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FAQ: What are the best English translations of the Bible?

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FAQ: What are the best English translations of the Bible?

English-speaking readers of the Bible have an embarrassing wealth of good translations of the Bible from which to choose. Although it is fine to have a “favorite,” it would be a mistake to claim that one translation is “the best,” let alone the only good or acceptable version.


The following are a dozen of the best English translations of the Bible. The comments that follow will provide some help in understanding the value of each one. The translations are listed in two groups. The first group lists six translations that we especially recommend. The second group lists six good translations with which students of the Bible may want to be familiar but that we do not think are the best for regular reading and study purposes. Within these two groupings the versions are listed in alphabetical order, not ranked by preference.

ESV        English Standard Version. Nice balance between literal and readable translation.
HCSB    Holman Christian Standard Bible. Solid, conservative version, notable for its frequent (but not consistent) use of Yahweh for the divine name in the Old Testament.
NASB     New American Standard Bible (updated edition). Probably the most literal translation and therefore especially useful for English word-searches and the like.
NET        New English Translation (NET Bible). The first online Bible, generally excellent, with informative footnotes throughout.
NIV        New International Version. Readable Bible, popular in evangelical churches; arguably better for reading in large portions than for careful study of the text.
NLT        New Living Translation. Very readable, accurate paraphrase; nearly as readable as the old “Living Bible” (which we do not recommend) but taking far fewer liberties with the text.


ASV        American Standard Version. 1901 version that was a precursor to the NASB; reads much like the KJV, but uses “Jehovah” throughout the Old Testament for the divine name.
KJV        King James Version. Still the standard for many fundamentalist Christians, the KJV (400 years old this year) remains one of the greatest Bible translations in history and a majestic classic work of English literature to boot.
NAB       New American Bible. Conservative Roman Catholic translation.
NKJV     New King James Version. Modernization of the KJV.
NRSV     New Revised Standard Version. Good mainline version, but overdoes inclusive language (that is, wording to avoid using “masculine” terms for people).
TNIV      Today’s New International Version. Version of the NIV that features inclusive language, though not quite as obtrusively as the NRSV.


For Further Study

Bible Gateway (offsite). Look up biblical passages or do word searches in any of 23 English translations and numerous other language versions.

Blue Letter Bible (offsite). One of the most popular Bible study websites, which allows free online searches for verses or words in the Bible, comparing multiple translations.