How to Read and Understand the Bible
The Bible is the most widely published book worldwide. People from every walk of life for centuries have been fascinated with scripture, regardless of their faith. The Bible is a complex and unique piece of literature. From common laity to theologians, people have sought to read, process, understand, and accurately interpret the Word of God. The Word of God declares:
Regardless of your personal faith, and whether you’re a believer or not, your endeavor to read and understand the Word of God is worthwhile. Your personal time in the scriptures should be an investment of time and energy that is not wasted in frustration, but satisfied with knowledge and understanding. God desires for you to know Him at His Word. But to do that, you must know how to read it properly. Being armed with the necessary tools begins with some fundamental knowledge of the Bible’s origin and how it was written.
One of the most fundamental practices of Christianity is Bible-reading. It’s vital to our faith and relationship with God. Yet many find it daunting. If that describes you, you’re not alone in that quandary or frustration. The sheer size of the Bible can be overwhelming, not to mention the style of the various texts. The prose of scripture is wholly different from modern manuscripts. The sixty-six canonized books are not necessarily in chronological order; nor are they always related. Also, it’s written in one of the most beautiful yet archaic languages known to mankind: Hebrew.
So how does one navigate them without becoming lost, confused, or overwhelmed? Are modern translations accurate or reliable? And is every book really necessary to read? Is there a prescribed way to read? Where should an individual start? And how much should we endeavor to read in one sitting, in one week, in one year? Is there a bible version that is better than another?
God never intended His Word to be difficult to read, confusing, or overwhelming. If that’s what your experience has been, He wants to change that for you. Furthermore, if you’re not one to study the Word of God, knowing how to simply read it is going to be very important for you.
When it comes to the Bible, many are left with very valid questions they find difficult to answer. In this post today we’re going to afford answers. First we’re going to uncover some basics about the Bible, and then we will be able to properly discuss how to read and understand it.
The Text: Origin, Tongues, & Translation
Language, Linguistics, and Literacy
What makes the Bible unique is its origin: It is a wholly Jewish book — cover to cover. It was God’s purpose and plan to reveal Himself to the world through the Jewish people. Our Messiah, Jesus Christ, is indeed Jewish. The entirety of the Bible is authored by numerous Jews from various eras of time spanning thousands of years. The two main languages used are ancient Hebrew and Greek, with Aramaic (found in Daniel and Ezra) and Chaldean (specific to Israel’s captivity in Babylon, exclusively found in the book of Daniel). With that said, it becomes necessary to discuss the very critical issue of translation. To understand and appreciate the Bible as we should, one must have a basic knowledge of the importance of linguistics, which is the critical study of languages.
All languages have their origin in God. Until the Tower of Babel there was only one language among mankind (see Genesis 11). Their diversity began when God dispersed mankind across the globe. Yet, not all languages are written. To this day, some remain distinctly oral. Oration and recitation, therefore, have been common and noble abilities among most ancient cultures — including English. It was not until the 1700’s that literacy was both sought, and formally instituted.
When we consider Hebrew, one of the most ancient languages in the world, literacy was reserved for the priests and scribes. Commoners listened to the oration of their teachers. In biblical times, people did not write — they spoke, heard, and listened, hence the apostles advent of teaching, exhorting believers to preach and hear the Word, with respect to the illiterate abroad. Common people were not privileged to reading and writing. Literacy was reserved for the elite classes such as royalty, priests, scribes, and those of noble birth who could afford tutoring. The modern literacy we enjoy today is the exception to what most individuals worldwide have lived without since the beginning of time. Therefore, books, writings, and the authors who wrote them were the exception rather than the rule. Authored works were a rarity for multiple reasons; literacy aside. Paper, ink, inscription, and transcription came with great expense and tedious labor. Materials were essentially quill, gall, and leather parchment. Mass printing came centuries later and by today’s standards would be antiquated. Therefore, authors and their works were very revered. With respect to the holy texts, the reverence was exponentially greater. If you wanted a copy — it came by hand. Scribes gave their entire lives to such consummate projects. The value of such works was beyond any monetary measure. Many holy texts were never copied and we sadly suffered their loss throughout the ages due to war, famine, fire, and flood. When such archaic writings as the Dead Sea Scrolls were eventually discovered, you can only imagine the incredible worth and value inherently found.
