Choosing a Bible

The Bible is a divinely unified story of redemption, but it comes in the form of 66 books written in very different styles and cultures. Some portions of scripture are quite crude in the original languages, and others are very sophisticated. It pleases God to speak through different styles of language. When picking a Bible, we shouldn’t fall for the trap that one style of translation is more holy than another.

Grace Bible Church uses the ESV for preaching, and keeps copies of it in the auditorium to help new people follow along. However, we are not convinced that it is the only translation people should read. Below are some guidelines for choosing your own Bible translation.

First of all, be thankful that we have so many great versions available in English!

Secondly, narrow your choices. What type of Bible do you want? There are three kinds:

  1. Word-­for-­word literal translations
  2. Thought-­for­-thought literal translations
  3. Paraphrases (not considered a translation)

Start with type 1 or type 2. Don’t buy a paraphrase until you own a literal version.

  1. Word-for­-word translations include: ESV (English Standard Version), KJV (King James Version), NASB (New American Standard Bible), NKJV (New King James Version), and HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible).
  2. Thought­-for­-thought translations (also called dynamic-equivalence) include: NIV (New International Version), NET (New English Translation), The Voice, NLT (New Living Translation).
  3. Paraphrases include: The Message, The Living Bible, J.B.Phillips. These are often helpful, but more like reading a sermon than reading a Bible.

A new reader of the Bible will find any translation somewhat alien in the beginning. When choosing between a word-for-word and a thought-for-thought translation, think about your personal reading preferences and experience. The NIV reads more smoothly, but the ESV is more precise when you want to compare words from paragraph to paragraph. If you are a reader of old books, you may prefer the precision of a word-for-word translation like the ESV, NASB, or NKJV. If you want reading that flows like a conversation, you may prefer a thought- for-thought translation like the NET, NIV, or NLT. The NET is unique, because it flows like the NIV, but it comes with the most extensive linguistic notes of any thought-for-thought translation.

Take time to familiarize yourself with the philosophy of the translators. Read the prefaces to understand what their goals were. Thought-for-thought translations often use “gender inclusive” language, which can sometimes confuse the text.

There are also many “Study” Bibles. These have long explanations at the bottom of each page. They also have summaries and introductions that are very helpful. The two best I have found are the “ESV Study Bible” and the “NIV Study Bible”.

No matter which Bible you choose, come to the scriptures needy, and ask God to meet you there: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”  Matthew 5:6

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