Helpful Charts for Comparing Bible Translations

I recently came across these helpful charts for comparing Bible translations. Basically, there are two theories of Bible translation adopted by most modern Bible translations: (1) Literal and (2) Dynamic. Literal translations seek to be accurate in translating the exact words and therefore translate word-for-word from the original languages. Dynamic translations seek to be accurate in communicating the idea and therefore translate thought-for-thought from the original languages. The literal translations score higher in trustworthiness. The dynamic translations score higher in readability.

I prefer and recommend literal translations (in alphabetical order): ASV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NKJV, and NASB. These versions are preferred especially for Bible study and Bible memorization.

I do think that there is a place for dynamic translations. First, for evangelism. Especially among those who are unfamiliar with the Bible. The vocabulary is simpler for people unaccustomed to Christianese (Christian lingo, theology terms, etc.).

A second place for dynamic translations is in working with children or those who speak English as a second language (ESL). Because dynamic translations are usually graded at a lower reading level, they are well suited for those who have yet to advance in the English language.

A third place for dynamic translations is in reading large sections of Scripture at one time. For example, perhaps your pastor is about to preach verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible, like the Gospel of John. Wisely, and to the delight of your pastor, you want to get an overview of the book before the series begins. Because dynamic translations flow more smoothly when reading, it will be easier and less taxing to sit down and read a large section of Scripture in one, or a few, setting(s).

Among the dynamic translations, I recommend the NIV and the NLT. Both translations were produced by trustworthy, conservative, evangelical scholars with a high reverence for God’s Word. Make sure not to confuse the NIV with the TNIV, which was a sorry attempt to make the NIV more politically correct (sorry for simply making the attempt, I would add).

Finally, it is important to note that The Living Bible and The Message are not Bible translations, but are more accurately labeled as paraphrases of the Bible. Neither should be taken seriously for reading or study or memorization. They should rather be regarded more like commentaries on Scripture, each providing one man’s interpretation of what the Bible says. When comparing the two, The Message inserts the most interpretation and, therefore, most deviates from the original meaning of the Bible.

You might notice that on both line graphs, an interlinear is listed as the most literal word-for-word option. Most Christians probably wouldn’t want to read regularly from an interlinear. In case you are unfamiliar with an interlinear, it is a book which has an English text line right under the Hebrew/Greek text line. It is an excellent tool for those who have learned how to use it.

You also might notice that I listed and recommended a version (ASV) that did not make it onto either chart at the link provided above. The Authorized Standard Version (ASV) was published in 1901 and popular among scholars and seminaries in the first half of the 20th Century. If I was to plot the ASV on the linear charts, I would place it between the interlinear and the NASB.

Much more could be written on the subject. But that is a birds-eye view of Bible translations.

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4 thoughts on “Helpful Charts for Comparing Bible Translations”

  1. Honestly, Star, I haven’t spent enough time with the HCSB to really comment on it. I do have a copy of it and have used it a little, but I have become such a big fan of the ESV that I spend the bulk of my time in it, with occasional reading in the KJV and NKJV.

    Do you use it? And if so, what do you think?

  2. I’m like you, I have used it some, but it is hard to get used to. Our pastor uses it and our old children’s minister LOVED it because it was easier for the children to understand. I guess the verdict is still out.

  3. Hey Brett! This is a great post to show how the different translations are laid out. I’ve read this in the past, and it struck interest just recently. Of course, you know I read both KJV and NKJV… (I’ve used NASB when I was a kid) but I’ve also looked into other translations and I’ll say that the HCSB is a pretty good translation. It is confusing to read out of something other than what your used to reading, but it’s also refreshing at the same time.

    I’ve picked up other translations just to see what the big differences are with Literal and Dynamic Translations, and I find that HCSB is an easy reading Bible (did two readings from Horner’s plan). I would like to read more out of it, and once I find it reliable, maybe even switch over. I used it in church this past Wednesday, and it followed pretty close to what he had on the screen.

    I also find that the NLT, although a less literal translation, is a clear translation that really helped me to understand the difficult passage of Romans 7:14-25. KJV is really archaic… but NLT is very contemporary. But still my go-to’s would have to be KJV and NKJV.

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