Bible Translation Chart

With regards to Bible translations, there are two different spectrums on how the old languages are put into our English versions: 1) a more word-for-word translation (known as ‘essentially literal’) and 2) a more thought-for-thought translation (known as ‘dynamic equivalence’).

A couple examples of a more word-for-word translation are the NASB or ESV. And examples of a more thought-for-thought translation are the NIV or NLT.

Below is a chart showing how most of the English translations fit into this spectrum.

Here are some questions I would love feedback on:

  1. What are your thoughts on this chart in general?
  2. Do you prefer a more word-for-word or more thought-for-thought translation?
  3. What is your favourite, or a few of your favourite, translations?

18 thoughts on “Bible Translation Chart

  1. Helpful chart to show the diversity of translations, for example, to see how far apart the The Message and the ESV fall on the spectrum. Not sure I would have placed the Living bible closer to word-for-word than the Message (or perhaps even on this chart at all!) since the Living was a private paraphrase for children from an English bible. Personally not a big fan of The Message, but at least Euegene Peterson taught the biblical languages in seminary and has captured something of the idiom.

    Not sure if this was your source for the diagram, but it does some explanatory notes on each version referred to

  2. 1. It’s nice to see a visual representation of this concept.

    2 and 3. It really depends on what I’m trying to do. I periodically get into Study-Mode, where I love my NASB (plus assorted study tools). However, when I’m not in Study-Mode, I need something that reads well. I started reading The Books of the Bible, which uses the TNIV, but which is laid out less like a dissected frog and more like an actual book. I’m not sure that the translation really matters in this case, just the fact that it’s organized like something a person would want to read.

    • Sadly, that poor volume gave up the ghost a couple of years ago. I picked up a Key Word Study Bible version of it, which is fantastic. Given that I’m not constantly cramming homework in it, I expect it to last longer than eight years.

  3. 1. A helpful picture.

    2. Agree with the comment above that it depends what you’re planning to do with a translation. But generally I plump for something in the middle. I don’t like reading something where I’m not sure about the interpretation offered in a ‘thought-for-thought’ way (not a fan of the Message, though recognise that it can often capture things well and in a striking way). Whilst I like a sense of being close to the original, I do like readability. I’ve changed my views on translations over the years from being a staunch advocate of what is often labelled a ‘literal’ translation (at the ‘word-for-word’ end of the spectrum) as I’ve learnt more about the nature of language. Interpretation is a necessity in translation because you cannot formulaically translate a word in one language into a word in another and repeat the process through a text: idiom and grammatical structure are often different enough to require more creative thought in translation and certain words and phrases in some languages are nearly untranslateable in such a simple ‘word-for-word’ way anyway. All of which places an important burden on Bible translators to convey what was written in the original languages as faithfully as possible (which to me includes being as readable in translation as the original was), and, I would argue, for solid margin references to explain what cannot be conveyed in simple translation.

    3. Having grown up on the NASB which I still like and having considered the NKJV which I quite like, I generally now use the NIV because it is so widely used, readable (to my mind) and generally reliable. Always try to look at several versions if I’m studying though and am open-minded to discover the benefits of new translations!

  4. Thanks for the chart.

    I prefer word-for-word translations because I want as few human being standing between me and the text as possible. Moreover, literal translations offer greater opportunity to use tools like Strong’s to get at the original languages for people not fluent in them and do extensive word studies which allows Scripture to comment on itself.

    My favorite translation, for the reasons just mentioned, is the NASB. As an aside, I hate the name (I’m American, by the way) and it’s unfortunate that it’s been out-marketed by publishers who can make more money on their own newer translations. I also think the 1995 update to the NASB was an improvement in some ways and a deterioration in others. How I wish all the effort used to produce and market the ESV could have been poured into improving and distributing more widely the NASB. Having two such similar literal translations will only divide the market, make resource tools such as concordances and software more expensive for each than the would be for one, and so on.

    Nonetheless, we can thank God that we have an abundance of English translations within our reach. And, as one person said, ultimately the best translation of the Bible is the one you read.

  5. The position of the Amplified shocks me. Im sooo not a fan of the Amp, it confuses commentary and translation , completely confuses the reader and is an ugly read. It would be as far right as the Message in my book.
    Personally for all communication I am a fan of the NCV, I think that for most contributors here we would be able to access original language works for more detailed specifics. The crying need these days is for relevant and pertinant commun ication not precise and literal understanding.

  6. JT –

    I agree on the Amplified. Each word being fleshed out with each possibility can become confusing. I am glad for both literal, word-for-word and dynamic translations. But I am no stickler for word-for-word. I also look forward to getting a paper copy of the new NIV.

  7. ScottL,

    I know you don’t care for literal translations like the NASB and ESV. However, could you recommend a Catholic Bible that tries to be literal in the same way that those two do?

  8. Mike –

    It’s not that I don’t care for them, it’s just that I am not going to make them essential for Bible reading and Bible study. I don’t know many specific Catholic Bibles, except for the Jerusalem Bible.

  9. I like the chart and happen to think it shows appropriate positioning, more or less. As an ex-seminarian, 6 years if Gk and two of Hb, and adult Sunday school teacher I occasionally will help people choose a Bible. I take into account what they ask for and where they are in their understanding to suggest a version. The study helps in a study Bible can be almost as important as the translation used. (Isn’t the web wonderful for having all the translations, interlinear and commentaries available at one time?) I recently have moved to the ESV from the NIV-with-NASB-backup. Thank you for the chart I will share it with the class. There are so many layers to the Word(!) how can any single translation capture all the nuance?

  10. Thanks for your research in listing insightfully various crucial data regarding Bible translations. Very helpful. I thought your visitors might also be interested in a book about Bible translation that I wrote. It was released recently by William Carey Library, U.S. Center for World Mission. The book is filled with fascinating stories regarding how Bible translators have wrestled with rendering the Bible into thousands of different languages throughout the world. The book is entitled The Multilingual God: Stories of Translation. An image of the book cover and more information about it is on site and my site:

  11. I think for a translation to be respected it is vital to substitue the tetragramaton into YWHW, Yahweh, or the english pronunciation Jehovah.

    It is best to have multiple credible versions when studing the word of God. Two of my favorites being both Interlinear and The Message.

  12. This chart is off in many ways. But to list a few…

    How they can claim the KJV is MORE literal than the NKJV is questionable. The KJV used different english words for the same Hebrew/Greek words. Whereas the NKJV sought to correct that with consistency in word translation (something the NASB is well known for doing (most of the time)). The NKJV is also more ‘up to date’ in its willingness to list textual variants in the cross reference section. The NKJV is more literal than the KJV. Yes, you can find examples supporting either one as being ‘more literal’ but from cover to cover the NKJV is more literal.

    And how this chart can claim the ESV is MORE literal than either of those two (the KJV or the NKJV) is even more baffling.

    But the main issue with this chart is that the KJV and NKJV are translated from a DIFFERENT source text than all the other translations. So how can the ESV be ‘more literal’ than the KJV when they were translated from different texts? It’s not apples to apples in that case.

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