To this very day many believers worldwide have no written language, and therefore are illiterate. Some of the most remote areas of the world rely upon oration and the hearing of God’s word, just as in the apostle’s day. These believers, although never owning a bible, much less reading one, are subject to the Holy Spirit as their teacher, as Jesus Christ instructs (John 14:26), and as John distinctly outlines (1 John 2:27). To be deprived of a Bible is not to be deprived of God’s Word. God is able to speak to His children by His Spirit. With that said, to be deprived of a Bible is not to be deprived of His salvation, or of His intimate knowledge. According to His Word, He lives and moves in us, fellowshipping with us through the constant communion of prayer by His Holy Spirit (see Romans 8). Therefore, let it be known that although illiteracy exists among believers, it is not to be assumed those individuals are any less genuine or proven in their faith. If that were the case, the early Church of Acts would have failed miserably. On the contrary, they turned the world upside down for God. So let us understand that literacy is an immeasurable gift we often take for granted in the modern civilized world, especially if our native tongue is written. However, it is not required. To own a bible is indeed a luxury. But being able to read one, and furthermore understand it, is a unique privilege many Christians have never known. That gift of literacy, the luxury of owning a Bible, and the privilege of reading one is not something the early Church possessed. They relied wholly upon oration, which is the preaching and hearing of the Word by the Apostles, which they were furthermore exhorted to do themselves once they were learned. Many illiterate or unlearned believers today find themselves in the same situation as the early Church.
The early Church was illiterate. They had no access to the sacred texts.
Believers were wholly reliant upon the Holy Spirit and the preaching and hearing of the Word by His Apostles.
Still today many believers face the same illiteracy and subsequent reliance upon God.
Latin and English were the first languages used in Bible translation following the inception of the original texts. Not all translations are the same. In an attempt to bridge the gap between such ancient languages with modern English, multiple translations have been authored collaboratively, each with their own unique objective and style. Scribes, biblical scholars, and theologians have spent thousands of hours in painstaking and God-fearing effort toward making the Bible fit for the masses. Sadly, some have altered those texts for their own deceitful purpose, while others have kept the biblical mandate in the strictest measure, deliberating over every jot and tittle of every letter originally penned. Case and point: not every bible translation is biblical. Therefore, when choosing a bible translation, one must understand the translator’s goal and the manner in which the undertaking was performed.
The tedious labor of translation was necessitated by virtue of the vast difference between modern English and the original tongues. These languages, both written and oral, are so incredibly distinct it becomes difficult to articulate their differences and the natural disparity between them. In short, their alphabet, grammar, style, vernacular, and vocabulary have absolutely nothing in common — written or oral. Hebrew is written back to front, right to left. English is written front to back, left to right. The alphabets are entirely unrelated. Words can have multiple meanings, in which context becomes absolutely critical, and furthermore the cultural nuances in which the writings were breathed, are often missed. The ways in which these languages differ are multiple. Hebrew is one of the oldest and most archaic languages in the world. English is relatively new and is ever-evolving since the the Jacobean translation of the Geneva and King James versions of the 14th and 15th centuries. The breadth and depth of diversity between the original tongues of the Bible and modern English is very difficult to bridge. Therefore, some translations, although accurate and noble, being word for word, become quite difficult to read once they are accurately translated, hence the difficulty most have with the King James Version. The most modern translations are easier to read because they are often a mere paraphrase. However, in their attempt to afford readability, they compromise accuracy. Some modern versions are so loosely translated they malign the integrity of the original texts and tongues completely. Such translations have been considered blasphemous as a condemned defamation of scripture — an anathema within the Judeo-Christian orthodoxy. Such loose versions have no scriptural credibility or validity and should rightly be avoided. They cannot be credited as the inspired Word of God and should not be relied upon, especially for serious study.
