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Bible Translations Tract: What's in a Version?

Bible Tract:  What's in a Version?

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What's in a Version? is available in PDF format and Word document format. You can find our permission to print these pamphlets at the Participatory Study Series index.

What's in a Version?, a tract on Bible versions and how to choose the best one for your use, front. What's in a version, about Bible translations and choosing the right one for you, back thumbnail.
This tract presents the basics of Bible versions and how to select the best translation for your particular use. It is designed to be printed on 8 1/2 x 14 paper and folded in four.

A good Bible version is one you read!

From Energion Publications
What's in a Version cover

What's in a Version?
Read the book version by Henry Neufeld, editor of the Participatory Study Series. This book is designed to give the lay members confidence in choosing a Bible version for reading or study. 124 pages with glossary and index.

Would you like to have the author of this pamphlet and of the book What's in a Version? teach about Bible translations in your church? Consider these seminars offered by Pacesetters Bible School.

Which Bible version should I use in Bible reading and study?

Many Christians are concerned that they will find an inaccurate Bible version to read and will somehow miss out on hearing God's word.


The vast majority of the Bible versions available today are of high quality and accuracy. You can go to just about any Christian book store or to the Bible section of any secular store, close your eyes and grab a Bible and you will find the word of God.

In general, any non-denominational Bible is adequate for reading and for general study. For more serious study a few guidelines may help.

This pamphlet is designed to provide you with a few of those guidelines.

But the most important guideline is this: Find a version that you are comfortable reading!

What makes different versions different?

The translation method.

Any time we have to translate something from one language into another there will be more than one way to translate a particular word or phrase. Different translations will word the same thought in different ways.

There are two basic approaches to translation:

  • Translating the forms, or literal translation (sometimes called "formal equivalence").
  • Translating the thoughts and feel (or impact on the audience), sometimes called "dynamic equivalence" or "functional equivalence").

A very loose translation, or one where cultural concepts and even geographical references are changed is often called a paraphrase.

Translations are never totally formal or totally dynamic, but always include elements of both. You should try to discover what the translators were aiming to accomplish.

Perfect formal translation is impossible because the source languages, Hebrew and Greek, do not use the same word order and structure as English. More literal or formal does not necessarily mean more accurate; a translation needs to be clear and natural as well as accurate.

The manuscripts the translators use.

The Bible was written long before there were printing presses and copies were made by hand.

During the time of the early Christian church and the middle ages many of these manuscripts were lost. A large number of have been discovered over the last three or four hundred years. Some differences in translations are based on the readings of these different manuscripts.

Most translations use either the Textus Receptus, a Greek text similar to that used for the King James Version, or a modern text based on comparison of these more recently discovered manuscripts.

For the Old Testament, translations usually use the standard Hebrew text, but also refer to the Dead Sea Scrolls and some ancient translations of the Hebrew scriptures.

Who does the translating.

Some translations are done by a committee and some by individuals. Committees may consist entirely of people from one denomination or religious group, or they may be inter-denominational or even interfaith.

What are the general guidelines I can use in selecting a Bible?

  • Readability.
    Can you read the Bible comfortably? Do you understand what you read without constant use of other references?
  • Accuracy.
    For in-depth study, you may prefer a more formal translation. For general reading, a paraphrase may be good.
  • Translation committee.
    It is generally better to select a translation done by a committee of scholars or edited and checked by such a committee. In general, the broader the committee, the better. However, some fine translations are done by individuals.
  • Use of a current text.
    Though there is no major problem with the text used for the KJV, and in modern times by the NKJV, there have been many fine ancient manuscripts discovered recently. It is good to be as accurate as possible.

Comparing basic translation styles

Translation Characteristics

Living Bible1IMConsidered one of the less accurate, but nonetheless good for general reading.
The Message2IMAn excellent paraphrase, both readable and accurate.
Contemporary English Version5IMIndividual translation in simple language, by American Bible Society
Today's English Version6CMLargely replaced by CEV
New Living Translation6CMEvangelical, intended to replace the Living Bible
Revised English Bible6CMInterfaith cooperation
New Century Version7CM3rd grade reading level
God' Word7CMConservative
New Jerusalem Bible7CMRoman Catholic
Today's New International Version8CMRevised NIV, adds gender neutral language
New International Version8CMEvangelical
New American Bible9CMRoman Catholic
New Revised Standard Version9CMInterfaith
Holman Christian Standard Bible9CMLargely Baptist, conservative version
English Standard Version9CMConservative revision of RSV
New American Standard Bible9CMEvangelical
New King James VersionXCTFollows KJV closely, updating only language


  1. Formal (1 to X)
  2. C=Committee; I=Individual
  3. M=Modern text; T=Textus Receptus

For further discussion of this chart, see Comparing Versions

For further information on Bible Translations see:

Bible Version Selection Tool
What about the KJV?
Bible Translations FAQ
Notes on the Major Bible Versions
Choosing a Bible with Study Notes

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Phone: (850) 525-3916
Web: Energion Publications (http://energion.com)
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This brochure is available in quantity. Contact Energion Publications for more information.

Scripture quotations marked "NKJV&tm;" are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked The Message are taken from THE MESSAGE®. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

All scripture quotations not otherwise marked are taken from the Contemporary English Version, Copyright © 1995 American Bible Society.

Copyright © 1998, 2004, Henry E. Neufeld
2nd Edition, 2004