Does It Matter What Translation of The Bible We Read?

So many different translations of the Bible are available.  Which are the best?  Does it really matter which version of the Bible we read?

The King James Version (KJV)

The best selling book of all time is the Bible.  No book has ever come close to selling as many copies compared to the Holy Bible. The King James Version is the best selling version of all the Bible translations and is the most widely read in the United States.  It has been time tested and much beloved by those who still prefer it, first published in 1611.  In 1604 King James VI commanded that the Bible be translated into English in response to a perceived problem by the Puritans who were considered a faction at that time. The King James Version is often called the “Authorized” King James Bible because of it’s authorization by the King himself.

I use my old King James Version frequently because mine has the original Hebrew and Greek words in the margins for some words and sentences.  It also has a great number of cross references for almost every verse in it.  It is hard to use for some because of the “King’s English” but others prefer it as an elegantly written language that is poetic in nature.  What I like about the King James Version that I have is that some words are in italics.  The words in italics were added by the translators to give the verses more meaning, to help the flow of the text, or as in some cases, to put their own beliefs into the Scriptures.  When I read the King James Version, I often leave out the words in italics so that I can see what the original author was intending to say since the words in italics were not in the original manuscripts and are not inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Versions of BibleThe New King James Version (NKJV)

Here is another Bible version that is very popular in the world.  It is much like the King James Version except that “thee and thou” are translated to the modern use of the English language like “you” (singular) and “your’s” (plural).  It is essentially the same as the Authorized Version but it simply has more modern language.  Another example is when the King James Version uses “verily, verily” the New King James uses “most assuredly” (John 5:24a).   Besides a few minor differences, the New King James Version is still very close to the Authorized Version and is still highly popular in the States as well as in many parts of the world.

The New King James Study Bible that I have is helpful because, like most Study Bibles, they give some historical background to the verses which help me understand the context much better.  It’s as important knowing what is being written as much as why it is being written and to which audience it is being written too.

The English Standard Version (ESV)

I have two English Standard Version Bibles.  They are both study Bibles.  One is the Reformation Study Bible from Ligonier Ministries and the other is John MacArthur’s Study Bible.  The study notes are excellent supplemental materials when using them for topological subjects or for expositional preaching.  There is a danger with these, as with any study Bibles.  The readers should be aware that the notes are not inspired by God. They might be written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit but they are technically not “God-breathed” as the Scriptures themselves are.  The reader therefore can not take study Bible notes on an equal footing with the Scriptures.  They must be seen as only an addition to what the author or scholars see how the verses apply to the Christian and they come from their own unique perspective.  Even the Reformation Study Bible and the MacArthur Study Bible do not agree on ever issue.  One example is the rapture. Both of these authors, scholars, and theologians do not hold to the same view.

The New International Version (NIV)

This Bible version has seen a lot of criticism, particularly to those who adhere to the King James Version and the New King James Version.  It is the version that pop’s up most frequently in the search engines of the Internet.  It has been attacked as being too liberal and that it leaves out important verses.  The NIV does leave out some verses but it does state that the reason is that most manuscripts do not have a particular verse in it and so the NIV doesn’t often include them.  It does at least tell you where a particular verse that is missing may be found elsewhere, for example in one gospel that does not include certain verses, and it may include a footnote about where the missing Scripture is found elsewhere.

The NIV may be the most criticized of all Bible versions but the language is easier to understand for most readers since it is written in a contemporary fashion.  It is not restricted or tied to the vocabulary of the time in which it was originally written.  That can both have advantages and disadvantages.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB)

This Bible has also been criticized by many scholars, even more so by those who hold to the Authorized King James Version.  The New American Standard is simply a revision of the American Standard Bible of 1901.  The 50 translators sought to remain true to the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts to maintain the integrity of the Scriptures.  It is an easy flowing book, much like the NIV, but has not received as much criticism as the NIV has.

