One of the most confusing things for believers today is the sheer abundance of Bible translations. One simply does not know which version to believe. In my own interactions with countless Christians, I am often asked: “If I want to read the most faithful translation of the original manuscripts, which translation should I chose?”

My common answer is that no translation is perfect. It is frankly impossible to fully and perfectly reflect the exact nature of the original text, no matter what translation method was used by the scholar or team of scholars, no matter how competent they are as translators. Regardless of how disheartening this may sound to the ears of modern Christians, we must not evaluate translations in terms of perfect vs. imperfect (all translations are, in fact, imperfect), but rather in terms of “less accurate” vs. “more accurate”. This is one of the reasons why you, a serious Bible-believing Christian, must stop delegating your own responsibility for the study of Hebrew to the “priestly” elite class within the global church (the biblical scholars). Instead you too must take responsibility and be a part of the coalition of the willing who examines and double-checks all official translations.

Essentially, there are only two types of English translations available today – the King James Bible and all others. No doubt my previous sentence is bound to create a storm of angry responses for lumping together such diverse translations as the New International Version (NIV) with the New American Standard Bible (NASB) or the New Living Translation (NLT) with the English Standard Version (ESV). Even at the risk of provoking your righteous wrath, I maintain that this categorization of English translations is accurate.  Let me explain.

Whatever the faults of the KJV, there has never been another Bible translation that approached its literary beauty and grandeur. The KJV translation of the Bible is as colorful as the personalities that put it together (you should one day listen to God’s Secretaries: The Makings of the King James Bible by Adam Nicholson). Prof. Robert Alter (interacting with another scholar) has succinctly stated that the King James Bible, “remains the closest approach for English readers to the original – despite its frequent and embarrassing inaccuracies, despite its anachronisms, and despite its insistent substitution of modern English tonalities and rhythms for biblical ones.” I encourage you to read Robert Alter’s own “Hebrew Bible” translation in three volumes, where he attempts uniquely (and to my mind very successfully) to remedy many shortcomings of both the King James Version and other modern translations.

One major improvement is that Alter’s translation does not sacrifice the physicality and concreteness of the original Biblical Hebrew (as all modern translations do) in favor of modern demands for dry informational clarity which essentially obliterate the music behind the text of the Hebrew original.

In retaining those elements of the original Hebrew, his translation makes a tremendous leap forward in revealing the poetry, rhythm, tone, and therefore, the original meaning of the Ancient Hebrew text shared by Christian and Jewish communities for centuries.

We had the privilege of conducting an exclusive interview with Prof. Robert Alter as part of our guest scholar talks series. You can review our Hebrew Bible collection mini-courses here.

74 COMMENTS

  1. Well spoken; KJV translators labored (I found while studying Hebrew) to try to reflect grammar of the original. To translate is inevitably to interpret also.

  2. No offence just being simple-communicating like Jesus commands, your seventh sentence, is quite a house of mirrors statement if i’ve comprehended it correctly.

    • Are you referring to the the part that emphasizes the importance of judging translations in terms of “more accurate” or “less accurate” rather than perfect or imperfect?

  3. It is more important to have the guidance of the Holy Ghost than what translation or original language text one reads.

  4. The KJV for me. I have the NKJV which has footnotes of original versions and Septuagint..I read the Good News Bible concurrent with the NKJV.

  5. The KJV for me. I have the NKJV which has footnotes of original versions and Septuagint..I read the Good News Bible concurrently.

  6. I have found the Aramaic English New Testament to be very close and the LXX
    to be very useful with the CJB.

    • The Syriac, a direct of late Syrian Aramaic is a fourth century translation of the Greek New testament Byzantine text,which quotes the Greek septuagiant rather than the original Hebrew text. That is why it often agrees with the septuagiant.

  7. Thank You, Dr. Eli, for maintaining scholarship and integrity, while remaining sensitive to Christ-followers. Each dedicated English translation of Our Creator’s revealed Word is an innate treasure despite material limitations. Witness these worthy translations of Yeshua’s be-attitudes from his “Sermon on the Mount”: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9, KJV). “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NIV). “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9, NASB). “Happy are those who strive for peace–they shall be called the sons of God” (Matthew 5:9, TLB). “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9, ESV). It is important to note that, even though the Greek transliteration of “huioi” is in masculine form, its meaning is akin to the generic term “offspring” rather than as “males only;” and this truth is broadcast in various translations as “sons” or “children.” Have a blessed and powerful day!

  8. I’ve studied Hebrew and Greek many years now. The problem with translation is not usually from words on a page but to the heart!

