There are so many versions of the Bible that it can be very confusing for newcomers as to which bible version to own.
All English translations are just that – translations. The original scriptures were written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. The ideal is to choose a readable translation which involved a group of well-qualified scholars.
Bible translation approaches
Translating from the original languages is not straightforward. Sometimes there is no directly equivalent word to choose and it may take a couple of words to say the same thing or at best something similar. Consequently, there are different approaches aimed at producing the best readable and yet accurate version for today’s English reader.
Each Bible translation will be a tension between two key translation approaches:
- Formal equivalency – aimed at literal correctness on a word for word basis.
- Dynamic equivalency – aimed at readability on a thought for thought (idea for idea) basis.
The translator’s task is primarily to translate and not interpret and versions produced by a group of scholars will generally produce the best outcome.
Common trusted translations
Commonly trusted versions of the scriptures with a balance between Formal and Dynamic equivalency are:
- NIV – New International Bible (1978, revised 1984, 2011) [Thought for thought approach]
- ESV – English Standard Version (2001) [Word for word approach]
- NASB – New American Standard Bible (1971) [Word for word approach]
- NKJV – New King James Version (1982) [Word for word approach] (see below for comment re the KJV)
There are other good versions to consider. Check out the UK Bible Society Page. It is sometimes helpful to have a second version for comparison.
Other version options
There is a third approach which is a paraphrase which has been written to make the Bible easier to understand. Well-known examples are
- The Living Bible (1971), (updated to NLT 1996)
- The Message (2002)
They are a bit like a commentary and can help a new Christian get started in understanding the Bible. These have a single author. Note that to make them more readable, words have been added/removed and some passages have slight changes in meaning and they should be read with this in mind.
The ISV (International Standard Version) is a recent version which has endeavored to take account of the contribution of the Dead Sea scrolls found in the Qumran desert in the 1940’s and has a more Hebraic/Jewish approach to the translation effort. It is an excellent version but is rarely used in churches at the moment and so might be a good second version.
Some people prefer the KJV – King James Version (1611), however, the language is outdated. It has been improved upon with the NKJV.
The Amplified Bible has been around for some time and can be used to assist in understanding scripture but is not suitable for daily reading as it does not flow nicely. It is more like a commentary.
If you are a new Christian then a “Study Bible” is a good option to help your understanding. Examples are:
- NIV Study Bible
- ESV Study Bible
- Life Application Study Bible available in NIV, NLT and NASB versions
Other options such as the Evidence Bible are like a Study Bible, but with a more targeted purpose and use one of the versions above as a base.
Pick a readable format. Some things to think about are
- Soft covered rather than hard covered
- A book that will be tough enough for high use
- Easily readable font size
- Space to underline and write notes
Modern software formats make the bible very accessible along with vast bible study tool options.
Some options include:
- YouVersion: www.youversion.com (Includes a wide range of free options)
- Olivetree: www.olivetree.com
- Logos: www.logos.com
Practical tips on reading the Bible
- Ensure you have a bible with both an Old and New Testament.
- Find a reading plan that will help you read the whole Bible over time.
- Ideally, start with a physical bible as it helps give perspective on the layout and where to find the various scriptures in context.
- Two good books of the Bible to start reading are the gospel of John(NT) and Genesis (OT).
- Underline text and write in the margins – make it your own (Note that highlighters do not work well)
- As you read, ask the Lord to highlight scriptures specifically for you and to help you understand some of those difficult passages.
- The expression “Take daily” is very important.
- Choose a Bible version if you have not already done so and make it your own.
- Start out with the objective to read, to ponder and to think about scriptures daily.
- Rely on the insight of the Holy Spirit as you read.
“A bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t” Charles Spurgeon