This chart gives brief information on each version and may include links to purchase low cost editions of each Bible.
Formal Equivalence Adult Bibles
Intermediate Adult Bibles
Dynamic Equivalence Adult Bibles
Easy Reading Bibles
Note on the comparisons: I try to use a single verse or instant for particular comparisons. Thus, for example, in determining the capitalization of "Holy Spirit" in various versions, I always check Isaiah 63:10. I check the language used in prayer and certain capitalization issues because they are controversial to many people. Some are offended when certain titles and even pronouns are not capitalized.
If you have questions about my basis for making these comments, please look at my Translations FAQ.
Formal Equivalence Adult Bibles
Formal equivalence translation refers to the effort to translate as closely as possible to the words and forms of the source language. Since this is not possible with any language, formal equivalence is not an absolute goal.
New American Standard Bible (NASB) (Energion.com Detail Page)
Most of my comments here will pertain to the New American Standard Bible (Updated Edition) as well as the older NASB. In the work I have done checking just how close to formal-equivalency each version is, the NASB has consistently been closest to a word-for-word translation. Since it is impossible to translate every word and form with a single word and form in English, this is a relative rating. I find that the readability suffers because of this excessive formality. On the other hand, it is likely that if we lost the Greek New Testament it could be reproduced by translating the NASB back into Greek. The NASB is especially careful, and I think also a bit wooden, in render Greek imperfects either as inceptive or as representing continuous action.
In the NASB pronouns referring to God are capitalized, as are references to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament (Isaiah 63:10), and texts regarded as Messianic prophecies (see Psalm 2). In the older NASB, but not in the updated edition, prayers are rendered in Jacobean English. For example, the Lord's prayer in the NASB begins: "Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed by they name." In the Updated Edition, it reads: "Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name."
The NASB is translated by a committee of conservative scholars and it uses a modern critical text. It relies primarily on the Masoretic Hebrew text in the Old Testament and you will only rarely see it making use of the Septuagint or the Dead Sea Scrolls material. It is very conservative in the use of emendation or of textual reconstruction without supporting manuscripts.
The NASB is a good study Bible but may be difficult to use for extensive reading. Those for whom English is a second language or whose reading skills are weak may find it difficult to use as well.
New King James Version (NKJV) (Energion.com Detail Page)
The New King James Version is an effort to provide a version which uses modern language, but essentially is the same in content as the King James Version. I find their approach problematic, but I must admit that they have succeeded in keeping their text very close to the KJV. Unfortunately, they have not translated in the spirit of the KJV which was, in its time, an excellent version using the best scholarship of the time and rendered in very readable English.
The NKJV scholars have chosen not to use a modern critical text, but rather to stick as closely as possible to the presumed text behind the KJV. In doing so they have preserved a number of anomalies, such as Revelation 21:24 which reads: "And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, . . . " There is only one Greek manuscript, and it is very late, which has that reading. The Nestle-Aland and United Bible Societies texts do not even acknowledge the variant. I found reference to the one manuscript containing it in a critical commentary on Revelation. There are numerous other examples, especially in the last chapters of Revelation.
The NKJV capitalizes pronouns referring to God or to Jesus, including those in texts regarded as Messianic prophecies. Sometimes, such as in Psalm 2, this can be rather clumsy. It also capitalizes the title "Holy Spirit" in Old Testament passages. It uses modern language in prayers.
The NKJV is translated by a committee of very conservative to fundamentalist scholars. It is suitable as a study Bible, though significantly less so than the NASB. I found it annoying to read, even though I am quite conversant with the KJV.
New Revised Standard Version (Energion.com Detail Page)
The New Revised Standard Version is a kind of scholarly standard amongst mainline scholars and for use in secular universities. It is, for example, the recommended Bible version for use in worship in the United Methodist Church. It is the successor to the Revised Standard Version. In revising the translation language was updated, archaic language was eliminated in prayers, new linguistic and manuscript evidence was considered, and some gender neutral language was introduced. The last of those points is probably the most controversial aspects of the NRSV.
