A few years ago, I was introduced to several Bible versions that were new to me. At first, I loved how easy they were to read; but then I began to wonder which translation was the best. I had always thought that the King James version was the only trustworthy version of the Bible, and all other versions were less accurate and therefore not worth using. I began to do some research and was surprised with what I found. It is a tedious process to find “the best” version of the Bible. I am not even sure that there is a “best” version, but here is a compilation of what I have found.

TL;DR – skip to the last paragraph.

The need for a Bible translation that is accurate

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  These words were written by the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. The Bible is God’s message to us. It is how we, today, learn more about Him and His love for us. Without the Bible, it would be very hard to find answers to life’s many questions. Paul defined it as the ultimate guide for teaching, training, correction, and reproof (calling out sin). So if we base our entire lives on the words in the Bible, why would we even consider using a Bible that is not accurate?

Some argue that it does not matter what translation you use because they all have the same basic message and people will still come to Christ regardless of the exact wording. While this may be true, there are some translations and paraphrases of the Bible have been intentionally modified to “gloss over” certain teachings. When we take a part of God’s word and play it down or minimize it, we are pushing God into a box of our own making. The god that fits inside a box that man has created is not the true God, but rather an idol that has been created by man. The Bible that has been watered down is no longer profitable for teaching, correction, or reproof because it does not truly convey God’s full message to us. God cannot lie, and the man who intentionally changes His Word is trying to make God to be a liar by implying that He changed His mind. People can and do come to Christ through the message of watered down Bible translations. However, people may miss out on some of the deep riches of God’s word if they do not have an accurate translation of it.

The need for a Bible translation that is easy to read

Many people argue that the King James version is the best and most accurate English translation of the Bible. While the King James version is one of the best translations available, it is not 100% accurate. This is quite an exhaustive point to prove but it has been done well by the The Interactive Bible in their article “Were KJV Translators Inspired?”.[1] It is important to note, however, that inaccuracies in the King James translation do not affect any doctrinal teachings of the Bible.

The King James version is very accurate and has been proven to be fairly easy to read (about a 8th to 10th grade reading level).[2] However, words like “artificer”, “bewrayeth”, “chide”, “mammon”, “purloining”, “emulation”, etc. can be either difficult to understand or may have changed in meaning from when the King James Version was written. This can make the KJV very challenging to understand for to those who are not familiar with its terms.

The Bible is not meant to be something that is hard to read or understand. Did Jesus speak in some archaic version of Aramaic or Greek when He addressed the masses during the Sermon on the Mount? No – He spoke to them in simple, everyday language. I believe that the Bible should be the same way – easy for anyone to read and understand. I have become especially mindful of this while working with inner city children. There are people that have difficulty reading, let alone understanding the word “bewrayeth”.

Translation or paraphrase?

There are two main types of Bibles available – translations and paraphrases. Translations are by far the better option for Bible study and teaching. They are versions that have been directly translated from the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic languages that the Bible was originally written in. These have a significantly higher level of accuracy than paraphrases. Translations include versions like the King James Version (KJV), English Standard Version (ESV), New Living Translation (NLT), New American Standard Bible (NASB), New International Version (NIV), etc.

Paraphrases are versions that have usually been created by taking an existing English translation and re-wording it to make it easier to read or to enhance a certain idea. These are much less accurate than translations because the compilers begin with an already imperfect translation and modify it. While some paraphrases of the Bible were checked against texts of the original language at the time of writing, they are still less accurate. Paraphrases are especially inaccurate because often the people that compiled them have modified some parts to reflect their worldview. The differences may be subtle, but sometimes affect important doctrinal teachings. However, paraphrases are sometimes useful to bring out a certain point or mood of a passage of scripture. They are also usually easier to read than translations. Paraphrases include versions like the Easy to Read Version (ERV), the Message (MSG), Good News Bible (GNB), Tree of Life Version (TLV), The Living Bible (TLB), etc.

