A Complete Comparison of Different Bible Versions Explained (with Chart)

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To select the right Bible, Christians need to have the different Bible versions explained. Our editors created this list to save you time.

When looking for a new Bible, you’ll find that there are many translations of God’s Word. Let’s be honest: it can be downright overwhelming! You may ask yourself, what are all of these different translations, and are any of them better than the other?

Every Christian needs the different Bible versions explained. Why? Because it’s important to be able to make an educated decision on which Bible we use along our spiritual journey. We’re going to explore all of the different, major Bible translations out there so that you can have confidence in the Bible that you choose.

The Gospel

Different Bible Versions Explained


Broad Categories

Before diving into the specifics of each translation, we are going to look at the three broad categories that each translation fits into. This will help you to see the broader ideologies that shape the different approaches to Bible translations.

Word-for-Word

Word-for-word translations most closely follow the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts that Bible translators work off of. When doing a word-for-word translation, the accuracy of the words is paramount. Keep in mind, the difference in the grammar between these ancient languages and our own is significant, so a 100 percent word-for-word translation is not entirely possible. But, these Bible versions work to produce a translation that’s as close to that standard as possible. For that reason, our editors like to suggest word-for-word translations of the Bible as one’s primary Bible version.

Meaning-to-Meaning

Meaning-to-meaning translations focus on maintaining the overall thought or message behind the passage while achieving a higher level of readability. These versions of the Bible are quite popular because they flow a bit more naturally to the modern reader. But one must be careful while reading a meaning-to-meaning Bible because when translated in this way, the personally held doctrine of the translator more easily seeps in.

Paraphrased

Paraphrased Bibles take the ideology of the meaning-to-meaning method to a new extreme. These Bibles give the reader ultimate accessibility, being easy to understand for almost anyone. In that way, they are profoundly important as they have the ability to reach so many. But, one must be even more cautious with these translations, because the translator is given the maximum level of poetic license in their work. These types of Bibles can be very helpful to reference when trying to understand complex and intricate passages of the Bible.

Below is a chart showing the different major Bible translations and which category each fits into:

Word-for-Word Meaning-to-Meaning Paraphrased
King James Version (KJV) New International Version (NIV) The Message
New King James Version (NKJV) English Standard Version (ESV) The Amplified Bible
New American Standard Bible (NASB) CEV The Living Bible
ASV Good News Bible
Revised Standard Version (RSV) NAB
New Living Translation (NLT)

Specific Differences

Now we’re going to dive into the specific differences between each translation. These deeper understandings will help you to be as educated as possible on what makes each Bible translation what it is. Then you can come to the conclusion of which Bible version you should choose for your own personal use.

Word-for-Word Translations

The King James Version

The King James Version has stood the test of time and proven itself by becoming the best-selling English Bible translation of all time. This is because it boasts incredible accuracy to the manuscripts from which it was translated and a rich, vibrant language. The complete King James Bible was originally published in 1611 after being commissioned by King James VI.

The historical significance of this Bible translation is astounding, so much so that it has been credited with shaping much of the culture of the English-speaking world. Today, the King James Version still proves to be an effective and reliable translation, with its only caveat being that the language it’s written in is not friendly to the average reader.


The New King James Version (NKJV)

First published in 1982, the New King James Version of the Bible is an update of the King James Version produced by Thomas Nelson. This Bible translation was created in an effort to bring the accuracy and reliability of the original King James to a wider, modern audience.

The New King James Version is an engaging Bible translation for those that appreciate the history, flow, and accuracy of the King James Version but wish to read a Bible in a more contemporary language. Criticism of this Bible states that it is not as faithful to the original King James as it claims to be.


New American Standard Bible (NASB)

The New American Standard Bible is an interesting Bible because it is the most widely embraced literal and accurate Bible translation created in the 20th century. First published in its entirety in 1971, the NASB aims to be true to the original languages of the Bible while being understandable. This Bible translation was produced from the need for a contemporary word-for-word Bible translation that existed at that time.

