Christian Tract: What's in a Version? (Tract)

What's in a Version? (Tract)

Which Bible version should I use in Bible reading and study?

Many Christians are concerned that they will find an inaccurate Bible version to read and will somehow miss out on hearing God's word.


The vast majority of the Bible versions available today are of high quality and accuracy. You can go to just about any Christian book store or to the Bible section of any secular store, close your eyes and grab a Bible and you will find the word of God.

In general, any non-denominational Bible is adequate for reading and for general study. For more serious study a few guidelines may help.

This pamphlet is designed to provide you with a few of those guidelines.

But the most important guideline is this: Find a version that you are comfortable reading!

What makes different versions different?

The translation method.

Any time we have to translate something from one language into another there will be more than one way to translate a particular word or phrase. Different translations will word the same thought in different ways.

There are two basic approaches to translation:

A very loose translation, or one where cultural concepts and even geographical references are changed is often called a paraphrase.

Translations are never totally formal or totally dynamic, but always include elements of both. You should try to discover what the translators were aiming to accomplish.

Perfect formal translation is impossible because the source languages, Hebrew and Greek, do not use the same word order and structure as English. More literal or formal does not necessarily mean more accurate; a translation needs to be clear and natural as well as accurate.

The manuscripts the translators use.

The Bible was written long before there were printing presses and copies were made by hand.

During the time of the early Christian church and the middle ages many of these manuscripts were lost. A large number of have been discovered over the last three or four hundred years. Some differences in translations are based on the readings of these different manuscripts.

Most translations use either the Textus Receptus, a Greek text similar to that used for the King James Version, or a modern text based on comparison of these more recently discovered manuscripts.

For the Old Testament, translations usually use the standard Hebrew text, but also refer to the Dead Sea Scrolls and some ancient translations of the Hebrew scriptures.

Who does the translating.

Some translations are done by a committee and some by individuals. Committees may consist entirely of people from one denomination or religious group, or they may be inter-denominational or even interfaith.

What are the general guidelines I can use in selecting a Bible?

Comparing basic translation styles

Translation Characteristics

Living Bible1IMConsidered one of the less accurate, but nonetheless good for general reading.
The Message2IMAn excellent paraphrase, both readable and accurate.
Contemporary English Version5IMIndividual translation in simple language, by American Bible Society
Today's English Version6CMLargely replaced by CEV
New Living Translation6CMEvangelical, intended to replace the Living Bible
Revised English Bible6CMInterfaith cooperation
New Century Version7CM3rd grade reading level
God' Word7CMConservative
New Jerusalem Bible7CMRoman Catholic
Today’s New International Version8CMRevised NIV, adds gender neutral language
New International Version8CMEvangelical
New American Bible9CMRoman Catholic
New Revised Standard Version9CMInterfaith
Holman Christian Standard Bible9CMLargely Baptist, conservative version
English Standard Version9CMConservative revision of RSV
New American Standard Bible9CMEvangelical
New King James VersionXCTFollows KJV closely, updating only language


  1. Formal (1 to X)
  2. C=Committee; I=Individual
  3. M=Modern text; T=Textus Receptus

For further discussion of this chart, see Comparing Versions

Scripture quotations marked "NKJV&tm;" are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked The Message are taken from THE MESSAGE®. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

All scripture quotations not otherwise marked are taken from the Contemporary English Version, Copyright © 1995 American Bible Society.

Copyright © 1998, 2004, Henry E. Neufeld
2nd Edition, 2004

Taken from the Participatory Study Series