The difficulty of translation

Translation can be a very difficult process; especially if you are trying to convey the exact meaning of the original language. Greek is a very specific language with a much larger vocabulary than English – there are five different Greek words that are translated to “love”, each one having a slightly different connotation or use. Those of you that understand Spanish know that the words por and para both mean “for” but with different connotations. You can say “lo compré para Rosa”, meaning “I bought it for Rosa [as a gift]”; or you could say “lo compré por Rosa”, meaning “I bought it for Rosa [because she could not afford it]”.

There are also words that cannot be properly translated into other languages. There is a very interesting article called “30 Untranslatable Words From Other Languages” [3] that demonstrates this very well. Those of you that understand Pennsylvania Dutch (a dialect of German spoken by the Amish and Mennonites) know that there are no real English words for gluscht or eeckliich.

Cultural idioms are also challenging for translators. Explaining what a “cow pie” is to a Spanish-speaking person is really amusing to them (I speak from experience). How about trying to tell someone of another language what “having a cow” means. You cannot just translate phrases like these directly word-for-word into another language without losing their metaphorical meaning (and humor).

Translation: dynamic equivalence (thought-for-thought) or essentially literal (word-for-word)?

When it comes to translation of the Bible, there are two main schools of thought. The first one is called “dynamic equivalence”. Translators using dynamic equivalence take complete thoughts from Greek and Hebrew manuscripts one at a time and translate them into English. Leland Ryken explains it well in his book The Word of God in English – “Briefly stated, the theory of dynamic equivalence in Bible translation emphasizes the reaction of the reader to the translated text, rather than the translation of the words and phrases themselves.”[4]

The second method is called “essentially literal”. Translators who use this method translate the manuscripts directly word for word, then reorganize the words to reflect proper English sentence structure. Words are added only if they are essential to maintain the flow of a sentence, and those words are sometimes italicized to indicate that they are not included in the original manuscript.

Thought-for-thought translation is not a Biblically supported method. If someone thinks that thought-for-thought is the best method of translation, then to be consistent they must also assume that the Bible was written thought for thought. This is not what the apostle Paul believed when he wrote Galatians 3:16, where he makes an argument based on the plurality of a word in Genesis 12:7. This implies that Paul believed that the scriptures were inspired word-for-word. Keith Sharp has an excellent article called “Translations: Dynamic Equivalence or Essentially Literal” [5] that gives more Bible verses that prove word-for-word inspiration of the Bible.

Why is it bad for the Bible to be translated thought-for-thought? If you believe that the Bible is “the thoughts of God written in the words of men”, every Bible verse becomes subject to its writer’s worldview. Thought-for-thought inspiration implies that the original writer could have put the emphasis of a thought on a different point than what God originally had in mind. If this is true, the verses we all take at face value might not actually be God’s true message to us, but rather what the writer felt was the best way to say it within the bounds of his personal worldview. Thought-for-thought translation takes this a step further, allowing the translator to use the “difficulty of translation” to his advantage, adding and removing words from the Bible as he sees fit. If you believe that these translations are the inspired word of God, you are believing in a God that supports ideas that man has created; even if they contradict the nature of God. The god that supports these ideas is not the true God, but a god that man has created.

Comparison of popular Bible versions

Here is a list of a few of the more popular versions of the Bible with their pros and cons. The picture below gives a visual representation of how different versions compare to each other, with the word-for-word translations on the left, thought-for-thought versions in the center, and paraphrases on the right.

Image used by permission from notjustanotherbook.com.[6]

AMP – Amplified Bible
type: essentially literal translation based on the ASV
pros: defines words by explaining them in more modern English terms
cons: the explanation of words allows for the translator’s worldview to filter through – for example, in Mark 1:4 and 1:15 the amplification of the word “repentance” indicates only turning away from sin and does not include turning to God

ASV – American Standard Version
type: essentially literal translation
pros: very accurate to the manuscripts used
cons: based on manuscripts that are considered inferior, with parts of passages missing

ESV – English Standard Version
type: essentially literal translation
pros: accurate translation of the Bible; easier to read than KJV and NASB because the language is more contemporary
cons: several passages in New Testament are contained in the footnotes because of their absence in the majorly accepted source manuscripts (see “On Those Missing Verses In Your ESV and NIV Bible” [7])