    • WELL SAID! A friend of mine who spent 14 years in prison for his faith in Romania said, the Bible is black ink on white paper. It’s good to learn the white. He spent three years in solitary spoke six languages from the Jewish background. He wrote the book tortured

  9. The influence of higher criticism and new methods of textual criticism highly influenced modern processes. Also the flawed notion that newer is better.

  10. Bible should be translated into the language of the People. The Tudor English of the KJV is not today’s English

    • Of course, John, and no one is advocating against translations into the language of the people. Rather, the article focused on the inherent dangers of Bible translations. Translations are great tools, but every tool has a safety warning on it, because if you use it wrong, the results could be detrimental.

      • I agree. If your heart is being led by the Holy Spirit and open to what God wants you to see. He will reveal the Spirit of what you are reading. Seek ye 1st the Kingdom of God. You could also say the true meaning of God’s revelation to us.

        • I agree. Remember He said “call no man your teacher.” my personal experience is that for a very long time I was causious about the various translations and of the kjv the Spirit revealed ” it is sufficient” so that is good for me.

        • Also He said “abide in me and my word” .I don’t think we can leave Him behind when we read/study his word.It may be possible to make an idol of our opinion based on texts alone.

    • Once I asked myself: in which language does God speak? And I felt that God speaks in the language that I understand.

  11. Amen KJV& NKJV Are very great translations.The so called”Living or Paraphrased” translations remove GODS words n substitute the thoughts of mere men.Not a reliable translation

  12. Greeting Dr. Eisenberg, would you say the old ASV made at least some improvements upon the “embarrassing” inaccuracies of the KJV without sacrificing its beauty?

  13. Interesting. I could imagine how inaccuracies in Bible translation have impacted on the world’s population especially in our vernacular dialects. Thank you for shedding light.

  14. I like the KJV and I have NKJV besides when I study the Christian Bible. It makes it interesting and easy to understand.

  15. All Translations are Good as the Word of the Lord spake to the nations through the Holy Spirit , i can read it in Arabic

  16. Our African languages translate from English versions, surely that takes it far from the original, may the Holy Spirit help.

  17. Sounds great! Thank you! So do you consider Textus Receptus for accurate? Why? To me it feels more inspired but can’t say more. 🙂

    • I like to draw from everything available before drawing conclusions. The textus receptus is only one manuscript tradition.

  18. I feel the one thing still remains, read the Bible continuously. I’m sure the Holy Spirit will guide around the inaccurate bits

  19. It is my honest opinion that Robert Alter’s work in translating the Hebrew of the Old Testament is a biased and faulty work.

  20. IMHO, one way to discern truth from error and in choosing a bible interpretation is to look into the history (if possible) or the purpose (read motivation) for producing it. Was it financially or politically beneficial to the producers or sponsors? Gospel merchants will always lean toward popularity.

  21. I was sorry to see that you failed to mention the Bible that came to America by the pilgrims on the Mayflower in 1606 and arrived here after their sixty-six day voyage. This Bible is known as the 1599 Geneva Bible. Thank you for the information that you did provide.

    • Thanks for mentioning it, James. That’s what the comments section is for! 🙂 Though many people are not familiar with it, the Geneva Bible is a great translation.

  22. The idea that the KJV is somehow more accurate than the NIV or NAB is almost comical. The KJV was purposely flawed in translation to suit their moral demands. This belief that the KJV is the most accurate just shows your conversion experience and not scholarly beliefs.

  23. I read both the King James AND the Complete Jewish Bible (translated by David Stern), and love the language and nuances between them. One does not outshine the other. You will enjoy both versions.

  24. I use the KJV with the NIV side by side for study, referring back to Strong’s concordance of KJV to see original Hebrew or Greek. Also own The Pure Word which is a New Testament translated using the original Greek meanings.

  25. I am also in outreach in the US. If you give a non-believer a KJV, you can almost bet they will not read it. I use many translations for study; but for outreach, clear modern English is a must.

    • I agree. I used to give a large print ,red letter KJV to those I witnessed to but it was probably set aside because it is ,for some including myself, difficult to read but good for study. Now I give ESV .easier to read. Thanks

      • Like. Same with kids. As they grow and their language skills improve, they can drift toward more literal translations.

        Having said that, my kids are translating hebrew now and they are aged 9-15. Some really good Hebrew primers out there.

