The Christian Bible Reference Site

Which Bible Version Is Best?

Frequently Asked Questions


The Old Testament

The Old Testament (OT) of the Bible was originally written in the Hebrew language with a few sections written in the Aramaic language. The OT contains the sacred writings of the Jews and contains books of the Law, history of Israel, wisdom, and prophecy. The events of the OT (excluding Genesis 1-11) occurred roughly between 1800 B.C. and 400 B.C. A Greek translation of the OT, called the Septuagint, was produced between 200 and 100 B.C. for the benefit of Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria, Egypt.

The Apocrypha

The Apocrypha, a group of fifteen late OT books, was written during the period 170 B.C. to 70 A.D. These Jewish books were included in many versions of the Septuagint in circulation as the New Testament was being formed, but they were excluded from the official canon of Judaism, established about 100 A.D. Today, the books of the Apocrypha are included in Catholic versions of the OT, but not in most Protestant versions. These books are also known as the deuterocanonical books.

The New Testament

The people of first century Palestine, including Jesus, spoke the Aramaic language. However, early Christian writings were written entirely in Greek, the universal language of the Roman Empire at that time. The books of the New Testament (NT) were written during the period 50 A.D. to 100 A.D. The early church leaders gradually assembled these writings into what is now known as the New Testament. They included books they believed were based on eyewitnesses' accounts of  the events narrated, while rejecting many other early Christian writings. Eventually, the 27 books which form the present New Testament, along with the OT books, became the Christian Bible as we know it today. The New Testament canon was formally adopted by the Synod of Carthage in 397 A.D.

The Vulgate

During the early centuries A.D., Latin replaced Greek as the language of the Roman Empire. In 405, a Latin translation of the Old and New Testaments was completed. This version, known as the Vulgate, became the standard Bible of Christianity for many centuries.

English Translations

The complete Bible has been translated into over 500 languages, and portions exist in almost 3000 languages and dialects. The first English language version of the full Bible was John Wycliffe's translation of the Vulgate in 1384. Several other English versions followed, including the Great Bible (1535), the Geneva Bible (1560) and Bishop's Bible (1568). The Geneva Bible became the official version of the Church of Scotland, and it was also popular in England. The Bishop's Bible was the version used by the Church of England, but the Geneva Bible remained popular.

The King James Version

King James I of England saw some of the margin notes in the popular Geneva Bible as a threat to the power of the bishops of the Church of England and to his own position as head of the Church. So he commissioned a new translation in 1604 that would replace the Geneva Bible as the universally accepted translation. The work was done by 47 Bible scholars of the Church of England and completed in 1611. It was officially known as the Authorized Version (AV) of the Church of England, but it was also known informally as the King James Bible or King James Version (KJV). The KJV is considered a masterpiece of English literature, both scholarly and stylistically. The KJV, itself, has been updated several times: in 1629, 1638, 1762, and 1769. Quotations from the KJV are found throughout English literature and music.

The KJV quickly became a favorite and remained the "standard" Bible of English-speaking Protestants until around 1950 when the Revised Standard Version was published. (Catholics had the Douay–Rheims Bible, published in 1610.)  The KJV has established a solid tradition in worship and is revered for its majestic style and language. Today, many conservative Protestants still prefer the KJV as the traditional authority on spiritual matters. Other Christians view modern translations as a better way to accurately convey the true meaning of the ancient scriptures in understandable, modern English.


The team of 47 scholars who translated the KJV did an excellent job. However, the English language has changed a lot in the more than 400 years since it was published. The vocabulary is outdated. Pronouns and verb tenses have changed since then. Many KJV words and phrases, such as Lord of hosts, sabaoth, emerods and concupiscence, would not be meaningful to most people today. Worse, many other English words, such as charity, trespass, fornication, profit, cousin, and remission, have different primary meanings today than they did in 1611, and could mislead the reader. As a result, many people find the KJV quite difficult to read and understand.

