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Comparing Bible Translations

WARNING! This is going to be a long page. Please remember to make use of the table of contents in order to navigate the information here quickly and easily.

The Best Bible Translation

The Best Bible Translation probably doesn't exist. It would be better for you to read it in it's original language. But not everyone has time to learn a new language, and even so it does not solve the immediate problem of which bible you are going to buy today (or as a gift for a friend). This page is to help you find a reliable bible translation that is a good fit for you, for your purposes.

You may want to choose a bible translation based on many factors:

  • ease-of-reading
  • theological leaning
  • because it's very literal
  • because it has a good set of cross references and notes
  • other

We aren't really trying to judge which translation is best here – that's up to you to do for yourself after comparing the verses side-by-side, depending on what you are looking for. However, in order to help out a bit I will give my personal opinion on some of the translations as-we-go.

Old Testament

The following are examinations of how certain verses will be rendered across various translations.

Unicorns / reim (ראם)

Translation Verse (Psalm 22)
KJV Save me from the lion's mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
NKJV Save Me from the lion’s mouth And from the horns of the wild oxen! You have answered Me.
RSV Save me from the mouth of the lion, my afflicted soul[a] from the horns of the wild oxen!
NRSV Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued[a] me.
ESV Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued[a] me from the horns of the wild oxen!
NASB Save me from the lion’s mouth; From the horns of the wild oxen You answer me.
NIV Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
HCSB Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued[a] me from the horns of the wild oxen.
ASV Save me from the lion’s mouth; Yea, from the horns of the wild-oxen thou hast answered me.
AMP Save me from the lion’s mouth; From the horns of the wild oxen You answer me.

In the KJV, Reim is translated as Unicorn in Psalms 22 and Numbers 23. However, the actual grammar word being used is reymim, which is plural – the animal in question cannot be a unicorn because it has more than one horn. There are multiple other reasons why Unicorns is unlikely here. This passage would be useful for those looking at 'better' translations which may retain a similar wording to the KJV.

Pay special attention to the seemingly unique use of 'afflicted soul' in the RSV and the problem over “heard me” (KJV), “rescued/saved me” (NRSV, ESV, NIV, HCSB), “answered me” (NKJV, NASB, ASV, AMP) or nothing (RSV). It is thus unclear what exactly the horns are doing here, if they are being used, and by whom, for what purpose. The good news here is that this problem doesn't seem to introduce any significant theological issues.

Let's analyze the original Hebrew text to try and understand what is going on.

Strong's Transliteration Hebrew Translation Type
03467 hō·wō·šî·‘ê·nî ה֭וֹשִׁיעֵנִי Save Verb
06310 mip·pî מִפִּ֣י mouth me Noun
0738 ’ar·yêh; אַרְיֵ֑ה from the lion me Noun
07161 ū·miq·qar·nê וּמִקַּרְנֵ֖י from the horns Noun
07214 rê·mîm רֵמִ֣ים of the unicorns Noun
06030 ‘ă·nî·ṯā·nî. עֲנִיתָֽנִי׃ for You have heard Verb

It immediately seems that a more literal reading would be from the horns of the (unicorns) you have heard. However, only the KJV speaks this way. However, a reading in-context of Psalms 22:21-22 seems to indicate that the readings which state saved or rescued make more sense (the NRSV, ESV, NIV and HCSB, and possibly RSV). Thus the issue seems to center over whether or not the verb anitani is gramatically a part of the sentance or not. Where it is considered so, it reads “you have answered me (from the horns of that animal)” and when it is not it reads as if “(and) You have answered me”. Other translations which change this to rescued do and do not try to indicate this, notably the NASB and AMP which capitalize the Y in You without technically ending the previous sentence.

This issue alone may make it difficult to choose which bible is best but it is hoped that a thorough understanding of this issue in conjunction with the many others which will follow will give you a good feel for the right translation for you; the correct balance of literalness, faithfulness, readability, accuracy and so on.