[A comprehensive list of English bible versions are listed below in the appendix of this post.]
The Bible is full of prose and poetry, history and prophecy, and various chronological accounts upon which Jews rely for their ancestral lineage, historical timelines, and practical faith. Many of its books are written in Hebrew. Because the bible is exclusively Jewish, it becomes expedient for any believer to understand the method and style of historical Jewish culture and Hebraic writing, regardless of the language found in the particular book. The same is equally true for the New Testament despite the fact that it was written in Greek. Although the New Covenant (testament) was written in Greek, which was necessary for the Gentile churches, it still holds true to the Hebraic writing style, being penned by the Apostles who were Jewish men.
The books of the Bible are categorized, not always chronologically, but by author and genre. History, poetry, and prophecy accounts for the Old Testament. The New Testament is much the same: the history of the Gospels and Acts followed by the Epistles which are further categorized by author, and then the prophetic book of Revelation. As for chronology, the Bible rightly opens with Genesis and closes with Revelation. We clearly see the beginning and the end established. But what is in-between can be a little messy to sort out if you’re unlearned. Developing a Bible reading plan that accounts for a chronological timeline can be very worthwhile. This is where a prescribed reading plan is helpful. But it may require skipping books.
Context: Understanding Jewish Culture and Hebraic Style
It’s important to understand that Hebraic writing has a different style to its prose than western literature, which can lead to naive misinterpretation and unnecessary confusion among well-meaning believers. For example, the creation account in Genesis is divided into two parts, in which the initial telling involves the seven specific days. It then recounts specific events within those days that deserve very special attention — the most notable being the creation of man. Genesis retells the story all over again, yet with greater detail. But why? Clearly, the creation of man is God’s focus. For someone who does not understand its purpose, this classic Hebraic style of writing can lead to unnecessary confusion. There are not two creation accounts. There is only one. It is customary for the beginning of a text to begin with an outline or overview, after which specific details are delineated more clearly and broken down. Hebraic writings can overlap or even appear cyclical. Events are told and retold, as many as three times, with each retelling becoming richer, giving finer details that eventually lead to climax. This process can enfold within itself, and if one is not accustomed to reading this style, it can become difficult to follow, or even appear redundant. However the purpose is noble.
The Hebraic style of writing is cyclical, enfolding or expanding in two’s and three’s.
The purpose of this writing becomes evident when we understand Jewish oral history. On a very practical level, it satisfies the need for oral storytelling which recounts details multiple times, so as to engage the hearer, reminding them of key points they ought not forget. For the illiterate laity, this method became necessary. For this reason alone, this style of writing was critical to continue Jewish teachings and oral traditions. Only the scribes and priests had access to the holy texts and were permitted to study the scriptures. They were the only literate individuals. The masses relied upon the hearing of the texts to understand, remember, and further recount the events to their children, which is why our Messiah, Jesus Christ vehemently berated and condemned the Pharisees and teachers of the Law who leveraged the scriptures to their advantage only to lure and deceive His people for their own purposes, who were so vulnerable. For this reason He often referenced His sheep as those who had no shepherd, and in time wept over Jerusalem after many failed attempts to effectively reach them. Despite that outcome, Christ upended that corrupt system irrevocably, claiming Himself to be their only one true Teacher. He traversed Israel, teaching in many public orations both within and without the synagogues, giving His disciples the same commission. We are told the people were in awe of Him because He taught as one who had authority and not as the Pharisees (see Matthew 7:28-29). His teachings courted the masses by the thousands. This infuriated the Pharisees to the degree they tried to many times trap Him in matters of the Law only to condemn Him, which to their chagrin were never successful. Jesus Christ was perfect on all accounts, fulfilling the Law. When all else failed they eventually accused Him of blasphemy with a plot to kill Him, aided and abetted by one of His own followers whom they seduced to betray Him — Judas Iscariot, who was the prophesied son of perdition (see Psalm 109:7-8). We can surmise therefore that our Messiah chose him as a follower expressly for this purpose, which God intended to fulfill at His appointed time (see John 17:12).