Modern Bible Versions

Twentieth century developments in archaeology, scientific dating methods and Biblical scholarship have yielded new knowledge about the Bible. Modern Bibles are translated from a set of ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts that is believed to be older and closer to the originals than those that were used as the basis for the KJV.

Advantages of Modern Translations

Although the newer translations are believed to be more accurate than the KJV, the differences are minor. No significant changes of belief or interpretation would result from the many minor corrections. The main advantage of the modern translations is that they are written in clear, modern English so the reader will not be mystified or misled by the outdated English of the KJV. The mainstream modern Bible versions have been translated by teams of highly qualified Bible scholars who have diligently done their very best to convey the true meaning of the ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts to the modern reader. These modern translations have been adopted by many churches, both Protestant and Catholic, for use in worship.

Objections to Modern Translations

Only the KJV is Inspired

Some say the KJV itself is divinely inspired and preserves the words of God more accurately than other translations. Some proponents of this position speak of the KJV as if it were the original Bible inspired by God. They may point to different wording in other versions as evidence of corruption or bias. However, the historical record shows that the various Bible books were originally written in the Hebrew and Greek languages between roughly 1000 B.C. and 100 A.D., and the KJV translation was not written until centuries later, around 1600 A.D.

There is nothing in the Bible that would suggest that one particular Bible translation would be superior to others. Neither does it suggest that God would choose one particular Bible translation, in one particular world language, to be the most authentic version. The great majority of Christian denominations do not attribute any special accuracy or authority to the KJV.

Different Hebrew and Greek Manuscripts

None of the original writings of the Old Testament or New Testament still exist. They have long since been lost to decay, fires, wars and other causes. However, they were copied and recopied many times over. Bible copies were made entirely by hand until printing was invented in 15th century. As a result, there are many small variations among the thousands of ancient Bible manuscripts still in existence.

The KJV was translated into English from a set of Hebrew and Greek manuscripts known as the Textus Receptus, put together in the 16th century. It was based on seven  manuscripts that were available in Basel, Switzerland.

Since that time, the scientific method of paleography has been developed. By analyzing the paper, ink and handwriting, scientists can determine approximately when and where a manuscript was written. Some of the results of paleography have been tested and verified by accelerator mass spectrometry, a form of radiocarbon dating. (Radiocarbon dating is destructive to the item tested and is seldom used on priceless ancient manuscripts.)

It is now known that the manuscripts of the Textus Receptus date to the 10th century A.D. and later. Thus, they have been copied over by hand many, many times since the originals, with a chance of additional compounded errors each time.

Many additional ancient Bible manuscripts and fragments have been discovered since the late 1800s, and many of them were written in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. Some Old Testament fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls are dated before the time of Jesus. These older manuscripts were written closer in time to the originals, and logically are expected to have fewer copying errors than later manuscripts.

Modern Bibles are translated from manuscripts now considered to be the oldest and best, rather than from the Textus Receptus. Although there are many minor differences, the Bible has been preserved remarkably well. None of the differences between the KJV and modern translations are significant enough to alter the essential beliefs of Christianity.

Omitted Verses

It is often pointed out that modern translations omit a few of the verses found in the KJV, and this is sometimes believed to be an attempt to distort the Bible's teachings. However, the real reason is that certain verses and phrases are not found in the oldest and best Bible manuscripts. Thus, they are omitted to accurately preserve the original Bible text. (The chapter and verse numbers were first added to the Bible in the Middle Ages; they were not part of the original Bible manuscripts. Thus, an omitted verse does not imply that something was omitted from the original writings.)

Some of these extra verses were added to certain manuscript copies as margin notes or as prayers for use in public worship. Those manuscripts were then copied and recopied without making it clear that the extra verses were later additions. The most famous example is the doxology, "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen." that the KJV adds to the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:13. That phrase is not found in any of the oldest manuscripts of Matthew.

