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It is correct that there are different English translations of the Bible; And different publishers, different editions, or prints. So, what facts would determine which translation one should consider in choosing a Bible to read and study?

Is the title of such a book usually "Holy Bible", or can a legitimate Bible go by another name, as well?

Are they free online and downloadable, or do they need purchase?

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    I would recommend taking these questions to a member of the church nearest to your geographical location. Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 14:45
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    If nothing else, pretty much any church where you go and ask these questions will give you a Bible free. Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 16:28
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    My own personal advice is detailed on my website. It is crucial to be aware of the significant change made in 1881 when the Greek Text used in the Authorised Version was replaced by another Greek Text.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 19:17
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    The Best Bible Matthew Barron has produced a fantastic resource introducing Christians to the various and diverse translations of the Bible! This resource is called "The Best Bible" and is available at Amazon or Ad Fontes Press. He give the history, strengths, weaknesses, and Translation Committee approach to translating. Very helpful in navigating the biblical waters and delivering us to the harbor of understanding.
    – ray grant
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 21:20
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    @GratefulDisciple while the question can be phrased objectively, I don't think it can be answered objectively! If you're Catholic it's not the inclusion of the Deuterocanonical books that is important. I've got a copy of Tyndale's The Way: Catholic Edition which includes them in an appendix the same way Luther would have - and it has an imprimatur. I like the readability of it, but it's pretty weird to see the books so out of place like that. I think this question either should be "how should a non-denominational person choose a Bible" or "how do various Christian sects choose bibles"
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 12:58

5 Answers 5

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Is it correct that there are different English translations of the Bible? And different publishers, different editions, or prints?

Yes. Even normal books sometimes have multiple editions. Books which are translated may well have multiple translations, because different people have different opinions on how they should be translated. As one of the most influential collections of literature ("The Bible" is technically a collection of several dozen different manuscripts, an "anthology" if you will), written originally in "dead" languages, and being read over a period of thousands of years by people speaking nearly every language to exist, it's no surprise that there are a great many translations and "editions" available.

The King James Version is one of the best known, and dates back to 1611. Given how much English has changed in the mean time, it's hardly surprising that there have been subsequent translations, and even revisions of KJV. (Some of those other translations have themselves published at least one additional revision.)

Moreover, as a particularly contentious collection of text, accusations of translator bias exist (and are more evident in e.g. the New World Translation).

As an aside, since "the Bible" is actually a collection of (related) documents, and not everyone agrees on what those documents should be, the term "Scripture" will sometimes be used instead.

Is the title of such a book usually "Holy Bible"?

I would say that the name of the translation often serves as the "title", but may be accompanied by "Bible", "Holy Bible", or similar. For some translations, it may not be obvious simply from the cover that a particular volume is "the Bible".

Which of such books are recommended?

The New International Version is something of an old standby... but it is an older translation, and, while it isn't terrible, some sects consider it less than optimal these days. Personally, I would recommend a more modern translation, such as (in lexicographical order):

All of these are more-or-less "literal" translations, and the latter two are reportedly available in both "Protestant" and "Catholic" editions (see prior comment on what books "belong" in "the Bible"). There are various "paraphrase" translations which may be easier for a new initiate to read, but I would recommend these as introductory at best, as they are likely to lose nuance and be more subject to the translators' theological biases. I might further recommend picking up a Catholic ESV or NRSV; even most Protestants consider the "apocryphal" texts of value, just keep in mind that not all Christians consider them authoritative in the same manner as the accepted canonical books.

I'm also going to disagree with the other answer, and assert that there are a variety of bad, even execrable, translations. As noted, there is a huge motivation for certain individuals or groups to publish a translation that pushes a particular theology. It's not unusual for such "translations" to deliberately mangle the original text in an attempt to support the translators' theology.

For more examples, consider these articles and see also How should we judge the trustworthiness of a given Bible translation?. Fortunately, it isn't terribly hard to avoid such translations, as they are infrequently quoted and (except for NWT) rarely endorsed by churches. A translation that is accepted by a wide variety of churches is usually a good sign.

