A student asked me recently on a Thursday night. So, I gave it some thought and here is my response.
A little over a year ago, I picked up a copy of the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. It was recomended to me by a friend and some other pastors and leaders that I respect. It is a fairly new translation that has gained much acclaim in the evangelical world.
The ESV is what is known as an “essentially literal” or a word-for-word translation. The translators went to the original languages (Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic) and found the best meaning they could while keeping the same structure of the ancient text. Other word-for-word translations include the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the New King James Version (NKJV).
Other types of Bibles that we would be familiar with are “Thought for Thought” translations and Paraphrases. Thought-for-thought translations (i.e. the New International Version NIV and the New Living Translation NLT) work to capture the thought of the original words but not the same structure. Paraphrases are an expanded version of the thoughts of the passage while adding to the text modern language or imagery as well as application statements.
I recommend getting a good word-for-word translation. Having the closest translation to the original language is always a good thing. The ability to study the original words is easy with a Bible like the ESV. Since the translation sticks to the way the ancient text is written it is easy to pinpoint the specific words that you want to study. This isn’t always the case with the other types of Bibles.
I wouldn’t discourage the use of other Bibles and translations, but you should have something like the ESV as a starting point. Going to other translations can be helpful in understanding a passage, but shouldn’t replace your own study. I also use the ESV in all teaching and preaching. So, if you are a student or have a student I would recommend picking up an ESV.
I hope that answer will suffice. I think I’ve said ESV enough for you to get a good idea what I would recommend.