The Bible is made up of 66 different individual books written by various authors. Some of those books were originally written in Hebrew, some in Greek, and some portions of Scripture are in the Aramaic language. When we pick up an English Bible today, we are relying on translators who have learned the original languages and labored to make the Scriptures accessible to the modern reader.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a translation. First, what philosophy of translation was utilized and why? A literal translation attempts to transliterate words from the original vocabulary into equivalent English words. They attempt to translate “word for word”. The strength of this style of translation is its commitment to preserving the original. However, the mechanics of Hebrew and Greek are quite different from the style and flow of English. Literal translations, therefore, can often feel wooden or strange to a modern reader. The upside of this style is that there is a commitment to exactness. In other words, the translators are choosing to stay as close to the original as possible. They do not want to introduce (or impose) modern concepts into the ancient text. Literal translations include English Standard Version (ESV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the King James Version (KJV), and more.
Another option of translation philosophy is called “dynamic equivalent”. In this style, the translators are seeking to articulate the concepts from the text into a modern equivalent. Sometimes this translation style is referred to as “thought for thought”. This style pays attention to the way that words create sentences and sentences communicate meaning. Dynamic equivalent translators are seeking to conceptually reproduce what is there in the text. The strength of this style is its ability to communicate ideas in a way that is accessible while simultaneously maintaining accuracy. Dynamic equivalent translations include the New International Version (NIV) and the New Living Translation (NLT).
Further down the line, you find translations that paraphrase the text. These translations put emphasis on communicating the concepts from the passage in a way that is very accessible to the modern reader. Often, the paraphrased style takes great liberty with the text in a concerted effort to ensure that the readers comprehend. The downside is that the translation is less than exact. Words, phrases, and concepts are utilized that are not present in the original text. I, therefore, recommend that paraphrased versions be consulted but not relied upon as a primary text for study or regular reading. They do not carry the same authority because of the degrees of departure from the original text. Paraphrased versions include The Message, the Living Bible, and The Passion Translation.
A second consideration for selecting a translation is to examine who participated in the translation of the text. Translators are not infallible people. They come to the task with preexisting theological commitments. Some of those commitments will be evident in their work. Some even pride their work on these convictions. Knowing this will help us read with an awareness of the emphasis that the translator brings. Also, was the work done in community or by an individual? I tend to favor translations that have been produced by a team of translators. This is not to say that God cannot use an individual to provide a faithful translation. Church history illustrates God’s capability of using a single translator to produce faithful translations. However, I believe that collaboration can bring greater insight and nuance to various decisions that have to be made. In other words, a committee of translators can sharpen one another as they propose, debate, and decide on how to translate particulars.
Third, I think it is important to consider how the Church interacts with various translations. God has a rich history of confirming His word in the hearts of His people. There are some translations that have been widely embraced by the English-speaking church. The glad acceptance of a translation can give us confidence. We should look to versions that have been well-received by the Church. In summary, I tend to rank translations higher that have a proven track record of usefulness.
With the above considerations in mind, let me highlight three very strong translations. First, the English Standard Version (ESV) is a great version of the Bible. It is a literal translation that was formulated by committee and first published in 2001. It is a “word for word” style translation that is both readable and beautiful while maintaining a high commitment to accuracy. Second, the New International Version (NIV). New International Version is a dynamic equivalent translation that was formulated by committee and first published in 1984. It is a faithful translation that is accessible to the modern reader. Finally, the New Living Translation (NLT) is another great dynamic equivalent translation. It places even more emphasis on readability. The NLT was formulated by committee and first published in 1996.
At Park City Church, we use the NIV translation. Our Pew Bibles are NIV and the sermons cite the NIV text. We believe that the NIV accomplishes much of what we desire from a translation. Namely, it is very faithful to the original text (which is very important) and it is readable to the modern person. It was translated by an extensive team of Bible Scholars and pastors and has been very well received by the English-speaking global church.
 The Passion Translation is a newer translation that is growing in popularity among Pentecostal believers. Based on the amount of additional text inserted into the Passion Translation to accomplish its stated theological aim (encountering the heart of God), I consider it to be more of a paraphrase-style version. For an in-depth technical interaction with TPT, please consider reading Andrew Wilson’s review here. Wilson, a Pentecostal believer himself, raises some issues with calling TPT a “translation” in the traditional sense of the word. By treating TPT as a paraphrase, we can avoid some of those issues.