Since over one month I'm reading in over eight different Bible translations in order to find out whose English language is most adapted for today's English language, including grammar, idioms and syntax. I'm a non-native speaker and I've reached a language level between B2 and C1. I use my English for academic purpose, in science. I'd like to improve my English structure (in speaking and reading) while reading the Bible. I've invested many hours to better understand the different translation approaches from over 30 existing Bible translations. I prefer reading in Bible translations which uses a "moderate dynamic equivalence" (see: Wikipedia).

I wondered if my order of Bible translations with nearly 100% standard English is more or less correct. My personal order of English grammar is listed here, decreasing from top to the bottom.

  • GW (God's Word Translation)
  • CEVUK00 (Contemporary English Version - UK Version 2000)
  • ESV (English Standard Version)
  • NIV (New International Version)
  • NCV (New Century Version)
  • GNB (Good News Bible)
  • NASB (New American Standard Bible)
  • NKJV (New King James Version)

The Bible translation I'm looking for must be very close to today's English (rather a phrase-for-phrase translation as a word-for-word-translation).

PLEASE avoid discussions about denonimation favoring Bible translations. My question is facing all different Bible translations but paraphrase translations (e.g. as "The Message") excluded. This question is not supposed to get opinion based answers. It exist a useful web page Christianity.Stackexchange which discussed as well questions about the accuracy of different Bible translations.

Since several weeks I know the difference between a dynamic (phrase for phrase) and formal equivalence (word for word) translation. I want to read either a "Moderate use of dynamic equivalence" or a "Moderate use of dynamic equivalence". There is a helpful work which gives a more detailed classification in literal - idiomatic - dynamic - paraphrase - commentative as Wikipedia do in 1 or 2

I tried to search what are the differences between "church English" and "standard English". E.g. the Bible passage "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" (Mark 14:38b) is from a grammatical point of view perfect but the words "spirit" and "flesh" are not often used in "standard English". So the definition of "church English" is the English language whose grammar and syntax is perfect but uses a lot of old words and structures as e.g. the KJV (King James Version) does?

I noticed in three Bible passages differences in the language but I was not able to figure out which sentence is not perfect english grammar. The structures which sounds a little strange to me are highlighted.

Mark 10:21

A) Jesus looked closely at the man. He liked him and said, “There's one thing you still need to do. Go and sell everything you own. Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come with me.” Mark 10:21 CEVUK00

B) And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Mark 10:21 ESV

C) Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Mark 10:21 NIV

The collocation "give to the poor" sounds a little strange for me. May be give can be used without an object (give to... instead of give something to...).

Mark 9:29

D) And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Mark 9:29 ESV)

E) He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” (Mark 9:29 NIV)

F) Jesus answered, “That kind of spirit can only be forced out by prayer.” Mark 9:29 NCV

G) Jesus answered, “Only prayer can force out that kind of demon.” Mark 9:29 CEVUK00

I've checked the collocation "by anything but" in COCA. It is a useful tool to check how common an English structure is. In fact by anything but" is very rarely used.

Mark 8:21

H) And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:21 ESV)

I) He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:21 NIV)

J) Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand yet?” (Mark 8:21 NCV)

"Don't you understand yet" sounds for me better as "Do you not yet understand?" because in most cases the "yet" is placed at the end of the phrase in a question. What do you think about this structure?

Are there some structures mentioned in this Bible passages (from A to J) which do not use appropiate english syntax? I invested many hours to search for a language research of different Bible translations but didn't find any helpful document.

Is there a webpage or free document which lists many different Bible passages with a lot of different Bible translations and discusses the weakness of the used Bible translation language compared to today's standard British or American English?

UPDATE 21.10.2014 - I found two pages which might be helpful (concerned my question above):

- This page discusses differences in Grammar, Syntax, Idioms, Style: Dave Brunn

- This page discusses prepositions, nouns, verbs, phrasing: Biblical-Traning

May be other pages like these will help me to understand what is a correct English grammar in Bible translations. I guess my weak point is not to difference the meaning between different Bible translations, it's more the unsure feeling which English grammar structures are correct and which aren't.

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    First things first: could you at least provide a key for all those abbreviations? But I have a feeling this probably falls into "Criticism, discussion, and analysis of English literature" which is off-topic. – Andrew Leach Oct 17 '14 at 12:57
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    If one wishes to learn proper English structure and grammar from a book, literature is not necessarily an optimal place to establish a baseline. Especially one that was translated. If your only source of grammar is a single human interpreted/translated book, your peers will look at you askance. – SrJoven Oct 17 '14 at 18:30
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    I doubt whether you will speak proper English from the Bible. Although I like to read passages and stories of the Bible because of its special language dont forget that it is a special literary style even if the language seems simple. – rogermue Oct 21 '14 at 13:07
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    I doubt whether you will learn to speak proper English from the Bible. Although I like to read passages and stories of the Bible because of its special language dont forget that it is a special literary style even if the language seems simple. But if you would speak today in the style of the Bible it would sound a bit funny. Modern colloquial language is in many respects different from what you read in the Bible even if it is a beautiful language. – rogermue Oct 21 '14 at 13:14
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    I'm really sorry, but that is a matter where I have no experience. – rogermue Oct 21 '14 at 13:20

All those versions you mention will be well edited to purposefully follow a particular language pattern, so they will all be 'grammatical' with a particular stylistic bent. The

  • The King James Version (KJV) is a classic of Early Modern English, intentionally artistic prose. Many of its phrasings have become idioms of current English. It is a good model for very educated but out of date speech.