All of this being said, the people of God have been wholly reliant upon oral tradition for centuries — to the degree that they were vulnerable and disadvantaged. Common people (laity) were never privy to possessing the sacred holy texts, much less were they able to read them. Even as the New Testament was being penned, we many times see the apostles referencing their scribe within their own epistles, and also making careful note to the reader when they had indeed penned it by their own hand. Paul was one of the few who possessed this ability, being one of the most feared and learned Pharisees in Christendom. However, with regard to Jewish oral tradition, the following passage in Psalm 78 illustrates this succinctly:
Again, we see oration and recitation. If you were Jewish, the values of lineage and heritage were diligently protected and preserved, hence the long narratives on the begat’s and begotten’s within the Torah, and the qualifying accounts of our Messiah’s lineage in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. When we see repetition in the scriptures which gradually broaden in detail, let us understand these events are not happening more than once. Rather, this is an unfolding which builds and eventually climaxes. Accounts that are especially noteworthy, which are of fundamental importance, are commonly recounted in this style. The Genesis creation account being one of the most notorious. The book of Revelation and Christ’s second coming is another. How appropriate that the beginning and end of time unfolds in this manner. For those reading who understand the Hebraic style, this makes sense and the purpose is evident. Yet for western minds who are naive or ignorant of this Hebraic style, it sadly lends to confusion and dangerous misinterpretations. God-breathed scripture that would otherwise endeavor to be precise and clear becomes misconstrued quite easily for the unlearned.
Just as words have meaning with God, so do numbers. His creation is mathematically precise. When we carefully consider them, numbers are extraordinary. They are powerful mathematically, but they also carry inherent logistical and prophetic meaning. God uses them in a language all His own throughout His Word. Biblical numerology, therefore, is quite worthy of study, and deserves mentioning here.
The number three is perhaps the most prominent example of biblical numerology. Obviously the number three is significant with God. We see it in the Trinity, Christ’s death and resurrection, the number of years He was active in ministry, the age at which He died, and even the hour of His last breath. Three is God’s signature number. In Jewish numerology the number three bears significant weight with God. Things bearing importance were often repeated in twos or threes, bringing assurance and reassurance. This provided an established answer. The Apostle Paul, who was a highly esteemed and learned Pharisee, told us in 2 Corinthians 13:1: “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” This was not something new in Jewish custom. But for the Greek Gentiles whom He was discipling, it required learning if they were going to walk with God. He had to teach them. Therefore, when a story unfolds in a cyclical manner as many as two or three times, let us understand that God, being a sole witness, has sworn by Himself. We are called to understand, remember, and take into account His renderings within those scriptures. When Jesus said, “Verily, verily…” He was essentially accomplishing the same principle. It was no longer in question. It was established and irrefutable. When someone gave their word, repeating a matter was in order and witnesses were called into account. Two was sufficient. But three? That was especially notable. It bore God’s signature. We see God do this in scripture many times over with Israel; and Jesus also did the same in His teachings and parables, repeating Himself in various circumstances. Instead of giving one example, He would give two, perhaps even three. A good example was the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price; both being told in tandem (see Matthew 13:44-52). Both parables are one and the same. They spoke to the same truths in differing contexts: the buried treasure referenced Israel; the pearl referenced the Gentiles. Jesus came for the redemption of both. Hence, these are fully established truths. Another example can be found in Joseph’s dreams (see Genesis 37:5-11). He received two, each being very different, yet speaking to the same truth. One was of grain; the second was of the firmament. Pharaoh’s dreams were of like kind in that God gave him two — the first was of beasts; the second of grain (see Genesis 41:17-24). Again, they spoke to one and the same. In all these God was Joseph’s only witness and the dreams came to pass precisely as God promised, all which miraculously accomplished the salvation of Israel and many other nations in the surrounding region. Let it be understood: God’s manner of speaking was consistent between Joseph who served Him wholeheartedly, and Pharaoh who was a pagan leader without any such regard. The dreams of Joseph and Pharaoh were of dire circumstance, requiring His word to be established. The sufficiency in that was proven. The dreams came to pass — despite the cruelest of circumstances.
