Overwhelmed With Choosing A Bible
I had used the same Bible version for years. I liked it but I was ready to expand and see what else was out there. I was not prepared for the multitude of various Bible translations to pick from! Overwhelmed, I closed out of the app I was using and decided to go to my local book store to choose a Bible in person. Surely it would be easier to compare the various translations when I had them physically in front of me!
Nope! Still too many choices and still overwhelmed.
I know I am picky but months went by. Honestly, I lost track of the number of Bibles I considered and walked away from. Eventually, I found one that I have been extremely happy with! I chose the NRSV Study Bible. It is easy to read, has lots of little nuggets of information that keep me interested, has devotional applications for various biblical concepts, maps, charts, etc. The only downside is that I tend to mark in my Bible and the pages are thin. There isn’t as much white space as I would like. But…it is still my treasure!
As you can see from my experience, I know first hand that choosing the perfect translation can be overwhelming and intimidating. With this post, I hope to take some of the mystery and anxiety out of the process with a bit of encouragement, a few tips, and lots of information.
Bonus Tip: You know where I found my new NRSV Study Bible? At the local thrift store for $1.00! Seriously. What’s the saying about digging for gold or the one that says one person’s trash is another person’s treasure? I found my gold and when I pick it up I try to remember to pray for the person who gave up this treasure!).
Are You A Brand New Christian Struggling To Understand?
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of choosing a Bible, are you a brand new Christian struggling to understand the Bible? It’s okay if you are and you aren’t alone. It’s not uncommon for someone to desire to know Jesus while having very little (if any) concept of the Bible other than knowing it is an important book.
If that sounds like you and you’d like to start at the very beginning, the first post in this series, Bible Basics For New Believers, might help you. In that post, I share a short overview of the Bible. You can use this link here, then come back and gain more understanding about your Bible through this post.
The Complete Guide To Choosing A Bible
What’s The Best and Worst Translation?
The first thing everyone wants to know is the best and worst translations. That is such a loaded question! What typically happens when someone gets saved is that they ask someone’s advice on what they think the best Bible would be or they are gifted one without a clue about the Bible translation they were handed. What’s wrong with that?
If you ask around about the best Bible to get, your answer will depend on who you are asking and what their preference is. Everyone has an opinion on what they believe to be the “perfect” translation and version. And maybe for them, it is the perfect Bible. But that doesn’t mean it is perfect for you. Your reading level, style, and purpose may be different from theirs. For example, I spend a good deal of time reading and studying my Bible so what I find the best for me might bore you to tears.
It is so nice to be gifted a Bible and if you are don’t turn it away. Start with what you have. When you are ready, dive in and find yourself a Bible better suited to your needs. As I mentioned above, that is what I did. Hopefully, when that time comes for you to choose a new Bible, this post would have helped you de-mystify the process.
Aren’t All Bibles The Same?
Each translation is taken from the original text, but they are not all the same. When asking about Bibles for new believers, some say the word-for-word translations are too hard to understand and tell new believers to avoid them. Others claim the thought-for-thought versions are much easier to read and understand but are open to wide interpretation which can be confusing for new believers. Then there are the paraphrase Bibles that skip many details and instead sums up what the author says the text is about.
I know this is a lot to take in so to help with the overwhelm I have a free printable at the bottom that will help you lay this process out.
Although all Bibles contain the same material, how they present the information varies. Listed below are nine popular versions, their abbreviations, and the level of their translation: literal (word-for-word) or loose (thought-for-thought).
Just to be clear, exact word-for-word translations are simply not possible. The meaning of a word in one language does not always mean the same thing in another language. If you have ever struggled to learn a second language, you know this. In this case, what word-for-word means is that the team of translators attempted to keep the words as close as possible to the original words.
1. King James Version (KJV). The most popular literal translation for many years now. The wording is old fashioned and might need to be read a few times to understand but by its popularity, I’d say people don’t mind.
