What's the best translation of the Bible?
“Christ is the master; the Scriptures are only the servant.”
— Martin Luther (1483-1546)
If the King James (KJV) translation of the Bible brings you closer to Jesus and to a deeper understanding of the nature of God, bless you. It’s still among the best-selling English versions. And, in some churches, it remains required reading from the pulpit. But it helps to know more.
In 2004, I wrote an op-ed piece in the Asheville newspaper criticizing Mel Gibson’s popular film "The Passion of the Christ" for being too non-Biblical. It had been greeted with a splash of publicity, and at the time, churches bought out whole theaters so that all their members could attend.
My criticism generated both praise and anger. One writer told me the devil didn’t need my help leading people astray. Another response was the most heartfelt, however. A woman thanked me for allowing her to have an opinion different from the praise of her fellow church members.
It can be the same with Bible translations. Please know that you are free to read whatever English translation of the Bible helps you understand what it says. We have 10 versions in our home, and at any given time, the best translation is the one I will pick up and actually read.
There are some important things to consider when making a choice. Because none of the original writings of the Old and New Testaments still exist, all of the Bibles we read today are based on copies of the first manuscripts. And none are word for word translations because that’s not possible.
For example, the earliest Greek manuscripts use approximately 140,00 words for the New Testament, yet the KJV, translated in 1611, must use 180,565 words to translate it into English.
In the preface to the KJV, the scholars themselves said it was not a word for word translation. They were trying to capture a sense of the ancient Greek text — “An other thing we thinke good to admonish thee of (gentle Reader),” they wrote, “that wee have not tyed our selves to an uniformitie of phrasing, or to an identitie of words.”
Also bear in mind that because manuscripts closer to the originals have been discovered since the early 1600s, along with advances in interpreting these ancient languages, our newer translations are more accurate because they are in fact older.
Look for a good study Bible with helpful explanatory notes created by a committee of scholars. Talk to your pastor or a Bible teacher at church and find what he or she finds most helpful. In the end, remember that the best translation for you is the one you will read.