Practicums: How to Read the Word
If you’re a believer who has access to a Bible or the means to obtain one for yourself, reading the Word of God is necessary and without question. God’s gift to us in the scriptures is so luxurious and gracious we would be foolish to neglect His words. All of them are important, deserving our attention. The One who does not allow one jot or tittle to pass away until all is fulfilled is also the One who invites us into an intimate relationship with Him. That relationship begins with His Word. To neglect the Word of God and yet expect a depth of relationship with the One who authored it, is to be short-sighted and shallow. Yet sadly, this is quite common. That mistake can be aptly corrected and easily remedied today if one is willing. We will endeavor to enable that here.
Jews traditionally read through the Torah annually, in which there are consistent, perpetual, and prescribed readings. This is a cyclical practice. The Torah consists of the first five books of the Bible: Genesis through Deuteronomy. It lays the foundation of the Jewish faith. In contrast, a common Christian endeavor is to read the whole Bible cover to cover within a prescribed amount of time ranging from six months to two years. This timeline is commonly repeated throughout life, although the reading patterns may change. This can be a noble idea and a worthy achievement. However, it doesn’t necessarily equate with understanding the texts or comprehending their inherent meaning — hence the frustration of many believers and opposing views within the Church. When wondering if all the books are necessary, I give a resounding “yes”. God does not always call us to understanding, but to faith. Faith comes with knowledge. God calls us to know Him. Knowledge is sufficient in this context. The goal of reading is being able to say, “I know God said this.” The next level, being understanding, only comes by the Holy Spirit and He is the One who opens the scriptures to us. He should also be the One who leads us in our reading.
There are three types of reading I believe any Christian should practice: (1) disciplined reading, (2) leisure reading, and (3) intentional study. We will discuss each one, their purpose, and how to practice them in a manner that is realistic and spiritually satisfying.
[We have linked reading plans at the end of this post.]
Disciplined Reading: Your Milk
THE GOAL: Growth — The Foundation of Your Faith and a Fundamental Knowledge of God
Disciplined reading should be consistent and congruent. Ideally, it should be daily, yet this is not always realistic. Nevertheless, disciplined reading should be congruent, meaning the reading follows a pattern that allows you to pick up where you left off — even if you missed a few days between. No jumping around. No skipping verses. You keep going until you finish the apportioned text, regardless of the time frame.
The goal of disciplined reading is the renewal of your mind, the surrendering of your mind and heart to the words of God, allowing the Holy Spirit to speak or highlight areas to which He would have you make special note. We may want to follow up with Him in such areas with Him in prayer, further study, or leisure time with the Lord. Another goal of disciplined reading simply to become familiar and comfortable with the Word of God. This is one of the most childlike aspects in practicing this discipline. The Word of God is no longer a stranger to you, and you’re no longer estranged from it. Understanding is not the immediate goal, although that may happen. The goal is to become familiar — to know what God said. You’ll become sharper in life when areas of deception occur and you’ll find the Holy Spirit being able to bring specific passages to your remembrance, teaching you areas of truth that would otherwise be difficult to reference.
A steady diet of disciplined scripture reading can be likened to eating healthy meals throughout the day. It could be equated with spiritual meal-planning. It’s to be well-balanced and satisfying. And it is indeed a discipline. If we don’t make time for it, we can spiritually wither and starve. Disciplined reading is what keeps our spirits strong and opens the door of opportunity for the Lord to approach areas of our lives that may otherwise be neglected. Reading each day from different books is an excellent way to begin and stay on track. I humbly suggest starting with the historical books of Genesis coupled with a Gospel, also being accompanied by a Proverb or Psalm, and then a prophetic book or epistle of choice. Thirty minutes of disciplined reading is a very reasonable place to start and can be accomplished by most any literate believer.
