Finding the right Bible depends on who
will be reading it and why
by Steve DuPlessie
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
– 2 Timothy 3:16 ESV
The Bible is the best-selling book of all time. But with 21 different English translations (and counting!) available in more than 1,000 different editions, which is the right Bible for you?
Did you know?
The bible is a collection of “books” written over a period of about 1,500 years by over 40 different authors in three different languages on one theme!
Imagine translating a letter that you received from a friend who wrote it to you in Spanish. If you translate that letter into English your translation might read a bit differently than it would if I translated it into English.
Types of Translations
In making your translation you would have to decide if you are going to translate every Spanish word into an equivalent English word. Or you might choose instead to translate the “idea” of the original, even if it was not a word-for-word equivalent.
The same happens in Bible translations: some are “formal equivalency” translations from Hebrew and Greek that are very accurate, but might be awkward or difficult to read. Others are more informal, “dynamic equivalency” translations that are easier to read, but not as “accurate.”
And some are looser “paraphrases” which make no attempt to translate the actual words but seek only to convey the thought in an easy-to-read style.
Here’s a look at the major translations and who reads them…
The “Authorized” or King James Version (KJV)
First published by order of King James of England in 1611 (the same era that William Shakespeare wrote), the KJV is still unmatched for its pure, poetic beauty. The King James is also the most familiarly “Biblical” to the ear: when Linus quotes the Christmas Story at the end of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” he quotes the King James.
But the same archaic language of Shakespeare that lends the King James its beauty and authority can make it a difficult read. Yet the KJV is still the Bible of choice for many Christians today.
New King James Version (NKJV) Published in 1982, the NKJV retains much of the KJV’s beauty, while smoothing out some of its thornier diction.
The New International Version (NIV)1
Popular with evangelicals, the NIV (1978) is the bestselling English “dynamic equivalent” translation of the Bible today. Like most Bibles it is available in many choices of study and devotional versions.
New Living Translation (NLT)1
A very readable translation* available in multiple editions: study bibles, special editions or women, men, those in recovery, etc.
* My current favorite
New American Standard Bible (NASB)2
A more “literal” but still readable translation, may be a better bet for evangelical Bible students looking for a study Bible. Academics like it too for its faithfulness to the original Hebrew and Greek texts. Released 1971.
The English Standard Version (ESV)2
Another update of the RSV, this “formal equivalency” translation was published in 2001 and is growing in popularity with evangelicals who want a version that is a more literal translation than the NIV, but easier to read than the NASB.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions….
1. What’s A Paraphrase?
The most reader-friendly versions of the Bible are generally the loosest translations: “The Living Bible,” now updated as “The New Living Translation,” is actually a paraphrase, seeking the contemporary meaning of each passage, not its literal translation. Christians of all stripes enjoy “The Message” by Eugene Peterson, a Bible-as-novel.
Did you know? Only 10 manuscripts remain of Julius Caesar’s “The Gallic Wars” with the earliest one dating to 1,000 years after the original autograph. But there are over 5,600 copies and fragments of the NT in Greek, the earliest existing fragment dating a remarkably short 40-60 years after authorship!
2. Which edition should I choose?
Each translation, of course, is only the starting point for Bible publishers. Lately they’ve made buying a Bible for someone else easier by producing gift Bibles, study Bibles, award Bibles and devotional Bibles for every group or occasion. And you can get Bible as books, on CDs or download an MP3 for your iPod! You can get inexpensive bibles to hand out at www.biblica.com.
Study Bibles come with complete study notes about the books of the Bible, explanation of difficult concepts, and commentary on individual verses. Most study Bibles include an extensive “cross reference” system to help you find related verses or ideas, and concordances to help you find things by word or topic. Many include color maps, time lines, dictionaries, articles and other helpful study tools.
Popular Study Bibles include…
- The NIV Study Bible
- The Ryrie Study Bible (NASB & NIV)
- The ESV Study Bible
- The NLT Study Bible*
- The NIV Archaeological Study Bible
- The Life Application Study Bible (NIV & NLT)
- The John MacAthur Study Bible (NKJV, NASB, Esp)
- The Inductive Study Bible (NASB – Kay Arthur)
- The Quest Study Bible (NIV)
- The Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (KJV, NASB, NIV)
- * My current favorite
Devotional Bibles often include notes that address specific questions about Christian life. Some feature study guides for use in personal or group Bible studies.
“The Women’s Devotional Bible “(Zondervan) and “The Women of Color Study Bible” (Nia Publishing) both add reflections and annotations that highlight women’s issues, as “The Men’s Devotional Bible” does for men. You can get special editions for those in recovery, in the military, for firemen, students, singles, seniors…
For Latinas, Broadman & Holman offers a Quinceanera Bible. The MacArthur Study Bible (Thomas Nelson)is available in Spanish.
3. What about teens & children?
The youth market for Bibles has grown tremendously, especially since the shootings at Columbine. The Student Bible (NIV – Zondervan) includes helpful answers to questions frequently asked by students.
Most of the teen niche, like Zondervan’s “The Extreme Teen Bible” present the Bible by way of MTV, with commentary by teens on drugs and peer pressure, sexuality and sibling rivalry, all wrapped in contemporary cover designs.
“The Picture Bible” (D C Cook) gives realistic, annotated illustrations that will capture a child’s imagination and help instill a love for reading the bible. For younger children, there is “The New Explorers Study Bible for Kids” (Thomas Nelson) and “The Beginners Bible” series from Word Publishing.
Did you know?
There are translations of the bible, or portions of the bible, in more than 2,400 languages today!
4. Where do I buy a Bible?
Once you have determined which translation and edition are best for your needs you can shop online at christianbook.com or amazon.com for a wide selection of options (color, size, etc.) and low prices.
You can also do a “hands-on” review of a wide selection of Bible translations and study editions at almost any Christian bookstore. Secular booksellers such as Barnes & Noble, Borders and even WalMart also have pretty good Bible sections.
1 Suggested for new Christians
2 Recommended for serious students of the Bible