The gender neutral language of the NRSV is not the radical language replacing "father" with "parent" in reference to God, or using terms such as "father-mother god." It is simply recognition of gender in mixed groups. "Brethren" becomes "brothers and sisters." "Man" becomes "humanity" or "humankind." In some cases clumsy wording occurs, but overall I believe the NRSV did a quite good and consistent job of updating this language usage.
The NRSV does not capitalize pronouns referring to God, nor does it capitalize titles of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. It is quite consistently readable, though not as easily as such versions as the Today's English Version or other dynamic equivalence versions. It deserves its position as a scholarly standard. It was translated by an interdenominational committee and reviewed by an interfaith group. It used a modern text and took full account of the available Dead Sea Scrolls and recent Septuagint research in the Old Testament text. It is moderately bold with textual reconstruction through emendation.
The NRSV is suitable as a Bible for serious study. It is nearly as close in formal terms to the original as the others reviewed above, but is somewhat more readable.
Intermediate Adult Bibles
I distinguish Bibles which tend to balance between idiomatic renderings and formal equivalency from either of the extremes. I don't mean to suggest that these versions have attained some kind of neutral balance, but rather that when tested for either how formal or how idiomatic they are, they tend toward the middle.
New International Version (Energion.com Detail Page)
This is a kind of evangelical standard, and I think deservedly so. It was translated by an international committee of evangelical scholars and was reviewed for readability. I think that in some cases it errs on the side of conservative theology in some difficult translation issues (Isaiah 7:14, for example), but those cases are all debatable, and the NIV has served its constituency well.
The NIV was translated by an interdenominational committee of evangelical scholars. It uses a modern text for the Greek, and leans heavily on the Masoretic text for the Old Testament. It does take the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls into account, but not to the extent that the NRSV or the REB do.
It capitalizes pronouns referring to God, but not those referring to Jesus in Messianic prophecies (see Psalm 2, for example). It capitalizes the word "Son" in that chapter, but includes a note. It does capitalize the title "Holy Spirit" in Old Testament passages.
Readers should check into the TNIV as well.
The NIV is suitable as a Bible for reading or serious study.
New American Bible (Energion.com Detail Page)
The New American Bible is a Catholic translation which has attained a wonderful balance between idiomatic and formal elements in translation. I find this version a pleasure to read and to study. It uses modern texts throughout and was translated by a committee of Catholic scholars. It does not capitalize pronouns referring to God, nor to Jesus, nor does it capitalize the title "Holy Spirit" in the Old Testament.
It is unlikely that this version will become popular in Protestant circles simply because it is a Catholic translation, but it deserves serious consideration as a study and/or reading Bible.
New Jerusalem Bible
The New Jerusalem Bible is another Catholic translation, which is more dynamic and less formal than the New American Bible. The New Jerusalem Bible is translated by a committee of Catholic scholars, and uses modern texts throughout, taking into account the Dead Sea Scrolls and other versions in the Old Testament.
One peculiarity of this translation is the use of "Yahweh" for the divine name in the Old Testament rather than one of the work-around titles that have been used in most English Bibles. This can make for some fine reading in the Psalms but may be offensive to some Jewish readers.
The NJB does not capitalize pronouns referring to God or to Jesus in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 63:10 it uses a peculiar rendering of "holy Spirit." It does not capitalize the word "son" in Psalm 2.
The NJB is an excellent reading Bible and quite good for study as well.
Dynamic Equivalence Adult Bibles
Revised English Bible (Energion.com Detail Page)
The Revised English Bible is a favorite of mine. It is translated by an interfaith committee and uses modern texts throughout. It is quite aggressive in textual reconstruction including reordering of the text in several places. As an example, Isaiah 41:6 & 7 is moved from it's position and placed immediately after verse 20 of chapter 40. This reconstruction assumes that the verses were transposed at some point, presumably from column to column in a particular manuscript.
The REB does not capitalize pronouns referring to God, nor the title "Holy Spirit" in the Old Testament. It is quite free in renderings where necessary. American readers may have some difficulty with occasional anglicisms.
I recommend the REB as a reading Bible and with care as a study Bible.
Today's English Version (Energion.com Detail Page)
This is the well-known "Good News Bible." To some extent it has been replaced by the Contemporary English Version, but it is still quite popular in its own right. It was translated by an interdenominational committee. It does not capitalize pronouns referring to God, nor the title "Holy Spirit" in the Old Testament.