Leisure Reading: Your Daily Bread
THE GOAL: Sanctification and Growth
Leisure reading is where sanctification and intimacy with Christ unfold on a deeper level. This is where our souls become vulnerable to Him. We are cleansed. We are softened. We become delighted and satisfied. Leisure reading has an entirely different purpose: we come with the intent of being changed into His likeness. We drink and eat of Him in a way that satisfies our souls and our deepest longings. Those areas in life that are hurting or neglected can be readily addressed. We receive His comfort, guidance, assurance, and forgiveness. Leisure reading targets areas head on as we surrender ourselves to Him through His Word.
With these goals in mind, leisure reading may not follow any pattern, prescribed text, or planned timeline. It’s spontaneous in nature and should be initiated by His leading which addresses our immediate needs in life. It’s our daily bread. It meets the immediate need. Such things include our pain and brokenness, our sinful habits, our need or desire for deeper comprehension on a topic, our childlike curiosities, our deeper spiritual appetites for the Lord; and our struggles with sin and repentance. Leisure reading should be thoroughly enjoyable, bringing us into His presence intimately. There may be a particular book, passage, or specific verse that begs to be pondered upon or prayed about. Regardless of what it may be, it should satisfy the soul and bring cleansing and intimacy with God. Leisure reading is where we become more like Him. The work of sanctification is realized within us as we are changed into His image from glory to glory as He leads us intimately through His Word.
Intentional Study: Your Meat
THE GOAL: Spiritual Maturity, Life Application, and Teaching
Jesus Christ said:
12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
God wants us to advance to a place of maturity, skill, understanding, discernment, and fruitfulness for His kingdom. The meat of God’s Word is truly realized when we can live it out accordingly, applying it to our daily lives.
Reading with the intent to study is a much different venture, requiring a commitment of precious time, trustworthy tools, and an established process. Types of study can vary widely. They can be guided by a particular book, topic, person, or era of time. Studying the Word of God is truly adventurous. This is where depth and the meat of the word is processed carefully. We learn of the Lord under His wing. He becomes our Teacher. He is the One who leads us, tying the scriptures together for us in a way He knows we will understand.
There is no right or wrong way to study. People learn very differently, and therefore study time and the process by which we engage with the Word needs to fit our own unique learning style. This is what makes Jesus Christ is the perfect Teacher. He is able to tailor your study time, and the events of your life, allowing you to glean a true and accurate understanding, so you can apply it daily.
The goal of reading with the intent to study is like mining for gold. It is to extract or extrapolate those hidden gems so we can grow in our walk with Him and apply those principles to our own lives. The goal of study is not only personal change and godliness, but wholistic understanding and comprehension of the Word of God on any given topic.
Study is very rich and deep. More than any other type of reading, studying the Word is the most wondrous and spiritually adventurous, and by far the most difficult. It can be equally spiritually treacherous as it is thrilling and exciting. If we’re not ready, we can venture into areas spiritually through study which we are not ready to handle or encounter. It can be thrilling indeed. But it can also be frightening. So be warned.
With that being said, study should be accompanied by a heart who longs to know Jesus Christ in a greater measure and depth. It should serve the relationship. Those who endeavor to study toward this purpose will find themselves rewarded with the depths of Jesus Christ and the joy we find in knowing Him and understanding His ways. In this, our intimacy with the Lord becomes richer and our relationship with Him is fortified.
Study allows us to build to greater heights and depths in Him as we graduate to maturity. Study affords us treasures belonging only to those willing to invest the necessary time to excavate them. Ultimately, this is where the Lord’s beauty and glory are encountered more fully. Those who embark upon study many times find themselves so engrossed it becomes difficult to depart. For this reason, I believe study time deserves to be measured. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead. There is a time when He begins to lift His presence, and a study session rightfully ends. Be careful. If we press beyond those boundaries willfully without His leadership or permission, we can transgress the scriptures in ways that lead to error. It is worthy of being stated: regardless of one’s adventure with the Lord in study time, the treasures of disciplined and leisure reading should never be neglected in a believer’s life. These are very necessary foundations affording us the ability to build strong lives in Christ. Without them, diligent study can be misplaced leading to imbalance, and prove to produce fault lines in an otherwise strong faith.
