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Best Bible Translations

What is the difference between word for word and thought for thought translation?

Simply put,

  1. Word for Word: Takes extra care to translate each word at a time, as the author wrote, from the Hebrew and Greek texts.
  2. Thought for Thought: Portrays the essence of the words in a flowing English translation of the Greek and Hebrew translation (hopeful).

My Best Bible Suggestions:

  1. Word for Word
    1. NASB 95 edition Ultrathin Reference Bible (Leather, References, and Maps – No extra commentary – No Theological bias/persuasion)
    2. NASB 95 edition Zondervan Study Bible (Study Bible – hard cover) I have personally used the Zondervan Study Bible for many years!
    3.  NASB 1977 edition Key Word Study Bible (Best Integrated Hebrew and Greek in passage lookup Bible out there)
  2. Thought for Thought
    1. NIV 84 and 2011 Life Application Study Bible, or, NIV Zondervan Study Bible
    2. HCSB Ultrathin Reference Bible, or, HCSB Study Bible

Explanations for my picks

Word for Word Translations

Now, the reason we have so many translations is because there is no perfect or exact rendering of the original languages into English. Also, although Greek and Hebrew are still languages in today’s world, the biblical Hebrew and Koine (common ancient) Greek are no longer used in everyday spoken language. Thus, we need to go back into our history, archaeology, and cultural studies to aid our understanding of the authors’ use of words and structure. For instance, we can draw from the classical Greek writers like Homer, Socrates, and Herodotus to provide some extra insight into the Greek world and literary style which we interpret the Scriptural context. We also look for archaeological pieces and lingering heritage and traditions throughout the Greco-Roman world to help us create textual context. Scholars spend their entire life trying to accurately interpret the Word to the best of their ability. Did you know that the original manuscripts and our biblical writers did not use paragraphs, punctuation, or structure like we do? Did you know that your Bible chapters and verses were added much later for printing and lookup purposes and not part of the original texts? All of these things require great skill and study to properly interpret the Word from the ancient texts to our modern English.

The word for word is also not entirely possible, in a literal sense. What I mean is that many verbs in the original languages, often one word with different endings, we would translate with many words. We would conjugate that Greek verb based on the tense, person, mood, etc… As an example, λύω, in Greek means to loose. Look at all of the possible endings and renderings of luo:

Image result for λύω chart
So…not only is translation a tricky business, but it is a lengthy one. Now, like most things the more one studies, the easier this gets. I certainly had some long nights in Seminary memorizing charts just like this one above.

HOWEVER, a word for word translation does get pretty close. It more accurately takes all of the pieces I mentioned and assembles them into readable English. If you are going to do a Word study – Bible study, then this is really the way to go. A word for word translation offers you the scholars’ efforts and years of experience to get to a more accurate interpretation than the thought for thought does. That said, there are differences in textual accuracy and rendering, as well as theological bias in contextual-textual criticism.

I recommend the NASB (New American Standard Bible) as my go to Word for Word study Bible. Others prefer the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version), which I do not for reasons I will share further down.

The NASB was first published for the whole Bible in 1971 and later edited in 1995. The translators aimed for a fourfold practice in their work:

  1. These publications shall be true to the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
  2. They shall be grammatically correct.
  3. They shall be understandable.
  4. They shall give the Lord Jesus Christ His proper place, the place which the Word gives Him; therefore, no work will ever be personalized.

The Hebrew text used for this translation was the third edition of Rudolf Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia was consulted for the 1995 revision. For Greek, Eberhard Nestle’s Novum Testamentum Graece was used; the 23rd edition in the 1971 original, and the 26th in the 1995 revision.

In all, the NASB 95 edition provides the most up to date archaeological and literary discovery as possible while maintaining its rigid guidelines for textual accuracy. It does not manipulate rendering to favor a less literal and more liberal reading of the scripture. That is my problem with the NRSV, as it often favors a less literal and more open rendering of these texts. One could argue the NRSV is still textually accurate in a word for word sense, but it is biased from a modern theological stance.

Let me reiterate: I Recommend the BEST Word for Word Translation – NASB 95 edition. Click on one of the options below to choose my recommended Bibles:

My Recommended Best Word for Word Bibles

  1. NASB 95 edition Ultrathin Reference Bible (Leather, References, and Maps – No extra commentary – No Theological bias/persuasion)

Simply fantastic!

genuine leather, black

The NASB Ultrathin Reference Bible is a convenient study and reading Bible, complete with over 95,000 center-column cross references to enrich your reading, full color detailed maps, and a concordance. This edition features a black, genuine leather cover. A perfect bible for study, casual reading, and church.

 

2. NASB 95 edition Zondervan Study Bible (Study Bible – hard cover) I have personally used the Zondervan Study Bible for many years!

