What Bible is right for me?

Since the very beginning of the Christian faith, the reading and study of the Bible has been a core activity for believers. In Acts 2:42, Luke tells us that the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (ESV).” Much of the New Testament we have today was written by the apostles in the form of letters that include their teaching. Jesus, and later the apostles, often reference Old Testament Scriptures in their ministries, emphasizing the importance of believers reading and studying those as well. The study of God’s word spoken through men was and is a vital part of the church and its life together. As we approach the topic of Bible reading and study, the first question that arises is which version of the Bible to use. There are so many, it can be difficult to choose one to use and to know which one might be better for which purpose. In this post, we are going to review the most common versions and some pros and cons of each. Our goal is to help clarify an often-confusing topic. Let’s get started!
NIV  |  NLT  |  ESV  |  KJV/NKJV  |  CSV  |  NIrV  |  NASB  |  The Message
New International Version (NIV)
The NIV translation is one of the most widely used translations and is one that prides itself on balancing readability and accuracy. As we will see with other translations, there is a struggle between literally translating (as in word-for-word) what the original Biblical languages say and presenting that in a way that is easily comprehended by modern readers. The NIV seeks to strike a balance between those two challenges. It was initially the vision of a Seattle engineer who desired a modern version of the Bible to use while sharing the Gospel with others. This grew to become an organization called the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) and led to the publication of the first NIV Bible in 1978. The CBT has continued to work on ensuring the accuracy of this version by reviewing it periodically based on new language research. The most recent edition was released in 2011.
  • It is the most widely used modern English translation
  • Reads smoothly and easily
  • Updated periodically based on new knowledge of ancient and modern languages
  • There are some that believe the translators engage in too much interpretation and not simply translation.
  • The 2011 update changes some gender pronouns, and some believe that this impacts the Bible’s teachings on gender roles.
New Living Translation (NLT)
The NLT seeks to prioritize clarity and readability. The translators prioritized using contemporary English and designed it to be read aloud. They utilized the Meaning Based Translation Model. This means that the translators used the original documents to identify the meaning beneath the surface of the text. They used this discovered meaning to drive the English words they chose as they translated. As a result, the NLT is highly readable but less literal than other versions.
  • Easy and natural to read
  • Great for those who are new to reading the Bible or for daily reading
  • This type of translation requires significant interpretation
  • Interpretation can sometimes miss the original intent of a verse
English Standard Version (ESV)
The ESV is an essentially literal translation of the Bible that uses contemporary English language. The ESV emphasizes word-for-word accuracy. This is slightly different from the first two translations that we have examined. The NIV and NLT make readability a priority. The ESV seeks to be as literal or word-for-word as possible in its translation. That means that sometimes it can be somewhat more difficult or less smooth to read.
  • Useful as a study tool because it is so literal
  • Uses contemporary English language, which helps it be more readable than a translation like the KJV
  • The language can be awkward in some places due to its aim at being literal
  • Some of the word-for-word phrases do not translate easily into English
  • Can be difficult for those new to Bible reading
New King James/King James Versions (NKJV/KJV)
The KJV Bible was originally published in 1611 and was one of the first English translations of the Bible. During the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church sought to actively repress the Bible being translated into common languages such as English. King James I opposed this and authorized the KJV. It is written in the language of the time, which is literarily beautiful but often hard for modern readers to understand. An additional concern with the KJV has to do with its source material. There has been significant development in the understanding of Biblical languages since 1611. There have also been a multitude of manuscript discoveries since then. Because the KJV is so old, it relies upon manuscripts that modern translators know to be less accurate. The NKJV was commissioned in 1975. This version seeks to maintain the level of accuracy and stylistic beauty the KJV offers while using updated English language.
  • KJV has been in common use for over 400 years and is familiar to many
  • NKJV is familiar to many because of its nearness to the KJV
  • Reads similarly to ESV
  • KJV is challenging to read because of its use of archaic language
  • NKJV is challenging to read due to its desire to be literal.
  • Both versions are less common now
  • Both versions use original texts that are not commonly relied upon now
Christian Standard Version (CSV)
The CSV desires to “draw its readers into a more meaningful relationship with God.” The translators aimed to use the clearest possible modern English. They seek to balance clear, contemporary English language with literal translation. If the word-for-word translation is easily understood, then it remains unchanged. If the word-for-word translation is awkward or challenging, a more dynamic translation is utilized.
  • Strives for a high level of readability
  • Does not change gender language in a controversial manner
  • Can sometimes be challenging for those new to Bible reading
  • It is rarely used outside the Southern Baptist tradition
New International Reader’s Version (NIrV)
The NIrV is published by the same group that publishes the NIV. They took the NIV and sought to create a version that increased readability. They achieve this by simplifying the language used and through shortening of some words and sentences. They also broke chapters up into smaller sections. This version is based upon the NIV and the translation work that was done for that version. Given the similarity of this version to the NIV, the pros and cons are similar. The NIrV is commonly used in Bibles printed for new readers or children.
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
The NASB is the most literal English translation of the Bible. The stated goal of the NASB is to translate the Bible as literally as possible without compromise. It has the reputation as the most accurate translation of the Bible and seeks to reveal what the original Biblical manuscripts say and not what the translator interprets them to mean. As a result of this, the NASB is more challenging to read than many of the other versions we have discussed.
  • Useful Bible study tool due to extremely literal translation.
  • Excellent tool for word studies
  • Can be awkward and challenging to read
  • Will be challenging for new Bible readers
The Message
The Message is different from the rest of the versions we have examined to this point. The difference is that The Message is not a translation, it is a paraphrase. The other versions of the Bible that we have reviewed so far are seeking to communicate the words of Scripture to us using our common language. They choose the English words they use carefully to achieve this purpose. The Message summarizes the thoughts expressed in the Bible using modern language. It seeks to capture the meaning in easy to read language. It prioritizes giving their interpreted meaning of what the Bible says over communicating the specific words of the Bible. We felt it was useful to mention this version as it is commonly used and well known. We would encourage you to use The Message to clarify your understanding but to do so with caution as it is designed to be a paraphrase.
  • Easy to read
  • Formatted like a novel with little emphasis on chapter and verse references
  • Not an actual translation of the Bible
  • Should not be used for study

The versions that we have reviewed in this post are the most commonly used ones in the US right now. The most commonly used translations here are Beacon are the NIV, NLT, and ESV. Those are the ones that will most commonly be read from during services and preached from during sermons. If you are looking to use a version that is going to match what we are using in a service, those are the ones to start with. There are many, many more versions and translations of the Bible. The goal of this post was to expand on the most common translations to help with the decision of which Bible to choose. If you have additional questions about the versions mentioned here or others you have encountered, please don’t hesitate to call the church office or email us by clicking HERE.
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Josh Cervone