What Bible shall we use?

This coming Sunday – the second Sunday in Advent – used to be celebrated as Bible Sunday in the UK. Although now in the UK Bible Sunday has been shifted into the autumn (this year 30 October was designated as Bible Sunday), I have decided to revert to the past observance and write about Bible translations.

As a child I grew up with the Authorised Version of the Bible – The King James version as the Americans describe it. Although today you can still hear the Authorised version in Oxbridge chapels and Cathedrals, almost without exception local churches have rightly opted for modern translations. I say rightly for three reasons: firstly, we now know that the Authorised Version is based on the best manuscripts available; secondly, because the language of the Authorised Version is no longer spoken today; and thirdly, because there are better versions of the Bible available today.

Of the range of modern translations available, most Protestants have gone for American translations of the Bible. The New English Bible given to me at my ordination  in a bright red leather binding– and now, in its updated form known as The Revised English Bible – never really took off: in part because you need an ‘A’ level in English  to understand some of its language. What for instance does the phrase ‘the effulgence of his glory’ (Hebs 1.3) mean to the ordinary worshipper? In part too because when there was an option between two different ‘readings’ of the text, the NEB/REB always seemed to adopt the quirkier of the two options: for instance in Mark 1.41 the NEB prefers ‘In warm indignation Jesus stretched out his hand’ and leaves as a footnote the alternative reading ‘Jesus was sorry for him and stretched out his hand’.

My preferred study Bible is the New Revised Standard Version, which although American in origin, is also available in an Anglicized form. In my opinion it is the most accurate in translation and is used in British universities. I like it, not least because it retains the cadences of the Authorised Version – and I use it for personal study. But not only is it a little wooden, it is also full of terminology and phraseology which would not be readily understood by most churchgoers.

For this this reason I often read from the Good News Bible when I am taking a church service. The GNB was the brainchild of an  American Baptist missionary who wanted to produce an English Bible for people whose first language is not English. Adopting the linguistic principle of ‘dynamic equivalence’, it uses standard, everyday English. Looked down upon by many, it is the most understandable of all English Bibles for general use. Indeed, in my ‘Quiet Time’ at the beginning of the day when I normally follow the ‘Communion’ lectionary readings of the day, I often consult the GNB to see how it has rendered the various readings.

Since the arrival of the GNB there have been other simplified Bibles: for instance, there is The American English Standard Version and British Word Come Alive paraphrase of the New Testament produced by Martin Manser.

I confess that the one version I do not like is the New International Version – which I sometimes rudely call the ‘Nearly Inspired Version’. Favoured by Evangelical Christians, when the NIV first came out, the American translators sometimes opted for the translation which fitted in best with their theological presuppositions. In this regard I always think of Romans 16. 15 where the best manuscripts have Julia listed as one of the apostles, but initially the NIV opted for the secondary reading of Julias, a man. Since then the NIV has been through several revisions. However, theology apart, I do not like the way in which the same Greek word can be translated differently within the same passage.

Then there is The Jerusalem Bible produced in 1996 by Roman Catholics, which was based on the French Bible de Jerusalem. Since there has been the New Jerusalem Bible (1985) and the Revised New Jerusalem Bible (2019). I appreciate the footnotes which accompany the study edition of the RNJB, recognising that whatever version of the Bible we use, footnotes are not part of the inspired text!

Finally, let me mention The Message by Eugene Peterson. More of a paraphrase than a literal translation, there are times when in my judgment too many liberties are taken with the text. Yet there are times when it well and truly ‘hits the spot’.

In conclusion, the English-speaking world is well and truly blessed by the variety of English versions of the Scripture. For that we should give thanks – whatever the time of the year.


  1. How is it possible, Paul, to describe the ESV as a ‘simplified version’ and (by association) likened to a paraphrase? Compared to your favoured NRSV, the ESV is commonly considered to be MORE exact and MORE word-for-word literal. Though authorship (and possible bias) is different, both versions come from the same stable with differences being more a matter of linguistic preference than interpretation.
    But you are very right to conclude how well-blessed we are by the variety of English versions. One dynamic-equivalent version I personally delight in, but not mentioned above, is the New Living Translation (NLT). We are truly privileged, immeasurably rich. Who was it though who said that “the best Bible translation is the one you actually read”?

  2. Bible translations seem to be like denominations,- none of them have got it all right!!
    You didn’t mention the New Living Translation. Is that beneath contempt?!
    There was a survey done among ministers by Christianity Mag ( think it was them), asking which was the translation they most used in public and which in private. NLT came top of the list in the latter. For years I have read a daily devotional called Living Light. Long since out of print. But that was the Living Bible version of the original Daily Light, AV. I actually know a lot of scriptures in the LB, but when I look up the corresponding verses in the NIV i they sometimes say something completely different!! hey ho. Happy Christmas.

  3. Many evangelicals in the States, particularly in the New Apostolic Movement, are adopting the ‘Passion Bible’. As it is endorsed by Bill Johnson of Bethel in the States (which is hugely influential) and Hillsong, it is becoming widespread but it’s a paraphrase and not a translation. Bible Gateway have refused to take it.

    1. Be very careful with the Passion Bible. The text is almost half as much again as the original, so it can hardly claim to be a ‘translation’! It takes very considerable liberties with the text. One small example for instance: Psalm 37:7 is ‘translated’ as: “Quiet your heart in his presence and pray.” Whereas the original clearly instructs us to “wait” – indeed, not just to “wait”, but to “wait patiently”. ‘Praying’ and ‘waiting’ is the difference between ‘speaking’ and ‘listening’. This is a huge challenge to me, and probably to many others also – the first is easy, the second so often neglected. How important then that we understand God’s word aright.

  4. I know you might say you can’t win when talking about favourite Bible translations but surely you should have included a mention of the New King James Bible. For me this is the best version and the one I use, as well as being used widely in churches.

  5. Dear Paul,
    thank you. We have the same question in German, Luther whose translation in parts is hard to understand by todays students at school, is still in favour by many because the texts of his translation are so well known ond often quoted. Some mistakes have been corrected e.g. in the recvised editions. Realising the short time he took for the translation I sometimes wonder how that was possible.
    Teaching RE at school I took “Gute Nachricht”, because in Romans, when Luther uses “flesh” the Gute Nachricht uses the terms meant, greed, envy, …
    When reading an English Bible I sometimes use the Companion Bible, 1964 by Samuel Bagster and Sons Ltd., the “KJV with many notes, critical, explanatory and suggestive”, as the title page tells the reader. What do you think of this one?

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