Best English Translations of the Bible
This site outlines the Best English Translations of the Bible in terms of accuracy and readability. Topics such as bias in translation and editorial decisions are also addressed. Finally, preferred Bible Study resources including websites, apps, and advanced software resources, are provided.
Why it matters…
- The Bible is the foundation for the Christian faith
- It is our source for understanding the truth of what we should believe and how we should live
- We want to avoid being in error or perpetuate what is false
- Our life and hope in the Gospel depend on it
Best Translation of the New Testament
AI Critical New Testament (AICNT),
The AICNT (AI Critical New Testament), is a critical English translation rendered in 2023, which provides an accurate and unbiased AI-generated translation based on the standard critical Greek text used for modern Bible translations. The optimized GPT-4 rendering is combined with extensive footnotes for documenting significant variants in the manuscript tradition.
This version of the New Testament is tailored for readers desiring a literal and transparent translation that aligns with the earliest known Greek New Testament manuscripts. This translation overcomes the shortcomings often found in popular translations, which can be influenced by the personal beliefs of translators and that incorporate readings from later textual traditions.
The AICNT, derived directly from the critical Greek Text, has been entirely translated using OpenAI’s ChatGPT-4, the most sophisticated Large Language Model (LLM) available at the time of this publication. Leveraging its extensive knowledge base and cutting-edge architecture, GPT-4 is capable of translating ancient languages with remarkable accuracy. The system adheres to the specific instructions it is given.
Utilizing the chat completion mode of OpenAI’s API with GPT-4, the system message that defines the behavior of the AI Model was developed to give an accurate, reliable, and unbiased output with the following objectives:
- A translation that utilizes the most authoritative lexicon as its basis of translation.
- A translation that is accurate and unbiased (theologically neutral).
- A translation based directly on the Greek text provided, which is the standard critical Greek text for modern Bible translations.
- A translation that includes brackets corresponding to text bracketed in the critical text, which are used to indicate what is likely later additions.
To achieve the above objectives, the translation was rendered through the GPT-4 API. All that is given is the system message (specific instructions), the API settings, and the raw text. No text was incorporated that wasn’t generated from the GPT-4 LLM.
For more about the AI Critical New Testament, see https://aicnt.org.
Accuracy of English Translations
Below is a chart of English translations of decreasing accuracy, with respect to the Critical Text (NA27) from left to right. This data is taken from the Comprehensive New Testament, © Cornerstone Publications, 2008. The AI Critical New Testament (AICNT) is 100% based on the Nestle-Aland 28th edition (NA-28), which is the most recent version of the critical text.
What Does Accuracy Mean?
- The Critical Edition of the New Testament is the text in the original Koine Greek of the New Testament based on textural criticism and modern scholarship.
- The Critical Text is known as Novum Testamentum Graece, Wikipedia Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novum_Testamentum_Graece
- There are two identical versions Nestle-Aland, Currently 28th Edition (NA28) and United Bible Societies, Currently 5th edition (UBS5)
- This text forms the bases of most modern Bible translations
- However, modern bible translations deviate from the critical text to one degree or another
- They choose to use variants of the critical text based on considerations including better alignment with “orthodox” theology and maintaining the textural English tradition
- Accuracy is measured by how consistent a translation is to the critical edition.
- Accuracy, as measured above, pertains to the choice between variant texts that are selected to be translated rather than how literal the translation is.
- The procedure for calculating accuracy as used by COM is as follows:
- Translate textural differences in ancient manuscripts into English
- Compare the base text in each translation to the variants and determine which variation is closer to the translation.
- Divide the total number of times each translation is mapped to a variant (in reference to NA27 critical text) by the total number of verses with variants, and subtract the result from 100%.
Readability is also an important consideration. It is the ease with which a reader can understand a written text. In natural language, the readability of text depends on its content (the complexity of its vocabulary and syntax). Data for readability is taken from the Comprehensive New Testament (COM) © Cornerstone Publications 2008 which utilized Readability Studio version 126.96.36.199 ©2007 to calculate the reading level of the COM compared to twenty translations in their comparison study calculated according to the Coleman-Liau scoring system. Several translations are shown below, with diminishing readability from left to right.
