What Translation of the Bible is Best for My Personal Reading?

Pastor Dillon Thornton


People often ask me, “What translation of the Bible do you recommend?” In fact, this is one of the questions that was texted in during our recent Habits of Faith series at Faith Church. We are blessed to have an abundance of English translations. Many people do not have a Bible in their own language. According to Wycliffe Bible Translators, there are over 2,000 languages in the world that do not have a complete Bible. This should be an ongoing prayer concern for us. 

The Bible was written thousands of years ago by roughly 40 human authors. The Old Testament contains 39 books, written mostly in Hebrew (and a little Aramaic). The New Testament contains 27 books, written in Greek. Because most people can’t read Hebrew or Greek, we need translations. This is one of the important works that biblical scholars do. Usually, an entire team of scholars works for years on a translation project. 

English translations can be divided into three or four categories, depending on which scholar you ask. The simplest way to explain it is like this: we have word-for-word translations (as literal as possible, keeping the sentence structure and idioms of the original language), thought-for-thought translations (typically a little easier to read), and paraphrases (the most creative category). At the word-for-word end of the spectrum are translations like the NRSV, the NASB, and the ESV, which I generally use when preaching. At the other end of the spectrum is the popular paraphrase The Message. In the middle are translations like the NIV and NLT. 

Personally, I think it’s good to have a default translation, the one we normally use for personal study and especially when memorizing Scripture, and I think any of the translations mentioned above is a great choice. The best translation for you is the one you will read regularly. I also think we should have 2-3 other translations handy and consult them at times, because reading a verse in 2-3 translations often helps us better understand it. 

A related topic is the Study Bible. A Study Bible is a Bible with built-in Bible teachers. A good Study Bible is an invaluable resource because it contains the insights of an entire team of world-class pastors and biblical scholars. There are many great Study Bibles today, but the one I recommend most often is The ESV Study Bible. Not only is this thing heavy enough to be used for bicep curls (curls for the girls), but also it’s packed full of helpful content. It contains timelines and maps for the visual people among us. It contains an introduction to each book of the Bible, giving you basic information such as, Who wrote this book? What was the occasion? What are some of the major themes? At the bottom of every page you’ll find helpful commentary, study notes written by a scholar who has spent years and years studying that particular book of the Bible. 

If you’re serious about becoming a student of God’s Word, then give up a few weeks’ worth of Starbucks and invest that $25 in a good Study Bible. Your love for God and others will increase. And so will your biceps.