As an interesting side note, in checking some of these issues for this translation I find that the term "Holy Spirit" has completely disappeared from Isaiah 63:10 which is the passage I use to compare for consistency. (In this case I used Psalm 51:11.)
The TEV is a good reading Bible, and is less valuable as a study Bible.
New Living Translation (Energion.com Detail Page)
The New Living Translation is an attempt to revise The Living Bible to make it more accurate but keep it readable. The translators certainly succeeded in making it more accurate, but I'm not so sure that they were as successful at keeping it readable. When dealing with paraphrase, sometimes a detailed accuracy is the enemy of clear readability. Nonetheless, as a translation, the NLT is quite an achievement.
It was translated by a interdenominational committee of evangelical scholars. It tends conservative and evangelical in its renderings. It does not capitalize pronouns referring to God, but does capitalize the title "Holy Spirit" in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 7:14 it follows the NIV in the Christian rendering "virgin" rather than "young woman" as translations such as the NRSV or REB do.
It uses modern texts throughout and takes into account the Dead Sea Scrolls and new research on ancient versions. It is a good reading Bible and an acceptable study Bible.
Easy Reading Bibles
These Bibles are designed either for children or for those for whom English is not a native language. Often some accuracy is sacrificed in making a Bible more readable.
New International Reader's Version
This version is based on the NIV, and simply modifies vocabulary, shortens sentences and explains difficult words in order to make it easier to read. I have not evaluated it in detail, but at first glance it looks like a good job.
Contemporary English Version (Energion.com Detail Page)
The Contemporary English Version was translated largely by an individual, but selected and published by the American Bible Societies. It is a dynamic equivalence translation. It does not capitalize pronouns referring to God, but it does capitalize "Holy Spirit" as a title in the Old Testament. It is based on modern texts throughout.
I find the CEV very readable and quite accurate. I recommend it for anyone who wants to read large portions of the scriptures for an overview.
New Century Version (Energion.com Detail Page)
The New Century Version is even a bit easier to read than the CEV, but in some cases I think it suffers in terms of accurately conveying the point of particular passages. This kind of judgment can be very subjective. I rate this not based on particular "index" passages as I do most of my comparisons, but on my impression after reading both versions through.
The NCV does not capitalize pronouns referring to God but it does capitalize the title "Holy Spirit" in the Old Testament. It is translated by an interdenominational committee and uses modern texts throughout. It has a glossary of difficult terms to aid in those areas where it is impossible to clarify a term within the text.
I recommend this as a reading Bible.
The Message (Energion.com Detail Page)
The message is extremely popular, and I believe it has attained new heights in terms of idiomatic rendering. At a later time I will write a more detailed review, but my impression from reading the New Testament through was simply that some of the more difficult of Jesus' teachings were blunted and made more palatable rather than clarified by this paraphrase. It is nonetheless a much better effort than the Living Bible was.
I recommend it for fun reading but not for study.
The New Testament in Modern English/J. B. Phillips (Energion.com Detail Page)
J. B. Phillips was a pioneer in paraphrasing. He does seem to catch the essence, but he is also somewhat literal at many points. His language is clear and forceful.
I recommend this New Testament for reading, but not for study. It is better for study than either The Message or The Living Bible.
The Living Bible (Energion.com Detail Page)
The Living Bible is now practically a classic. It is extremely clear and readable. Unfortunately, due to the fact that it was paraphrased from an English version, it leaves something to be desired in terms of accuracy.
I recommend it for reading, but not for study.
The Cotton Patch Version
I include this version just for fun. The Cotton Patch Version is an example of a "cultural translation" in which a story is moved from one cultural context to another. Preachers do this all the time, but translators do so much more rarely. Though certainly not to be recommended for study, the Cotton Patch Version can often get the message across to you like nothing else can.
Cotton Patch Scripture Portions Available:
The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John
Cotton Patch Version of Luke and Acts : Jesus' Doings and the Happenings
Cotton Patch Version of Paul's Epistles
The Cotton Patch Version of Hebrews and the General Epistles