Picking a Bible Translation

Andrew posted advice for choosing a Bible translation over on his blog. This post is meant to help our customers figure out which translation and edition of the Bible they need at the moment. Lots of people come into Crux and say “I need a Bible,” expecting that to be enough information. Little do they realize that we have a whole wall filled with Bibles. You think that sometimes there are too many decisions to make in a restaurant after you’ve decided what to order? This is worse. Andrew’s post tries to simplify things so people won’t be confused. This post adds a little detail and (hopefully) gives you enough information to make good decisions, or at least to ask further questions.

Important Information Before Starting: Remember that the Bible is an ancient document originally written in Hebrew and Greek. No English Bible is “original.” Also, modern languages other than English do not necessarily have versions that correspond to an English version you might know about. Example: there is no Spanish King James Version. Also, there is no “standard” English translation that everyone commonly uses. We have a wealth of English translations and most people have their particular favourites. Got it? Ok, now lets move on to actually choosing a Bible for you.

If a customer comes in and announces to a staff member that they need help choosing a Bible, a common first question is: What do you need the Bible for? If the Bible is for personal reading, then following Andrew’s advice (read a passage or two that you are familiar with in several translations; choose the one that feels comfortable for you) works well. If you are a lay leader at a church, you may wish to match the translation you use with the translation commonly used from the pulpit in your church. If you need a Bible for class, then your professor has probably made a recommendation that narrows the selection down. Many professors recommend the New Revised Standard Version.

Just so you know, the three translations of the Bible that we sell most often are the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New International Version (NIV), and the English Standard Version (ESV). The bewildering list of other available English translations includes: the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the New American Bible (NAB) (these two similarly named translations are not at all related to one another) the Contemporary English Version (CEV), the Good News Bible, the New Living Translation (NLT), and the Message.

The translations listed above each have different philosophies and goals. Some are more word for word, or literal, translations (NASB and ESV), others are phrase by phrase translations (NIV, NLT, the Message). Some translations use modern language but aim to sound traditional (New King James Version, NRSV), and others try to use a limited vocabulary for ease of understanding (Good News, CEV). Some are tied to a denomination (for example, the NAB is Roman Catholic), many are translated by an interdenominational group of people (NRSV, NIV).

Once you pick a translation, your decision is not finished. You still have to think about print size, binding, study notes and aids, the Apocrypha, and price point. That will take up another post!

4 thoughts on “Picking a Bible Translation

  1. Please do not forget to point out to the paraphrased versions which sometimes take too many and too much liberties, and perhaps may be good for a youngster to find a language not to difficult to understand, but will not a good version for an adult with higher education or a person who want to go into the debt of the Holy Scriptures and do some profound Bible Study.

    • Anybody who wants to do some serious Bible study, no matter their age, should be using more than one English translation, preferably comparing some that have different philosophies of translation.

  2. Pingback: Why You Need a Wide-Margin Bible | The Return of Benjamin

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