The greatest quality of the NASB is its fidelity to the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek of which it came. It’s impressive how it is able to merge this accuracy with a readability that is accessible to most modern readers. Modern criticism cites that while it’s easy to read and mainly accurate to the best manuscripts available, that it is devoid of the literary excellence and passion of the King James Version.


American Standard Version (ASV)

Work on the American Standard Version Bible began in 1870 with the goal of revising the King James Bible of 1611. The team of translators that worked on this Bible version came from Baptist, Dutch Reformed, Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Unitarian backgrounds. The ASV intentionally retained the Elizabethan English of the King James Bible. Outside of prominent seminary use, the ASV never gained mainstream popularity as it was deemed to be excessively literal. The King James Bible proved to be the preferred Bible of the average Christian.

Our editors recommend this top-rated version of the American Standard Version.

The Revised Standard Version (RSV)

First published in 1952 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, the Revised Standard Version Bible was created to be a readable yet literal modern English translation. Interesting to note is that the Revised Standard Version was the first Bible to make use of the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah. A 1989 revision of the Revised Standard Version was created, called the New Revised Standard Version, or NRSV. Modern criticism of this Bible states that liberal ideologies and theology are prominent in the text.

Our editors recommend this top-rated version of the Revised Standard Version.

Meaning-for-Meaning Translations

The New International Version (NIV)

The New International Version was created to meet the need for a Bible in modern English using the earliest, highest quality manuscripts available. The translators also aimed to create a reading of God’s Word that would be accessible to a wide audience in terms of language. The NIV Bible was translated by a team of 15 biblical scholars representing many different evangelical denominations.

The New International Version was first published complete in 1978 by Biblica, formerly known as the International Bible Society. Later revisions in 1984 and 2011 were created in light of new manuscript discoveries. It has become one of the best-selling modern translations on the market today. Modern criticisms include those who state that the NIV has significantly altered, or downright omitted, key passages that are present in the King James Version and other, older, literal translations.

Our editors recommend this top-rated version of The New International Version, which is also available in large print and hardcover editions.


English Standard Version (ESV)

Of the more modern, meaning-for-meaning translated Bibles, the English Standard Version most closely walks the line between literal, word-for-word translating and attempting to convey the meaning above all else. The first complete ESV Bible was published in 2001 by Crossway, as a revision of the Revised Standard Version. The team of over 100 evangelical scholars and pastors had a unique philosophy in translating this Bible: “Emphasizes word-for-word accuracy, literary excellence, and depth of meaning.”

The ESV remains a popular choice among evangelical churches. That’s because of its unique ability to walk that line between honoring the literal translations that preceded it (such as the RSV) while conveying meaning and modern language in an accessible way. This view is not shared by all though, as some believe that while pursuing this goal the translators have made a few grave errors in theology.

Our editors recommend this top-rated version of The English Standard Version, which is also available in a compact edition.


Contemporary English Version (CEV)

The Contemporary English Version is a meaning-for-meaning Bible created by the American Bible Society as a “Bible for Today’s Family.” Three principles were focused on by the translators in producing this Bible:

  • The translation must be understood by people without stumbling in speech
  • The translation must be understood by those with little or no comprehension of “Bible” language
  • The translation must be understood easily by everyone

The first complete CEV Bible was published in 1995. It has a history of being one of the easiest Bibles to read. With that reputation also comes the belief that it’s a “dumb-downed” version of the Bible that glosses over much of the impact of more traditional translations.

Our editors recommend this top-rated version of the Contemporary English Version.

Good News Bible (GNB)

The Good News Bible is also known as the Good News Translation (GNT). The reason for this name is that the American Bible Society wished to correct the misinterpretation that the Good News Bible was a paraphrase. This Bible is published by HaperCollins and is widely used by many different protestant denominations.

First published complete in 1976, the Good News Bible aims to be a Bible suitable for children and those learning English. The name of the translation reflects the desire of the translators that the Good News Bible would make the Good News of Jesus accessible to all.