2. New King James Version (NKJV). Updated vocabulary with the original classical style of the King James Version.
3. New American Standard Bible (NASB). Considered the most accurate translation made into English. A bit easier to read than the KJV but not as popular.
4. Amplified Bible (AMP). This version contains the original text but in parentheses, it amplifies or expounds on the text.
5. The English Standard Version (ESV). The philosophy of the ESV is to capture the wording of the original text using more modern words while maintaining the personal style of each writer.
With thought-for-thought Bibles, priority is given to translating the thought (or concept) of a word(s) into the new version. A common example of this: “It’s raining cats and dogs outside” would be translated to “It’s pouring rain”.
6. New International Version (NIV). Considered a modern translation that is incredibly popular because of its easy readability.
7. New Living Translation (NLT). Thought to be faithful to the ancient text while being easily understandable in today’s language. Widely popular among churches today.
Easily the most controversial translation style. When you paraphrase, you tell something in your own words. It’s not a translation as much as it is someone’s opinion. Because these are considered an extremely loose translation, they aren’t thought to be beneficial for studying but rather for simply reading.
8. The Message (MSG). A reading Bible translated into conversational English.
9. The Living Bible (TLB). The purpose of this Bible is to say what the writer of Scripture meant to say (not what they actually said), expounding for the modern reader.
What Translation Should You Use?
Nobody can tell you what is right for you, myself included. I think the best Bible for you is whichever one you will pick up and read because the point of having a Bible to learn the heart of your Savior.
You can start with an easy to understand Bible versions first if that is where your comfort level is. But it’s not necessary. I know of fellow Christians who struggled with reading their whole life but started with the King James Version and have never looked back. I know of others who get a different translation every time they buy a Bible. Do what is best for you, regardless of what the “experts” say.
I would like to give you a word of caution. The translation you choose is absolutely your choice. However, I strongly urge you not to use a paraphrase Bible until you have grown in your faith. It has been my experience that those Bibles are not doctrinally sound and leave a lot to be desired. In some areas, they are sadly bizarre in their interpretation. Paraphrase Bibles are interesting to read but will not give you an accurate picture of your Lord and Savior or your salvation.
The Bible Translation We Use
I’ve always found it helpful to hear what others do so I’d like to share with you the Bible’s my husband and I have chosen. We were both gifted the NIV Bible when we were first saved. I was an avid reader, my husband was not. After about a year Mike switched to the KJV. He has purchased a few other translations since but always finds himself back with the KJV. If I am reading and not studying, I tend to bounce around between my NIV and NASB Bibles.
For Additional Reading: The Bible Study That Changed My Life; A Look At Bible Translations
Now that you have an idea which translation of the Bible you would like to read, you get to take it a step farther and explore all the fun options that will help make your Bible perfect-for-you. Ready?
What Is The Purpose Of Your Bible?
Each translation of the Bible (KJV, NASB, ESV, etc) provides Bible versions for different purposes (reading, studying, journaling, etc). Although there are many more to choose from, here is a list of 10 popular Bible versions.
1. Study Bible. A study Bible is full of additional supplementary information that helps you dig deeper into the Word. It could include maps and charts, concordance, dictionary, commentaries, etc. All Study Bibles are not created equal though; each provides different supplementary study material.
2. Journalling Bible. These Bible’s typically have thicker paper and lots of white space that can be used for doodling, taking notes, or anything else you please. Some come with preprinted images that you can embellish.
3. Parallel Bible. Parallel Bibles line up a few different Bible versions (KJV, NASB, ESV, etc) side-by-side for comparison. The number used for comparison varies. This is one of my favorite types of Bible formats. My preference is a combination of the New International Version, the Amplified version, and the New American Standard Bible.
4. Note-taking Bible. A note-taking Bible is very similar in design to a journaling Bible with lots of white space. The difference is that a note-taking Bible usually has pre-printed lines for you to record your notes, prayers, etc.
