What is the best English Bible translation?
Perhaps you think too much of your English Bible translation, assuming it is the only correct way to read the Bible in English. Perhaps you don't think about it at all, carrying around a generic Bible app on your phone without even knowing what translation it is.
Despite where you might fall on the spectrum, you have probably wondered at some point, "What is the best translation?" If you're curious to find out, keep reading.
Answer: None of them.
Now before you hit the back button on the browser window and declare me a heretic, you need to understand what I mean by that. In the included video, New Testament Greek Professor Robert Plummer refers to the plethora of English Bible translations as an "embarrassment of riches," and he's right. BibleGateway.com currently holds about 56 English translations of the Bible from which to choose, which is far more than any other language (and according to Babbel, English isn't even the most spoken language in the world!). There are still over 1,700 languages that still don't possess a translated Bible at all! In light of this, as Plummer suggests, the debates we have among ourselves are "sort of silly."
So what's the point?
Maybe the question posed isn't the right question at all. Many English translations of the Bible are great works that will provide the reader a sound understanding of the Bible in its original language and context. However, despite the response that "none of them" are the best, there are some translations to avoid completely. For instance, as Plummer notes, the New World Translation, the Bible translated by the Jehovah's Witnesses, is not faithful to the Word of God; the translation is being driven by a faulty and heretical view of the Godhead. The most famous and cited issue with the New World Translation is that of John 1:1. The NWT reads, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a God." This 1) promotes an improper understanding of the Godhead (i.e. polytheism) driven by a heretical view and 2) is functionally a poor translation of the Greek words of John (which should be rendered, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.").
"Almost all translations will have several pages at the beginning of the Bible explaining the methodology. Read them!"
So which translation should I choose?
You have to remember that the English Bible is derived from ancient languages; translating is not a process of simply matching this word to that one; it is not an ancient vocabulary quiz. As a result, a spectrum of English Bible translations has emerged, based on different "translation philosophies". On the left side is what you might call "functionally equivalent" translations (i.e. meaning-for-meaning) such as the New Living Translation, and on the right side are more "formally equivalent" translations (i.e. word-for-word), including the New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version. Somewhere in the middle lies the New International Version.
All of these translations are faithful translations from which to choose. However, understand that the NLT is going to be communicating more of the meaning than the literal words of Scripture, while the NASB is going to be delivering as close to a word-for-word translation as possible. Take & Seal recommends the ESV (especially the Study Bible), as it is very close to the words of Scripture, but is also translated in a very easy-to-read manner. Again, any of those mentioned above, and many more, are faithful to the words of Scripture in its original language.
When choosing a translation, be sure to do your research! Understand what you are purchasing and why the translators chose to translate it the way they did. Almost all translations will have several pages at the beginning of the Bible explaining the methodology. Read them!