The Bible section in most Christian bookstores seems to have as many options as the supermarket soda aisle. Soldier, basketball player, first responder, coloring book fan–there’s a Bible on the market tailored to you. The choices can feel overwhelming. If you just want a basic Bible to read, how do you choose?
Choosing a Bible begins with picking the Bible translation that’s right for you. We are fortunate to have a variety of solid English translations that are trustworthy and reliable. Once you’ve chosen your preferred translation, it becomes much easier to pick out the cover and style that appeals to you. Still, choosing a translation can seem daunting. Here’s a short guide to help.
You want a good, solid translation that strikes a balance between word-for-word and thought-for-thought translation:
Try the New International Version (NIV), Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), or the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
My favorite of these is the NIV. The NIV has been the top selling English translation for years for good reason: it’s a solid, reliable translation that strikes a balance between literal and dynamic readings. If you’re looking for a study Bible, you can’t go wrong with the new Zondervan NIV Study Bible. It’s huge, but the notes, charts, and illustrations are wonderful, and I love the appendix of articles on theological topics. The Holman translation came out in 2004 and was funded by Lifeway, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s a good translation, but is not as widely read as the NIV. The NRSV is more literal than the NIV, but is widely used by academics and is generally regarded as a very accurate translation. You won’t find as many Bible options for the NRSV, but it’s a good choice for serious study.
You want a translation that is more of a word-for-word translation.
Try the English Standard Version (ESV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), or the New King James Version (NKJV)
The ESV has increased in popularity the last few years, particularly among those who didn’t like the NIV 2011 revision. Again, it’s a good, accurate translation, and I use it for some of my devotional reading. The NASB was my Bible of choice for years, and I still go to it regularly. The NKJV is a modern update of the KJV that modernizes the language but also attempts to preserve the poetry of the KJV. These are all good choices for Bible readers who want a more literal translation.
You prefer more of a thought-for-thought translation:
Try the New Living Translation (NLT), or the New Century Version (NCV).
Thought for thought translations attempt to capture the thought of a phrase while smoothing out the word order in a way that makes it understandable for English readers. While still accurate, they are a little more interpretive and not as literal as a word-for-word translation. The scholars and translators behind thought-for-thought translations want to accurately convey God’s word in a way that is easy to understand. This makes them very accessible to new Christians. The NLT is a good choice for a thought-for-thought translation and is comes in many different formats, including a good study Bible. If you like coloring books or Bible journaling, take a look at the new Inspire NLT. It’s gorgeous.
You want a Bible that is very easy to read:
Try the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV), Contemporary English Bible (CEB), or the God’s Word Translation.
The NIrV is a simplification of the NIV that prizes accuracy but also makes the language more readable for children or new readers. This is the translation I’ve bought for my children. It’s a good starter Bible that will help them bridge into an adult Bible later. If you want something readable but not quite so simplified, look at the CEB or God’s Word translation.
You want a fresh reading of Scripture:
Try The Message, The Voice New Testament, or the Amplified Bible.
Sometimes it’s helpful to read Scripture from another voice. Reading a different translation can keep our brains from going on autopilot and can help give us fresh insight into Scripture. While I wouldn’t teach from any of these or use them for serious study, I do use all these versions occasionally for devotional reading. The Message is pretty well known and is one of the most popular paraphrases out there. The Voice Bible is newer. The translation team for the Voice has made an effort to maintain accuracy while eliminating Chrstianese and creating a vibrant translation that is both poetic and easy to read. It’s more dynamic than I prefer for regular study, but it is very poetic. While there are some things I dislike about it, I appreciate some of the choices they’ve made such as rendering “Christ” as “the Anointed One” or “the Liberating King.” It gets across that “Christ” was not just a name but a title that carried meaning. The Amplified Bible has been around for a while and inserts the “hidden” meanings of Greek and Hebrew words into the verses to help English readers appreciate nuances that can be lost in the translation process. I always verify the accuracy of suggestions from the Amplified Bible before including them in my teaching, but the Amplified can help you gain insight into or a fresh understanding of difficult passages.
Once you’ve made your shortlist, Bible Gateway is a great tool for comparing parallel Bible translations. Look up your favorite passages, then use a parallel tool to read them in several versions side by side. It’s an easy way to compare the similarities and differences between versions. Once you’ve settled on a version, check out the Bible Gateway store to find what options there are in your preferred translation. And remember the best Bible translation for you is the one you will read.
Q: Which Bible translation is your favorite? Why? Let us know in the comments!
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