Study can also afford the ability to teach on topics or areas of the faith when others who are accountable to us rely upon us for understanding. This is especially true for parents with children, leadership in the church, those who manage or own a business, and those who govern in any given capacity. When we have been given positions in life in which others are subject to our authority, it becomes expedient that we study God’s Word for their sake as well as our own. That level of stewardship requires maturity, knowledge, wisdom, and the ability to lead in biblical principle.
I hope you have enjoyed this post on how to read the Bible. Whether you are a believer, or someone who is seeking God and a greater understanding of Him, this should provide you a worthy place to start on both a realistic and practical level.
For a Torah reading schedule please visit Torah Resource, a Messianic website that honors Yeshua (Jesus Christ). This reading plan is provided in a user-friendly downloadable pdf document.
For annual reading schedules including all 66 books of the Bible please visit One Year Bible Reading Plan for downloadable pdf documents specific to your schedule.
[Please note the above websites may require your personal information to sign up. Although we endorse these websites, we do not hold any affiliation with their companies or organizations, nor do we receive profit for their endorsement or use.]
I pray this post has been helpful to you in your endeavor to read, understand, and study the Bible. For more information please visit our many free resources under the LEARN tab. For a list of Bible translations and their comparisons, please see the appendix directly below.
Cheers & Shalom,
Image Credit: Free-Photos | Pixabay
Post Updated: June 7, 2020
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We have compiled a list of the most common or popular bible versions, categorizing them according to seven standard qualifying criteria in bible translation, which we consider ideal. We hope this list is useful and helpful to you in your search. The seven qualifying criteria are as follows:
1. Translation: The translation is literal, being word-for-word. Words, phrases, meanings, syntax, structure, and the like are diligently compared to the original texts.
2. Accuracy: Accuracy is consistently prioritized above readability.
3. Texts: Original texts and tongues are both sought and used as the primary resource.
4. Objective: Translation is performed with a holy and reverent fear of God, who is the Word made flesh, with the understanding that His Word is inalterable, eternal, and is to be justly handled with the objective of making it known to the masses as He intended, in its purest form, wholly unadulterated.
5. Translators: Various scholars and theologians unite for one common purpose in an attempt to translate the texts in a credible manner. These should be God-fearing and learned individuals who are beholden to God first, and accountable to each other, with no pretense for gain or profit.
6. Context and Culture: Translation is completed with respect to the biblical context and culture.
7. Transliteration & Transcription: Both are used appropriately and diligently compared, offering phonetic spellings of original words when necessary, especially proper nouns (e.g. names of people and places).
Accurate Bible Translations
These are trustworthy translations for both reading and study, listed in order of preference. For reference information on translations we endorse and how to obtain them please visit our Toolbox. The following versions rank the highest of any with respect to the seven qualifying criteria:
1. Translation: Word-for-word literal translations.
2. Accuracy: Prioritization of accuracy over readability.
3. Texts: Translation is from the original texts (biblical manuscripts) and tongues.
4. Objective: Rendering is performed with exceptional reverence in the fear of God rather than the satisfaction of man with the objective of producing a replica of the original texts for the masses in their native tongue.
5. Translators: Accomplished in agreement between numerous scholars and theologians who are expertly literate in both modern and biblical texts and tongues who are beholden to God and accountable to one another.
6. Context and Culture: Translated with respect to biblical context and culture.
7. Transliteration & Transcription: Transcription is diligently compared, and transliteration is often present as phonetic spellings are commonly found.
