The Word of God: Should I Use More Than One Translation?

It is wise to use one translation for the purpose of meditation and memorization. The constant use of the same words will reinforce them in your mind. But use other translations, like commentaries, for advanced understanding. Yes, there are too many translations, but there are several which are helpful in their own way. Of course, no translation is perfect, and each one involves some degree of interpretation. Preachers encouraged me as a teenager to consult the Darby New Translation and the Revised Version. Later on, the Newberry Bible (KJV) was promoted, and in its margin are many translation suggestions.

You are already using more than one translation if your KJV has notes in the center column or margin. For example, in Matthew 5, the margin of the Oxford edition suggests five word changes, while the Newberry suggests 38. In verse 30, Newberry suggests, “cause thee to stumble” instead of if thy right hand “offend thee.”

Changes, in the margin or in a different translation, should trigger curiosity and alert you to a possible expanded meaning. Be mindful that some translations of certain words or verses are plainly poor, or may be too interpretive, but don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.

What about “thou”?

Looking at new words in the KJV margin is not the same as daily reading a new translation. The NKJV updates archaic words, but also changes “Thou” to “You,” which some of us don’t like. You should just keep reading your preferred translation but still refer to others.

Kindly bear with me when I point out that “thee” and “thou” are not used in the KJV for reverence. (Satan and Judas both get “thou”), and the unusual grammar that goes with these pronouns may be better appreciated by you than by your grandson. He may read another translation, but not because he lacks reverence. Of course, his prayers will reflect that translation. He may not want to learn how to use thy/thine, or why it is wrong to say “I lovest,” or that some shorter words drop the “e” from the suffix as in does/dost/doth. You don’t say “doest,” do you? It is only reasonable to acknowledge that my attachment to old English is preferential, not Scriptural. And undoubtedly, it is emotional. After all, I am human.

Two experiences

Is there any advantage to having the margin’s word changes put into the text itself? Yes there is. A brother said, “I got tired of going back and forth to the margin when I read my Newberry KJV so now I read the NKJV and many of the marginal words are already there.” Of the 38 changes noted above, the NKJV and ESV use 14 of them in their text. This results in smoother reading and less stopping and starting. Of course, Newberry may have other advantages.

On that same note, a Sunday school teacher said, “I spent half of my time explaining to the kids what the archaic words meant. I use the NKJV now and we don’t waste that time.” For example, in KJV Matthew 4-7, there are 72 archaic words modernized in the NKJV, such as lunatick, palsy, hath, ought, forswear, twain, and publicans.

The value of consulting other translations: Modernization of archaic words

It is my observation that there is scarcely a chapter where the KJV does not present an archaic word that is surprisingly still a mystery to even long-term KJV readers. These mysteries may be real hindrances to younger ones, immigrants, or to poor readers.

Corrections of the text

When the KJV uses the word “devils” it actually should say “demons.” You already know that, but your listeners may not. Other versions have corrected this error and many others, such as “candle”in Matthew 5:15.

Clarifications of the text

Matthew 6:27 asks, “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” Darby reads, “can add to his growth one cubit?” The ESV reads, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” The NLT reads, “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” Notice the widening of the sense here. It is not merely “thinking” but “worrying.” It is not only about “height” but “time.”

Simplification of words and concepts

Believers ought to eventually learn the technical words of the Bible. However, when I speak to someone who doesn’t know a Bible from a hymnbook, I use the NIV or the NLT to keep it simple, especially if English is a second language. The KJV says in 1 John 4:10, “… sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Compare the NLT, “… sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”

Appreciation of familiar passages

We get so used to our one favorite translation that we can read without really seeing the words. A different translation may cause words and concepts to leap from the page. For a startling view of Proverbs, try the NLT or the NIV. You will be amazed at what you understand for the first time. Proverbs 11:15 (KJV) “He that hateth suretiship is sure.” In the NIV, “Whoever refuses to shake hands in pledge is safe.” By the way, Vine’s dictionary agrees with the NIV.

What next?

On your iPad with its KJV, download NKJV and ESV as two of the more conservative, literal translations, and depend on them for doctrine. Get the NIV and NLT for comparisons and use them to illuminate the text.

If you prefer a paper Bible, order The Complete Evangelical Parallel Bible which includes the KJV, NKJV, NIV, and NLT, all in one Bible for easy comparison. A simpler choice would be the ANIV-KJV Side-by-Side Bible or the KJV-NLT People’s Parallel Edition, both with just two translations. When you begin to compare these, you will be pleasantly surprised.


We are to be marked by love. Do not read publicly from your new and different translation without permission. Also, explain which version you will read from, and why. If you surprise your audience, you will soon find that you have also lost them. This has happened too often. Finally, don’t be swayed by conspiracist warnings or extremist feelings that declare all new translations come with harmful intentions. This kind of talk is unchristian, at best, and often deceptive. Yes, there are bad translations, but the ones you find among us are useful in their place, and godly men among us have used them for decades.