Holy Bible
Versions and Types

This page compares different Bible translation types (word for word, thought for thought, paraphrase), translations (NIV, King James, NASB, NRSV, Living Bible, The Promise, The Message, Amplified Bible, etc.) and Bible types (Study Bible, Parallel Bible, Reference Bible, Chronological Bible, etc.). Also looks at the development of our modern English Bibles from the ancient manuscripts. One section has examples of the same passage as it appears in several different translations.
Holy Bible

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Languages of the Bible

Obviously, the Bible was not originally written in English, Italian or any modern language. The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew with small parts being written in Aramaic. However, while Jesus most likely spoke Aramaic, the New Testament was originally written in Greek. Thus, all modern Bibles are translations of the original languages.

Methods of Translation
  1. Literal translation. Attempts to keep the exact words and phrases of the original. It is faithful to the original text, but sometimes hard to understand. Keeps a constant historical distance. Examples: King James Version (KJV), New American Standard Bible (NASB).
  2. Dynamic equivalent (thought for thought) translation. Attempts to keep a constant historical distance with regard to history and facts, but updates the writing style and grammar. Examples: New International Version (NIV), Revised English Bible (REB).
  3. Free translation (paraphrase). Translates the ideas from the original text but without being constrained by the original words or language. Seeks to eliminate historical distance. Readable, but possibly not precise. Examples: The Living Bible (TLB), The Message.
Types of Bibles

Most translations are available in several different types of Bible. Here are just a few of the many different kinds of Bibles.
  1. Traditional. Text only. Minimal footnotes.
  2. Study Bible. Such Bibles usually have extensive footnotes and explanatory notes next to the columns of text. They may also have extensive cross references, a narrative commentary, and maps. (Some also have a cyclopedic index and/or a concordance—see Reference Bible.)
  3. Reference Bible. Usually has a cyclopedic index (like an encyclopedia with a reference to the verse where the word or thought is used), a concordance (like a dictionary of common words with examples of their usage and verse references for each example), and maps.
  4. Studying the Bible
  5. "Place in Life" Bible. Has meditations and thoughts about issues of concern to people at a particular stage in life. There are versions of these Bibles aimed at men, women, sports players, recovering addicts, new believers, converted Jews, small group members, and many others.
  6. One-Year Bibles. Divided into 365 readings for each day of the year, usually with each having a portion of the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs.
  7. Chronological Bible. Entire Bible in one continuous story with narration to cover gaps and make everything flow. The four gospels are harmonized into one, for example, and the writings of the prophets are placed in the proper historical place in the books of history.
  8. Pastor's Bible. Includes protocol outlines and recommended verses for hospital visits, weddings, funerals, and other events. Often has answers to frequently asked questions.
  9. Children's Bible. Usually includes color drawings, maps, and simplified stories.
  10. Parallel Bible. Has from two to eight translations side by side.
  11. Other Specialty Bibles. The Serendipity Bible, The Quest, Key Word Bible, Leadership Bible, Hebrew-Greek Keyword Bible, "Here's Hope" Bible, Serenity Bible, and many others.
My Personal Recommendation

Get more than one Bible. For your main reading and study, use a dynamic equivalent translation (strikes a balance between literal and paraphrase). Get one that draws upon newly-discovered sources (after 1966). The most widely used Bible today in the U.S. is the New International Version (NIV), which is a good choice. Select a type with good explanations, either a Study Bible or a Student Bible. Then augment it with two or thee others such as a freer translation such as the New Living Translation (NLT) or "The Promise" (CEV) and a word-for-word translation such as the English Standard Version (ESV).

Original Manuscript to Modern English Bible

Bible Development Diagram

Comparison of Major Bible Translations

Word for Word Translation Reading
Year Published and Description
Interlinear 12 + The original Masoretic (Jewish) text in Hebrew and Greek. English translations available. Very difficult to read and understand. Need a concordance.
New American Standard (NASB) 11.0 1971, updated 1995. A revision of the American Standard Version of 1901. Formal modern English; somewhat difficult but more readable than KJV.
Amplified 11.0 1965. Modern English version from original Greek text. Has bracketed words and phrases to help explain more difficult and complicated passages.
English Standard Version (ESV) 8.0 2001. A literal translation that makes use of recently discovered sources. Easier reading than other word for word translations.
Revised Standard Version (RSV) 8.7 1952. A revision of the ASV of 1901. Further revision to New Testament in 1971. Widely accepted by both Protestant and Roman Catholic churches.
King James Version (KJV) 12.0 1611. Draws heavily on the Bishops Bible (1568) and also on the Geneva Bible (1560). Difficult to read and understand due to 17th Century vocabulary and style. Uses no original or recently discovered sources.
New King James Version (NKJV) 9.0 1982. Taken directly from KJV but with more modern words. Choppy reading because it maintains 17th Century sentence structure.
New American Bible (NAB) 6.6 1970 with updates to 1991. Clear, straightforward translation from the Greek. The first Roman Catholic Bible in modern American English.
Thought for Thought   also sometimes called Dynamic Equivalence
Holman Christian Standard (HCSV) 8.5 2004. Highly readable, accurate translation in modern English. Good balance between word-for-word and thought-for-thought leans toward word-for-word.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 10.4 1990. Revision of RSV, still literal, but moves in the thought-for-thought direction. Language not updated but tends to gender neutrality and political correctness.
New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) 7.4 1986. Revision of Jerusalem Bible (1966). Roman Catholic. Highly readable modern translation.
New International Version (NIV) 7.8 1978. Completely new translation from oldest and best Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic sources. Accurate, smooth reading version in modern English. Most widely used Bible in USA. Today’s NIV (TNIV, 2005) is gender neutral version of NIV.
New Century Version (NCV) 5.0 1987. Revision of International Children’s Bible aimed at young readers and those with low reading skills. Gender neutral version published 1991.
New Living Translation (NLT) 6.3 1996, updated 2004. Converts of paraphrased Living Bible to a thought-for-thought translation. Highly readable in vocabulary and language. Gender neutral. Does not use original or recently discovered sources.
New Int'l Readers Version (NIrV) 2.9 1996. Revision of NIV for early readers. Uses simple short words and sentences.
Good News Bible (GNB) formerly Today's English Version (TEV) 6.0 1976. Faithful translation draws on Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic sources. Very simple, readable version without jargon. Uses limited vocabulary.
Revised English Bible (REB) 7.5 1989. Revision of New English Bible (1970). More “literary” than NIV and more dynamic equivalence. Highly readable. Most widely used Bible in UK.
Common English Bible (CEB) ? 2011. Fresh translation is highly readable but sickeningly politically correct and gender neutral. For example, “Son of Man” is translated as “human.”
Contemporary English Version (CEV) aka "The Promise" 5.4 1995. Clear, simple English but with a mature style. Suitable for both children and adults.
Paraphrase Translation    
The Living Bible (TLB or LB) 6.3 1971. Paraphrase translation by Ken Taylor largely based on ASV of 1901. Modern language is very easy to read and understand. Also a Catholic version.
The Message 4.8 1991-2002. Paraphrase translation by Eugene Peterson using modern American idioms. Easy to read but heavily criticized for scriptural deviations, altered meanings, informality, and lack of precision.

