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One Pastor's View: Which Bible Translations Should You Read?

I regularly get questions about which Bible translation is the “best.” Sometimes people want to get me in a debate about the shortcomings of one translation over another, or try to convince me that God favors a particular translation (usually the KJV). Frankly, I am getting tired of the discussion. I think it is a great distraction because, more important than the version you use, is living out the teaching of God’s truth.

So, with this rant out of my system, let me offer these thoughts:

1.  The Bible was originally written in three languages — Hebrew, a little bit of Aramaic, and Greek.

2.  Every English translation is in fact a translation, whether it is KJV, NIV, ESV  or NASB.

3.  God nowhere told us He prefers one translation over another. Not once. Nowhere in the Bible. Not from a church council. Remember the admonition in Revelation 22 not to add anything to what God says?

4.  Acts 2 and Galatians make it clear that language should not be a barrier to come to Jesus. Islam requires you to learn Arabic to read the Quran. Jesus wanted his story told to people in their own language!

5.  All translations have flaws. Some sacrifice readability for literalness; others sacrifice literalness for readability. Translation is an art, not a science. I speak as someone who has translated Hebrew and Greek for my sermons for over 20 years. And if I can sound arrogant for just a moment, my Ph.D in Old Testament taught me that language is dynamic, not static — so what is a good translation for one generation can quickly get dated by shifts in culture and language. For example, in my adult life, there has been a shift in the meaning of the word “gay.” So check the KJV for James 2:3. That translation is no longer clear.

6.  People who engage in arguments about the superiority of one translation over another are wasting spiritual energy and time on something that God has not made a priority. Frankly, I think some folks will hear a sharp rebuke from God because they waged a battle for a translation. All they did was confuse people over things that don’t matter.

7.  The Holy Spirit must guide you as your read, regardless of which translation you use.

8.  The best translation is the one you will read. Eugene Nida, chief translator for the American Bible Society, told me that years ago — He was right.

At our church, we use the NIV — mostly because it is very readable and widely available. Are there places where I wish the translators had made different choices? Of course. Is it, overall, a solid translation. Absolutely.

My encouragement to you is to read the version you will read every day — and pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you.  

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Clay Smith is: A follower of Jesus, committed to taking his next step; Husband of Gina, who is counselor at Lifeway Counseling; Father of Abram, Hannah, and Sarah; Since 1994, Lead Pastor for the great people of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter; Graduate of Samford University (B.A., 1981) and The Southen Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1985; Ph.D., 1992); Fourth generation native Floridian and die hard Gator fan; Partner in Family ranch and Citrus Business in Florida; A Church Consultant that helps churches take their next step; and the most unlikely person God would ever chose to use.