What's the Difference Between Various Bible Versions?

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What's the Difference Between Various Bible Versions?

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The English language has changed substantially over the four centuries since the King James Version of the Bible was first published. Many people find it increasingly difficult to understand the words and may be put off by the KJV's foreign-sounding words. We can be thankful, however, that many newer versions exist that are much more up-to-date in their wording. But this raises another issue: Which of these many versions is best for reading and studying the Bible? How do they differ? The following is excerpted from our free booklet How to Understand the Bible:

More than 60 English-language versions are available. We can divide them into three broad types: word-for-word, meaning-to-meaning (also called thought-for-thought) and paraphrased. Usually a particular Bible version will explain, on its introductory pages, which approach was used in preparing it.

Word-for-word translations

The word-for-word versions most accurately follow the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. Generally speaking, the King James Version and its modern counterpart, the New King James Version, are word-for-word translations. They are readily found in most bookstores or on the Internet.

How trustworthy is the King James or the New King James Bible we have today? Other manuscripts discovered since the King James Version was translated show it to be extremely reliable. For instance, when the King James Version is compared with what was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, "the King James Bible is 98.33 percent pure [in terms of comparison]" (Norman Geisler and William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, 1974, p. 263).

In the New Testament the sheer bulk of thousands of texts (4,500 Greek manuscripts) means that many minor variations among the manuscripts will be found. The King James Version, for example, is based on the majority of the authoritative Greek texts.

About 98 percent of the known Greek manuscripts agree with the basic text of the King James Bible. Even the variations that do exist rarely affect the basic meaning in the remaining 2 percent of those manuscripts. The text of Scripture has been preserved and transmitted over the centuries remarkably well.

The Old Testament books are equally trustworthy. Although a few textual errors are to be found in some of the manuscripts used in translating the King James Bible, comparisons with other Bible versions can easily clarify most problems.

As an expert on textual criticism remarked: "If any book from ancient times has descended to us without substantial loss or alteration, it is the Bible. The Bible is the best-attested book from the ancient world! This has prompted Sir Frederic Kenyon to say: ‘The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the Church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book in the world'" (Neil Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, 1963, p. 120).

Meaning-for-meaning versions

The accuracy of a version is obviously of utmost importance. Although the King James Version contains some mistakes, to establish sound doctrines the first choice of versions should be a more literal edition such as the King James or New King James Version.

What about the meaning-to-meaning versions? They can be valuable in putting the Scriptures into more understandable wording. For example, the New King James Version of Hebrews 2:17-18, describing why Jesus Christ came to live among mankind as a flesh-and-blood human being, reads: "Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted."

The New International Version, a meaning-to-meaning translation, has: "For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."

The latter explains the point more clearly for most readers today, although the former is a more direct translation of the original language. So, when the text is not clear, many times a modern meaning-to-meaning translation can help. The Revised English Bible, Good News Bible and New Living Translation are other popular meaning-to-meaning translations.

A meaning-to-meaning translation is also helpful in conveying the point of ancient figures of speech—idioms—that would not make sense to us in modern language. Consider the modern American idiom "kick the bucket." This phrase may not be around centuries from now, and someone translating it then might need to use the word "die" instead—a meaning-to-meaning rendering rather than a literal one. Ancient Hebrew and Greek had such expressions as well, and in such cases a meaning-to-meaning translation is very helpful.

In general, meaning-to-meaning versions use more up-to-date language and thus are easier to understand—although, again, they are not the best choice for establishing doctrine because they at times involve some interpretation of what the original writers intended to say.

Paraphrased Bibles

Paraphrased Bibles, such as The Living Bible or The Message, also can be useful. Their goal is to make the Bible even easier to read in modern language. We should be cautious in working with these, however, because the authors exercised considerable "poetic license" in interpreting biblical terms and passages according to their own personal religious ideas.

Paraphrased versions can be consulted to better grasp the story flow but should not be relied on exclusively to establish doctrine. They should be considered inadequate sources for accurately determining the meaning of any text.

Which version of the Bible should you buy? The King James Version, although both accurate and popular, is increasingly difficult to understand simply because the English language has evolved considerably over the 400 years since its publication.

The meanings of some of its words have changed over time. Many readers find the archaic language distracting and difficult to follow. For this reason material produced by the United Church of God, publisher of this magazine, most often uses the New King James Version. This version, while retaining much of the beauty of the original King James wording, is more readable and is still usually faithful to the original text.

