On a shelf by my desk I have about three feet of Bible translations from the traditional KJV to the heretical Readers Digest Bible. The only one that I use regularly is the NASB. I started using it years ago in seminary.
Shortly after I began pastoring, the people who published the NIV gave out free hardbound copies to pastors. I had known solid scholars who had worked on both the NASB and NIV, so I decided to give it a try. One week I was preparing a sermon on a text and found a great preaching point. It was something I really wanted to focus on. I looked at my NASB to compare the wording but was confused when I could not find my "great idea." When I dug a little deeper I found that the great truth I wanted to focus on from the NIV was not in the Greek at this point. This was the beginning of my opinion that the NIV was just a paraphrase, so I went back to the NASB.
INSPIRATION OF SCRIPTURE
I believe that the Bible is the Word of God. It is to be our authority in matters of faith and practice. I believe it was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Regardless of how you want to interpret the word "inspired" it still means that the original manuscripts said exactly what God wanted them to say. I believe that God had a reason for picking the words in Greek and Hebrew that He wanted to be there. For that reason I reject as a serious translation any effort that uses dynamic equivalence or any other such nonsense. They are not translations, they are paraphrases. You cannot do serious Bible study from a paraphrase. It is like trying to fight a war with the local High School ROTC drill team.
If you don't believe this, the Bible is just another inspiring book, but it is not inspired. If you agree with this, it should be a factor in deciding which translation to use. To make that decision some information is helpful. I say helpful instead of necessary because I believe that the Holy Spirit is still active and teaching as we read. In reality, you can take any version and, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, find what you need to be the person God wants you to be.
WHICH GREEK TEXT?
You may have notice in my discussion of inspiration of scripture that I mentioned the original manuscripts and commented that they said exactly what God wanted to say. Some believers may not realize that we do not have any copies of the original texts. Over the years they crumbled away due to age. This is a natural process. To keep the word available they had to be copied by hand. Sometimes the copying was done by people with an agenda. Sometimes the copying was done by people who were almost illiterate. For many reasons variations crept into the copies that existed. This doesn't make doubt a problem it simply means that we are expected to think, which I believe is the difference between holiness and legalism.
Today there are two legitimate groups of texts. One, which I will refer to as the Majority Text, contains the greatest number of different pieces of manuscript. These have common words and phrases. The other, which I will refer to as the Minority Text, has fewer manuscripts but they are recognized as older. They have much in common.
There are differences in the two texts. Get used to it. In each group there are variations. Get used to it. Denying it will not make it go away. I have been aware of this since college. I am still a believer and grow in my faith every day. The Holy Spirit is still at work. Truth exists. I have been told that none of the differences have anything to do with anything important.
The main translation I am aware of that uses the Majority Text is the King James Bible. Although I don't use it in my personal study, I recognize it as a trustworthy and solid translation. There are places where I feel that the KJV translators got it right. My problem is the archaic language, not the original text. You will find a lot of people who believe that the KJV is the only translation. They love it. That is not problem for me. When they start demonizing all the new translations I begin to treat them like a child that claims that peanut butter and jelly is the only sandwich worth eating. Everyone knows that bologna is really the only mature choice.
I use the New American Standard Bible, pre-updated as much as possible. It, and most modern translations are based on the Minority Text. I use it because, to me, it is the most accurate word-for-word translation and because it has a lot of tremendous study aids linked to the Strong's Numbering System.
PHILOSOPHY OF TRANSLATION
Translators have different philosophies of translation. Most Americans only speak English. If you are aware of other languages you know it is difficult to get the exact feel from other languages. Some differences are easy to deal with, such as word order. In Spanish you have such names as Sierra Madre. In English we would call these the Mother Mountains. A literal translation would be Mountains of Mother. Other times there are nuances that are hard to convey. I studied German years ago. German has two forms of address, the formal and the familiar. Each has different verb forms. We don't have that any more in English. German has two words for "know". One meant to know knowledge the other to know a person. It is not easy to go from one language to another on important issues.
To me there are three general types of translation: Word-for-word, dynamic equivalence and paraphrase.
Word-for-word is obvious. You consider each word as important and try to be as consistent as possible. This sometimes leads to stilted wording and can be hard to read. The translations I know of that fit this category are the King James Version, New American Standard Bible, Revised Standard Bible and the New King James. There are many new translations coming out. I have not worked with them enough to have an opinion. You get to be the thinker.
Dynamic equivalence means that you consider phrases, sentence and even paragraphs and try to come up with a way of expressing the original thought that conveys the same idea in modern thinking. The translations I know that fit this category are the New International Version, Living Bible, and New Living Translation.
Paraphrase takes more liberty than dynamic equivalence. They are very loose in their interpretation. The difference is that they are up front about it. They don't claim to be what they are not. Now my personal prejudices will come out. To me, dynamic equivalence is nothing but a fancy name for paraphrase.
Paraphrases have their place. I enjoy Philips and I remember getting a kick out of the Cotton Patch version, but I never would make a serious statement based on what they say. Years ago I used the Living Bible for a junior high Bible study. But to consider the New Living Translation a serious Bible for study is insulting to the ability of God to say what He wanted to say. God does not need modern scholars trying to find a contemporary way to say something.
PHILOSOPHY OF SCHOLARSHIP
One key factor in translating is the spiritual condition of the translators. For some it is a matter of spiritual pride. They place themselves above the scripture and try to look for new understandings that are more a reflection of their intellectual needs than what God intended. These are the people that you usually find quoted in the modern press. Time magazine brings them out every Easter and Christmas to spread some foolishness. They can sound very profound, but so can the mechanic that tells you that your headlight fluid is getting low. Although I would not be able to say this individually because only God knows the heart, as a group they tend to be heretics and servants of Satan.
For other scholars it is a humble search for the most accurate text possible. This group believes in the inspiration of the originals and are trying with all they have to figure out what the original said and what is the best way to translate it. They will disagree but remember that Paul sent Barnabas packing and at one point Jesus implied that Peter was spewing the Satanic Party line.
We do not need to be afraid of honest, Godly scholarship. Remember that the gifts of the Spirit include knowledge, wisdom and discernment. This is where they come out. If you like the KJV, stick to your guns. While you are reloading though don't consign me to the pit of hell because I don't agree with you.
Here, from Proverbs is a great verse that sums it up.:
(Pro 14:6 KJV) A scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not: but knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth.