There are some basic and notable differences between translations that ought to be recognized.  There are three basic approaches:

1. Formal equivalence. The first method seeks to follow the Greek (or Hebrew) text as closely as possible in a word-by-word pattern.  The strength is found in verbal accuracy. The weakness is its cumbersome and awkward literary style.  (Examples:  KJV, NKJV, NAS, ESV)

2. Functional equivalence. This method is also known as dynamic equivalence, which is the predominant method of modern translations.  It seeks a maximum of fluid reading style with a minimum of verbal distortion. The goal is to produce an accurate rendition of the thoughts or concepts of Scripture.  (Examples:  NIV, NRSV)

3. The paraphrase or free translation. The paraphrase method is an expansion of the functional equivalence method.  (Examples:  New Living Translation, The Message)

The more a translation moves in the direction of paraphrase the more manifest is the danger of distortion.  Though many paraphrases have been helpful introductions to Bible reading, they are not recommended for serious study.


Marginal notes and footnotes have been added to many editions of the Bible. In most cases, these notations are very helpful in terms of cross-reference or defining archaic words or concepts.  Textual variants are also noted.

Be careful with commentary notes.  The commentary notes are not inspired.  Good commentary notes are found in the ESV Study Bible and Reformation Study Bible while the Scofield Reference Bible and others are not so helpful

Translations and commentary. In one sense every translation is a commentary: every translation involves the process of decision making with respect to words and ideas.  As New Testament professor D. A. Carson says, “No translation is perfect.”


Commentaries are an indispensable tool for the student of the Bible. Without the use of competent commentaries I am abusing the principle of “private interpretation” by relying on my own judgment alone for understanding the Scriptures.  Commentaries provide a check and balance to my own prejudicial tendencies.


Every layperson’s “toolbox” should include at least one good concordance, one good Bible dictionary and one good atlas.


Rule 5 for biblical interpretation (see chap. 4) examined the importance of the meaning of words. And there are many excellent resources to help Christians understand the words used in most biblical passages.


There are some great tools available the give access both online and on your computer to get all of the above at your fingertips:

•   Accordance Bible Software by OakTree Software <>

•   Bible Gateway:

•   BibleWorks by BibleWorks <>

•   ESV Online:

•   Logos Bible Software by Logos Research Systems <>

•   PC Study Bible by BibleSoft <>

•   WORDsearch by WOR Dsearch Corp <>