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Which is the best translation of the Bible to use?
Which Bible(s) you should use for study is a personal preference. However, it helps to understand the three theories of Biblical translation:
Literal- these translations seek to keep the sentence structure and emphasis of the original languages, but at times this makes the English more awkward. They also leave matters of interpretation entirely up to the reader, such as translating the Greek "sarkos" literally as "flesh," as in passages such as Romans chapter 8. The King James (KJV), New King James (NKJV), New American Standard (NASB), NET Bible (NET), Amplified Bible (AMP), Revised Standard (RSV) The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), and English Standard Versions (ESV) are examples. I consider the ESV and NET Bibles to be the two best literal Bibles.
Dynamic Equivalent- with these, the translators take a little more liberty and venture into the gray area between translation and interpretation. For instance, they may translate "sarkos" as "sin nature" in Romans because that is widely accepted that this was Paul's meaning in using the word in certain contexts. In general, Dynamic Equivalent translations make better use of the English language and are more readable and more easily understood. The New International Version (NIV), New American Bible (NAB), New English Bible (NEB), New Living Translation (NLB), and New Revised Standard (NRSV) are examples. The NIV is in my opinion the best dynamic equivalent Bible.
Free- some popular "translations" intended to be Dynamic Equivalent border on not being translations at all and could be put in a third category by themselves. These pay very little attention to the original languages in an attempt to be very readable in English, almost re-writing the Biblical accounts. The Living Bible (LB), Phillips Modern English (PME), Good News Bible (GNB), Modern Language (ML), Contemporary English (CEV), Today's English (TEV), Worldwide English (WEV) and The Message would be examples. I do not consider these to be true Bibles.
I would recommend the individual use at least one literal and one dynamic equivalent translation. I personally use the ESV, NET and occasionally the HCSB for my literal translations and the NIV Bible for my dynamic equivalent version. Surprisingly, the ESV is very easy to read, and the new study Bible has excellent notes. The 60,932 translation notes and satellite maps in the First Edition NET Bible are outstanding.
Gary Butner, Th.D.