Which is the most accurate English translation of the Bible?

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I have had difficulty deciding which Bible to read. I had been strongly advised to read only the King James Version as being the best translation available.

Chances are you are here because you entered something like “most accurate bible translation” into an internet search engine. If so, you’re not alone. More than 50 people a day come to our site with that question. Jerusalem Perspective (JP) understands the importance of this question.

One reader wrote the question this way:

…I have had difficulty deciding which Bible to read. I had been strongly advised to read only the King James Version…. However, I have begun suffering doubts about the accuracy of the translations I am reading and have again been in search of what is considered the most accurate translation…. Naturally, I desire to read and understand the Word of God with the greatest accuracy possible. My question, quite simply, is which English language Bible would you consider and recommend as being the most accurate translation?

David N. Bivin

JP’s founder, David Bivin, responds:

This is an important question, and it raises a number of complex issues. In this situation, a simple answer is not always the most helpful. To begin with, in my experience, the following English versions usually are the most accurate:

For the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament):

For the New Testament:

However, the above list of translations may leave you confused. The truth is that nearly all English versions of the Bible are helpful, but many leave much to be desired. Unfortunately, no one translation can ever capture the full meaning of the original.

Especially when it comes to the Synoptic Gospels, which may reflect a Greek translation of a Hebrew source, there is as yet no satisfactory translation. If the Greek Synoptic Gospels are descendants of a Hebrew biography of Jesus, then even the greatest translator cannot succeed if he or she is oblivious to or ignores the Hebraic idiom of portions of these Gospels. For instance, no matter how well a New Testament translator knows Greek, if the translator is unacquainted with, for instance, the Hebrew idiom “bad eye” = “stinginess” found in Matthew 6:23, he or she will not be able to render the passage correctly. If the translator is unaware that in Hebrew the same word serves for both “city” and “village,” then he or she will use “city” when translating passages that speak of Jesus’ hometown, although Nazareth was just a small Galilean village in the first century. If the translator is unaware that in Hebrew there is only one word for both “sea” and “lake,” then he or she will use “sea” instead of the more correct “lake” when translating Gospel passages that refer to the “Sea of Galilee.”

One of the most successful attempt to capture the words of Jesus in English has been Charles B. Templeton’s Jesus: The four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, combined in one narrative and rendered in modern English (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973). Templeton, a Canadian journalist, assisted by an editorial committee that included David Noel Freedman, made a tremendous effort to translate the many Greek and Hebrew idioms of the Gospels into idiomatic English. However, even inspired translating will not overcome an insufficient understanding of one of the Gospels’ Hebraisms or the Jewish background to one of Jesus’ sayings. For instance, the translators of Jesus rendered Luke 4:22, “…some were impressed, said complimentary things about him, and remarked about the grace of his speech,” whereas the text probably means almost the exact opposite: “But all testified against him being shocked at the shameful words he spoke.”

It needs to be added that the quest for a perfect translation of the Bible should not replace one’s search and hunger for God. After all, we do not study Scripture as an end in itself, but as a means. Our interest in Scripture springs from a deep desire to know more of God’s will and ways.

Another Suggestion from David Bivin:

James Moffatt’s The Bible: James Moffatt Translation  (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1913, revised 1934) has always appealed to me because Moffatt correctly rendered Matthew 6:22 as, “The eye is the lamp of the body: so, if your Eye is generous…”  (To find out more about Matthew 6:22, consider purchasing an audio teaching by David Bivin on “Matthew 6:22-23: Jesus’ “Good Eye” Saying” for $2.99.)

Download a great book by David Bivin:


The eBook by David Bivin entitled “New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus” is a powerful and thought-provoking study of the harder passages found within the words of Jesus.

One reader stated, “David Bivin makes these passages come to life. …now it is like I’m reading the Bible afresh.”

Another wrote, “Bivin has a way of writing that transcends your education and level of study. …I will recommend this book to all my friends.”

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For the head of a national Bible Society’s reply to the question, “Which is the most accurate Bible translation?” see Ray Pritz, “Which Bible Translation?” (also found in print Jerusalem Perspective 21 (Jul./Aug. 1989), 3-4.

Also, check out the related JP post by Dr. Randall Buth entitled, “The King James Only Debate.”

This article originally appeared in issue 21 of the Jerusalem Perspective magazine. Click on the image above to view a PDF of the original magazine article.

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