Great commentary, maps, and charts throughout

Over 20,000 in-text notes adapted from the bestselling Zondervan NIV Study Bible • Center-column reference system with more than 100,000 references • Book introductions and outlines • Harmony of the Gospels • Articles on Wisdom Literature, the Minor Prophets, the Synoptic Gospels, the Pastoral Letters, and the General Letters, plus the ethics of war and historical information on the period between the Testaments • 80 in-text maps and charts • 23 pages of full-color maps and timelines • Subject and study note indexes • Comprehensive NASB concordance • Words of Christ in red • 8-page presentation section

 

3. NASB 1977 edition – with Greek and Hebrew word study. This Word study, I have found it to be among the absolute best in the original languages! I use this on a regular basis for my word study applications and I used it for reference in Seminary. – Also real nice in leather. Strongs numbers given to English words for reference in original languages in the back.

Brown Leather: Black Leather:

Whichever you choose, you cannot go wrong with any of these NASB selections.

 

There are other word for word translations out there. I mentioned the NRSV already, but others like the ESV are popular. I have read and sometimes still read from the ESV. There is always the KJV and NKJV, but honestly, their translations are older and do not reconcile new archaeological findings as well, or in some cases at all, as the NASB. I still prefer the extensive work and longevity in the NASB above the others.

 

Thought for Thought Translations

I tend to stay away from thought for thought translations personally. I do prefer the more literal and accurate rendering. Beware that by trying to make the Bible more readable in English, the translators often take license to change some things from the original text. However, There are a few versions that still capture the essence of the Word and flow very nicely. Yet, there are also versions I would not touch with a 10 foot pole!

Okay thought for thought versions

  1. NIV (New International Version) Not the TNIV update. The 1984 edition or the updated 2011 are more textually accurate as they dropped the gender neutral readings of the TNIV. I personally believe that the text should not be manipulated to read anything other than what it says. Thus, changing words to make it modern is a big “no no” in my books. The NIV 84 or 2011 might be a good buy for a casual reader or your teenager. I remember reading the NIV as a young person. A teenager or casual reader looking for interpretation might consider buying the NIV Zondervan Study Bible or the Life Application Study Bible. Just remember it is not a good Word study Bible translation. It is however a very popular rendering and the most quoted in today’s world.

2. HCSB (Holman Christian Standard) is a decent translation because it starts off with the word for word principle of translation then goes thought for thought when they deem the reading easier to comprehend. Still I would not urge this for depth, but for casual reading.

 

STAY AWAY FROM:

  1. The Message Bible: created and translated by Eugene H. Peterson and published in segments from 1993 to 2002. It is idiomatic, in that it is not really even a thought for thought translation. Basically it is Peterson’s own commentary in the translation of the Scripture. The problems I have with this translation are numerous. To start, one man versus a whole team of scholars, right… literary liberty versus what was actually recorded. Lots, and I mean lots of personal bias in interpretation. Stay away!
  2. The NLT (New Living Translation) – Entire verses are missing. Like Luke 17:36 to name 1 of about 32 verses missing. How does this happen? Well, there are several translations that take this liberty and the NLT is one of them. I am using them as the example. Basically, there are some manuscripts that do and some that don’t have these verses in them. It depends on which you believe to be the most accurate. However, instead of placing them in there with that note, or like the NASB does like this: [Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.], they just leave the verse out altogether! It is among the very small percentage of manuscripts where there is discrepancy. Supposedly, they use the same texts as the NASB, but they mutilate the Word to achieve their own goals. As an ecumenical (many denominations) translation, they cut on certain places to keep the peace. Another very big “no no” in my opinion.

The MEV, CEB, LES and many others are also suspect. Be very careful! Anytime a preacher starts using any of these translations I get on edge. I get that people want to try new things and word things differently, but why would you change what God has said so badly that it distorts the original message?!

 

I hope that this helps you on your way to reading and studying the Bible. Keep coming back for more information!

-Roger

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks for the insights!
    What do you have to say about the NKV? The NAB is a modern Roman Catholic translation. Does it have RC biases also? It would be interesting to look at various version of the JW books with various scripture removals or purposeful mistranslations to further their cult.

    • Hey Dan, thanks for the comment. As for the Roman Catholic translations, the big difference is in the Apocrypha. These books are not part of the accepted protestant cannon. The books of the OT were confirmed by the Hebrew Bible, Tanakh, at the council of Jamnia in 90 AD. The Apocryphal/intertestamental books were not part of the cannon. Catholics today still hold these writings as biblical. I would read them as historical or period pieces, and some are still questionable and unconfirmed for dates of authorship. That is ultimately why they didn’t meet the early church’s determination for cannonicy.

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