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Picking a translation of the Bible to read can be overwhelming and challenging because there are so many options. There are three popular ways that scholars have translated Scripture; word-for-word, thought-for-thought, and paraphrased. Let us explain the differences and why each is beneficial.

Word-for-Word - For my super nerds, I am going to place a disclaimer. Unless you are reading from an interlinear, you are technically not reading a word-for-word translation. Now, with that being said, when we say word-for-word, we mean that the English translation is as close to the original words. This does not mean that this style of translation is closer to the original Scriptures meaning. How does that work? There are some idioms used that are lost in translation. For example, 1 Samuel 25:22 says, “So, and more also, do God unto the enemies of David if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that urinates against the wall.” (KJV) Here instead of saying man, the author used the idiom "urinates against the wall,” This is the word-for-word translation.


HOW TO PICK THE BEST TRANSLATION FOR YOU.

Thought-for-Thought - The purpose behind translating in this style is so that reader can grasp the main idea. This translation uses English phrases and sentence structure to make it easier for the audience to understand.

Paraphrased - This translating style is exactly what it sounds like. A paraphrase of what Scripture says. Although we do not recommend the style when you are studying the Bible, this is a great translation to read or do devotionals with.

We have compiled a list of popular translations and in the chart below. We show the reading level recommended for each translation. Then, we let you know whether these translations are word-for-word, thought-for-thought, or paraphrased. Under history, we send readers to gotquestions.org, where they can learn more information about each translation. Finally, we show you the same verse (Philippians 2:3) in each translation to better understand how they read.

Bible Gateway made the following suggestions for those who read English as a second language:
- Holy Bible For ESL Readers
- Contemporary English Version (CEV)
- Good News Translation (GNT)
- New International Readers Version (NIrV)
- Bilingual Bibles Paragraph

The Translation Guide

Take me back to other translations

Reading Level: 11th grade (16 years old+)

Translation:Word-For-Word

Verse Example: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit [through factional motives, or strife], but with [an attitude of] humility [being neither arrogant nor self-righteous], regard others as more important than yourselves.”

Amplified (AMP)

Take me back to other statements

Reading Level: 7th grade (12 years old+)

Translation: Between Thought-For-Thought and Paraphrased

Verse Example: “Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves.”

Common English Bible (CEB)

Take me back to other statements

Reading Level: 7th grade (12 years old+)

Translation: Thought-For-Thought

Verse Example: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.”

Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

Take me back to other statements

Reading Level: 10th grade (15 years old+)

Translation: Word-For-Word

Verse Example: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

English Standard Version (ESV)

Take me back to other statements

Reading Level: 7th grade (12 years old+)

Translation: Paraphrased

Verse Example: “Don't do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves.”

Good News Translation (GNT)

Take me back to other statements

Reading Level: 12th grade (17 years old+)

Translation: Word-For-Word

Verse Example: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”

King James Version (KJV)

Take me back to other statements

Reading Level: 11th grade (16 years old+)

Translation: Word-For-Word

Verse Example: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves”

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Take me back to other statements

Reading Level: 3rd grade (7 years old+)

Translation: Thought-For-Thought

Verse Example: “When you do things, do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves.”

New Century Version (NCV)

Take me back to other statements

Reading Level: 7th grade (12 years old+)

Translation: Thought-For-Thought

Verse Example: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”

New International Version (NIV)

Take me back to other statements

Reading Level: 7th grade (12 years old+)

Translation: Word-For-Word

Verse Example: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”

New King James Version (NKJV)

Take me back to other statements

Reading Level: 6th grade (11 years old+)

Translation: Thought-For-Thought

Verse Example: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.”

New Living Translation (NLT)

Take me back to other statements

Reading Level: 11th grade (16 years old+)

Translation: Thought-For-Thought

Verse Example: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Take me back to other statements

Reading Level: 4th grade (9 years old+)

Translation: Paraphrased

Verse Example: “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends.”

