New Testament that are probably later additions. But almost none of these minor additions have any effect on Christian theology.
Should you use the KJV? If you like the sound of Shakespeare, then you'll like the KJV. However, you might need to expand your vocabulary a little. For example you might need to look up the words "snuffdishes," "ossifrage," and "superfluity." One the great blessings of the KJV is that it is probably one of the best translations to use for memorization. It's vocabulary and style are very memorable.
The Revised Standard Version, New King James, and the English Standard Version
All three of these are updates of the King James. The translators revised most of the archaic words and improved some of the translations based on our greater understanding of the Hebrew and Greek languages since the 1600s. The NKJ still uses the older manuscripts like the KJV. These are very good translations for the most part. There are a few cases where the theological bent of the translators has affected the translation.
New International Version
The NIV was designed to be a completely new translation from the King James tradition. The great strength of the NIV is that it really handles difficult passages well. Anytime you run into a difficult verse no matter what translation you are using, check it out in the NIV. It's greatest weakness is that the translators often changed the translation just for the sake of change and the desire to be different from the KJV. The NIV is not a good translation to us for concordance study. This is when you want to study one single word such as the word "flesh." In the King James translations you tend to find consistency. But in the NIV you will find a lot of variety. They may use the word "flesh" or perhaps "body" or "physical nature" whereas the KJV will tend to stick with a consistent word.
Some translations are designed to reach people at a younger age or people for whom English is a second language. These would include translations such as Good News for Modern Man and God's Word for the Nations. Easier translations are a good idea. However, you always have to remember that the easier the translation is to read, the less actual information it is giving you. For example, the hardest thing to read is actual Hebrew and Greek. But if you can read it, you are really getting the word of God in all of it's many details and aspects. All translators have to make choices about what information they are going to leave out as they try to make the translation easier to read. If you start with this kind of translation, hopefully you'll be able to move on to one that is a little more in depth. Also, these translations are usually difficult to use for memorization.
The Living Bible was one of the most popular paraphrases of the Bible. It is important to remember that paraphrases are really not translations. They are basically both a translation as well as an interpretation. The theological bent as well as the particular opinion of the writers often come through in their paraphrases. Paraphrases can be interesting to look at, but I wouldn't recommend them as your main Bible translation.
This page will continue to be updated in the future!