Modern translations like those mentioned above are helpful for comparing and clarifying the meaning. Many people find a parallel Bible, which contains two or more versions side by side on the same pages, to be helpful. Indeed, even apart from that it's best to consult multiple versions in studying the Bible, but one will likely be your primary version.

Regardless of the Bible version you choose, the most important factor is that you actually use it. A Bible should be considered an investment in which a little more expense up front will pay off in the long run. Consider buying a version with wide margins that will allow you to add notes from your personal study over the coming years. Although more expensive, a higher-quality, leather-bound Bible will last years longer than a hardbound or paperback volume and should become a lifelong companion.

Many Bible versions are now available as part of Bible software packages or for free viewing on various Internet sites. With these, you can compare between different versions nearly instantaneously.


  • mirandao

    Honestly, after reading all of the comments down below i came to the conclusion that reading the bible in any version is helpful and a blessing in our lives. Even though sometimes the meaning from Bible to Bible might be kind of different, there’s not gonna be an exact opposite meaning for example in a certain verse. The main point of reading the bible is to connect with gods words and be the best version of your self letting god guide you. So, id recommend reading whatever version you feel comfortable with and understand the most. It will be good searching up different kinds of versions just to feel more sure and having a complete image of what you’re reading. Hope you have a nice day! God bless you.


    Reading all of this about the various versions of the Bible and one question sticks in my mind as I am doing so. Reliability? Context? Doctrine? So, yes perhaps more than one thing but really Reliability. While I have not read through each version, I have looked into each one and searched for answers regarding Doctrine most of all. There are Bible versions out there, some of them mentioned here, that have been called into question in terms of teachings and for Not staying True to the teachings of say the KJV or NKJV. Through wording, sentence structure, elimination of verses or the omission of the name of God or Jesus Christ in certain places and using instead a lesser pronoun for example. All of these types of writings can and most certainly do change the meaning of the message. If this is the case, how can it be a good thing to use such versions to teach or learn God's Word, especially under the UCG teachings of Direct From The Bible, if that Bible is flawed? All of this is especially a concern today given the tainted message being taught in most denominations where same sex marriage is accepted and gender issues are the norm.

  • peterleung

    What is the version UCG followers use ? Can I download the suggested version on my Apple iphone? Please advise. Thanks.

  • Lena VanAusdle

    Hi Peter,
    UCG members use a variety of versions of the Bible, but, as the article states, ucg typically uses the New King James Version. There are a number of Bible apps in the apple store that include the New King James Version. Personally I use YouVersion.

  • Annie24

    The walk with Him is so wonderful and read His word everyday. I hope all is well. God is holy

  • lisak

    About three months ago, I ordered a Jubilee (From the Scriptures of the Reformation) Bible. I must say, I really like this one. It adds some clarity to some of the scriptures that I haven't found in others. For example, in Matthew chapter 16:18, the Jubilee Bible says: "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, a small rock and upon the large rock I will build my congregation, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against her." That is definitely different than what you would find in most Bible translations, and it adds clarity to that scripture. Has anyone else used this translation, and if so, what do you think of it?

  • lulu

    sorry part 2 of my first , the Pope did decar it catholic , which some are happy and some aren't.ok back to the new bible that my husband got i looked it up and this is what i read.(The Revised Standard Version of the Bible (RSV) is an authorized revision of the American Standard Version, published in 1901, which was a revision of the King James Version, published in 1611.The King James Version has with good reason been termed "the noblest monument of English prose." Its revisers in 1881 expressed admiration for "its simplicity, its dignity, its power, its happy turns of expression … the music of it cadences, and the felicities of its rhythm." It entered, as no other book has, into the making of the personal character and the public institutions of the English-speaking peoples.The Revised Standard Version of the Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments, was published on September 30, 1952, and has met with wide acceptance.The Revised Standard Version Bible seeks to preserve all that is best in the English Bible as it has been known and used through the years. It is intended for use in public and private worship, not merely for reading and instruction. We have resisted,outofspac

  • lulu

    So my husband got this new bible I was, I was looking to see if I can get it in audio so I can read along I am dyslexic and have a hard time making sure what I read was right . So I was raised catholic am happy with that . I do not like a lot of the things the in history that was done like hiding info from use to use for the purpose of either good or bad....etc, But I understand that it's like that everywhere . Not everyone is bad Or good it's basically having an open heart and praying to our lord Jesus Chris to help us hear he's true word amongst all this fight on which one is wrong or right. We got this beautiful bible that the Pope Saint John Paul 11 gave to my husband's aunt she was visiting the churches in rome she is a nun herself. She Gave us that bible which is American version (NAB) too big to pick up . So I was trying to find it in audio and also the one my husband just got which is Holy bible (revised standard version catholic edition) which we started reading and it seemed very nice. So I was reading up on the New King James and what I was intrusted on the info about the old sea scrolls . Then I read all this heated commits. I don't know I was reading up that