Or heck just go and learn Hebrew.

Isaiah 7:14

Isaiah 7:14 is an important verse used in the Church and as such you may also be interested in Isaiah 7.14 Analysis which takes a full look at the verse.

Translation Verse (Isaiah 7:14)
KJV Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
ESV Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
NASB Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.
NIV Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
NKJV Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
HCSB Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.
AMP Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Listen carefully, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will call his name Immanuel (God with us).
WEB Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin will conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
OJB Therefore Hashem Himself shall give you an ot (sign); Hinei, HaAlmah (the unmarried young virgin) shall conceive, and bear Ben, and shall call Shmo Immanu El (G-d is with us) [See extensive commentary in The Translator To The Reader, page vii].
RSV Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman′u-el.
NRSV Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
NET For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel.
HNV Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, an almah shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanu'el.
BBE For this cause the Lord himself will give you a sign; a young woman is now with child, and she will give birth to a son, and she will give him the name Immanuel.
CEB Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign. The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel.
CJB Therefore Adonai himself will give you people a sign: the young woman will become pregnant, bear a son and name him 'Immanu El [God is with us].
GNT Well then, the Lord himself will give you a sign: a young woman who is pregnant will have a son and will name him “Immanuel.'

As you can see the primary point of looking at Isaiah 7.14 is to see how they translate the word 'ha-Almah'.

New Testament

Let's try the same kind of analysis with some New Testament passages.

Hebrews 4:8-10

Translation Verse (Hebrews 4:8)
KJV For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.
NKJV For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day.
RSV For if Joshua had given them rest, God[a] would not speak later of another day.
NRSV For if Joshua had given them rest, God[a] would not speak later about another day.
ESV For if Joshua had given them rest, God[a] would not have spoken of another day later on.
NASB For if [a]Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that.
NIV For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.
HCSB For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken later about another day.
ASV For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterward of another day.
AMP [This mention of a rest was not a reference to their entering into Canaan.] For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak about another day [of opportunity] after that.

Jesus or Joshua? The Christian Position

Although the Christian position is easy to state, you are not going to be able to easily understand or defend the translator bias between Jesus and Joshua unless you have a more balanced and complete picture of this passage in context. I suggest that at some time you review our collection of commentaries on Hebrews 4:8. This will give you a detailed overview of the Christian position. It's a long read but probably worth it.

Now for the sake of this short space, allow me to walk sideways give my own personal take. My old Zondervan 1990 NRSV study bible, was given to me by my mother when I moved away to go to College. It used the “Study Notes” system from 1984. This was basically a small introduction to each chapter and possibly a couple of extra footnotes. For Hebrews it reads that the book of Hebrews was likely written to former Jews who were in the Church, and who had grown disillusioned, and who were considering returning to their faith. Therefore the book is concerned with a number of topics of difference between the Jewish and Christian faiths. The notes go on to state that Hebrews 3.1 to 4.13 is about Christ's superiority to Moses. So we have a pretty good idea what is being discussed here. In particular, we see that Hebrews 3.1 is titled “Moses a servant, Christ a Son” (in the ESV the title is revised to Jesus is greater than Moses'). Also, this passage really gets going when it begins to mention rest in Hebrews 3.7.

Paul seems to seize upon the idea of rest and base his argument over the giving of rest after quoting the Old Testament. Since my bible is a reference edition I can see that Paul is quoting Psalms 95. It is thus of paramount importance for us to understand what is meant when God says “As in my anger I swore, 'They would not enter my rest'”. Paul explains to us in 3.18-19 “And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” In 4.1-7 Paul makes the case from saying that God's rest is his Sabbath.

My Personal Take

(And again, I would just point out that this is a quick personal take; you should probably look at the Christian commentaries on the verse for a complete picture.)

I thus went over to Psalms 95 and looked up what Paul was quoting, since it is inconceivable that this term would not have been understood by the Jews i nsome fashion, and Paul is in fact supposed to be speaking to a Jews' understanding in Hebrews (according to my study notes and as seen from many commentaries, and from Hebrews 1:1). Did this 'rest' mean what Paul claims it means?