The Message (MSG)

Take me back to other statements

Reading Level: 12th grade (17 years old+)

Translation: Word-For-Word

Verse Example: “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.”

Revised Standard Version (RSV)

Study Bible

A Study Bible is one of the most useful tools in understanding Scripture. Below, there is a list of what is included in a study Bible.

Introductions
Study Notes
Footnotes
Cross-References
Maps
Illustrations
Index
Reading Plan
Weights and Measurements
… and more

What is a Study Bible?

Introductions: Study Bibles will have an introduction to each book of the Bible. They appear directly before the book begins.

Example:
Author and Title
- This tells who wrote the book and how it was named.
Date - This tells when the book was written.
Theme - This tells, in a few sentences, what the “big idea” of the book is.
Purpose, Occasion, and Background - This briefly tells the reason the book was written, what was happening while it was being written, and some insight into that time.
Timeline - This shows when events in each book took place in one chart.
History of Salvation Summary - This gives a glimpse into how the book plays a role in the Gospel.
Literary Features - This tells you the genre and the different categories that the book falls into, such as narrative, apocalyptic, letter, poetry, etc.
Sometimes it will give further description too.
Key Themes - This breaks down even further what the ultimate key theme is and where those are presented throughout that book.

Study Notes: Study notes act as miniature commentaries. DO NOT run straight to these when you finish reading. You should wrestle with the text
yourself before jumping to these. The large numbers next to sections of Scripture signify chapters. Then, within the sentences of those sections,
smaller numbers indicate the verses. Study notes are typically found under the Scripture towards the bottom of the page. They are labeled by bold numbers that state the chapter and verse.

Footnotes:
Footnotes are marked in Scripture by numbers slightly smaller than verses and in italics. In this video, the references are located between the passages of Scripture and the study notes. You simply match the footnote number in Scripture, with the number in the footnote
section.

Cross-References: Cross-references are marked in Scripture by italic letters that are slightly smaller than the numbers that identify verses. In this video, the cross-references are in the margins. You simply match the small letter in Scripture, with the letter in the margin. The reference in the
margin will show you other places in Scripture that the marked section’s idea/concept is also applied.

Maps: There are maps within Scripture that show the location of events happening in those specific passages. You can also find additional maps in
the back of the study Bible that cover a larger area.

Illustrations: Within the pages of the Study Bible, there are strategically placed illustrations to highlight and give visual aid. Where Scripture uses
words to explain, illustrations help the reader visualize.

Index: In the back of your Study Bible, there will be an index. The words are written in bold. Under it, there will be sentences from verses that the word is located in. At the end of the sample verse, you will find the location of that passage.

Reading Plan: If you like accountability, most study Bibles have a reading plan you can use. There are often boxes that allow you to checkmark when that passage of Scripture is read.

Weights and Measurements: The weights and measurements of Biblical times are different than what we have today. These charts help us convert
them to today’s measurements so that we can better understand what’s being presented in Scripture.

Study Bible Features

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Concordance

A concordance is a tool that explicitly shows where every word in the Bible is used… even the word “and”. Not only does it show where these words are used, but it also shows how many times that word is used. 

This tool is helpful when needing to locate specific passages in Scripture. All you need to remember is one word in a verse and most likely you will be able to find it in a concordance. Sometimes, concordances will also have a role in original languages.

What is a Concordance?

Download Guide

App Locations:
Itunes
Android

  

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Bible Dictionary

A Bible dictionary is specifically for people, places, and events found in Scripture. The Bible dictionary acts as an encyclopedia too which is what sets is apart from standard dictionaries. This tool is very helpful for anyone interested in learning more about a specific concept in Scripture.

