With more than 20 English Language translations each available in 25 or more different editions the choice of Bibles excites and bewilders. Choosing the right Bible for you is important - even if you already have more than one.
It’s hard to know which Bible to buy.
There are dozens of translations, each with a different style and approach. With sales of Bibles rising in the wake of the coronavirus, a lot more questions are being asked about which Bible is best. So here is our no-nonsense guide to which Bible you should buy. We also cover some common terms you’ll find when browsing.
Choosing a Bible Version
There is no one way to translate a book as large as the Bible.
With such a cultural and linguistic distance between then and now, it’s really more of an art than a science: an art that seeks to communicate the Bible’s truth to today’s readers. That means that there are a number of different Bible translations out there. Nowadays, they are more commonly called different versions of the Bible. The two words, though meaning different things, are used pretty interchangeably. For ease, I’m just going to stick with ‘version’.
The big stumbling block for people trying to choose a Bible is which version to pick. There are a lot to choose from. It also doesn’t help that they almost all go by acronyms. How would you, as a new Christian, feel if you were asked to choose from NIV, ESV, NRSV, NLT, KJV, NKJV? Daunting, no?
To help you choose with speed and confidence, here is a quick run through four of the most popular versions of the Bible:
The New International Version Bible:
Short for the New International Version Bible, the NIV is the most popular version of the Bible. It’s written in pretty standard English and is the one you’ll most likely find in a Church. Its simple text means that it is often given away to new Christians. If you are looking for a first Bible, the NIV Bible would be a solid choice.
The King James Version Bible:
For almost as long as there have been English Bibles, there has been the King James Version Bible. This one is the classic Bible. Back then, it was made to be a Bible for the people but is now seen as more of a difficult Bible that is the mainstay of seasoned readers and Christians. It’s very poetic and not easy to read, but it is also the best written of all the Bibles. This has led many people to wonder if Shakespeare wrote the King James Bible.
The Good News Bible:
The UK's favourite Bible. The Good News Bible is a relevant, readable and reliable translation of God's word. The Good News Bible features Annie Vallotton’s iconic line drawings, along with the easy-to-read style. This makes the Good News Translation a highly-popular choice for all ages. Especially children and youth.
The English Standard Version Bible:
Like the King James Bible, the ESV Bible is a complex and rich version. The main difference between the two is the near-400 years between them. The ESV was the choice of many Bible scholars, students, teachers and preachers. Now, though, that has changed somewhat. With a range of attractively presented journaling and illustrating editions, the ESV has become a choice for creative journalers thanks to the intended beauty and richness of the version.
How do Bible translations work?
In the world of Bible translation, there is often a perceived trade-off. You can have a Bible that is either accessible to modern readers or one that holds fidelity to original manuscripts far and above all else. I’ll come back to ‘perceived’ in a minute, but for anyone new to Bibles, this distinction is a useful guide.
So, you’d be surprised to know that translators don’t like to refer to their translations as “easy to read” or “accurate but difficult”. Rather, they call the distinction in translation styles by a different set of names: formal, dynamic, and idiomatic.
In short, these names describe how the Bible is translated.
Formal means they kept to the form the text takes. This means being literal right down to the very words used. The more common name for this is ‘word-for-word translation’.
Dynamic plays a little looser with the exact words used and instead seeks to communicate what the meaning of the text is. To try and communicate the text so that we would understand it in the same way that somebody alive at the time of the original text’s creation would have understood it. These Bibles are called ‘thought-for-thought’ translations.
Idiomatic is the loosest of the three. Just as an idiom is one way of saying something in a way that is colourful, imaginative or easy to understand, so too is Idiomatic translation. An easier way to understand this is by the other name used for this style. Paraphrase. Paraphrase Bibles use expressly contemporary language to share the message of the Bible.
Now, back to ‘perceived’. It is simple enough to imagine a spectrum of how accurate a Bible is. At one end are all the literal Bibles. At the other, paraphrases. But that division is not nearly as simple or true as we’d like to think. After all, no Bible sets out to be purposefully inaccurate. Nobody is trying to water down the Bible. Because language and meaning have changed so much in 2,00 years, simply translating words on a one-to-one basis is impossible. Language just doesn’t work that way. If every word in German, for example, had a one-to-one English translation, we wouldn’t be using words like iceberg, doppelganger, kindergarten, and schadenfreude. So, it’s worth bearing in mind that every Bible translation has an element of interpretation. There is no trade-off between accurate and readable because there is no way to have a translation of the Bible that is 100% accurate.