KJV/NKJV – King James Version/New King James Version
type: essentially literal (word-for-word) translation
pros: accurate word-for-word translation; poetic feel to the word structure; doctrinally sound
cons: somewhat difficult to read for people that are not accustomed to it; some of the words have changed meaning significantly and could be taken the wrong way (NKJV replaces many of these words with their more modern counterparts)

HCSB – Holman Christian Standard Bible
type: balance between essentially literal and dynamic equivalency translation
pros: easier to read than most essentially literal translations; more accurate than dynamic equivalence translations
cons: based on manuscripts that have been criticized for being “watered down”; not as accurate as essentially literal translations

MSG – The Message
type: paraphrase
pros: gives “old” passages a new light
cons: very inaccurate

NASB – New American Standard Bible
type: essentially literal translation
pros: often considered the most accurate translation of the Bible
cons: more difficult to read than most versions

NIV – New International Version
type: dynamic equivalency translation
pros: fairly easy to read; more story-like than the KJV; more accurate than most thought-for-thought translations
cons: not as accurate as other translations that are just as easy to read; some passages are considered to be mistranslated (see “Deliberate Mistranslation in the New International Version” [8]); several familiar passages in New Testament are absent because of their absence in the majorly accepted source manuscripts (see “On Those Missing Verses in Your ESV and NIV Bible”[7])

NLT – New Living Translation
type: dynamic equivalency translation
pros: easy to read and understand
cons: less literal than most of the dynamic equivalency translations available; gender neutral translation (see “What’s Wrong with Gender-Neutral Bible Translations?” [9])

The versions I consider most trustworthy

Out of these versions, I would only choose the KJV, ESV, and NASB as reliable and trustworthy translations for Bible study. Other versions are often useful to see a passage in a different light, but I would not recommend using them as your study Bible due to their relative inaccuracy. The main thing that separates the ESV, KJV, and NASB from each other are the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts that were used as a base text.

Which manuscript is the best?

There are several schools of thought regarding which Greek and Hebrew manustcripts are the best. I personally do not know enough about this topic, so I will not discuss those in this article. If you want to learn more, you can start by reading the article “Textual Choices and Bible Versions” [10] by Reese Currie.

The most accurate version of the Bible

While there is no Bible translation that is 100% accurate, there are other “types” of Bibles that are more accurate than any one translation. These include interlinear Bibles and parallel Bibles. The best possible way to understand the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts is with an interlinear Bible, which has the English translation parallel to the Greek or Hebrew. Unless you are skilled in Greek and/or Hebrew, you need to use a concordance (Greek/Hebrew dictionary designed for use with Bibles). The most popular concordance is Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, which was compiled to work in tandem with the King James version.

If you would like to get the best picture of the Greek and Hebrew texts without looking up every word in a concordance, you can also use a parallel Bible. A parallel Bible has two or more versions of the Bible placed side-by-side on the same page so that you can compare the versions against each other. A 4-version parallel Bible with accurate translations is the best choice if you want to get the best idea of what the original Greek and Hebrew says. I would recommend a version that has KJV, NASB, AMP, and NIV.

Why I chose the ESV

I have chosen the ESV for my personal Bible because it is an easy-to-read, accurate, trustworthy, word-for-word Bible translation. There is no “perfect” translation out there, but I feel that the ESV is one of the few trustworthy translations available that is profitable for deep Bible study. I also like that when someone is reading the popular King James Version aloud, it is easy to follow along in the ESV because of its similar wording and sentence structure. I hope that this article can help you to realize the importance of choosing a reliable version of the Bible for your personal study.


Unless noted otherwise, all scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1 – “Were KJV Translators Inspired?” – http://www.bible.ca/b-kjv-only.htm

2 – “Isn’t the King James Bible Too Antiquated and Difficult to Understand?” – http://www.wayoflife.org/database/isnt_the_king_james_bible_too_antiquated.html

3 – “30 Untranslatable Words From Other Languages” – http://www.boredpanda.com/untranslatable-words-found-in-translation-anjana-iyer/

4 – Ryken, Leland, The Word of God in English

5 – “Translations: Dynamic Equivalence or Essentially Literal” – http://www.christistheway.com/2003/a03a10ba.html