• Authorized King James Version (AKJV or AV)
• King James Version (KJV)
• Geneva Bible (GNV)
• New King James Version (NKJV)
• American Standard Version (ASV)
• New American Standard Bible (NASB)
• Lexham English Bible (LEB)
• The Amplified Bible Classic Edition (AMPC)
• Contemporary English Version (CEV) — A credible exception [The CEV was a massive and lengthy project of noble cause, being borne of more than 100 people worldwide from divergent backgrounds with a singular goal: making the Word of God understandable to all who read it, including grade school children. It took more than 10 years to complete. Despite it’s word-for-word translation, it’s objective was readability instead of accuracy. Because it meets all other criteria, we’ve chosen to list it here, although it’s use would be limited. We believe the CEV is an accurate version that could potentially serve children, beginners in the faith, non-native English speakers, simple readers who require basic English, the underprivileged, and the otherwise illiterate in their endeavor to read God’s Word without compromising the integrity of the scriptures (source). However, we do not recommend it for study.]
Compromised Bible Translations
The following versions are compromised to varying degrees and for different reasons. In the very least they are considered “questionable”. We do not endorse the versions listed here. While most have referenced the original texts and tongues, risks and liberties were taken with either of the following (1) the interpretation, (2) translation, and/or (3) the transliteration. Some have even omitted certain scriptures altogether. While many individuals adhere to these for their readability, they should not be used for study. These translations are compromised in the following ways:
1. Translation: Not word-for-word, but a paraphrase.
2. Accuracy: Prioritization of readability above accuracy.
3. Texts: Original texts and tongues may be referenced, but not strictly adhered to, or the translations are simply made from other translations.
4. Objective: The ultimate objective is making the Word of God conform to modern mankind and the era of time, which casts away due reverence.
5. Translators: Translation was performed by one person, a select few, or a panel of individuals who may or may not be learned in the original texts and tongues. These can be, and commonly are, a biased body comprised of those beholden to a company, denomination, or organization (a bureaucracy), namely the publisher.
6. Context and Culture: Context and culture may or may not be regarded, to the extent that it either supports or fulfills the objective.
7. Transliteration & Transcription: Transcription may be performed. Transliteration is limited or entirely absent.
• New International Version (NIV)
• The Tree of Life Bible (TLV)
• The Living Bible (TLB)
• Good News Translation (GNT)
• English Standard Version (ESV)*
• Amplified Bible (AMP)
• BRG Bible (BRG)
• New Living Translation (NLT)
• Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
• The Passion Translation (TPT)
*Any version that is not a word-for-word translation is at best a paraphrase. The ESV claims itself to be an “essentially literal” translation (source) being vague in its explanation, and having taken obvious liberties toward translation for readability that ultimately compromises its accuracy, we’ve chosen to list it here. Were it not for these vague exceptions, it might have been considered an accurate version.
Forged Bible Translations
The forgery of God’s Word is more common than most realize; the ultimate objective being to procure a lucrative profit. Forged bible translations are rogue translations that transgress the scriptures in multiple ways. They are perversions of God’s Word, foregoing the standards adhered to for reliable Bible translation, which are established by orthodoxy, publishers, denominations, and bible organizations worldwide who hold joint accountability. These translations are not trustworthy and should be strictly abstained. They are considered blasphemous, and have been condemned for the following reasons:
1. Translation: The translation uses expressions (e.g. idioms), is a loose paraphrase, or uses generic, modern, or urban language. The author uses free-form and independent thought or belief on what the text should mean. Laissez-faire. Not diligently compared.
2. Accuracy: Accuracy is not considered a priority with respect to the objective.
3. Texts: Translation does not reference or consult the original texts or tongues, and may omit specific scriptures or entire passages.
4. Objective: The objective is cultural conformity, enjoyment, and/or readability, often with a lust for profit.
5. Translators: It is written by one man or a few men who hold no accountability for their authorship. Reverence toward God and His Word are missing with respect to the purpose of the project or the means by which it was accomplished.
6. Context and Culture: Little or no regard for biblical context or culture.
7. Transliteration and Transcription: Neither are performed.
• The Message
• The Voice
• New Testament for Everyone