So, when picking a Bible, don’t feel like you have to go for a word-for-word Bible. They are great for the right reader, but if you are new to choosing a Bible, then feel free to explore the wider array of what is on offer.
When choosing a Bible, there still tends to be these three main avenues. Word-for-word, thought-for-thought, and paraphrase. To help you find the right Bible, here’s a quick list of the most popular Bible versions, grouped by these three different styles.
- King James Version (KJV)
- English Standard Version (ESV)
- New King James Version (NKJV)
- New American Standard Bible (NASB)
- Amplified Bible
- New International Version (NIV)
- Christian Standard Version Bible (CSB)
- New Living Translation (NLT)
- New Jerusalem Bible (NJB)
- The Good News Bible (GNB)
- The Message Bible
- The Living Translation
- The Passion Translation
- The New International Reader’s Version (NIrV)
Which version of the Bible is easiest to understand?
For simple ease of reading, there are two sets of Bibles we’d recommend: Thought-for-thought Bibles and Paraphrases. These two types of Bible translation place an emphasis on making the message of the Bible approachable and easier to understand.
Now that we’ve covered the text of the Bible, let's look at everything else...
All translations of the Bible are published in a huge range of covers and styles. Editions specifically designed for children, youth culture and presentation purposes are plentiful. Softcover, leather cover, metal and even waterproof covers make Bibles practical for many uses and circumstances. And all translations come in a range of print sizes from the most compact to large, easily readable editions.
Aside from the choice of covers, colours and print size, and assuming you’ve already chosen your preferred translation, the choice is between a simple collection of the standard 66 books - with more in Catholic Bibles - or the same but with additional material and information.
These ‘Bibles-plus’ contain information, illustrations, charts, tables, timelines and notes from Bible scholars. They’re all intended to help you get more out of your Bible reading whether you read for personal devotion, study, teaching or public ministry.
There are three main types of Bible intended to enrich the reader's experience and understanding. These are Commentaries, Reference Bibles and Study Bibles. There are many similarities in what these Bibles provide, though each tends to specialise in providing the reader with a particular sort of assistance.
Commentaries offer greater understanding with background information, notes on authorship, historical context, Bible themes and life application. Some are ordered ‘thought by thought’ and others follow a ‘verse by verse’ structure.
Every translation of the Bible is supported by at least one Bible commentary. Many cover the whole Bible in one volume. Other commentaries form a series of books each matched to a separate Testament or individual Bible book.
The great strength of a commentary Bible is the scriptural insight given by the author, usually a noted and experienced scholar. Commentaries by the great Bible teachers of the past can be compared with those written with the benefit of modern research to show how spiritual thought has developed or remains unchanged.
Reference Bibles are put together so they read like any Bible, but provide links or ‘cross-references’ between related words, phrases, topics, themes or people throughout the whole Bible.
This means you can easily find places in the Bible where the same story is told, the same theme is discussed, the same person appears or the same idea is explored.
Reference Bibles allow you to follow how God reveals his message over many centuries and through many people and events. Often this means ‘cross-referencing’ words of prophecy - the promises and warnings given by God, with the fulfilment of those words in later books of the Bible.
Study Bibles are the most comprehensive 'Bible-plus' Bibles in terms of the amount of background and historical information they include.
Study Bibles usually include a dictionary of Bible terms, diagrams and maps, a time chart, a daily reading plan, introductions and outlines of each book. Discussion starters and even puzzles might be included depending on the intended readers.
As with most commentary and reference Bibles, study Bibles usually include a life application Bible as a guide and support to applying the truth of the Bible to everyday life.
Finally but just as important is to know if you're choosing a Bible to keep in one place or to travel with you. All Bible translations and just about all commentary, reference and study Bibles are available in slim line, pocket and easy-to-read large print editions to suit your use, preference and needs.
