Working part-time at the most awesome Theological Bookstore around means I get asked an awful lot about Bible Translations. I used to try to explain to people the difference between dynamic and formal equivalence and why the KJV is such a terrible translation and why The Message is okay but not the best because it’s really a paraphrase, not a translation. I found though that this just confused people.
I have recently simplified my advice down to three easy steps (plus the bonus secret step). I don’t know if others will think them irresponsible, but they make sense to me.
So here they are:
1) Pick 1, 2, or 3 verses or sections you really like (preferabbly not the Lords Prayer because many translations keep the language from the KJV regardless of their translation philosophy)
2) Open up as many different translations as you can and read those sections, seeing how they read to you and whether one helps you get into the story better than the others.
3) Use the translation that you like the most out of step #2.
Bonus secret step: Why does this work? Because of this bonus secret step. If you’re reading the Scriptures devotionally than one translation is fine and it may as well be the one you connect with the best.
If you’re reading it for more in-depth Bible study than you should really be comparing different translations anyway. So, along with the Bible translation you learn to love from step #2, use online tools such as Bible Gateway or Blue Letter Bible to look up alternate translations. There are also many smartphone apps out there that will do the same. Comparing and contrasting different translations is the best way to get the best sense for what God is trying to communicate in any passage.
Oh, one more thing. Don’t stick with one translation just because it’s the one you have. Cost notwithstanding don’t be afraid to switch it up if it doesn’t work for you.
Hope that helps.
Happy Bible reading.
ps… if you’re interested, my primary Bible is an English Standard Version (ESV).