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What are the Different Bible Translations?

Written by Dianna Wiebe on .

What are the Different Bible Translations? When selecting a Bible study or curriculum, you will want to choose a translation you are comfortable using. With so many translations, it can be hard to find a Bible study that uses your preferred translation. As we look at how Grapevine handles the Bible translations question, let’s first define what a translation is.

What is a Bible translation?

The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek, before being translated into many other languages. According to Wycliffe Bible Translators 2019, the Bible has been fully translated into over 650 languages, with particular segments translated into 1,500 languages. Today there are many English translations of the Bible for scholarship and study.

The first English translation of the Bible was the Tyndale New Testament, translated in 1525. Before this time, the Bible was read in church in Latin, not the common language of the people, and the only copies of the Bible available were limited to church clergy. This translation changed the way the Bible was read and taught.

Today, the most popular translation is the King James version, commissioned by King James of England, and first published in 1611. Since 1901, several modernized English translations have been printed.

Why are there so many Bible translations?

Translating a text from one language to another is not always a straightforward matter of word-for-word interpretation. If you have ever studied another language, you may have found that certain words or phrases can mean more than one thing, or don’t have a direct English translation at all.

Each translator or translating team is tasked with determining which word or phrase in English best fits the word or thought being interpreted. As you can imagine, scholars don’t always agree, and that is one reason we have so many different translations today.

Another issue translators encounter is the changing meanings of words within a modern language. This has given rise to the use of paraphrased versions of the Bible.

3 Ways to Translate the Bible

There are three basic strategies by which the Bible is translated into English today:

  1. Word-for-Word
  2. Thought-for-Thought
  3. Paraphrased

Today, let’s look at each of the three and which Bibles fall into each category.

1. Word for Word translators

Strives to take each word and decode it into the closest English word or phrase. Examples of this kind of translation would be:

KJV – King James Version

NKJV –  New King James Version

ESV – English Standard Version

2. Thought for Thought translations

Attempt to take the thought from the original passage and translate it into modern language and ideas. Examples of this kind of translation would be:

NIV – New International Version

CEV – Contemporary English Version

NLT  – New Living Translation

3. Paraphrase Bibles

Are similar to the thought-for-thought translations, but these tend to use simplified phrases or the author’s perspective on the passage in order to accommodate a particular audience or reading level. Examples of this kind of translation would be:

Living Bible

Children’s Bibles

The Message Bible

Verse by Verse Comparison

Now let’s look at three different types of translations using the same verse, Esther 4:14.

NKJV – Word for Word

For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”         

NIV – Thought for Thought

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

The Message – Paraphrase

If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.” 

Which Bible Translation is Best for Me?

Each of these translation methods has their place and are useful for Bible study. To determine which you need, here are some questions to consider:

  • What are you studying?
  • Who are you teaching?
  • Do you plan to use more than one translation?

What is your goal in choosing a translation?

If you are doing a Bible study with your class or family, you might want to use the word-for-word or thought-for-thought versions, which will adhere closer to the original text. If you are reading to young children and helping them become interested in the Bible, you might choose to read from a Children’s Bible to introduce them to the people and events.

I know adults who alternate which Bible they read and study from in order to gain multiple perspectives on passages. One friend of mine loved to read through the Bible regularly; she would choose a different kind of translation for each time reading through.

As teachers, we can always benefit from looking at more than one translation of a passage that we are studying and using to teach.

 At Grapevine we recommend…

With the Grapevine Bible studies, we recommend using a word-for-word translation. We have designed our studies in such a way that you can use the translation of your choice, either word-for-word or thought-for-thought. However, we do not recommend using a paraphrased version as your main reading text when doing a study.

In our Teacher books, you are given Look Up Words, and we reference the New King James Version (NKJV) for these words. Most teachers will not find it difficult to see which word is being referenced to look up in their preferred Bible translation.


  1. Many of our teachers use the NKJV or the KJV translations. The Look Up Words are the same in both the NKJV and KJV.
  2. Most Bible study tools (dictionaries, concordances, etc.) are keyed from the KJV, so it makes looking up words easier for teachers and students.
    • Our Middle School level in the Overviews teaches students how to use Bible study tools
  3. The NKJV is recognized as one of the best word-for-word translations to date.

Regardless of which translation(s) you use, taking the time to read and study is the focus.

At Grapevine you are free to choose!

At Grapevine we want to encourage Bible study for children and adults, in whatever form that takes on an individual basis. We have found over the years that teachers appreciate being able to work with our curriculum no matter which version of the Bible they choose to study and teach from.

Try a free sample of our curriculum today and see how easy it is to use your translation.

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