Buying a Bible can be confusing. Bookstores offer several different translations in countless formats. Why are there so many options? How do you make a choice? Here are a few thoughts to help.
One reason for the variety is that the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic and the New Testament in Greek. Translating a foreign language into English is not an exact science. You can try to translate word for word, but it’s seldom that simple.
Translators must interpret the original text and then decide how best to express those words in English. Some versions of the Bible try to maintain a word-for-word correspondence whenever possible (King James, New King James, and the New American Standard). Others focus on expressing the thought clearly rather than conveying the exact wording (New International Version, New Living Translation). The English Standard Version and Holman Christian Standard Bible land more in the middle.
The translations also differ according to their reading level. Since the King James was first produced in 1611, the English words and grammar it uses are often unfamiliar to modern readers. It reads like Shakespeare. The New Living Translation and New International Reader’s Version (a simplified version of the New International Version), on the other hand, intentionally use simpler words and grammar.
In my personal Bible reading, I have used all of the translations mentioned above at various times. They are all useful, but sometimes the bias of the translators shows through. Several years ago, for instance, the publishers of the New International Version decided to switch to gender-neutral language. In some passages this makes sense, but in others it obscures the meaning of the text. So, there is benefit in comparing different translations, and with Bible apps and websites this has never been easier to do. I often use BlueLetterBible.org.
For ministry here at Calvary East, I have chosen to use the English Standard Version. But even after picking a translation, you still have many other choices. Do you want one column on the page or two? How large do you want the type to be? Do you want study notes or space to write down your thoughts?
These issues are mostly a matter of personal preference. Pick whatever helps you focus on the text of Scripture. I like to have a single column of text without any study notes. When you use a study Bible, it can be tempting to focus more on the author’s commentary. Study Bibles can be very useful. I like the MacArthur Study Bible and the ESV Study Bible, but I find it distracting to use these when I am just trying to read.
Of course, with a Bible app on a tablet or smartphone, you can adjust the size, background, and layout of the font. This can be handy and portable, but you might end up getting distracted when a notification pops up. With a print version of the Bible, you can set your device aside.
Whatever Bible you choose to use, our goal is to read it, understand it, and apply it to our lives for the glory of God!
– Bryan Craddock