A question from Facebook went like this: I really want to get an accurate bible. What are your recommendations? I want something that is closest to the original Hebrew.
This is based on the reply I made to that question. I will be expanding it in the future, but this is here so I won’t put it off and eventually forget.
Short of learning Hebrew itself, you have to choose what you value in a translation. There’s no such thing as “most accurate”. Every translation is a tradeoff between major principles such as dynamic vs literal equivalence, whether you want idioms left as they were in the original language vs translated into a modern idiom, whether you want paraphrase or word-for-word, etc., and all these are a gradient, not binary. Even decisions like whether to keep the original weights and measures or convert to modern units can affect our understanding.
in~Summit he~did~Fatten “Elohiym [Powers]” At the~Sky~s2 and~At the~Land in the summit “Elohiym [Powers]” fattened the sky and the land, and~the~Land she~had~Exist Confusion and~Unfilled and~Darkness Upon Face~s Deep.sea and~Wind “Elohiym [Powers]” much~Flutter~ing(fs) Upon Face~s the~Water~s2 (Genesis 1:1-2)((Benner, Jeff A.. A Mechanical Translation of Genesis. p17 Jeff A. Benner, 2007. http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/bookstore/e-books/mtg.pdf. Web. September 7, 2014.))
Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.((Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6, The Message))
You won’t get an edge by picking a single “best” bible. Read passages from multiple translations on sites like Bible Gateway and see what you like. There are really dozens of factors to consider, and it is literally impossible for a single translation to offer it all.
For example, the NLT is awesome for reading out loud (it was specifically designed for that). The ESV is great for its similarity to the KJV in feel, but with modern conveniences like passage headings and less archaic English. The KJV is great for finding those passages in the wording that everyone recognizes. The NASB is the one a lot of academics use, where variant readings were taking from multiple text streams. There is an increasing number of “original names” editions, but those names never help me understand the text better, and make it harder to actually discuss with others, so I don’t bother personally, but they’re very important to some people and I respect the choice.
So this is a big subject, and there’s no single answer. The reason so many translations exist is because there are so many ways to think about conveying the meaning from the original culture and language to our modern culture and language. After obsessing over it for a few years, I finally came to the conclusion the best one is the one within arm’s reach. I have about 10 translations in paper, and dozens in software (Logos). The one I use most is probably the ESV, but boy does the NLT just read so smooth.