Collection: Learn more about Bible translations

Types of Bible Translations

If we were fluent in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, we would only need copies of the original manuscripts. Since we are not, we need someone to translate them for us. In order to choose a translation, you should have a basic understanding of how different Bible translations came to be. Each has a unique history, philosophy, translating team, and manuscript texts so no two translations are the same. In spite of this, Bible translations are remarkably similar. Three basic translating philosophies are word-for-word (formal), thought-for-thought, and paraphrase.

Galatians 5:13

  • Word for Word

    For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Galatians 5:13 (ESV)

  • Thought for Thought

    You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. Galatians 5:13 (NIV)

  • Paraphrase

    It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love... Galatians 5:13 (The Message)

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Word for Word Translation

Teams of language experts sat with copies of Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) to translate each word or phrase into the closest English equivalent. While scholars might differ on the best word or phrase based on their understanding of the ancient language, there is no attempt to interpret the Bible. The interpretation is left to the reader, so these word-for-word translations are excellent for Bible study.

One very different translation in this group is the King James Version (KJV). At over 400 years old, it is by far the oldest translation in the group, and has largely not changed as our language has changed. While many love the beauty of the text, other versions are translated to the language equivalent of modern times, making them more readable for those unfamiliar with the KJV.

Thought for Thought Translations

These groups of experts used the same texts and asked, "What is the writer conveying?" They then translated each thought into an understandable English. The emphasis is on both accuracy and understanding. In the interest of clarity, more interpretation is necessary, making the resulting text more dependent on the translators’ theology and understanding of the original audience. These Bibles are great for everyday reading, and make excellent gift for those new to reading the Bible.


The emphasis here is on readability, flow and understanding. The verse may be rewritten completely to convey the same meaning--according to the paraphraser--making it especially susceptible to bias. While most translations are completed by teams of experts, two of the most popular paraphrases were each written by a single author. This allows for good flow and voice, but magnifies the possibility for error from the original meaning. Paraphrases are helpful to see familiar passages in a new light by reading a rephrasing by Kenneth Taylor (The Living Bible, TLB) or Eugene Peterson (The Message). These insightful authors will help you see things you haven't considered before, but perhaps should not serve as your primary Bible translation.