Are they free online and downloadable, or do they need purchase?

Bible Gateway makes the text of a great many translations available online for free. (In fact, I would go so far as to say that a translation not available the TBG is one you probably shouldn't read... although that doesn't mean that every translation at TBG is good.) However, while it's an excellent reference resource, it's probably not ideal for simply reading through Scripture. Specific editions may also have their own websites with free online reading. Electronic copies may need to be purchased, although it will depend on the translation. (KJV, for example, is in the Public Domain and can be obtained from e.g. Project Gutenberg.)

Most translations are available in print, and, while these obviously cost money, if you are truly destitute, you may be able to obtain a free copy by inquiring at a local church, or even from a hotel courtesy of the Gideons.

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    I used the NIV for about 35 years. Then I switched to the ESV about five years ago. For some passages I still prefer the NIV as being more poetic and literate, but for scholarly study I prefer the ESV. I use Biblegateway.com to compare the same verse in all English translations. This helps me decide which meaning is most common. Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 20:15
  • Minor correction: the copyright to the KJV is held by the Crown of England, with distribution rights granted, if I remember correctly, to both Oxford and Cambridge. However, they have stated to those who have checked with them that quotations of approximately a chapter or less do not require citation, and it is effectively mostly equivalent to Public Domain.
    – Jed Schaaf
    Commented Mar 29 at 23:13
  • @JedSchaaf, that's only in the UK, however; in the US (and AFAIK most other countries), copyright on anything prior to 1920 is expired and those works are public domain. See also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_James_Version#Copyright_status.
    – Matthew
    Commented Mar 29 at 23:29
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Originally, the Bible was written in the common language of the people at that time. With regard to English translations, there is a bewildering array to choose from!

Choosing a Bible translation depends on your particular requirements. For example, if this is the first Bible you will read, and if you want to keep things simple, or if you need to study the Bible and want notes and explanations along with maps, diagrams, and cross-references to provide deeper understanding.

Some Bible versions translate as literally (word-for-word) as far as possible, commonly known as formal equivalence. Some Bible versions translate less literally, in more of a thought-for-thought method, commonly known as dynamic equivalence.

Most translations are on a continuum between being “literal” (staying as close to the original words and literary structure as possible) and “dynamic” (communicating the meaning of the passage in a way that the modern reader will understand, even if extra words are introduced that are not in the original text). There are dozens of English translations to choose from. The best ones are done by teams of competent evangelical scholars and reviewed by others. No single individual has all the skills necessary today to produce a good translation.

Below are some of the most prominent and best translations: What is the most accurate Bible translation?

This article lists the most common English translations of the Holy Bible, giving links to each one to help with deciding which one to choose: What are the different English Bible versions?

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My aim for this answer is to be applicable to ALL Christian denominations and theologies on offer today, so it can be a starting point for you to choose. I also aim for objectivity by limiting myself to an overview and non translation-specific features.


Is it correct that there are different English translations of the Bible?

Yes. This Wikipedia section lists all major modern English translations grouped by their

  • root: KJV (1611) and derivatives, English Revised Version (1881) and derivatives, NIV and derivatives, etc.
  • translation philosophy: many dynamic translations are new projects in the 20th century.
  • denominational interest: Catholic (include deuterocanonical books), Jehovah Witness, Latter Day Saints, Messianic / Jewish
  • source text: Nestle-Aland (majority of modern translations), Textus Receptus (KJV and derivatives), Septuagint, or strict Masoretic (including the one used in Judaism, published by JPS)

And different publishers, different editions, or prints?

Each translation is done by a group of scholars. Their work is then printed as a regular book by various publishers who also manage the copyright. Usually a translation is published by a single publisher (such as Crossway for ESV, Holman for CSB, Zondervan for NIV, and Tyndale for NLT).

Each publisher usually provides various packaging or bindings options suitable for the reader, some options purely for the "look and feel": some have bigger letters, some have very nice (and expensive) leather bindings, some use cheap paperback binding for inexpensive distribution for evangelism, some use thicker paper for journaling, covers have various color / decoration / material, etc.