Examples of Different Translations

Below, I've reprinted three sections of scripture as they appear in several different versions of the Bible. Note that the literal word-for-word King James translation is often difficult to understand today. On the other hand you may feel that some of the modern thought-for-thought translations like The Message are almost too free and stray a long way from the original text. You may also realize after reading these translations that sometimes you need the help of footnotes, a study Bible, or a commentary to really understand a passage.

Exodus 4:24-26

And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, "Surely a bloody husband art thou to me." So he let him go: then she said, "A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision." (KJV)

At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son's foreskin and touched Moses' feet with it. "Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me," she said. So the Lord left him alone. (At that time she said "bridegroom of blood," referring to the circumcision.) (NIV)

As Moses and his family were traveling along and stopped for the night, Jehovah appeared to Moses and threatened to kill him. Then Zipporah, his wife, took a flint knife and cut off the foreskin of her young son's penis, and threw it against Moses' feet, remarking disgustedly, "What a blood-smeared husband you've turned out to be!" Then God let him alone. (LB)

One night while Moses was in camp, The Lord was about to kill him. But Zipporah circumcised her son with a flint knife. She touched his legs with the skin she had cut off and said, "My dear son, this blood will protect you." So the Lord did not harm Moses. Then Zipporah said, "Yes, my dear, you are safe because of this circumcision." (CEV)

Explanation (from a Study Bible): God was about to kill Moses because Moses had not circumcised his son as required by Jewish law. As he had spent most of his life in Pharaoh's palace and had married Zipporah, a Midianite, they were probably not familiar with God's laws. But Moses could not serve as a deliverer of God's people if he did not obey God's laws. Under Old Testament law, failing to circumcise your son was to remove yourself and your family from God's blessings. Zipporah was probably the one who influenced Moses not to circumcise their son, so she was required to do it to save both her husband and son; thus her pointed comment to Moses.

Acts 13:35-39

       Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption.
       Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethern, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not have been justified by the law of Moses. (KJV)

       So it is stated elsewhere, "You will not let your Holy One see decay."
       For when David had served God's purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.
       Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him, everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. (NIV)

       And in another psalm it says, "God will never let the body of his Holy One decay."
       When David was alive, he obeyed God. Then, after he died, he was buried in the family grave, and his body decayed. But God raised Jesus from the dead, and his body did not decay.
       My friends, the message is that Jesus can forgive your sins! The Law of Moses could not set you free from all your sins. But everyone who has faith in Jesus is set free. (CEV)

       So also the psalmist's prayer: "You'll never let your Holy One see death's rot and decay."
       David, of course, having completed the work God set out for him, has been in the grave, dust and ashes, a long time now. But the One God raised up—no dust and ashes for him! I want you to know, my very dear friends, this it is on account of this resurrected Jesus that the forgiveness of your sins can be promised. He accomplishes, in those who believe, everything that the Law of Moses could never make good on. But everyone who believes in this raised-up Jesus is declared good and right and whole before God. (The Message)

Proverbs 14:23, 16:26, and 18:17

       In all labor there is profit. But the talk of lips tendeth only penury.
       He that laboreth laboreth for himself; for his mouth craveth it of him.
       He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbor cometh and searcheth him. (KJV)

Cross In all labor there is profit,
       but mere talk leads only to poverty.
A worker's appetite works for him,
       for his hunger urges him on.
The first to plead his case seems just until another comes and examines him. (NASB)

All hard work brings a profit,
        But mere talk leads only to poverty.
The laborer's appetite works for him,
       His hunger drives him on.
The first to present his case seems right,
       Till another comes forward and questions him. (NIV)

Work brings profit; talk brings poverty!
Hunger is good—if it makes you work to satisfy it!
Any story sounds true until someone tells the other side and sets the record straight! (LB)

Hard work is worthwhile,
       But empty talk will make you poor.
The hungrier you are, the harder you work.
You may think you have won your case in court,
       Until your opponent speaks. (CEV)

Hard work always pays off,
       Mere talk puts no bread on the table.
Appetite is an incentive to work;
       Hunger makes you work all the harder.
The first speech in a court case is always convincing
       —until the cross-examination starts.
(The Message)

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