The first thing I noticed was that some translations (GNT, MSG, NET) explicitly state that the rest had been set aside for them. In any case this would be implied by the swearing of the oath in anger; as in the normal case, it would be assumed they would be allowed to enter His rest. But the commentaries for Psalm 95:11 revealed something greater; The passage is in fact as Paul states, regarding what happened to the people who died in the desert during the 40 years in the desert. But that means it would have a third reference – Paul is not actually quoting Psalms 95 but – after a second cross-reference, I discovered Paul was really quoting from Numbers 32.10-13. And this, in turn, is cross referenced to Joshua 22:4!

10 So the anger of the Lord was kindled that day, and he swore, 11 ‘Because they have not followed me wholeheartedly, not one of the men twenty years old and upward who came from Egypt will see the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, 12 except Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite, and Joshua son of Nun, for they followed the Lord wholeheartedly.’ 13 So the Lord’s anger was kindled against the Israelites, and he made them wander in the wilderness for forty years, until all that generation that had done wickedly before the Lord was finished.Numbers 32:10-13 (NET)

3 you have not forsaken your kindred these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the Lord your God. 4 And now the Lord your God has given rest to your kindred, as he promised them; therefore turn and go to your tents in the land where your possession lies, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan. 5 Take good care to observe the commandment and instruction that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to keep his commandments, and to hold fast to him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” 6 So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents.

Joshua 22:3-6 (NRSV)

No particular reason on the translation choices; I just choose the most readable one on since it's easier to cut and paste. They all say the same or similar here.

However considering all of the above I have come to four very secure (although perhaps personal, as I am not a preacher) conclusions:

1. It's referring to Joshua. It's just too obvious.

2. By way of 1, the scary thing is, Joshua actually did give them rest, according to God's promise – they did in fact enter the rest – the punishment of not entering the rest was to wander in the desert.

3. Even if you want to say “Jesus” the grammar no longer makes sense. Observe the KJV-style translation vs. the contextual translation: For if Jesus had given them rest, God[c] would not speak later about another day. For if Joshua had given them rest, God[c] would not speak later about another day.

The notion here is that Jesus/Joshua did not give them rest, and therefore God did speak of another day!

4. Following from the above, Paul seems to have a very unclear idea of what God meant by 'entering rest' and what the Sabbath is. The entire issue from Paul seems very confused.

Here are a few more passages that were cross-referenced to this subject directly. I hope they, alongside the commentaries I have copied, will be of use to you. In any case, the final decision is yours; I have presented (above) a wide range of modern and traditional translations you can use this verse to help choose a bible from.

The Punishment from God

11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me, and how long will they not believe in me, in spite of the signs that I have done among them? 12 I will strike them with the pestilence, and I will disinherit them; I will make you into a nation that is greater and mightier than they!”

13 Moses said to the Lord, “When the Egyptians hear it—for you brought up this people by your power from among them— 14 then they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, Lord, are among this people, that you, Lord, are seen face to face, that your cloud stands over them, and that you go before them by day in a pillar of cloud and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 If you kill this entire people at once, then the nations that have heard of your fame will say, 16 ‘Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to them, he killed them in the wilderness.’ 17 So now, let the power of my Lord be great, just as you have said, 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in loyal love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children until the third and fourth generations.’ 19 Please forgive the iniquity of this people according to your great loyal love, just as you have forgiven this people from Egypt even until now.”