In an article by Logos, they gave 8 reasons why the Bible Dictionary is one of the greatest tools for Bible study. If you want to read the article in full, you can access it here:

- Bible Dictionaries increase your efficiency
- Bible dictionaries are concise yet surprisingly dense
- Bible dictionaries are authoritative and quality-controlled
- Each Bible dictionary article is attributable
- Bible dictionary articles provide an array of perspectives
- Bible dictionaries address niche topics
- Bible Dictionaries provide a bibliography for further study
- Bible dictionaries empower you to be good steward of insight

What is a Bible Dictionary?

Download Guide

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Commentary

Sometimes when we read our Bible, we miss stuff. There might be a cultural fact that we overlook because we read through a twenty-first century lens. When we have tools like commentaries, it helps make the ideas behind what’s being said that much richer and lively.

*DISCLAIMER* Try to wrestle with the text before jumping straight into a commentary. 

Step 1: Identify what type of commentary it is. Bible Gateway explains it perfectly! 

Critical, technical, and exegetical commentaries are the most detailed. They exhaustively go through all the details, including comments on the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words of the text. They are best used by people who know the biblical languages. 

Expository commentaries are written to help people who regularly teach or preach from Scripture, though they are very helpful for any serious student of the Bible. They go passage by passage, sentence by sentence, explaining the background and meaning, but expository commentaries go one step further in describing how the meaning of the text may be applied in real life. 

Devotional commentaries spend little time on the details of biblical passages and instead go straight to spiritual meaning and life application. Note also that there is a big difference between one-volume commentaries on the whole Bible, which naturally are limited, and commentaries devoted to single books of the Bible.

Step 2: You can use people’s judgement that you trust. www.bestcommentaries.com is peer-rated and will help in identifying solid commentaries. The differentiate by (T) Technical commentaries (P) Pastoral Commentaries and (D) Devotional Commentaries. There are also books written by theology librarians to pick commentaries. We recommend Commentary and Reference Survey by John Glenn. 

Commentary Series we recommend:

NIV Application Commentary
Pillar New Testament Commentary
Expositor’s Bible Commentary
The New American Commentary
Christ-Centered Exposition 

What is a Commentary?

Download Guide

Where can I get FREE commentaries?

It is a good idea to start a library. When you choose to study a book of the Bible, you can add a commentary as you go. However, that is not always feasible. Here are some great places to start as you pursue Biblical knowledge.

Google Books: Google books often has excerpts and samples of well known commentaries. Start here when looking! Simply type in the commentary name, series, or author.

Bible Hub: Bible Hub also has helpful commentaries that you can access for free. Simply look up the passage and select commentary for more information. 

Local Library: The great thing about local libraries is, if they do not have a book you are interested in, they might order it for you! This is also a great way to help others in your community!

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Lexicon

A Bible Lexicon shows the meaning and definition of a word in the original language. The Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek.

Hard Copy:
William Mounce Analytical Lexicon

Online Locations:
Bible Hub

App Locations:
Itunes
Android

What is a Lexicon?

Download Guide

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Interlinear

An interlinear can help identify Greek and Hebrew words within Scripture and then easily translates it into English.  

Hard Copy:
William Mounce Interlinear for the Rest of Us

Online Locations:
Bible Hub


App Locations:
Itunes
Android

What is an Interlinear?

Download Guide

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Maps & Atlases

Bible maps are different than the maps we find today. Luckily, we have multiple resources that give insight into these locations for free. 

Hard Copy:
Holeman Bible Atlas
Rose Bible Map Insert

Online Locations:
https://bibleatlas.org/isv/
https://bibleatlas.org/biblemapper/genesis/2.htm
https://bible.org/article/net-bible-maps


App Locations:
Itunes
Android

What are Bible Maps & Atlases?

Download Guide

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Dictionary of Biblical Imagery 

The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery is the first contemporary reference work dedicated to exploring the images, symbols, motifs, metaphors, and literary patterns found in the Bible. 

Hard Copy
Online Locations

What is a Dictionary of Biblical Imagery?

Download Guide

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