How To Choose The Best Bible For You

Martin Johnson —  May 6, 2013 — 2 Comments

To study the Bible the first thing you will need is, a Bible. I know that is obvious, but with so many different Bibles available, which one should you choose as your primary study Bible for daily reading, memorization and for teaching and preaching from? Should you get a King James Version (KJV)? An American Standard Version (ASV)? How about the New American Standard Bible (NASB) or the English Standard Version (ESV)? What about the New International Version (NIV) and the New Living Translation (NLT)? It can be confusing trying to decide which one you want to spend your hard earned money on.

King-James-Bible

First choose a Bible Translation
Since the Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek you will be relying on a translation of the Bible, unless you can read the original languages. So the first thing you should decide on is which translation to get.

Bible Scale

Not all Bible translations are created equal. They range from more literal (word for word) translations such as the KJV and ASV to more paraphrased versions such as The Message. The chart below illustrates where each translation fits in this spectrum.

Choose a more literal translation
For serious Bible study you will want to choose a more literal translation. This is because you are trying to find out what God actually says rather than what the translators interpreted Him to mean. As you develop your skills, you will be able to determine for yourself what God meant. However, you wont be able to do that if the translators have obscured what God actually said.

Choose a modern translation
You will also probably want to select a translation that uses modern English. The KJV and ASV, while being excellent Bibles and very literal, can be difficult to understand for people who are not accustomed to the archaic language used in them. In fact, sometimes they can be down right confusing. Some of the words and phrases used in those translations have changed meaning since they were translated. This is especially true for the King James Version.

Below are a few examples. Hover your mouse over the scripture reference to read it in the English Standard version.

  • Genesis 43:25, KJV: “And they made ready the present against Joseph came at noon.”
  • Exodus 19:18, KJV: “And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke.”
  • 1 Samuel 5:12, KJV: “And the men that died not were smitten with the emerods.”
  • Psalm 5:6, KJV: “Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing.”
  • Luke 17:9, KJV: “Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.”
  • 2 Corinthians 8:1, KJV: “Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia.”
  • James 2:3, KJV: “And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing.”
  • James 5:11, KJV: “The Lord is very pitiful.”

As my primary Bible I am currently using the English Standard Version (ESV) Classic Reference Bible but I would also recommend the NASB and the NKJV as good choices for your primary Bible.

Choose a Bible that is easy to read, has a sewn binding and does not have commentary notes
Once you have decided on a translation, you will next need to decide on a format. Do you want a traditional double column format with center column references? Maybe you want one with no references or footnotes. Maybe a single column Bible with side column references. It is up to you.

The binding of your Bible is also important to consider. Bibles with a glued binding don’t usually lay open on a table top easily and often fall apart quickly. A sewn binding will usually cost more but you will appreciate it down the road when all your pages are still there. A genuine leather cover will also last significantly longer than a bonded leather cover. This is something that you will be using daily for may years. Get one that will last.

I would avoid a “Study Bible” with extra comments and notes at the bottom of every page. They may be helpful in your study but not a great choice in a primary Bible. It is too tempting to just look at the notes when we get stuck and accept what the publisher says the verse means rather than doing our own work and figuring it out the hard way.

Recommendation:
ESV New Classic Reference Bible (Black)

What about e-books and Apps?
E-books and Bible apps new comers to the Bible study scene. If this is how you would rather read and study a book, more power to you. Personally, I enjoy doing my daily reading on my iPad Mini using an app that reads aloud to me as I read along. However, I would still recommend that your primary Bible be a print addition.

If you do choose to use an iPad or other tablet be aware that they can be distracting to others if you use it in worship. Also, if you like to read at a coffee shop or in the break room at work nothing beats reading from a print version. Since a printed Bible is distinctive, others will know that you are reading the Bible and not just watching Youtube or playing Angry Birds. You might be surprised at the number of people who start up a conversation with you because they see you reading your Bible. It is more difficult to let your light shine in this way while reading on a tablet or phone.

Question: Which Bible would you recommend and why? Please be specific. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Martin Johnson

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2 responses to How To Choose The Best Bible For You

  1. Great post. Very helpful, especially the literal-paraphrase graph. I’ve appended the link to a similar article on my blog for further reference: http://kmooreperspective.blogspot.com/2012/09/when-greek-new-testament-is-translated.html
    Thank you.

    • Martin Johnson May 6, 2013 at 11:38 AM

      Thanks Kevin. Your reasons for preferring the NKJV are helpful. I hope people will take them into consideration when selecting a primary Bible.

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