Choosing the Right Bible

People often ask me about which version of the Bible they should read. The short answer is, whichever one you will read. On top of that I am often asked the best way to read and study the Bible, and my response is usually not the most popular answer, but it is what I believe, and have used to great success in my personal life.

To speak toward which version to read, there are so many great options and it often depends on what you are looking for in a translation. I am going to keep this as simple as possible but for the price of a cup of coffee, I am willing to discuss this further. The two main options are a dynamic equivalence or an essentially literal translation or formal equivalence.

The dynamic equivalence focuses more on the readability and action of the text, making it a smoother read for most people, but often adopting word choices that may be a departure from the original translations. Thus, these Bibles are wonderful to read and get the feel of the story but are not the best for serious study.

It should be noted that on the far end of these types of Bible are the paraphrased Bibles, which take the original texts and simply convert them into modern language, not really concerning themselves with word choice but rather with the idea behind the writing as we would understand it today i.e. The Message by Eugene Peterson and the Living Bible (LB).

Examples of dynamic equivalence Bibles would be the Voice, the NIV (New International Version), and the NLT (New Living Translation). Some Bibles are somewhat of a hybrid, and the one that is best among the mixes is the CSB or the Christian Standard Bible. For the serious reader of the Scripture it is best to have more than one if possible, one for reading and meditating on and one for study.

Usually when asked which Bible someone should choose; I respond with a few simple questions.

  1. Do you want this Bible to be a daily reader or one that helps you with study, or both? (You might think both is the common answer but it is not, some people just want to read the Scripture without anyone else’s thoughts, and some people just want a serious study Bible, more focused on the notes than the way the text flows)
  1. The Voice (Great Daily Reader)
  2. The NIV (New International Version, Good daily reader and a decent Study Bible)
  3. The HCSB (The Holman Christian Standard, Excellent Study Bible)
  1. Do you want the text to sound like a modern book? (Some people want the word choice and order to read like a novel, and some people prefer the antiquated language structure of the past)
  1. The Message – Modern word choice and order, extremely easy to read.
  2. The Voice – Written like the script of a play, very interactive and smooth.
  1. Do you want pictures and maps? (Some people really enjoy the maps and pictures of historical life in Biblical times)

    1. The ESV Study Bible (English Standard Version) This Bible is packed with images and information.
    2. The Archaeological Study Bible (New International Version) This Bible has every conceivable picture and map you could need, and it is very well made.

  2. Do you have a certain theological slant you are looking for? (Believe it or not, most translations come from a theological viewpoint, which might show up in the translation, but will always show up in the notes. There are a few balanced versions out there, but few) Note: The most balanced study Bible I have come across is the Holman Christian Standard Bible – Study edition. This is an excellent Bible and commentary, with notes from all major perspectives.

    1. The HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible) Very fair and balanced Study Bible.
    2. The ESV Study Bible (English Standard Version) Has a Calvinist slant.
    3. The Reformation Study Bible (English Standard Version) A very Calvinist slant.
    4. The Wesley Study Bible (New Revised Standard Version) The name says it all, very Wesleyan Slant.  

There are some Bibles that can stretch our thinking a bit, and one stands out for sure. The Complete Jewish Study Bible (CJSB) is a Bible that will push the average Christian Bible reader to new places. The CJSB integrates Hebrew in with the English, especially in the names of places and people. We must remember, the vast majority of Scripture was written by Jews, so to see it from their perspective is amazingly helpful, especially using their Hebrew names. You will find the notes of this Bible incredibly rich with explanation of Jewish thought, especially in light of the Parables of Jesus and other traditions that we might not fully grasp. If you are up for it, give this one a look.

Lately, there has been a trend for Bibles that have notes written toward a specific discipline of subject matter, i.e. Study Bibles geared towards Apologetics, Archaeology, Certain Theologies, and even filled with notes from famous pastors or Christian thinkers i.e. The Spurgeon Study Bible, C.S. Lewis Study Bible, and the MacArthur Study Bible. All of these are fun and well made, but they are quite specific, so unless you are looking for notes about these authors or subject matter, steer clear.

I am a collector, and I have a vast collection of antique and modern Bible’s but I will provide a list of my top 6 favorite Bibles, and the ones I use most often, not counting the Hebrew and Greek texts I use.

  1. The Complete Jewish Study Bible: This is easily, my favorite to read. I love the flow of the text, the notes, and the word choices. (Find it on Amazon Smile)

  2. The Holman Christian Standard Bible for Study: This is the fairest and balanced I own and packed with fantastic information. This Bible is not trying to subtly move you to one theological persuasion or another, thus it is a solid read, and packed with useful information. (Find it on Amazon Smile)

  3. The C.S. Lewis Study Bible: I will never stop enjoying reading Lewis and having his thoughts on the text sprinkled through the Bible is a joy to read and reflect on. I highly recommend this prize. (Find it on Amazon Smile)

  4. The Apologetics Study Bible: This Bible is full of affirmations of the Christian faith, and tackles most of the toughest questions about faith that are swirling around. This Bible is very beautifully written and having Ravi Zacharias as a main contributor does not hurt either. (Find it on Amazon Smile)

  5. The New American Standard Bible: This Bible is old and hard to come by, but I really like it. It has nothing fancy, but it just calms my soul as I read it, and I really love it. (Find it on Amazon Smile)

  6. The Key Word Study Bible in Hebrew and Greek: This Bible is only for those who want to really dig into the deep meat of the Word. This Bible is phenomenal but not for the faint of heart or casual reader. (Find it on Amazon Smile)

There are so many to choose from but please allow me to take you back to the beginning. Which is the best Bible for you? The one you will read, as you become more comfortable with the reading, you can branch out, but never allow the Bible choice to stand in the way of the truth it contains, and the person it is all about!

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