Our editors recommend this top-rated version of the Good News Bible.

The New American Bible (NAB)

The New American Bible was first published in 1970. It is the only translation approved for use at Mass in the Latin-rite Catholic dioceses of the United States and the Philippines. The New American Bible is also widely used by the Episcopal Church in the United States. The NAB Bible was translated by members of the Catholic Biblical Association of America (CBA). In light of this, it carries a Catholic mindset in its translation, bringing it much criticism in protestant circles.

Our editors recommend this top-rated version of the New American Bible.

The New Living Translation (NLT)

The New Living Translation Bible was created by Tyndale House Publishers in an effort to create a real Bible translation, not a personal paraphrase, that honored the legacy of the Living Bible. First published complete in 1996, The New Living Bible was translated by leading scholars with the use of the earliest and best manuscript evidence available at the time. In light of this, it has proven to be one of the most reliable and popular meaning-for-meaning translations on the market. Still, not being a literal translation means that this Bible is better suited for devotional use rather than serious Bible study.

Our editors recommend this top-rated version of The New Living Translation, which is also available in giant print edition.

Paraphrased Bibles

The Message (MSG)

The Message was translated from the original languages between 1992-2002 by Pastor Eugene H. Peterson. This Bible paraphrase is one of the most extreme examples of attempting to convey a modern and radically accessible reading of the Biblical text to a contemporary audience.

While that goal is admirable and much of the translation work quite impressive being done by one person, the reader must realize the limitations in such a Bible. With a paraphrase, it’s impossible to completely eliminate the translator’s own personal theology. While Eugene Peterson’s use and knowledge of the biblical languages is profound and inspiring in many of the passages in The Message, this is still a Bible to be used with caution and alongside a more literal translation.

Our editors recommend this top-rated version of The Message, which is also available in large print edition.

The Amplified Bible (AMP)

The Amplified Bible was produced as a joint project between Zondervan (the English publisher of the NIV Bible) and The Lockman Foundation (a non-profit, interdenominational Christian ministry dedicated to the translation, publication, and distribution of the NASB and Amplified Bible). The first edition of the Amplified Bible was published in 1965, mostly as a revision of the ASV Bible of 1901.

The goal in this paraphrase is to “amplify” the text of the Bible by using additional wording alongside a system of punctuation and other typographical features that bring out a clearer meaning to the Bible. These features make it a unique choice of Bible. There was a later revision done in 2015.

Our editors recommend this top-rated hardcover version of The Amplified Bible, which is also available in paperbck edition.


The Living Bible

The Living Bible is a paraphrase created by Kenneth N. Taylor. It was first published in 1971 and used the ASV of 1901 as its base text. Taylor expressed that the roots of the translation actually stemmed from his family devotion time. He realized quickly that his children had a hard time comprehending and applying the biblical passages and stories that they read together. He knew that his family couldn’t have been the only one with the same challenges. Thus, he began work on The Living Bible.

The Living Bible has proven to be popular among evangelical, protestant Christians since the time of its publication. Even so, it is not looked at very highly in scholarly circles as it is merely a personal paraphrase produced by a single person based on another translation and not the early manuscripts.

Our editors recommend this top-rated version of The Living Bible, which is also available in large print edition.

Conclusion

With all of the different Bible translations available today, we need to have the different Bible versions explained. Our editors pray that this has been a resource that has given you deeper insight into what all of these different Bible translations are and why they exist. We also hope that this knowledge helps you to make a well-informed decision on which Bible (or Bibles!) will serve best along your spiritual journey.


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Timothy Andrew
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Timothy Andrew

Timothy Andrew

Tim is the Founder and Ministerial Editor at Lord's Library, a Christian resource hub focused on helping readers grow their faith in Jesus Christ. Tim became a Christian in April 2021 and believes 1 Peter 4:11 commands him to share The Gospel (1 Corinthians 15: 1-4) "as of the ability which God giveth."

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