  • New International Version is the result of lots of study and modernization to 20th c idiomatic English. They try not to be clunky but they also try not to have too much purple prose or awkward, obscure wordings (to modern ears) like KJV has.

  • Good News Bible is intentionally written to be easy reading (closest to colloquial English, not exactly Basic English but 8th grade reading level).

As to which sect a version appeals to or is intended for, that is a (somewhat) non-linguistic issue that can be derived from their introductions or wikipedia.

So you have to balance what you want to get out of your reading. To overly simplify things, if you want facility with simple native English, GNB is probably the best. But most Bible study people wouldn't recognize quotes from this. If you want good educated English and be able to communicate with other religious people about with quotes, then NIV is probably the best.

I can't judge the rest (low familiarity). All religious texts tend to have a secularist agenda behind them (even those that come from some committee from different sects). So if dogma matters, then choose according to that. If language learning matters, then choose by appropriate reading level. Good News or The Message for intermediate language learners, NIV for later.

To your actual original question "Is there a webpage ... with a lot of different Bible translations and discusses the weakness of the ... translation...?" the answer is "Yes if you ignore "discusses the weaknesses". There are two big sites with side-by-side translations:



and (probably others). These sites do as much as is reasonable for what you are asking. They don't judge the weaknesses directly (say "NKJV says 'I plight you my troth', and The Message says 'I owe you big time' and X is better because 'big time' is not what the Greek or Hebrew meant/WTH is 'troth'"). That would be too judgmental and sectarian and push away a lot of readers. They do have general commentary though on each verse, which will include a lot of what you actually want.

I wouldn't be surprised, however, if someone has done a line by line translation comparison (of one book or chapter) for their seminary degree that emphasizes the linguistic comparison (for varieties/dialects/registers of English language), but that probably isn't a big sell at the book stores; people just want to know what it all means.

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  • As far as I'm aware, the CEV is similar to the GNB (though I don't really know either very well). The ESV and NKJV are both a little more advanced than the NIV, which may or may not be desirable depending on what the OP wants to do with his English. (Personally, I think one should always aim high, but eh.) – Wlerin Oct 17 '14 at 13:44
  • @Wlerin The CEV and GNB uses both 100% standard english. The GNB has a little higher reading level as the CEV. – laminin Oct 17 '14 at 15:49
  • @Mitch Your excellent answer gave me as well a very good page for improving my English skills: grade-8-exercises. I read that the NIV is the most popular one, followed by NASB, ESV and at 4th place the NKJV. – laminin Oct 17 '14 at 21:12
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    @ Mitch: I read from an evangelical pastor, John Piper (Neo-Calvinist; I don't advocate this totally) that the ESV should contain less interpretation as the NIV does and should be easier to memorize. He explains using Bible passages: 1, 2, 3, 4. – laminin Oct 17 '14 at 21:19
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    How do you know what is correct? Translation isn't one-to-one or even exact. 'While' or 'as' both work. As to your 'but', that's a big one. Descriptively, people start sentences all the time with and/but/or. Prescriptively, or rather stylistically, it is considered ugly in modern writing. They used to do things we would never do now. Long run on sentences like the list of begats in Matthew1:2-16. No newspaper would do that today. – Mitch Oct 21 '14 at 12:21

Bible translations are controversial. The AV has been so influential in English culture that its presence in our language seems ineradicable. The same is true with Shakespeare. Almost every line of Julius Caesar seems familiar to us, because it is so widely quoted.

'The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.'


When translators try to 'modernize' the bible, it doesn't seem so 'biblical' anymore. There was a translation that came out in the late 19th century (the English Revised Version, or E.R.V.) that is supposed to be pretty good.


'The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak' is a classic and familiar line, but a bad translation, because nobody ever used English words such as 'sprit' and 'flesh' that way aside from in the bible itself or in allusions to that usage.

