The Problem of Choosing A Good Bible Translation

How do you find a good Bible translation? Well, it depends on what language you speak. If you speak English, I can recommend the Holman Christian Standard Bible. It’s my choice of the modern translations because it is accurate, it is readable, and it is not as theologically biased as some translations tend to be.

If you aren’t satisfied with my recommendation then I will happily point you to Mark Strauss and Gordon Fee’s book entitled, How to Choose a Translation For All Its Worth.

The problem of choosing a translation in English is a minor problem. If you grab an NIV or an HCSB or an ESV or even the older KJV you will be reading the Truth (just don’t fall into the trap thinking that The Message is a translation!). There are nuances where a word choice could have been more precise or might have captured the original meaning more clearly, but it’s a minor problem that is solved by careful exegesis of the text.

There are bigger problems to worry about.

Bible Translations Needed

What if you don’t speak English? Well, there are Bible translations in 4,516 languages. There are even some languages that also have numerous versions to select from, though I don’t know if it is to the extent of the selection in the English language.

However, there is a problem here. Some of these languages may only have the New Testament or the Gospels. Other languages may have translations from a translation.

Only 438 languages have the entire Bible translated from the original languages.

There is a great need for Greek and Hebrew scholars to translate from the original languages into many of these languages that have a translation from a translation or a partial copy of the Bible.

There’s lots of work to be done, but even that’s not the biggest problem. If a language only has the New Testament, they can still hear the gospel, but there are some people that don’t even have one verse translated into their heart language.

A Crisis of Biblical Proportions

Today, there are 2,393 languages with NO Bible translation. That number includes about 200 million people who have no Bible in their language.

This is unacceptable. The English language has plenty of translations to choose from. There shouldn’t be the thought of another translation project in our language until we cut the number of languages with no Bibles in half! And even then it probably wouldn’t be necessary to start another English language translation project. It’s amazing that the KJV has lasted so long with its thees and thous. People still use the KJV as their translation of choice. If the KJV could last so long, couldn’t our modern translations like the NIV or the HCSB tide us over for a while so that we can get as many resources over to these other countries that have nothing?

How do you choose a good Bible translation when there is no translation to choose from?

The problem of choosing a good Bible translation is that millions of people don’t even have a choice!


So what can we do? Not everyone is called to be a Bible translator. Not everyone knows Greek and Hebrew. We are blessed to have so many options in our country but we have grown fat and lazy when it comes to other people around the world. They are our neighbors though they are thousands of miles away.

Here are some things WE can do even if we never become Bible translators ourselves:

1. Pray for the unreached people groups of the world.

2. Adopt a language or an unreached people group or sponsor a verse for $26.

3. Educate your church or small group. Send them to this blog post and encourage them to watch the following videos:

“The Blank Bible” Video

“Something’s Missing” Video

[If you can’t see the videos in your RSS or email, click here.]

Finally, do something now! Our desire to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and shelter the homeless means nothing if we don’t also give them the gospel.

Making this life more comfortable for a few won’t make the next life any more comfortable.

The Word of God is spiritually AND socially transformative, so by all means, give someone fresh water, but don’t forget about the living water that will quench their thirst forever!

What if you didn’t even have a Bible translation to choose from? 

Nathan is the pastor of City Life Church in Ridgewood, NY. He and his family are committed to making and multiplying disciples in the most diverse county in the US. Read more about Nathan here. Visit the City Life Church website here.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Good post and good reminders brother. I took a tour of a place out here in SoCal that does this around the world. Phenomenal experience to see all they are doing to learn languages and then get people the Bible… often though it is recorded though because so many can’t read.

    FYI, since you brought up The Message, I thought you might be interested in this 4 part series examining the content of Peterson’s work