A Quick Guide to Bible Features
No two Bibles are the same. The features that help you read and navigate the text of the Bible vary between every edition. Here is a quick rundown of the most popular Bible features available today. Make a note of what you find useful or interesting. These terms will be what lead you to your perfect Bible. You can also use our QUICK BIBLE FINDER to quickly pick the right Bible for you.
Anglicised: the text of an Anglicised Bible is written with UK spelling and grammar, as opposed to US spelling and grammar.
Apocrypha: books not traditionally found in most Bibles. The Books and non-canonical texts of the Apocrypha are 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Rest of Esther, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremy, Song of the Three Children, Story of Susanna, The Idol Bel and the Dragon, Prayer of Manasseh, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees.
Cased: cased Bibles come with an additional layer of protection or decorations. Usually in cloth and imitation leather, Bible cases can be also bought separately.
Chain Reference: A Bible that organised the references in the text into a thematic, topical or logical chain.
Chronological: The books and stories of the Bible are not presented in the order they are said to have happened. Chronological Bibles present the Bible in historical order.
Clasp Fastening: A clasp across the Bible’s cover that keeps it closed.
Compact & Pocket: A smaller-sized Bible that is easy to transport.
Concordance: A guide to the meanings of names and words found in the text of the Bible.
Cross Reference: Notes that indicate where a verse either references or is referenced by another part of the Bible text
Devotional: A Bible that has been broken down into smaller, often daily, readings.
Economy: A cheaper Bible that is often designed for giving away as an outreach tool.
Family Record: A Bible made to be passed down through the generations of a family. It features a series of presentation spaces for names and relations.
Gift & Award: A Bible that is made as a gift or at special events. These are often cheaper than usual Bibles, feature a stylish design and include features to help with reading the Bible.
Gilt Edges: A Bible that has coloured edges of a page, often in silver or gold.
Gospels: The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are all accounts of the life of Jesus told by four different people.
Illustrated: A Bible that has illustrations inside. These can be found in children’s Bibles, Bibles with sections for colouring, and most famously in the Good News Bible.
Interlinear: A Bible that simply presents the Hebrew or Greek text alongside its English language translation.
Journaling: Halfway between a Bible and a notebook, Journaling Bibles have thicker paper and wide margins for you to write in.
Large Print: A bible whose text is printed in a larger font than is usually found in Bibles.
Life Application: A Bible that features articles and aides to help you apply the Bible text to the Christian life.
Maps: Charts of the land as it would have been known at the time of the Bible.
One Year Bible: A Bible that has either been structured into 365 daily readings or comes with a plan for reading the whole book in a year.
Parallel Bibles: Parallel Bibles feature two translations of the Bible in one binding. A kind of two-for-one. They can contrast different Bible versions or even different languages. Parallel Bibles often feature one translation on one page and another translation on the next.
Paraphrase Bibles: A Bible that has been written into a modern or expressive language, rather than formally translated from the original scriptures.
Pew Bibles: Plain editions of the Bible that are designed for Churches and groups.
Presentation Page: A space in the front of a Bible marked for writing a name, date and message. Most often found in Gift Bibles.
Pulpit & Lectern Bibles: Large-sized Bibles that are used for Church readings. Both the overall size and text is scaled up, making reading from a distance easier.
Ribbon Marker: A thin strip of cloth that can be used in lieu of a bookmark.
Study Bibles: A Study Bible features extras such as articles, commentaries, features, notes and other aides to deeper Bible reading.
Thinline & Slimline Bibles: With thinner paper and covers, these Bibles aren’t as thick as traditional Bibles. They tend to be roughly an inch thick.
Thumb Index: A Bible-navigation feature, a thumb index is a series of stickers or indents on the page edges that mark out where each book of the Bible begins.
Wide Margin: A Bible with a greater amount of space at the page edges. This is for great notes and reflections, as well as journaling and decorating.
Words of Jesus in Red/ Red Letter: A Bible that prints the words spoken by Jesus in red. This is as opposed to the black text used for the rest of the Bible.
Zip Fasten: A Bible with a cover that can be sealed by a zip. Most often found in compact and pocket Bibles
June 15th, 2020 - Posted & Written by Aaron Lewendon