I’ve seen a few mentions of this topic, so I thought I’d try to sum up the whole issue for you all.
- King James (KJV): aka The Authorized Version and AV1611. Mentioned only for the sake of historical completeness since it is the grande dame of English Bible translations. Today used only by staunch traditionalists and KJV-Only types (and yes… that’s really a thing.)
Revised Standard Version (RSV): This is the last translation that could in any way be considered universal in the English speaking world. It was used by both Protestants and Catholics. Fundamentalists tended to eschew it for the KJV over what they saw as encroaching theological liberalism the translations, especially with regards to the Virgin Birth.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV): A re-revision to the RSV. If the RSV saw some encroachment of theological liberalism, then the NRSV was absolutely riddled with it. Between the RSV and NRSV you have nearly universal acceptance amongst mainline Protestants.
New American Standard Bible (NASB): An entirely new translation of the Old and New Testaments undertaken by the Lockman Foundation to accomplish the same goals as the RSV (i.e. better textual criticism and updated language) but with a thorough commitment to translational accuracy and historical Protestant orthodoxy. It was and remains to be the 800-pound gorilla of serious bible study but it was always hampered by stilted language that rendered it almost entirely useless for preaching and worship.
New International Version (NIV): A dynamic equivalence translation (i.e. “thought for thought”) dedicated to the idea of rendering what the authors of scripture meant instead of what they said. It’s notable for the fact that it has very straightforward international standard English usage that can easily be translated into other languages and/or understood by non-native English speakers while still maintaining a surprising level of faithfulness to the text. This is the standard Evangelical bible and it used almost universally. Not to be confused with the TNIV or Today’s NIV which is a “gender neutral” update of the NIV that almost nobody uses.
New King James Version (NKJV): Nothing more than an update of the KJV to bring it up to modern English usage. Favored by some traditionalists who oppose the usage of the critical Alexandrian-line influenced Nestle-Alland Novum Testamentum Graece over the more traditional Byzantine-line based Textus Receptus.
English Standard Version (ESV): Undertaken as an update to the RSV intended to provide a translation that is both in accordance with the traditional KJV-RSV line and with historical protestant orthodoxy. Uses limited gender inclusive language, but hasn’t kicked up the dust storm that the TNIV did. A translation including the OT Apocrypha has been produced (theoretically opening it up to use by Catholics). Accepted mainly by Evangelicals of the “New Calvinist” movement, and by “traditionalist” Protestant denominations such as the LCMS and indeed, traditionalists within mainline Protestant churches.
Others: Too many to name, if you want to know about a specific translation, just ask. Also feel free to ask about those textual issues that I mentioned regarding the NKJV.