A formal equivalence translation lets the reader interpret for himself or herself. However, the reader often does not have the background information or the tools to interpret accurately. The net result is that he or she runs the risk of misunderstanding the text, simply because their translation was not clear enough.

On the other hand, a functional equivalence translation is usually clear and quite understandable. But if the translators missed the point of the original (either intentionally or unintentionally) they may communicate an idea foreign to the biblical text.

Which Translation Is Best?

To the question: Which translation is best?—There can be no singular answer. I suggest that every Christian who is serious about studying the Bible own at least two translations. At least one formal equivalence (word-for-word) translation and one functional equivalence (phrase-for-phrase) translation. It would be even better to have two good functional equivalence translations because in this type of translation, the translator is also the interpreter. If the translator's interpretation is correct, it can only clarify the meaning of the text; if it is incorrect, then it only clarifies the interpretation of the translator!

The King James Version (KJV) and The New King James Version (NKJV)

The KJV has with good reason been termed, "the noblest monument of English prose" (RSV preface). Above all its rivals, the KJV has had the greatest impact in shaping the English language. It is a literary masterpiece. But, lest anyone wishes to revere it because it was "good enough for Jesus," or some such nonsense, we must remember that the KJV of today is not the KJV of 1611. It has undergone three revisions, incorporating more than 100,000 changes. Even with all these changes, much of the evidence from new manuscript discoveries has not been incorporated. The KJV was translated from later manuscripts that are less accurate to the original text of the Bible. Furthermore, there are over 300 words in the KJV that no longer mean what they meant in 1611. If one wishes to use a Bible that follows the same Greek and Hebrew texts as the KJV, I recommend the New King James Version (NKJV).

Revised Standard Version (RSV) and New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The RSV was completed in 1952 and was intended to be, in part, a revision of the KJV. Its attempt to be a fairly literal translation makes its wording still archaic at times. The NRSV follows the same principle of translation, though it has been updated based on new manuscript discoveries, exegetical insights, and linguistic theories. Much of the difficult wording has been made clearer, and gender-inclusive language has been incorporated. At times, this is very helpful; at other times, it is misleading.

The American Standard Version (ASV) and The New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Like the RSV, the ASV and NASB were intended to be a revision of the KJV. However, there are three major differences between the RSV and the NASB: (1) the NASB is less archaic in its wording; (2) its translators were more theologically conservative than the RSV translators; and (3) because of the translators' desire to adhere as closely as possible to the wording of the original, the translation often contains stilted and wooden English.

New English Bible (NEB) and the Revised English Bible (REB)