Biases Exhibited in Bible Translations
All English translations exhibit some bias. These are the ways in which bias is introduced into a translation:
- Inaccuracy with the source text (use of variants)
- Text base equivalence (substituting text)
- Not translating words literally
- Functional Equivalence—abandoning strict adherence to the grammatical structure of the original text in favor of a more natural rendering in the target language
- Bias in the translation of individual words and phrases
- Eisegesis – The process of interpreting the text in such a way as to introduce one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases—commonly referred to as reading into the text
- Suggestive section headings that lead the reader into certain presuppositions
- Capitalization, punctuation, and other editorial choices including red letter Bibles
- Footnotes, commentary, and selective cross-references
Second Best Translation of the New Testament
Comprehensive New Testament (COM)
Cornerstone Publications (2008)
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/38PDy6Q
The Comprehensive New Testament (COM) represents the textual choices of the Critical Greek Text (Nestle-Aland 27th edition) in a readable English format. This New Testament was created especially for Bible studies and has the highest accuracy as compared to the critical Greek text. Over 15,000 variations in ancient manuscripts are translated in the footnotes. Variants of the Greek texts are generally classified into two groups: The “Alexandrian” group represents the oldest surviving manuscripts, and the “Byzantine” group represents the majority of manuscripts. Uncertain readings are clearly marked in brackets. At the bottom of each page is a parallel textual apparatus that presents the textual choices of 20 English Bible versions for each verse of the New Testament. This is the largest parallel textual apparatus for Bible versions available when published. The COM also offers superior readability as compared to ESV and NASB translations below. The COM is translated with a traditional Trinitarian theological perspective.
Best Widely Used Translations
English Standard Version (ESV)
Crossway (2001, 2007, 2011, & 2016)
About ESV Website: https://www.esv.org/translation
Online ESV Bible: https://www.esv.org/Luke+1
ESV Print Editions: https://www.crossway.org/bibles
The ESV (2001) streams from historical English translations beginning with Tyndale (1526) and continuing with KJV (1611), ASV (1901), and RSV (1952, 1971). The 1971 RSV was the starting point for the ESV translation. The ESV is an “essentially literal” translation, and its emphasis is on “word-for-word” correspondence, as opposed to some Bible versions that have followed a “thought-for-thought” emphasizing “dynamic equivalence” rather than the “essentially literal” meaning of the original. This is better than “thought-for-thought” translation, as “word for word” is more inclined to reflect the interpretive opinions of the translator. The ESV does incur biases in the translation, which correspond to a team that “shares a common commitment … to Christian orthodoxy.” Additionally, editorial liberty is taken in rendering repetitious words in Greek corresponding to “and,” but,” and “for” as well as the addition of interpretive section headings. The most obvious biases are toward Trinitarian theology, which is also attested by the dedication, which reads, “So to our triune God and to his people we offer what we have done.”
The ESV Old Testament is based on the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible as found in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (5th ed., 1997), and the New Testament on the Greek text in the 2014 editions of the Greek New Testament (5th corrected ed.), published by the United Bible Societies (UBS), and Novum Testamentum Graece (28th ed., 2012), edited by Nestle and Aland. In some cases, the ESV follows a Greek text different from the critical text (UBS5/NA28) and is thus lower in accuracy than the critical text as compared to COM. The ESV offers a good balance between literal meaning and readability. The ESV is slightly less literal than NASB but has noticeably improved readability.
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
The Lockman Foundation (1971, 1977, 1995, & 2020)
The claim by the publisher is that the NASB does not attempt to interpret Scripture through translation and that NASB adheres to the principles of a formal equivalence translation. They aimed at “a most exacting and demanding method of translation” striving for word-for-word translation that is both accurate and clear. This method more closely follows the word and sentence patterns of the biblical authors in order to enable the reader to study Scripture in its most literal format. In some cases, changes were made in the main text in the direction of a more current English idiom, with the more literal rendering indicated in the footnotes. Although the translation is highly readable, the score for readability is not as high as for COM or ESV, the reading is woodier. Although the NASB is a highly literal translation, it is translated with a traditional Trinitarian bias and includes excessive capitalization as well as suggestive section headings that further biases the reader.
Best Version Not Under Copyright Restrictions
American Standard Version (ASV)
Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1901
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/30Qg25o
The ASV, published in 1901 as the “American Revision,” is rooted in the work begun in 1870 to revise the 1611 King James Version (KJV). The ASV, a product of both British and American scholarship, has been highly regarded for its scholarship and accuracy. The ASV text exhibits what some perceived as excessive literalism and, correspondingly, it scores low on readability. ASV uses many words that are unfamiliar to modern ears and incorporates difficult sentence structure. The ASV is one of the oldest English translations that have a high level of accuracy compared to the Greek critical text based on modern textual criticism. The ASV improved some verses in the KJV and in other places it omitted the dubious verses from the main text that were erroneously included in the KJV. These variants were then relegated to footnotes. Although the ASV had Unitarian representation on the translation committee, it reflects the typical orthodox Trinitarian biases, since translational decisions were made based on the committee majority. The ASV has been used for many years by Jehovah’s Witnesses, as it uses “Jehovah” as the Divine Name. The ASV has been the basis of six subsequent English versions, including the Revised Standard Version (RSV), first published in 1952 and then updated in 1971, and the Revised English Version (REV) 2013-2021 used by Biblical Unitarians.
Other Select Versions with an Accuracy Threshold >80%
Revised Standard Version (RSV), 1952 & 1971
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), 1989
New American Bible (NAB), 1970
New English Translation (NET), 2006 & 2019
The King James Version (KJV) is Corrupt
A number of verses in the King James Version of the New Testament are not found in modern Bible translations. Scholars generally regard these now omitted verses as verses that were added to the Greek texts. The criterion for the editorial decision for excluding these passages was based on whether the tangible evidence indicated the passage was likely in the original New Testament text or was a later addition. This is in keeping with the principle of critical editing, as articulated by what Rev. Samuel T. Bloomfield wrote in 1832, “Surely, nothing dubious ought to be admitted into ‘the sure word’ of ‘The Book of Life’.” The KJV contains 26 verses and passages that are omitted or boxed in modern translations which are not likely original. These verses include Matthew 17:21, 18:11, 20:16(b), 23:14, Mark 6:11(b), 7:16, 9:44, 9:46, 11,26, 15:28, 15:28, 16:9-20, Luke 4:8(b), 9:55-56 17:36, 23:17, John 5:3-4, John 7:53-8:11, Acts 8:37, 9:5-6, 13:42, 15:34, 23:9(b), 24:6-8, 28:29, Rom 16:24, and the Comma Johanneum of 1 John 5:7-8. With respect to the long ending of Mark (16:9-20), there is strong reason to doubt that the words were part of the original text of the Gospels, as Philip Shaff stated, “According to the judgement of the best critics, these two important sections are additions to the original text from the apostolic tradition.” The KJV also exhibits orthodox corruptions in which verses were changed supporting Trinitarian theological suppositions. Twelve examples of theologically motivated corruption in the KJV include Matthew 24:36, Mark 1:1, John 6:69, Acts 7:59, Acts 20:28, Colossians 2:2, 1 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 2:16, Jude 1:25, 1 John 5:7-8, Revelation 1:8, and Revelation 1:10-11.
The source New Testament Greek texts used to produce the KJV were mainly dependent on manuscripts of the late Byzantine text-type. With the later identification of much earlier manuscripts, most modern textual scholars value the evidence of manuscripts that belong to the Alexandrian family as better witnesses to the original text of the biblical authors, without giving it automatic preference. The 16th Century Greek text Novum Instrumentum omne compiled by Desiderius Erasmus, later known as the Textus Receptus, was a major influence over the King James Version. Erasmus was a Catholic priest, who remained a member of the Catholic Church all his life. He also enjoyed the nickname “Prince of the Humanists.” His third edition of 1522 was based on less than a dozen Greek manuscripts dating from the 12th to 16th centuries yet served as the source text of the KJV translation. The later manuscripts of the Textus Receptus exhibited the cumulative effect of scribal changes over at least a millennium and vary widely, with the earliest manuscripts dated within the first five centuries after Christ.
For more, see KJVisCorrupt.com
Old Testament Translations from Other Languages
The Hebrew Text that has served as the basis for most translations of the Old Testament into English is a Masoretic recension based almost entirely on the Leningrad Codex, which dates from 1008 A.D. In comparison to the textual evidence that we have for the New Testament Greek text, this is a very late manuscript. This is well after the Greek Septuagint was translated (3rd century before Christ), the Aramaic Peshitta (1st and 2nd Centuries A.D.), or the Latin Vulgate (4th Century A.D.). According to Christian tradition, the non-Christian Jews began making changes in the Old Testament text to undercut the Christian use of Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of Christ.
The Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament writings used during New Testament times and in the early church, should be trusted more than the Masoretic Hebrew Tests that most English Translations are based on. This is for the following reasons:
- The citations of the Old Testament and found in the New Testament mainly use the Septuagint text.
- The Septuagint is based upon Hebrew texts at least twelve centuries older than the texts upon which the Masoretic version is based.
- The Septuagint predates the first appearance of the Masoretic text by almost ten centuries.
- Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we also know that the Septuagint is based on an older Hebrew text than the Masoretic text.
Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) notes in Doctrine and Teaching of the Orthodox Church:
…the basis of the Old Testament text in the Orthodox tradition is the Septuagint, a Greek translation by the “seventy interpreters” made in the third to second centuries BCE for the Alexandrian Hebrews and the Jewish diaspora. The authority of the Septuagint is based on three factors. First of all, though the Greek text is not the original language of the Old Testament books, the Septuagint does reflect the state of the original text as it would have been found in the third to second centuries BCE, while the current Hebrew text of the Bible, which is called the “Masoretic,” was edited up until the eighth century CE. Second, some of the citations taken from the Old Testament and found in the New mainly use the Septuagint text. Third, the Septuagint was used by both the Greek Fathers of the Church, and Orthodox liturgical services (in other words, this text became part of the Orthodox church Tradition). Taking into account the three factors enumerated above, St. Philaret of Moscow considers it possible to maintain that “in the Orthodox teaching of Holy Scripture it is necessary to attribute a dogmatic merit to the Translation … in some cases placing it on equal level with the original and even elevating it above the Hebrew text, as is generally accepted in the most recent editions (Orthodox Christianity, Volume II: Doctrine and Teaching of the Orthodox Church, (New York: St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 2012) p. 34).
New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS)
Oxford University Press (2007)
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/312ZrM0
The New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) is a modern translation of the Septuagint (LXX), which is the scriptures used by Greek-speaking Christians and Jews of antiquity. The NETS translators selected the best critical editions of the Septuagint, primarily the larger Göttingen Septuagint, and used the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) as the base text. NETS translators sought to retain the NRSV to the extent that the Greek text directs or permits while also removing gender-inclusive language that was not warranted by the underlying source texts. It was hoped the relationship between the NETS and the NRSV would mirror the relationship between the LXX and its underlying Hebrew text, making it easy for readers to study the discrepancies between the two textual traditions without extensive study of the original languages.
The Lexham English Septuagint (LES)
Lexham Press (2020)
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/3vNWT2r
The Lexham English Septuagint (LES) is a newer translation of the Septuagint beautifully typeset in a comfortable, single-column format. The LES provides a literal, readable, and transparent English edition for modern readers. Retaining the familiar forms of personal names and places, the LES gives readers the ability to read it alongside their favored English Bible. The LES maintains the meaning of the original text (Swete’s edition), making the Septuagint accessible to readers today.
Holy Bible from the Ancient Eastern Text of the Aramaic Peshitta (Lamsa Bible)
Harper One (1933 & 1985)
Wikipedia Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamsa_Bible
Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/3tAfEnM
Online Lamsa Bible: https://www.studylight.org/bible/eng/glt
The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts (the Lamsa Bible) was published by George M. Lamsa in 1933. It was derived from the Syriac Peshitta, the Bible used by the Assyrian Church of the East, and other Syriac Christian traditions. Lamsa, following the tradition of his church, claimed that the Aramaic New Testament was written before the Greek version. This contrasts with the academic consensus that the language of the New Testament was Greek. While Lamsa’s claims of Aramaic primacy are rejected by the academic community, his translation remains the best known of Aramaic to English translations of the New Testament and is a valuable reference for comparison of the Aramaic tradition to translations from other sources. The Lamsa Bible is especially useful as a witness of the Aramaic Old Testament tradition. The Lamsa Old Testament is based on Codex Ambrosianus which has been identified as fifth century AD and predates any existing OT text in Hebrew (Leningrad Codex) by about 500 years.
Improve Accuracy of Comprehension with Additional Resources
Although the chart below is a qualitative approximation rather than quantitative, it gives a general idea of how the “accuracy” of comprehending the original meaning of a verse can be improved by incorporating Bible study tools for evaluating the text of the earliest manuscripts and studying the meaning of words in reference to their use in the original language. This also gives a qualitative representation of more literal vs less literal.