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 different Bible versions.
If you are new to Christianity, new to Jesus, or just new to reading your Bible regularly, how do you choose? And what about those who expouse one version over all others? Do those arguments have any merit?
Which Bible Version Is Best? The short answer.
The Bible is one of the greatest blessings bestowed by God on the children of men. ~John Locke, English philosopher and physician
Which is best? My quick answer: The one you will read.
Seriously. I don’t care whether it’s the most beloved translation of your favorite pastor 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 enjoy fiction, try 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 aren’t sure, start with Mark (short and to the point) or John (longer and more eloquent).
The 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.
Bible Versions: My Recommendations
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.
I purposely read through the Bible most years, and I purposely chose a different translation/version most years. Here are my favorites.
- New International Version. This is the one I grew up on, and the one my pastor father picked for me. It blends the strict word-for-word translation with the overall thought translation process.
- Word Translation: New American Standard Bible. Without researching sales numbers, I’d guess this is the favorite for word-for-word translation. It sought to be true to the original texts yet still understandable.
- Thought Translation: New Living Translation. The team of writers for this version sought to modernize the language while sticking to the original intent. They wanted to make it appealing to listen to, hoping to encourage people to read for themselves.
- The Message. This one includes language common to the United States, which is why some demote it from a thought translation it to a paraphrase.
- Paraphrase: The Living Bible. The goal for this one is to make the Bible understandable for the broadest range of people. It summarizes the original intent, modernizing the language thus removing many of the barriers to children, those who are new to church, and others who find reading difficult.
- 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. It comes in different translations, but remember: It’s not the full BIble.
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, American soldier and politician
This topic can be very controversial. The bottom line for me is this: Get into a Bible. Read it regularly. Ask questions of God and the Christians around you. Learn more about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, what each has said and how each works.
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.