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  • The grammatics of the sentence The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak' seems to be good for me. Interestingly the ERV is not listed yet in one category in en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_and_formal_equivalence – laminin Oct 17 '14 at 16:16
  • I didn't say the grammar was bad, but the usage is. Nobody uses or has used 'spirit' in that way outside of the bible new testament or allusions to it. The Greek word translated as 'spirit' is pneuma. – Ornello Oct 17 '14 at 17:21
  • That's right. Thank you for this interesting example! I found a webpage which lists many Bible translations according its literalness: OVU – laminin Oct 17 '14 at 18:14
  • There is an old (and quite apocryphal) story that back about 1970 researchers took verses of the Russian Bible and (for testing purposes) fed them through the secret computer at Wright Patterson AFB that could (ostensibly) translate Russian to English. The Russian verse that (in familiar English translation) reads "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" came through as "The wine is fine but the meat is poor." – Hot Licks Oct 17 '14 at 19:23
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    Wlerin: Those usages came from biblical language and are not part of the 'natural' development of English. laminin: 'For' and 'and' (at the beginning of every sentence) are translations of certain words in Greek or Hebrew that should not ordinarily be translated. – Ornello Oct 21 '14 at 13:39

There is a tension between Dynamic and Formal equivalence. Dynamic equivalence attempts to be more faithful to the target language (here, English) at the risk of playing fast-and-loose with the source language (Greek, Hebrew).

In order to be closer to English syntax and rhythm, you are looking for extensive use dynamic equivalence or a paraphrase.

The cited Wikipedia article lists many versions that use:

  • primarily formal equivalence
  • moderate use of dynamic equivalence
  • extensive use of dynamic equivalence or paraphrase
  • extensive use of paraphrase

It groups the versions rather than ranking them, which I think is a wise way to proceed.

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  • These are good general comments. Can you relate them more directly to the OPs question about specific Bible versions? – Mitch Oct 17 '14 at 18:23
  • @Mitch, I'm noting that the OP has edit the question several times and incorporated the link I provided for Dynamic and Formal equivalence. My answer does not delve into opinion and may thus avoid the wrath of EL&U purists. (I'd make a snarky comment about casting pearls before swine, but love covers a multitude of sins.) – rajah9 Oct 17 '14 at 19:28
  • @rajah9 What do you mean with EL&U purists? – laminin Oct 17 '14 at 20:15
  • @laminin He meant that this is not the best stack exchange site for this question. ; ) – Wlerin Oct 18 '14 at 1:18
  • @rajah9: OK, I see now having followed the link. You should include your paraphrase (or quote) of the contents of that link here because the answer here should stand on its own (keep the link and reference but put some explanatory text here, too). Links rot away, so you need to keep the text self contained. Watch out for plagiarism though. Make sure to quote and/or reference properly. Note that that that link talks about translation and the Bible but doesn't mention English varieties at all. – Mitch Oct 18 '14 at 13:46

The Message Bible.

This one is by far the easiest to digest for a modern English speaker. The Message Bible does take a lot of liberties on translation of idioms and figures of speech (while often times adding some of its own), but it is still technically a bible translation and it is by far the easiest to read. It's almost like reading a children's book.

About the translator Eugene Peterson:

His primary goal was to capture the tone of the text and the original conversational feel of the Greek, in contemporary English.

Language changes. New words are formed. Old words take on new meaning. There is a need in every generation to keep the language of the gospel message current, fresh, and understandable—the way it was for its very first readers. That is what The Message seeks to accomplish for contemporary readers. It is a version for our time—designed to be read by contemporary people in the same way as the original koin Greek and Hebrew manuscripts were savored by people thousands of years ago.

Next in line after The Message would probably be the New Living Translation or the Living Bible. Easiest word-for-word translation would probably be English Standard Version (it's what I read).

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    Ugh. No. The Message is beyond colloquial, and its style and diction are all over the place. The author (I daren't say translator) went out of his way to replace idioms with idioms, which is nice and all, but most of the time he went too far. – Wlerin Oct 17 '14 at 13:20
  • @Wlerin My understanding of the OP's question was that he was looking for a bible translation that is easiest for an English speaker to read--not necessarily one that follows the original text closest. The answer pretty much has to be The Message Bible (or maybe even NLT). – LCIII Oct 17 '14 at 13:55
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    Have you actually read the Message? Or are you just recommending it based on the blurb? Since when is this "easy to read"? The Message is meant to be different, cutting-edge, shocking, etc. It doesn't reflect how people actually speak or write English. The NLT, I'll grant, is a little better. – Wlerin Oct 17 '14 at 14:04
  • @Wlerin I've read it. And your link seems easy enough to me... An opinion based question will almost always get an opinion based answer. – LCIII Oct 17 '14 at 14:08
  • "Christ’s being-here-for-us" is never going to be colloquial. Granted, I'm not sure what he's trying to express can be expressed colloquially, but that's definitely not how you do it. And that was just a random passage. Other parts are worse. I do agree though, that this is a highly opinionated question, hence why I'm only commenting, not downvoting. – Wlerin Oct 17 '14 at 14:10

It really depends if you are looking for easy to understand English, or if your looking for a translation that is closest to what the author wrote. If you are looking for the best translation for understanding what God said, then the bottom two in your list are probably best.

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  • The translations of the different verses are in different orders, so "the bottom two" is incredibly ambiguous. – Peter Shor Oct 17 '14 at 18:58
  • @PeterShor I believe he meant the bottom two in the list: NASB (New American Standard Bible) and NKJV (New King James Version), which are indeed very literal. – laminin Oct 17 '14 at 19:38

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