Sonic says there 168,000 possible drink combinations you can order from their drive-in. We live in a world with a myriad of options. The same thing is true when it comes to choosing a Bible version. I’ve had many people ask the question, “What’s the difference in these versions? And which one can I trust? Is somebody rewriting the Bible? That doesn’t sound right!”

I want to help you with understanding what all those different initials are for in the names of Bible translations so you can make the best decision on which one or ones to use.


There are three basic kinds of Bible translations: Word-for-Word, Thought-for-Thought, and Paraphrase. These can be different in reading levels and ease of use, but usually, they are put together by teams of Bible scholars who use the oldest and most reliable source materials available.


Word-for-Word translations trade a word in the original language for the English word with the same meaning and hold to the original sentence structure as much as possible in order to keep it as close to the original text as possible. These translations are very faithful to the original language, but it can sometimes sound clunky and different than the way people talk and write today. These translations are best used for in-depth Bible study and serious reading. The best examples of a Word-For-Word translation are:

  • King James Version (KJV) first published in 1611 and is the best-selling book in history. It sounds very traditional and formal in the style of Shakespeare more than modern English. It’s an important historical translation and very poetic and beautiful, but can be very challenging to read.
  • New American Standard Bible (NASB) is one of the most accurate translations for detailed study. It’s fairly challenging in some places because it holds so tightly to original texts. It is a great Bible to use for study.
  • English Standard Version (ESV) was published in 2001 and has rapidly grown in popularity and usage.


Thought-for-Thought translations take the phrases from the original text and use the English phrases that mean the same thing so it is easier to read and understand. The result is a trustworthy translation that is easy to read and sounds more modern. These translations are the best choice for general, regular reading. Some of the best examples of Thought-For-Thought translations are:

  • New International Version (NIV) is the best-selling and Bible translation today. It’s a good balanced translation because it’s precise like a word-for-word translation and easy to read like a thought-for-thought translation.
  • New Living Translation (NLT) allows for more creativity in translating from the original text than most other translations. Its modern language and style help promote the meaning of passages.


The goal of a paraphrase is to help people understand the meaning of the Bible. The translators look at the original text, translates it into English, but also rewrites it in fresh words. In a paraphrase, the emphasis is on communicating the general meaning of the passage. Paraphrases are best for seeing well-known passages in a new light, or learning how to communicate the Bible in your own words. A paraphrase makes a good second Bible, or can be helpful for new believers or people who struggle with understanding the Bible. However, these are not a good choice for deep study. These include versions like the Living Bible (TLB) or The Message (MSG).

Ultimately, the best Bible for you is the one you will read on a regular basis and understand. Think about where and how the Bible is going to be read most. Look through a few different versions and compare a few passages. Click here to see how John 3:16 is translated in almost all the English versions. Most people have a Bible, but the most important issue is to be actually reading it every day and doing what it says.