  26. La bible n’est comme tous les autres livres écrits par des humains, il faut la lire avec les yeux spirituels (Dieu est esprit). Il m’arrive d’ouvrir la Bible et de trouver exactement la réponse à un problème qui me tracassait. Mais, je suis d’accord avec docteur Élie, il faut toujours essayer d’approfondir ses connaissances et de déchiffrer dé mieux en mieux ce bel héritage divin. I sorry, I d’ont speak english very well

    The Bible is like all other books written by humans, it must be read with spiritual eyes (God is spirit). I sometimes open the Bible and find exactly the answer to a problem that bothered me. But, I agree with Dr. Eli, one must always try to deepen one’s knowledge and to decipher better and better this beautiful divine inheritance.

  27. How many of the Hebrew and Greek texts available for translation today, were actually translations themselves or edited copies of original texts? And apparently the early church struggled with what should be in the official canon of the church’s Bible. Didn’t the pope and the bishops make that decision?

    • Hi Willis, comparing the oldest manuscripts with the most recent ones (thousands in several languages) shows that they are in over 95% agreement and most of the variants are simple spellings or word-order differences. Unless you have some new evidence, the manuscripts are quite reliable. As for cannon, the earliest believers (such as Ignatius and Clement) that quoted the NT lived before John died and they quote at least 19 of the 27 NT books. So, Catholicism did not play a huge role in establishing the cannon. Church use did.

  28. Which did Dr. Alter use – Septuagint (Greek) or Masoretic? There are a lot of discrepancies in those two, some of them are substantial, so which one and for what reason? Thanks.

    • Alter’s translation is of the Hebrew Bible. He even did his best to mirror the literary effect of the Hebrew in his translation if possible. His translation was a product of his love for the Hebrew language. IBC has an interview with Alter actually that students can watch.

  29. Sadly, there are too many people today who actually think the King James Version is the Bible and that any other modern version is part of a diabolical plot.

  30. I believe and use the Inspired Version of the Holy Scriptures. I believe it to correct many of the things that the KJ translators left out making it the most accurate Christian bible. I believe it’s translation was guided by the Holy Spirit and adds much light and truth.

  31. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg I have the Complete Jewish Bible translation by David H Stern. I love reading this version and I am wondering what you think of this one? I bought one for my daughter and she rejected it.She felt it was not as complete as the Kings James version.

    • It’s nice. It frequently contains Hebrew transliterations that could possibly bother some readers but are insightful to others, but other than that, it is a very readable translation.

  32. I would respectfully disagree with your statement that the KJV is the most accurate English version of translation. The 1599 Geneva Bible came out before the KJV, and I’m spending a full year of side by side testing between the KJV, the Geneva and the Hebrew/Greek texts…the Geneva shines.

  33. I have found The Message by Eugene Peterson to be a wonderful companion to the King James Bible. One simply reaffirms the other. When wording does not align due to any personal preference or bias I have, I simply defer to the King James.

  34. the NIV is missing verses. I still read it, but, have added in the missing verses into my 1980 NIV. The numbers even skip and most don’t notice

  35. May I add, n
    Ĺot to cause arguement please.
    I agree on the KJV is better etc. But sometimes I think people waste to much time to look into faults rather to seek HIM in spirit and thruth and let YHWH writes HIS law’s on ones heart

  36. Sorry for this, 50 words not enough.
    A bad translation is better than no translation. At least someone can have one, there is people that desires to have one page to read

  37. As a Bible translator (The Christ Family Bible), the main comment I would like to share here is that the story of Bible translation is a lot like “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. Horrifyingly tragic mistranslations are mainly uncommented, perhaps for political-institutional reasons or for lack of Holy Spirit gifting. Beware.

  38. I use many bibles , but i correct them through the articles given by the IBC and that shows me the faults from the Greek words. It seems that part of the Hebrew bible is a translation from Greek an not the original Hebrew.

  39. Correct the New Testament. Especialy the word “LAW” . So many uses of the word law without any referense to what is ment by it. Take Paul and his use of “law”

    • Trouble is with the flawed teaching on “Grace” many modern Christians think of “Law” as “Legalism” and so everytime “Law” is used, it is thought of as an archaism and a license to a spirit-less Christian life. All wrong.

      Much debate over Paul’s “Law.”

  40. Reading the comments below an article is always insightful. To eliminate all opportunities for learning and all sources of enlightenment, linguistic and contextual, and expect the Holy Spirit to give you the right answer is lazy and ineffective. The Holy Spirit inspires those who study to learn.

  41. IMHO KJV is archaic. “Divers places?” Matt 24:7. What does that even mean? The language is somewhere between “Elizabethan” and “Shakspearian” (sp?) Thee and Thou are not any more sacred to Yahweh than ‘you’ and ‘me’…wouldst, shouldst – is not even used in English anymore. BTW I use NKJV

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