Support us with your Logos purchase

How Do I Know Which Bible Is Right For Me?

How Do I Know Which Bible Is Right For Me?


Our major focus, here at Exploring the Truth, is the Bible and there is one question that I get asked more than any other, “How do I know which Bible is right for me?” I can understand the question; it feels like McDonald’s has fewer menu choices than the local Christian bookstore. I am going to answer your question but, at the same time, I am not going to; I am not going to tell you which specific Bible to buy but I am going to give you some advice. So, let’s begin:


  1. Buy the translation that your pastor preaches from

The easiest way to familiarize yourself with the Bible is to purchase the translation that is taught from the pulpit in your church. If you are not sure, ask the pastor. Three of the most common English translations you will find are the New International Version (NIV), English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV) and the King James Bible (KJV/KJB) and chances are pretty good that you will find one of the three in the pulpit at your church.


A little about common translations from Dr. Daniel Wallace


The King James Version (KJV) and The New King James Version (NKJV)

The KJV has with good reason been termed, “the noblest monument of English prose” (RSV preface). Above all its rivals, the KJV has had the greatest impact in shaping the English language. It is a literary masterpiece. But, lest anyone wishes to revere it because it was “good enough for Jesus,” or some such nonsense, we must remember that the KJV of today is not the KJV of 1611. It has undergone three revisions, incorporating more than 100,000 changes. Even with all these changes, much of the evidence from new manuscript discoveries has not been incorporated. The KJV was translated from later manuscripts that are less accurate to the original text of the Bible. Furthermore, there are over 300 words in the KJV that no longer mean what they meant in 1611. If one wishes to use a Bible that follows the same Greek and Hebrew texts as the KJV, I recommend the New King James Version (NKJV).


Revised Standard Version (RSV) and New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The RSV was completed in 1952 and was intended to be, in part, a revision of the KJV. Its attempt to be a fairly literal translation makes its wording still archaic at times. The NRSV follows the same principle of translation, though it has been updated based on new manuscript discoveries, exegetical insights, and linguistic theories. Much of the difficult wording has been made clearer, and gender-inclusive language has been incorporated. At times, this is very helpful; at other times, it is misleading.


The American Standard Version (ASV) and The New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Like the RSV, the ASV and NASB were intended to be a revision of the KJV. However, there are three major differences between the RSV and the NASB: (1) the NASB is less archaic in its wording; (2) its translators were more theologically conservative than the RSV translators; and (3) because of the translators’ desire to adhere as closely as possible to the wording of the original, the translation often contains stilted and wooden English.


New English Bible (NEB) and the Revised English Bible (REB)

The neb was completed in 1971, after a quarter of a century of labor. It marks a new milestone in translation: it is not a revision of the KJV, nor of any other version, but a brand new translation.


It is a phrase-for-phrase translation. Unfortunately, sometimes the biases of the translators creep into the text. The REB follows the same pattern as the neb: excellent English, though not always faithful to the Greek and Hebrew.


New International Version (NIV) & Today’s New International Version  (TNIV)

The NIV was published in 1978. It may be considered a counterpart to the NEB. (The NEB is strictly a British product, while the NIV is an international product). It is more of a phrase-for-phrase translation than a word-for-word translation. The translators were generally more conservative than those who worked on the neb. I personally consider it the best phrase-for-phrase translation available today. However, its major flaw is its simplicity of language. The editors wanted to make sure it was easy to read. In achieving this goal, they often sacrificed accuracy. In the New Testament, sentences are shortened, subordination of thought is lost, and conjunctions are often deleted.


The TNIV is to the NIV what the NRSV is to the RSV. Gender-inclusive language is used, and specific terminology is clarified (e.g., instead of “the Jews,” the TNIV will read “the Jewish leaders,” and when “Christ” is used as a title, is substituted for “Messiah”). This is usually helpful, but such interpretations built into a translation can at times be misleading.


The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

The HCSB, first published in 1999, uses a translational philosophy called “optimal equivalence.” Where a word-for-word translation is not clear in English, they will opt for a phrase-for-phrase translation. The translation incorporates new manuscript discoveries, as well as contains many important translational footnotes. The HCSB is a nice alternative to choosing between a formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence translation.


English Standard Version (ESV)

The ESV, published in 2001, is the newest and most up-to-date formal equivalent translation. The ESV has eliminated the stilted English of translations like the NASB, while maintaining the literary excellence of translations like the KJV. Even though the ESV is a new translation, it maintains some of the theological terms that have systematically developed in English (e.g., justification, sanctification and propitiation). The ESV has also consistently translated specific terms in the original language to make theological developments easier to follow, and English concordance searches more accurate. Like the KJV, it has many unforgettable expressions, suitable for memorizing.


New English Translation (NET)

The net Bible was published in 2005. The net has all the earmarks of a great translation. At times, it is more accurate than the NASB, more readable than the NIV, and more elegant than either. It is clear and eloquent, while maintaining the meaning of the original. In addition, the notes are a genuine gold mine of information, unlike those found in any other translation. The net aims to be gender-neutral. The net Bible is the Bible behind the bibles. It’s the one that many modern translators use to help them work through the original language and express their meaning in literate English. I would highly recommend that each English-speaking Christian put this Bible on their shopping list.


New World Translation

Finally, a word should be said about the New World Translation by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Due to the sectarian bias of the group, as well as to the lack of genuine biblical scholarship, I believe that the New World Translation is by far the worst translation in English dress. It purports to be word-for-word, and in most cases is slavishly literal to the point of being terrible English. But, ironically, whenever a “sacred cow” is demolished by the biblical writers themselves, the Jehovah’s Witnesses twist the text and resort to an interpretive type of translation. In short, it combines the cons of both worlds, with none of the pros.



  1. Make sure that you buy a translation that it easy for you to understand and if English is not your primary language, get a translation in your native language

2 of the easiest translations to understand, in English, are the NIV and the New Living Translation (NLT). That’s because these are thought for thought or meaning based translations of the Scripture, which means they take the original languages of the Bible, Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, and bring them into English instead of a strict word for word which can be challenging for some to understand.


This one may seem obvious, but if your primary language is not English, buy a Bible in your native language; you will have a much better time of understanding the Bible


  1. Invest in a Bible with good “helps’

There are lots of different types of Bibles but the best ones will have helps to aid you in your study. What kind of helps should you look for?



References come two types, end of verse and center column. Center column references will be much more useful as there will be many more of them. You use these to follow a topic through the Bible to see how the Scripture interprets itself



Translator’s footnotes go a long way in helping with understanding of the Bible showing you alternate translations and the consensus among the translators



“Study Bibles” often include commentary on the passage. Be careful, though, as these notes should not replace your own personal study


There are other helps but these 3 are the most common

  1. Buy a wide margin Bible

A wide margin Bible lets you chronicle what you are learning


  1. Buy the highest quality Bible you can afford

This, naturally, means spending more money; you will probably only have one Bible for most of your life and you definitely want to buy one that will last. Look for sewn Binding, higher quality leather and opaque paper.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.