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What are the different English Bible translations?

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Dozens of English translations of the Bible have been published throughout the history of the church. Most notably, the 1611 King James Version of the Bible became the standard of the English-speaking world, serving as the common version of most churches into the twentieth century. Many new translations arose in the last century as the ability to easily publish became widespread, with the New International Version becoming the most widespread modern English Bible produced during this time.

In 2012, the top selling English translations in the United States, according to the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, include (in order of sales rank):

New International Version (NIV)
King James Version (KJV)
New Living Translation (NLT)
New King James Version (NKJV)
English Standard Version (ESV)
New International Reader's Version (NIRV, a children's edition of the NIV)
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
The Message (MSG)
Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

Many other popular versions exist as well. One creative version, for example, is the NET Bible (, an open-source Bible published by Christian scholars with more than 60,000 notes for free distribution online.

What are the main differences between these translations? Almost every translation falls into one of three categories. The first category is formal equivalence. These are the more literal translations that seek a word-for-word translation that closely matches the original languages of the Bible. They include the KJV, NKJV, ESV, and NASB.

A second category exists that is often called dynamic equivalence. These versions use thought-for-thought translation that focuses more on communicating with the modern reader. The NLT is a prime example of this style that conveys a clear reading for the contemporary reader as the main emphasis. The NIV notes that its focus is a balance between formal and dynamic equivalence, an attempt that has found popularity among many readers while also attracting criticism from those who promote only formal equivalence translations.

A third category has arisen in the last century that is called functional equivalence. This type of translation seeks to provide the main idea of the passage rather than a focus on translation of words. Often called a paraphrase, the most popular example of this style has been Eugene Peterson's The Message. More recently, The Voice has provided a similar rendering of the Bible from the perspective of artists and storytellers. This third category exists to supplement, not replace, more formal Bible translations; but it has been helpful to many to bring a fresh perspective to the ideas of Scripture.

In summary, many English versions of the Bible exist for the modern reader. While many quality translations exist, more formal translations provide a more direct understanding of the original languages of the Bible and can be enhanced through the variety of options available for today's reader. Of greatest importance is to both study and apply the teachings of the Bible in order to bring glory to its divine author, the Lord Almighty.

Related Truth:

What Bible translation should I use?

Is it okay to use a paraphrase of the Bible?

What is the KJV only movement? Should we only use the King James Version of the Bible?

Why should we study the Bible?

I want to start reading the Bible. Where should I begin?

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