Good question! The short answer is that it depends on what your needs are, why you want a Bible and what you plan on doing with it.
Please note, I am not an expert on Bible translations. I do have some knowledge, and I did some research as I worked on this post, but there are things I don’t know, and things I left out for the sake of length and clarity. At the end of this post are the websites I used in my research, as well as some additional resources.
Also, if you are wondering what happened to the Daily Bible Verse post for Friday, January 13…while I was writing about that verse, I started looking into the differences in how it was translated in different versions…five hours later, I realized that it was now January 14 and that I had written about Bible translations instead. So, on Sunday, I will post two Daily Bible Verse posts.
I use the New King James Version (NKJV) for this blog; the calendar that I’m using to select the daily verses uses the New International Version (NIV). The NKJV falls under the “word-for-word” category of Biblical translation; it’s not a perfect word-for-word translation-it doesn’t always translate the precise meaning of the original language word- but it does provide an English word for each Hebrew/Greek word, at least as far as I can tell. The NIV is a “dynamic equivalent” translation: it may not provide an English word for each word in the original text, but it will give you a sense of the meaning of the text. Verses may be summarized, or combined, or even left out if they’re considered redundant.
Why is this relevant? Because how you translate the Bible can alter the text, sometimes quite dramatically.
Let me show you what I mean. Here are three different versions of 2 Corinthians 8:13, the Bible text of the day:
NKJV: For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened;
KJ21 (21st Century King James Version; a word-for-word translation, like the NKJV, but I find it to be closer to the original language text than the NKJV): For I do not mean that other men should be eased and ye burdened,
NIV: Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.
See the differences? The NKJV and KJ21 are almost identical (and closer to the Greek text); the NIV adds a whole new clause. However, it’s not a random clause added by the translators; verse 14 in the NKJV reads: “but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality.” The translators of the NIV took part of verse 14 and put it with verse 13, possibly so that verse 13 would contain a complete sentence instead of a fragment.
However, despite the differences in the three texts, the meaning of the text remains unchanged. That’s not always the case, as the following example shows.
One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 31; I first read it in the NKJV, and was a bit confused when I got to verse 21:
“Blessed be the Lord,
For He has shown me His marvelous kindness in a strong city!”
In this Psalm, David is talking about his troubles, how his enemies are causing him grief; he is asking the Lord for help, and praising Him for coming to his rescue. As I first read this text, I wondered to myself why David would have felt the need for the Lord’s kindness-we always need the Lord’s kindness, we depend upon His love and mercy for literally everything, but in this particular instance? If David’s in a “strong city”, then isn’t he safe? Why is he calling on the Lord for help?
So I decided to look at the original text, as presented by the MySword Bible app (which is awesome and definitely worth downloading, it’s got a lot of good resources). On this app, the KJV version includes links to the words in the text’s original language. My understanding of Hebrew is not very strong, and was even weaker when I first read this Psalm, but with MySword you don’t have to know Hebrew or Greek. It’s helpful if you do, but it’s not necessary.
The Hebrew word that the NKJV translates as “strong” is מָצוֹר (pronounced “maw-tsore”), which is a noun, though in this verse it seems like it’s being used as an adjective. One of its meanings is “stronghold”, which would seem to support the NKJV’s translation of it as the adjective “strong.” However, its primary meaning seems to be “siege” (based on the Hebrew text references in my Accordance Bible software, which is phenomenal but expensive; MySword also includes words/phrases like “siege-enclosure” and “rampart”), which would mean that the most accurately corresponding adjective is “besieged”, and not “strong”. I’m sure an argument can be made for translating the word as “strong”, but to me, given the context, “besieged” makes a lot more sense.
Interestingly, the NIV provides a more accurate translation of the meaning of this particular word:
Praise be to the Lord,
for he showed me the wonders of his love
when I was in a city under siege.
Translating the Bible is not an easy task, and requires a very knowledgeable and dedicated scholar in order to do a proper job of it. Each translator will bring their own insights, their own knowledge and understanding, into their work; just as no two translators will be exactly alike, with exactly the same knowledge and understanding of the text, no two translations will be exactly the same either.
Back to my original question: does it matter which version of the Bible you use?
If all you want is to read the Bible in English and understand the meaning of the text, the answer is probably no. Any English translation can do that, though as we’ve seen, there is variation in how accurately each translation conveys that meaning. Dynamic equivalent translations can be easier to understand, as the language and writing style are more modern. For daily devotions, or casual study, dynamic equivalent translations are just fine.
However, word-for-word translations are the closest to the original text, and will more accurately convey its meaning. They’re also best for scholarly pursuits; some of my professors require us to use word-for-word translations for assignments. If accuracy is important, or you’re interested in studying the text in-depth, I would recommend a word-for-word translation.
This page also includes information on different types of Bibles, such as Study Bibles (which include extra resources, like maps and commentary) and Chronological Bibles (the material is organized more like a story, with texts arranged in the order their events took place).
The United Church of God (which I am not affiliated with in any way, shape, or form) has their own take on the matter, which was interesting as well as a quick read, and includes this helpful chart for a more visual explanation.
Accordance Bible Software: https://www.accordancebible.com/
It’s got a lot of different resources. A lot. I particularly enjoy going through the Greek and Hebrew texts; if you hover the cursor over a word, it provides an English translation, and if you’re reading an English version, it’ll provide the word in the original language. It also has the Bible in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, German, and Romanian, as well as dictionaries, commentaries, devotionals, lexicons…there are other Bible software programs out there, though I don’t have enough experience with any of them to be able to provide you with any commentary about them. Accordance meets my spiritual as well as academic needs, and though it’s expensive, I think it’s well worth the money I paid for it.
Logos Bible Software: https://www.logos.com/
I have never personally used Logos; it has a lot of excellent resources, including some that Accordance doesn’t have and that would be really useful for my studies, but at the Bible software info session, I was told that Logos works best when you keep your technology up-to-date, which I tend not to do. Like I said, I’ve never used it, so I can’t comment on it from personal experience.
I also recommend BibleGateway; I have their app on my phone as well as the MySword one. The website has some good resources; it’s easily searchable, whether you’re looking for a word or phrase or specific text, and I like being able to pull up multiple translations and view them side-by-side. The app is more limited, but still useful; I tend to use it for my morning devotionals as well as for reading the Bible on the go.