20 Then the Lord said, “I have forgiven them as you asked. 21 But truly, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord. 22 For all the people have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tempted me now these ten times, and have not obeyed me, 23 they will by no means see the land that I swore to their fathers, nor will any of them who despised me see it. 24 Only my servant Caleb, because he had a different spirit and has followed me fully—I will bring him into the land where he had gone, and his descendants will possess it.Numbers 14:11-24 (NET)

34 When the Lord heard you, he became angry and made this vow: 35 “Not a single person of this evil generation will see the good land that I promised to give to your ancestors! 36 The exception is Caleb son of Jephunneh; he will see it and I will give him and his descendants the territory on which he has walked, because he has wholeheartedly followed me.” 37 As for me, the Lord was also angry with me on your account. He said, “You also will not be able to go there. 38 However, Joshua son of Nun, your assistant, will go. Encourage him, because he will enable Israel to inherit the land. 39 Also, your infants, who you thought would die on the way, and your children, who as yet do not know good from bad, will go there; I will give them the land and they will possess it. 40 But as for you, turn back and head for the desert by the way to the Red Sea.”Deuteronomy 1:34-40 (NET)

For me the issue seems obvious, it means Joshua. Inserting Jesus into Hebrews 4:8 reads like a mistake any way you look at it; and basing it on Joshua worshipping Jesus in Joshua 5:14 just shows a poor understanding of Joshua.

If you're interested in some video commentary I found useful:

Personally, I find the 'nos' more convincing. I am not trying to say 'what evidence can I find to support my position' – I am interested in what evidence God put in the Scripture intending me to understand this passage.

I will also note this entire section probably needs to be moved to prevent information overload on an unrelated page.. this is supposed to be about giving people the info they need to choose a bible. Maybe move the discussion part here to it's own page. Therefore: *under construction*

==== Context Is Important A look at the underlying Greek in these verses shows that “Iesous” is the name under discussion here – points to Tyndale for recognizing this issue and writing-in the Greek. Everywhere else in the NT, it is translated correctly as “Jesus”, because that's who it is referring to. However, in Hebrews 4:8 (and, incidentally, in Acts 7:45), the name is the same, but referring to Joshua of the Old Testament, not Jesus of the New.

The answer lies in the fact that the name “Joshua” in Hebrew (“Yahowshuwa” , Strong's #3091) is the same name as “Jesus” in Greek (“Iesous” , Strongs #2424).

The problem is that these two names are NOT equivalent in English. In Hebrew, there is one name “Yahowshuwa”, and in Greek there is one name “Iesous”. In English, we have two names, “Joshua” and “Jesus”, so when the translators see “Iesous” in the Greek, they must choose which English name to use, since it can either mean “Jesus” or “Joshua”. Context is the key, and the correct choice for Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8 is “Joshua”.

It's similar to the following silly example. Suppose we want to translate the sentences “Look at the elephant's long trunk. He uses it to spray water on himself.” into another language. We do fine up to the word “trunk”, because in English this single word can mean (among many other things) “an elephant's nose” or “a suitcase”. In the language we want to translate this sentence into, suppose there are two entirely different words, one meaning “an elephant's nose”, and the other meaning “a large case.” Of course, the correct word to use in the translation, because of context, would be the one meaning “an elephant's nose”, and it would be a translation error to instead use the word that means “a large case”. The exact same thing is happening here when translating the Greek “Iesous” into English. In Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8, the Greek name “Iesous” should be translated as “Joshua”, not “Jesus”.

Yet, still, some KJV only people say that this was done intentionally to demonstrate that Jesus was the leader of the Jewish people; that just as how Joshua was the successor of Moses, Jesus is the successor of the Jewish law (i.e. Moses' successor was named Yeshua, and taking Yeshua to mean Jesus). As unlikely this thought was in King David's mind, it is important to at least note the rebuttal you will encounter from the KJV-only camp. However, the fact remains this is an out of context meaning being inserted into the original text. The context refers to Psalm 95, Joshua 21, therefore there while the KJV crowd may wish to doctrinally use this passage to represent Jesus, the original passage it is quoting in the OT refers to Joshua. So even in that case it would be more straightforward to just say Joshua and then explain it in a footnote or bible study lesson. Altering the word of God here is probably not the best way to go about it.

comparing_bible_translations.txt · Last modified: 2018/02/03 18:17 by serena