Gender-Neutral Language

Another objection to some modern versions, such as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the New International Version (NIV), is the use of "gender-neutral" or "gender-inclusive" language. The change in translation is because of a change in the way English is commonly spoken. It is traditional in English to use masculine words ("a man," "he," "him") as a generic form to include both sexes, but the modern trend is to use a gender-neutral expression ("a person," "he or she," "him or her," "they," "them") when both sexes are included.

Thus, Romans 3:28 has traditionally been translated into English as "… a man is justified by faith …" However, the original Greek word anthropos means "human being" and applies equally to both sexes. So, the NRSV and NIV have translated this verse as "… a person is justified by faith …" to convey the inclusive nature of the original Greek word.

The KJV translates John 13:20 as, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me." The NRSV changes the "he" to "whoever" to show that the original text applied equally to men and women, but the "him" that applies to God is left as masculine: "Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me."

Publishers of gender-neutral Bibles are quick to point out that these are not "politically correct" or "feminist" Bibles. They have used gender-neutral language only where it would have been understood that way in the original Hebrew and Greek languages.


Most of the modern Bible translations are protected by copyright law. Some people question whether it is right to copyright God's Word. However, the expert translators and supporting staff who do the work have bills to pay and families to support like everyone else. Their salaries are paid from sales of their works. Without copyright protection, unscrupulous publishers could copy and sell a Bible version without paying any royalties to the men and women who did all the work to produce it.

Bible Versions

Here is a list of some excellent modern translations, in alphabetical order:

The New American Bible (NAB) is the official Catholic version of the Bible in the United States, and it is written in very modern English. The books of the Apocrypha are incorporated into the Old Testament of Catholic Bibles. Otherwise, this translation does not differ significantly from modern Protestant Bibles.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB), published in 1971, is a scholarly update of the 1901 American Standard Version. Sponsored by the Lockman Foundation, the translators used the best available Greek and Hebrew texts as a guide.

The New International Version of the Bible (NIV), a completely new translation of ancient Greek and Hebrew texts sponsored by the New York International Bible Society, was published in 1978 and revised in 2011. Its clear, direct modern English makes it easy to read and understand. The 2011 edition incorporated gender-neutral language.

The New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), published by The National Council of Churches in 1989, is an update of the highly regarded Revised Standard Version of 1952. The language is very modern, but the style is more traditional than the NIV. The NRSV uses gender-neutral language in places where it would have been understood that way in the original language. The NRSV is also available in Catholic editions and Anglicized Editions.

The Revised English Bible (REB) is a British edition published by Oxford University Press in 1989. The translators have written in a style suitable for use in worship, while maintaining intelligibility for people of a wide range of ages and backgrounds.

Paraphrased Versions

In addition to the translations above, there are a number of paraphrased Bible versions which were translated "thought-by-thought" instead of more literally. The translators have written in a style that is thoroughly modern and these Bibles are suitable for all ages and very easy to understand. By nature, though, these paraphrased versions involve some interpretation that is subject to debate:

The Living Bible (TLB), published in 1971, is a popular paraphrased version written by Kenneth N. Taylor, who began this version to help his own children understand the New Testament Letters of Paul.

The New Living Translation (NLT), published in 1996, is a thought-by-thought translation by 90 Bible scholars from various theological backgrounds and denominations. It is similar to The Living Bible, but the language is more traditional.

Study Bibles

There are also several Bible editions that include helpful study notes:

The Catholic Study Bible Second Edition contains the complete NAB Bible plus a Reading Guide for each book, study notes and short essays to help with understanding.

Life Application Study Bible is available in NIV, NLT and NASB editions. It contains the complete Bible plus extensive study notes emphasizing application to everyday life.

NLT Study Bible contains the complete NLT Bible plus extensive study notes to help with understanding.

Related articles:
How to Study the Bible,
Summary and History of the Bible,
What Is the Difference Between Protestant and Catholic Bibles?