If you’ve strolled the aisles at a Christian bookstore recently or gone shopping for a Bible online, you may have noticed the overwhelming number of options available to us. When I did a simple search for “Bible” on Amazon and then narrowed my results to the Bibles category within the Christian Books & Bibles category, I still gained over 50,000 results. Seventy-five pages of lists of Bibles.
If you are new to Christianity, new to Jesus, or just new to reading your Bible regularly, how do you choose?
Which Translation Is Best?
The Bible is one of the greatest blessings bestowed by God on the children of men. ~John Locke
My quick answer: The one you will read.
Seriously. I really don’t care whether it’s the most beloved translation of your favorite pastor, the one your most treasured mentor reaches for, or the first one you happened to find at a second-hand store. If it’s a Christian Bible, pick it up and read it.
Read your favorite stories. Read through your favorite books, if you have one or more. If you enjoy fiction, dig into the Gospels and books like Kings and Ruth and Esther. If you love the law or blunt speaking, consider Deuteronomy, Romans, or James. The Bible includes five books of poetry if that’s your passion, and a chunk of the New Testament is personal letters to people and churches dealing with some very real life problems.
Start with your passion, and read. If you still aren’t sure, start with either Mark (shorter and more to the point) or John (longer and more eloquent).
A longer answer.
The longer answer gets, well, complicated. You see, different translations strive to hold fast to different priorities. This doesn’t make one better than the other; it just makes them different. Don’t worry! I’m still going to keep this simple. Lots of other websites and authors can take this topic far deeper if you really want to dig in.
Word Translations (also called Formal Equivalence)
Some aim for a literal translation of the words, word for word, throughout the entire Bible. This sounds good, but it presents at least two problems for modern readers. First, much of the Bible was written for an audience who spoke in word pictures, a vibrant language where words conveyed deep meaning that is lost on us today. Second, word definitions change over time, even in our modern culture.
Thought Translations (also called, Dynamic Equivalence)
Others aim for more of a thought translation. Conveying the meaning of the text takes precedence over the literal words. This solves the problem of the word pictures, but it can simplify the text to the point that it loses some of its intended meaning.
Finally, some Bible versions are paraphrases rather than actual translations. Many of the teams who write these work from solid translations and strive to communicate the meaning of passages, but the summarization can imply meanings that are unusual or less popular among theologians.
First, start with the one you will read and don’t worry about its priorities. As Bible reading becomes a habit, branch out into a second version that catches your attention. And, over time, a third or fourth or fifth. This is a great way to gain exposure to the different translation methods and overall richness of the original text.
Want more guidance?
I know. Some of you just want me to tell you what to buy. For several years, I purposely read through the Bible every year. And, I purposely chose a different translation/version each year. Here are my favorites.
- New International Version. This is the one I grew up on, the one my pastor father picked for me, and the one I know best. It blends the strict word-for-word translation with the overall thought translation process. It’s the version that sits on my desk, and the one I most often reach for when studying the Bible.
- Word Translation: New American Standard Bible. Without researching sales numbers, I’d guess this is the favorite among Christians for literal word-for-word translation. It sought to be true to the original texts and grammatically correct yet still understandable.
- Thought Translation: Contemporary English Version. A big advantage with this version of the Bible is that it was designed for those unfamiliar with church lingo. It was purposely simplified in language to decrease the reading barriers some have with more traditionally accepted versions.
- Thought Translation: The Message. This might be my favorite thought translation, but I should be clear that it’s not a pure thought translation. It includes some updated language common to the United States, which has some demoting it to a paraphrase. It is definitely on the opposite end of the translation spectrum from the New American Standard Bible.
- Thought Translation: New Living Translation. A very popular translation, the team of writers for this version sought to modernize the language while sticking to the original intent of the Bible. They wanted to make it appealing to listen to, hoping this would encourage people to read more for themselves.
- Paraphrase: The Living Bible. The goal of a paraphrase is to make the Bible easily understandable to the broadest range of people. It summarizes the original intent of each passage and modernizes the language, removing many of the barriers to children, those who are new to church, and others who find reading difficult. When I just want to enjoy reading the Bible, this is a good option.
- Paraphrase: The Story. This takes a paraphrase to a new level. It removes considerable portions of the Bible because its goal is to draw readers into the story God’s told throughout time of His love and redemptive desires for us. Fiction lovers are particularly fond of this paraphrase.
Hold fast to the Bible. To the influence of this Book we are indebted for all the progress made in true civilization and to this we must look as our guide in the future. ~Ulysses S. Grant
This topic can be very controversial, which I think is ludicrous. The bottom line for me is this: Get into a Bible. Read regularly. Ask questions of God and the Christians around you. Learn more about God and Jesus and what each has said.
No, I don’t really want you dependent upon a paraphrase for the rest of your life, but if that is what starts you into a lifelong habit of reading God’s Word, go for it! Focus on progression. Not what anyone thinks is the best translation of the Bible.
Are you a new believer and wondering what you should do next? Did a friend or family member recently put their trust in Christ and you want to help them build a solid foundation. Consider my book, I’ve Got Jesus … Now What?
The moment you accepted Jesus as your Savior, you became a member of God’s family. The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians chapter 1 that through our faith in Jesus, we were adopted as sons and daughters. That means you now have a huge family cheering you on, including me!
Perhaps that’s a bit overwhelming. Maybe family hasn’t been something good in your life, or you fear the expectations other Christians will place upon you.
Take a moment and breathe.
One of the key pieces of information God wants to give you is this: Only His opinion matters. Yes, God will use other people and circumstances to help you along the way, but they should never take precedence over what God says.
That is why hearing God clearly is critical, and that is why I wrote this book.
Join me in learning more about what it means to be part of God’s family. Don’t worry. You don’t have to do this perfectly or know the answer to every question. Just take a step forward and turn the page.
We’ll get through these first steps together.
THE FINE PRINT: The federal government is concerned about businesses getting money from you without you knowing it. So, the Federal Trade Commission dictates that I must tell you when you are giving me any money. For your full information, one or more of the links above are affiliate links. That means that if you click on one of the links and buy the book from Amazon before destroying my link by going to another place, then Amazon will pay me two pennies. Okay, maybe a little more than two pennies, but truly not much more than two pennies.