Many publishers also offer various study editions by combining the text with various study features: notes, maps, mini dictionary & concordance, indexes, pictures & illustrations, etc.

If there is an update to the translation, there can be multiple editions / printings and the copyright page / preface indicates this; for example, the NLT has gone to at least 3-4 updates (1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015), so it's important to notice which year printing it is.

When shopping, you start by choosing a translation, then select the features you want available for the translation. Online distributors in the USA such as Lifeway and Christian Book Distributors have lots of filters to help you choose the right features you need. Each popular translation can easily give you dozens of options. For denomination-specific editions or Bibles packaged with specialized commentaries, you may need to go to a specific publisher's website such as Ignatius Press for Catholic Bibles or Deseret Book for LDS Bibles.

Is the title of such a book usually "Holy Bible"?

Yes, usually that is the title, to indicate that the original text is inspired by God (who is Holy). Although if it is bundled with notes, the adjective "Holy" can be substituted with "Study" such as "ESV Youth Bible", ""ESV Study Bible", "Children's Bible", "Timeline Bible", etc.

Which of such books are recommended?

I cannot make a recommendation for you since it is highly dependent on your purpose, your preferred denomination, the English reading level, and other features you want (binding, notes, text-size, etc.). If you want a Bible with study notes, then it is very important to know which theology the note provider holds. Even a particular translation that is not sponsored by a denomination (such as ESV, CSB, NLT, or NIV) may have a very slight bias toward a particular theology beyond the translation philosophy they use (literal vs. dynamic).

Personally, I like using NLT (a very dynamic translation) as the easiest to get the initial sense of the text (especially Paul's letters) and use a couple more literal translations (CSB, NIV, ESV, etc.) when I need to dig deeper, along with Greek / Hebrew interlinear if it is important to notice the underlying original-language words in the source text.

Are they free online and downloadable, or do they need purchase?

Most publishers do not allow the whole Bible translation text to be downloaded (unless they are already out of copyright) even though the whole text is available for online browsing through websites such as BibleGateway or Bible Hub (who I'm sure have a licensing agreement with the publishers). If you use a Bible study software such as Logos or OliveTree you can download the entire text for offline use, but you need to use their software to read it.

Most common translation / editions do not require a purchase if accessed via the method described above, but you usually have to purchase a license from your Bible software for these less common editions since they do the work to reformat the Bible text to work well with their software. Unless it is a specialized scholarly editions (with critical apparatus), the cost is usually minimal. Logos free edition, for example, provides 27 English translations for free (including major ones such as ASV, CSB, Douay-Rheims, ESV, KJV, NET, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, etc.) which you can download for offline use to be read with their smartphone app.

Resources

These are resources that can help one choose a Bible edition / translation:

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  • @GratefulDisciple-I proofread parts of The Best Bible before it was published and was amazed at the many details it covered. It was also sent to several Seminary professors and linguistic Institutes and received their input and helpful advice. This Book helps a Christian choose to which degree of literalness or thought-for-thought type of Bible to obtain. As a teacher and apologist for 35 years, I heartily endorse it.
    – ray grant
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 20:41
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    @raygrant Thank you, I have added it to my bibliography and will probably purchase it someday if I cannot find a copy in a library. Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 20:46
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    Thanks. For specific denominations, what books are used by Catholic, The Progressive Episcopal Church (TPECUSA.org), Presbyterian, Calvary United Methodist Church, respecitively? They were all churches near me when I lived in US. Sorry I can't access a large part of the Internet, notably, Wikipedia, due to the state-wise internet censorship.
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 21:42
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    @Tim I didn't realize you're subject to Internet censorship. In that case, any translation you can download (as long as it's not modified) will be useful, in PDF or via a smartphone app (if you can get the Logos app, that's my recommendation as it has scholarly integrity which provides both Protestant and Catholic Bibles). I updated my answer with a link to choose Catholic bible. For the other denominations you mentioned, I'm sure they will be fine with NIV or CSB (moderately dynamic), KJV (older literal), or ESV (modern literal), but if you're new to the Bible, I personally recommend NLT. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 14:52
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There are many English translations. Many of them are available online free at Bible Gateway.