The Geneva Bible (GB)

The Geneva Bible actually preceded the King James Version by some 51 years and it was the Bible most frequently used during the 16th century.  This was the first Bible that was mass printed and made available to the general public, for those that could afford one. It was printed with study guides and is actually the first study Bible ever made.  It was the primary Bible of the Protestants and was the first Bible used in America, coming across the Atlantic on the Mayflower.  It has had a resurgence of popularity in the last 20 years or so and is about as trusted as the King James Bible Version.

Other Translations

Other translations include the Amplified Bible, the Message, and the New Living Translation (NLT) but it should be noted that many are not word for word translations.  They are more thought for word and there is the danger here that the author is injecting too much of their own beliefs into the texts to make them 100% reliable.  They might be the most reader-friendly versions but they also can not be taken literally because they attempt to appeal to the modern reader in the present day vernacular.  One Bible that I do like and one that would make a great gift for a pastor, seminary student, Sunday school teacher, or Bible student is the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible.  This Bible is even better than my King James Version with the margins where the original Greek or Hebrew words or sentences are included. It gives a broader understanding of the original author’s intent and purpose for what they wrote.  Sometimes translators of the Greek or Hebrew words are not easily translated into English; therefore the reader can not fully comprehend what the original author meant by what he wrote in the original transcripts.  The Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible helps close this language gap.

No single article could cover all of the Bible versions and translations that have been printed.  I believe that when a person selects a Bible to read, it is to their advantage to choose one that has margins where the original Hebrew or Greek words are noted.  I also like study Bibles over regular Bibles because they give more background information on the author’s original audience, the historical setting, and they address particular issues as to the “why” of what was written.  There are also many excellent websites that have Scriptures at your fingertips in various translations.  You can access different versions of the Bible without having to purchase them.


When I study the Bible I like to use different versions.  This gives me a broader understanding of certain Scriptures or verses.  There are advantages to this because different versions give more depth to my understanding, with the realization of course that the Holy Spirit is the One Who is helping me.  Whichever version you prefer, a Bible is no good unless it is read.  There is such power in the Word of God.  I have heard many people say that they have gone through the Bible but I wonder if it has gone through them.  Still others say that they have read it but I wonder if they have allowed the Bible to read them.  There is nothing to compare to the Word of God but if it is gathering dust on a shelf, it is useless to you.  It is the single greatest resource we have at our disposal.  It never fluctuates in truth like human wisdom does.  Its timeless principles never change like conventional thinking does.  No book of human origin has ever come close to the power in the Bible.  An important concept to me is the fact that the entire Bible is profitable but it’s equally important to know that some Scriptures are written for us but not all of the verses are written to us.  That is to say that the requirements that came with the Sabbath may not apply to us today.  One example is the restriction on traveling over 400 cubits, not being able to light a fire, or the prohibition of meal preparations.

Whatever version you choose, the Holy Spirit is the Person Who can guide you into understanding it.  Peter’s confession about Jesus being the Son of God was not something that he could come up with by his own human effort as Jesus said that, this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven (Matt 16:17).  Paul understood that these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit” (1 Cor 2:10) and wrote, “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being (Gal 1:15-16).  No Bible version is completely without error but we can trust the Holy Spirit to show us truth in the revealed Word of God because the Scriptures did not have its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21) and ultimately all “Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).  The essentials of the faith are almost always clear in any just about any version you read (i.e. Rom 10:9-13, Acts 4:12, 1 John 1:9, etc.) and that is good to know.

Article by Pastor Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Senior Writer at What Christians Want to Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible.

photo credit: J. Mark Bertrand via photopin cc

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  • artemio824

    This is just an observation… Your commentary on the English Standard Bible is actually a commentary on study Bibles. What say ye about the ESV? :) God bless…

    • Jack Wellman

      Thank you my friend for your comment. I agree, I should have been mores specific on whether the ESV is good or not so good. That’s a great observation. I like to use several Bibles when I study particular subjects or prepare sermons messages thru notes and commentaries. I do like the ESV and the MacArthur and Reformation ESV Study Bibles are great but apart from the commentary and study notes, I really do like the ESV. I still rely primarily on the New King James in expository preaching. That is just my personal preference.