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The fact that there are so many English Bible translations is both a blessing and a problem. It is a blessing in that the Word of God is available to anyone who needs it in an easy-to-understand, a...
As a reader of the Bible in English, Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, Indonesian and Malay, the discussion above is very relevant. I endorse almost all that has been discussed in other answers with a cautionary note. Sometimes "literal" translation distorts or loses the true meaning because it does not capture the original meaning eg "to communicate forget not" does not mean not to communicate but means the sharing of your material possessions. This is often caused by a word's meaning changing over the centuries to become something quite different. On the other hand a "dynamic" translation method can be so dynamic it obliterates some of the biblical truth eg cubits and their numbers changing to yards or meters with a different number. For these reasons it is good to have a variety of translations, and where possible, a variety of languages, for Bible study. Where a marked difference occurs, then examine some good commentaries, dictionaries on the original use of words, and also which words really exist in the text. When one does this, Bible study is a rich and valuable exercise which breeds great respect for the Divine author.
Mr. Houdmann's comments above are very well done. I would just like to add a couple more comments, and make a recommendation that is TOTALLY my humble opinion. The King James version of 1611 should be almost totally ignored. Well, that's a strong statement that is not quite right. Let me put it this way: There are many better translations if you have a choice. The positives with the KJV are that it is, generally, a very good choice for memorization. The structure of the language is excellent. But it is antiquated. There are outright errors in the text. The translators definitely translated according to their theology at the time. The reason it is "authorized" is not that it was authorized by God, (though those who are strong believers in the sovereignty of God, as I am, could make that argument), but it was authorized by a King who had a political agenda. That being said, it is a poor translation because now we have much better original Greek texts to go back to, to verify a more correct basis for the text. Also, the English of 1611 just plainly is different from English today and those changes can make a difference. Take for example Jame 2:1-4 - "My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?" What does that mean? It takes some thought to come up with something other than we should not give deference to a gay (homosexual) person (and that we can tell the difference because of what they wear) as opposed to a non-gay person. We should be impartial. Perhaps the main point that we should be impartial and not judgmental when it comes to clothing comes across, but the text puts a whole bunch of other thoughts into our heads. Even "The Message" version is much better: "My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted? But I don't like "The Message" for serious study, because it is a paraphrase, not a translation, A "translation" is translated (usually) from the most original Greek copies we have available. A paraphrase is someone's re-wording of the English text in a more modern sense. It is much less accurate. An example of a couple of paraphrases would be the Good News Bible, or The Message, or the original Living Bible. Some good translations (in the order that I like them) are: English Standard Version (ESV) - for study and devotions New Living Translation (NLT) - for devotions and study - it really is pretty good. Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) - for study and devotions. New International Version (the most recent one, not the one of a couple years ago) and New American Standard Bible (NASB) For serious study you should always go back to the Greek. ANY English translation will have translation biases and errors, just because some things are only able to be said correctly in Greek. I have seen serious error when someone says: "In this verse you have the word 'them', right there in the text..." and then they base a doctrinal theory based on the presence of that word, but the word 'them' is not there at all in the Greek - it was added by the translators for the sake of 'clarity' and their version of what is clear is not necessarily really the right sense of the text. All that being said, you usually can't go wrong with ESV, NIV, NLT, or NASB (which I didn't talk about) in that order. ABOVE ALL - and I can't emphasize this enough: NOTES in a Bible are ALWAYS a biased thing. They are COMMENTARY, not Scripture. They can help, but they can also hurt, depending on how they are done. One bad example of this is the Scofield Reference Bible. Long a standard for study, and surely a Bible through which countless thousands have been saved, but the notes are a biased, bad, commentary. The fact that God used it anyway for His purposes is a testimony to His grace toward mankind. The current ESV, NIV, and NLT study bibles are decent with their notes but not "inspired".
I sincerely believe the NKJV is wonderful in that it goes to the original Hebrew and Greek texts. It is a development of the KJV which has the old sayeth, seeketh, forgeteth etc. At times, other versions try to simplify texts and by so doing lose the original meaning. So, I will counsel that NKJV is best but that does not preclude consulting other versions for home or personal study.
I would recommend a healthy mix of older and newer Bible translations. However, I would sound some caution on the danger of the growing number of paraphrases. Some popular Scripture "Translations" today have been watered down to the point of obscurity in the name of dynamic thought equivalent. There is some value in respecting the fidelity of old literal translations such as the KJV or YLT. They are more faithful to the literal projection of the Hebrew and Greek, making them rich and useful for exegetical study. I would recommend the following combination: 1) Older translations KJV/YLT, NJB. 2) midrange translations NASB/NAS/RSV/NKJV 2007 3) Modern dynamic thought range: NRSV/NIV 1984. Modern paraphrases: The NLT, TEV, NIV 2011, are fairly easy to read but is not suited for exegetical study of Scripture. I would be hesitant to recommend a number of modern paraphrases for which the editors have radically departed from the traditional rules of translation. They are actually more of interpretative versions than the products of authentic translation work. However, I appreciate that the modern generation of young believers prefer the easy to read English "translations" whose scriptural vitality has been considerably eroded. A good number of Bible resources would also be useful for deep devotional study and effective survey of Bible books. I would recommend the Matthew Henry Commentary, Adam Clarke's Bible Commentary, Expositors Commentary, ISBE, Faucets and Easton's.
S Michael had a very well thought out and written answer, in my opinion. My answer to this great question comes from a different perspective: I would say, whichever translation has you reading it at least daily; always prayerfully asking the SPIRIT IN YOU, to reveal what you need at this "time" in your life. It should do what S Michael stated, that the translation honors Jesus Christ as Saviour, and points to "The Promise of God the Son": But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. John 14:26 KJV But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:26 NIV
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