  • James Mester
    I have studied several versions of the Bible, including the Geneva Bible. And I have also studied the Apocrypha. It is my position that they were all written by mankind, and knowing that man is fallible, there are surely mistakes of passion. Mankind is not capable of scribing anything exactly, verbatim. However, this is why, we are to be accepting and praying for better understanding. We are to be praying for divine guidance and wisdom. Jesus tells us this in many ways. So our, limited understanding is always searching for the "ULTIMATE" truth. That is why Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father but by me." So the Bible, (whatever version we understand best) is only our guideline to help us understand, but our wisdom comes from Jesus if we ask. Our faith comes through grace, our grace comes through our belief, our belief comes through the strength and the teaching of our Savior. Just come to the peace and understanding of our Savior. Let Him provide. Not all that you want, but all that you need. Amen.
  • Lena VanAusdle
    Reading the Bible is very important, but I believe it is important that the version you are reading is accurate, as the author states. So even if you use a meaning for meaning or paraphrase, it needs to be compared to the literal word for word translations. Reading inaccurate versions of God's word is not the same as reading God's word.
  • hiawathawolf56

    Lena, hi my name is Essie Mae. Saunders. I am so very confused about what bible is the true version without errors that am suppose to learn the truth is all I want. Can you please tell me which bible ????

  • Lena VanAusdle

    Hi Essie Mae, thanks for asking. Here is an excellent infographic that gives some guidance on the accuracy of different versions of the Bible: https://www.ucg.org/vertical-thought/infographic-types-of-bible-translations
    Honestly, no translation will be perfect, but word-for-word translations are the best; New King James Version, Interlinear Bible, New American Standard Bible are all good choices. Getting a Bible with a good center reference is always helpful because they will show when verses or translations of words have changed or been added.

  • nikki09
    @xoltaros i have no idea why did you have to share that you have accepted Jesus as your personal savior since 1970. After all it's just about you and Him. You said that "Now,I was saved and washed in- "the precious blood of The Lamb",The Christ foretold of old: that God,our Heavenly Father,prophesied would come to save us from our sins." Okay, fine. But I think these words would be better in 'action' rather than in spoken words.
  • xoltaros

    I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior in 1970.I had been demon filled from Eastern,new-age,etc "doctrines of devils" 1 Tim 4:1. Now,I was saved and washed in- "the precious blood of The Lamb",The Christ foretold of old: that God,our Heavenly Father,prophesied would come to save us from our sins.I was starving and desperately in anguish to learn more of Jesus,just like I still am and you new Christians are experiencing RIGHT NOW! Here is what I learned.Every word of God is pure and sweeter than nothing in comparison. The Word will accomplish God's will in your life as you simply read and accept it IN Your MIND & Heart and believe in the The Fathers Holy Spirit to reveal God's purpose for our lives (your life,too,now!Thank You Father!Bless them & lead them into your truth). The writer of this article has made it quite plain & clear regarding the question of Which version,and ea.method as it applies accordingly. I have chosen King James version for guarding against making Biblical inerrancies. And,"The Criswell Study Bible is a very reliable work,as is The Living Bible is,also makes for a trustworthy Bible companion "study Bible"(Lv B author wrote it for his young children) which helps to bring God's authority and protection over & into our lives as it applies them thus to HIS:God's Word's (principles) for living for Jesus Christ! Now take up the cross and the Sword of Our Lord-Jesus Christ: The Word of God Our Most Beloved and Highly exalted Daddy,Papa FATHER. Good tidings,prayers and may God send warrior Angels to clear a path for you,my Bro's & Sister's. I will see you in The New Jerusalem where we will be with Christ FOREVER & EVER...Bless you Father!

  • lisak

    Hello! Realizing it's been three years since you posted this, I am not sure if you will see my response. I did want to say that it is wonderful that you left all of the other stuff behind and see how God's Holy Spirit moves us to model our lives and to strive to be holy as He is holy. I hope all is well with you and your walk with Him and your reading of His word! It is wonderful that we have His word available for us to read and use as our life's "how-to" guide!

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