5. Cross-Reference Bible. Using footnotes, this type of Bible identifies common links such as similar words, events, or people between different parts of the Bible. It shares information between different translations, history, etc. These Bibles do not typically provide commentary.
6. Chronological Bible. Another one of my favorites. This type of Bible arranges the books, chapters, and verses into the order the events happened so that the story of Scripture flows from beginning to end, day-by-day.
7. Archeological study Bible. Tons of extra information, charts, and photos of places and objects from biblical times. Obviously very rich in history, it showcases found objects that prove biblical accounts.
8. Apologetics Study Bible. A study Bible with added questions and articles about science and your faith so that you can better understand, defend, and stand up for your beliefs.
9. Readers Bible. This Bible isn’t like a traditional Bible where you have chapter headings, sub-headings, verse numbers, etc. This Bible has section breaks with minimal section headings that create a flow more like a traditional book and less like a Bible. Some say it is like reading the way the early church would have read it.
10. Devotional Bible. Using inspiring stories, commentaries, and thought-provoking questions, the reader is urged to apply what they read to their daily lives.
But Wait…We Aren’t Done Yet!
Now that you have picked a translation and a version, you get to decide if you want a Bible geared toward a specific interest or season of life you are in. If so, chances are there is a Bible out there for you. Some examples would sports, kids, new parents, women, men, singles, newlyweds, recovering addicts, artsy people, etc.
What makes these Bibles special is that they have little nuggets of wisdom from God’s Word that are geared specifically towards your season in life or activity of interest.
The Season-Of-Life Bible We Use
My husband does not have an area of interest Bible. I only have one: The King James Version Personal Reflections Edition: A wide-margin Bible for artists, doodlers, poets, and journalers. It is gorgeous! However, I don’t use it to doodle. The wide-margins are perfect for taking lots of notes as I read and study. But as pretty as it is to look at, I hardly ever use it because I struggle to get into the KJV. My youngest son is a huge football fan and his sports Bible has testimonials of Christian players, messages with a ‘coaching” vibe, etc. It would sit on my shelf gathering dust but he finds it interesting so he is willing to pick it up and read it.
Nope. Still Not Done
Now that you have a grasp of the translation, purpose, and special interest for your Bible, you get to decide what else you might be looking for. Here are some things to consider.
1. Type of cover. You will be using this Bible daily so you want something that meets your needs. Will you want hardback, paperback, leather, cloth, or cardboard covers?
2. Bible size. They come in coffee table size, pocket size, and everything in between.
3. Font size. The font size ranges from itty-bitty to extra large.
4. Extras. Maybe you don’t want a study Bible but you’d like certain things like a small concordance, a few maps, and footnotes. Or maybe you’d like a bit more white space to write but not a big journaling Bible.
Decisions, Decisions, So Many Decision
As you can clearly see, Bibles are not all the same. When picking a Bible there are so many choices. But choices are good, right? It helps you find something that you will be excited to pick up and dive into. However, if you find that you are ignoring your Bible more often than not, it’s not doing you any good.
You can also find free online Bibles if you don’t want to commit to one right now and don’t mind a digital Bible. In a later post, we will tackle this subject in-depth but until then, Bible Gateway is one we use.
What If You make a mistake?
You probably will because we all do. Remember my confession above? I just had to have that gorgeous KJV artsy Bible and yet I rarely touch it. Maybe someday I will use it or maybe God will point me to someone to bless with it.
Don’t let fear stop you from finding a perfect-for-you Bible. If you are just too overwhelmed and can’t make a decision, just pick one and go with it. You aren’t stuck with one Bible for life! If you don’t enjoy what you choose, do yourself a favor and go find another version.
Because this is a lot of information, print off this free printable.
Picking a Bible that is right for you is a big deal. Your Bible is a gift from God and it is one of the major ways that He has chosen to communicate with us. If you have a Bible you won’t read, you are cutting off that vital communication.
What is your go-to Bible version and why? Have you helped someone pick out a new Bible? What advice did you give them?