What you find on the cover can range from "Holy Bible" to "New International Version" to "Good News for Modern Man" to "The Way." But the usual term is "the Bible."

I am not aware of any translations that are thought to be downright bad. (Be aware that The Living Bible is a paraphrase not a translation; and the Amplified Bible is overstuffed with synonyms -- it's more a study guide.) A newcomer to English shouldn't use the King James Version or the New King James Version as the language is difficult. The New International Version is commonly used by those that want contemporary language, and it's the one I hear the most about other than King James.

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  • You weren't asking this, but I'll echo Stephen's comment about taking your questions to a church. It turns out the Bible is tough to read in parts, and in order from page 1 isn't the best way. I'd suggest starting with the Gospels, especially the Gospel According to St. John, and having someone in real life who can answer questions.
    – Maverick
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 15:40
  • Thanks. Is the New Living Translation "The Living Bible"? If not, is NLT also a paraphrase not a translation?
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 15:18
  • I don't know anything else about NLT, but I did just verify now on BibleGateway that it differs from TLB (The Living Bible).
    – Maverick
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 14:22
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There are several established English translations of the Bible. These are sometimes called "versions" or "editions". I disagree with this, because usually people who translate the Bible do not edit it, they don't meaningfully rephrase things or move parts around. It's merely a question of which translation would be more accurate.

There are also a handful of versions that add/remove extra parts, but I think most "mainstream" versions have the same content. The exact wording of individual verses may differ, but it is arguably not a significant difference, merely a different translation. Two translation may be "correct" and mean the same thing, while one is more confusing to people who don't know the source language.

There are also non-English versions of the Bible, obviously.

There is also nothing stopping people from creating new translations (based on some other version like Aramaic) or to simply combine parts of other English versions. A lot of popular translations were originally released centuries ago and the original author is no longer with us, but these days some people may choose to publish continuously updated "versions" of their version.

Usually copyright expires after 100 years or so, and most of versions of the Bible are now in the public domain, meaning anyone can legally publish and distribute them (whether free or for money). This also means that most of them are freely available online. You can pay for a copy if you want to, but generally you don't have to, just search online. Also many people, especially churches, tend to give out free copies if you ask.

Which of such books are recommended?

This is a bit subjective. Some people think translation X is saying one thing while translation Y is saying another, so if you read and believe X you are actually "not following Christianity correctly" but must only read Y. Also, depending on your sect and the priest, you may not be expected to make decisions on which version you will read. But if that was your case you wouldn't be asking the question.

I think that if your goal is to simply read the word of God in the Bible, the best thing is to do so on one of the many website that let you easily switch between different versions of a passage. You can do so with a phone app as well. Then you can see for yourself which translation is "better". There's no "official", definitive "best translation". Many publishers like to claim their own translation is somehow "better". None of them are technically perfect, because the Bible was not originally written in English.

There's also sometimes the theory that certain groups deliberately tweak their translation to subvert and change the original meaning of the Bible. When I started reading and comparing passages, I was curious to see evidence of it, but I haven't really. Mostly, they all say about the same thing, but some of them use more old-fashioned language so it's easier to miss things at first. Once you slow down, read again carefully, and consider the unfamiliar words you realize it says about the same thing. I have seen supposed contradictions between translations brought up often in internet arguments, but I don't think I've ever discovered one in my own reading. Sometimes parts that I recently read and thought were clear, would later be claimed by someone as evidence that one translation is "misleading".

I don't think the Bible is really a book where intricate wordplay or puns are the main point. It has a clear message that it states explicitly. Perhaps some finer points may be more or less obvious, but you are not going to miss the point of the Bible because you've read the wrong version. And humans being fallible, you must always expect the possibility that you will miss some detail on first reading even if it was the perfect translation. Luckily, you can always go back and read the passages again to look for details you missed.

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