6 – Not Just Another Book: English Bible Translation Comparison chart – http://notjustanotherbook.com/biblecomparison.htm”

7 – “On Those Missing Verses In Your ESV and NIV Bible” – http://www.mikeleake.net/2015/07/on-those-missing-verses-in-your-esv-and-niv-bible.html

8 – “Deliberate Mistranslation in the New International Version” – https://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com/articles-and-resources/deliberate-mistranslation-in-the-new-international-version-niv/

9 – “What’s Wrong with Gender-Neutral Bible Translations?” – http://helpmewithbiblestudy.org/5Bible/TransWhatsWrongGenderNeutralBible_Grudem.aspx

10 – “Textual Choices and Bible Versions” – http://www.compassdistributors.ca/topics/textchoi.htm

5 comments on “Why I Chose the ESV

    • HI _ I linked into your by accident from Mike Leake’s blog – so some comments while I am here:

      1) your assumption of the reading level of KJ is NOT in agreement with the chart you included. IT claims a grade 13 reading level IF I understand the arrangement – I have stated frequently it was grade 12. Considering the normal newspaper and magazine is aimed about grade 6 – 8, that is a HUGE jump in complexity. I was a teacher of “slow” kids for a while – the KJ is utterly out of the question. NOW I work with street people – and again its utterly impossible for them.

      2) As Mike pointed out, NOTHING is missing from the NIV ( a bible I seldom ever use) that was found in ancient texts – the PROBLEM is that there are so many insertions into the KJ and those Bibles based on the Erasmus’ catholic compilation, with unwarranted insertions from the Vulgate in a half dozen places or more, and the HISTORY of the corrupted Greek texts he had available makes it OBVIOUS that may of the passages that are “doubtful” were NEVER in any text before the third century.

      . . .

    • . . .
      3) Contrary to your assertion, the KJB is riddled with both factual and linguistic errors (about 150 by ONE count) , and is poorly translated even considering its imperial requirements. Easter, for example, is an IMPOSSIBLE translation for Passover, as evidenced by the 23 times it is CORRECTLY translated and the ONE time Easter was used. This type of adaptation to 16th century English-speak shows up in several places. Simply sloppy work.

      Lots more I could say, but unsure of my word count.

      While I seldom use it, the attacks on your links against the NIV are almost entirely unfounded, and are NOT based in scholarship but bigotry. While I don;t use it and have little reason to make it an issue – it seems a matter of fairness to NOT include links that are NOT capable of factually sustaining themselves, and exist ONLY for the sake of promoting a false sense of the translation

      • Thank’s for the feedback. I have a couple of answers to your points you brought up.

        Point #1 – After reviewing my article, I see that you are correct that my statement about reading level does not agree with the chart that is shown on this article. However, I got that statement from the reference article that I linked to in reference #2. I do agree that the reading level is beyond what most street people are used to, and that makes it difficult for use in street/urban ministry. The only exception to this is when the KJV is used with an individual or group that is already familiar with it’s word choice and sentence structure.

        Point #2 – I do not disagree with you, and as you can see I did link to Mike’s blog. I only said that some passages are “considered” to be mistranslated. I do not agree with most of the points that some people bring up about the NIV being mistranslated. However, I can say that there are much better translations available that are (a) close to the same reading level, and (b) more accurate due to being a word-for-word translation. I personally do not use thought-for-thought translations except for reference or comparison. Regarding the omission/inclusion of some phrases and verses, I do not personally know enough about the original manuscript choices to comment on this; except to say that some of the passages that the KJV includes, such as John 5:4, can provide some additional detail/clarification to the point or story.

        Point #3 – I did not make any claim in this article that the KJV is completely accurate. In fact, I said that it is not – “While the King James version is one of the best translations available, it is not 100% accurate.” I also linked to an article supporting that statement – http://www.bible.ca/b-kjv-only.htm. However, the exact same arguments can be made against the NIV – https://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com/articles-and-resources/deliberate-mistranslation-in-the-new-international-version-niv/. The fact is, there is no translation of the Bible that is 100% accurate, and anyone that disagrees with that does not understand the basic difficulties of translation.

  • Thank you for writing this, it is a through but easy read and has helped me decide which translation to bring home!

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