Choosing a Bible by Pastor Mark Andrews
May 22, 2017, 2:25 PM

What Bible should I read? This is a common question that pastors get asked, and it gets asked even more frequently when a sermon encourages Bible reading. So, I have been working on producing this document to aid in the selection of the best Bible for you or your loved ones. I have tried to keep it short, clear and useful; but there is a LOT to cover. This document has four main sections:

  1. Different kinds of Bibles
  2. The what and why of different translations
  3. ____ Bibles and their uses
  4. Recommendations for Bibles

If you are really short on time, go to the very end for my best recommendation for a Bible, one for adults, one for teens and one for kids.

1. What are the different kinds of Bibles?

Bibles fall into two main categories: translations and paraphrases. To appreciate the difference, you need a little background of how we got here. I'll make it quick and painless, I promise.

The Old Testament was first written in Hebrew (Ancient Hebrew to be precise, it does not look like the modern Hebrew script used today in Israel). The New Testament was originally written in Greek (Koine Greek, again not like the script used today in Greece).

When people wanted the Bible in their own language, they had to translate the Hebrew and Greek into English, French, German etc. This means that someone (or a team) with a solid knowledge of both the ancient language and the new language made a word for word translation of each and every verse of the Bible, changing word order to make it clearly readable.

For example here is John 3:16, in Greek, the actual words, in the actual order:

"So for to love the God the world so that the son the only to give that all the to believe into he not to destroy but to have life eternal."

That would be incredibly difficult to read, so in the New International Version (NIV) we now read:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

The other Bible version is a paraphrase. Instead of a word for word translation, they take what they best consider the meaning of a passage and translate it into a new language, or re-write it in what is hopefully a more readable edition of a current language. One of the most popular paraphrase editions is the Message. One man, Kenneth Taylor, wrote it and while it is easy to understand, it is very easy to see where he added English words to expand the verses to 'help' the reader understand. Let's see John 3:16 in the Message:

"This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed;
by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life."

There are clear differences from the NIV. The words "This is how much" and "And this is why" can be seen as expanding the basic words "For" and "that". No harm, for the most part. However, the insertion of the word "whole" is clearly making an edit and addition to the text that some people have a problem with. The whole purpose of having a Bible in a language you can read is to remove barriers between you and God. In my opinion, a translated version does this the best. Having said that, only God knows how many people have been blessed by paraphrases, or how many people have found a paraphrase an easy and accessible entry to a fairly complex book.

2. Why are there so many translations and which one should you choose?

The short and simple answer to the second part is simple, the translation that you will read the most! The answer to the first part is a bit more complex. Since you are reading this in English, I will limit the information to the English Bible and its translations.

In 1384 A.D. John Wycliffe produced the first English translation of the entire Bible. It was hand written and not officially recognized by the church. In 1526 the first printed edition was made by William Tyndale. Groups named after Tyndale and Wycliffe are still important today in the field of translating and publishing the Bible. In 1539 the "Great Bible" was produced as the first English Bible authorized for public use. In 1560 the Geneva Bible was printed, the first ever to have numbered verses for each chapter. In 1568 the Bishops Bible was produced. In 1611 the
first King James Version was produced, and it was only a revision of the Bishops Bible produced 43 years earlier. In the over 400 years since it was published, there have been many changes to the translation. While it will always be the Bible of choice for many, many faithful Christians, for a majority of English speakers it is hard to read and harder to understand. While it can keep you connected to your parents or grandparents traditions, it does very little to build and strengthen a relationship with God.

In 1901 the American Standard Version (ASV) was produced. 1952 the Revised Standard Version (RSV) was created. In 1971 the New American Standard Bible (NASB) was produced and is as close to a word for word translation as has been attempted in modern times. It is at times clumsy to read, but it certainly makes it clear what the ancient languages were saying. In 1973 the New International Version (NIV) was produced, focusing on phrase-for-phrase accuracy in translation. I want to be clear, this is my all-time favorite translation. In 1982 they
attempted to revise the King James, calling it The New King James Version. Critics claim it loses the beloved historic language without becoming clear or understandable. In 1990 the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) was published, followed by the English Standard Version (ESV) in 2002. In 2005 the Today's New International Version (TNIV) was produced. (I am sure there are some versions and translations which I have missed, and I apologize in advance if I missed your favorite.)

Here is the point; there have been a LOT of different translations and versions. Factual differences between anything produced after 1900 are almost non-existent. The differences are subtle and nuanced. Some are for readability, others have addenda. For example, the TNIV made changes for inclusive gender language and to their credit, they were very clear about the changes up front. The Apostle Paul used the Greek word adelphoi (ἀδελφοί) in many places. In the NIV (and most others) it is translated as brothers, the word literally means brothers, male
family members that share a close connection. The TNIV changed it to "brothers and sisters". For some, this alone made the translation something they could not consider using. For others, it made it the only one they would consider. Pay attention and remember that a lot of work went into any changes that were large enough to merit a new publishing adventure.

3. _________ Bibles

"The NIV study Bible for one legged guys named Frank who like to fish.”
"The NRSV worship Bible for single women from the South."
"A Children's Bible for kids who like to fidget but still pay attention when it's really important."

Laugh all you want, but they could already be on the shelves and websites!

Some critics both outside and inside the church criticize the commercialization of the Bible, and frequently point to the different translations and the different editions that have become so prevalent in the past fifty years. It is true that each new version or paraphrase is covered by copyright law and no one can simply make copies of it or use it for commercial purposes without permission. The fact is that we live in a capitalistic world, and it takes money to make things. So, the different publishing houses and groups copyright their difficult and time-consuming work. The NIV took 22 years to publish!

There is always a limited market for a durable basic product. The same is true of a basic Bible. It's pretty tough to use it up or wear it out. Sure, some will get lost or destroyed in accidents, but the average Christian may only "need" one or two in a lifetime.

So, publishing houses began to create specialized editions. The first ones were study Bibles. They included scholarly background material to help the average read understand the world events and lands that existed in the time of the Bible. Originally they were very general. Since then they have branched out to cover different ideas and motivations. I myself have an NIV Worship Bible. It has inspirational quotes from Christian thinkers and authors, along with lyrics from precise songs and hymns interspersed throughout the Bible in the margins. They have made some of my reading times very worshipful, and they have never been a distraction.

The number has grown, as they have gone after smaller and smaller demographic markets. Basic categories include men, women, and children. Smaller groups like people in recovery from addiction, divorced people, single people, parents, couples, cops, firemen, and teachers have all had editions published with them in mind.

So, is this the most amazing thing ever done or a crass attempt to make money? I cannot answer for the publishers. It is true they make more money when they sell more Bibles. It is also true that the more the printed version helps you to read it, the better the probability that you will read it more often and connect even deeper with God.

Two key points to remember:

  1. Everyone has an opinion and often times an agenda. These inform and shape the content of the “study” or “worship” aids that are added. Be aware of the point of view of the publisher, and weigh their viewpoint carefully when selecting a Bible.
  2. 2) The words of scripture are inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16) but the essays, quotes, and thoughts included with the various versions are not. It was a sad day for me when I had to explain to someone that the quote that had been very important for their recent crisis was not from the Bible, but rather a side article in their study Bible.

4.  My recommendations

If you are only going to have one Bible, I recommend the New International Version (NIV) without any hesitation. For kids or anyone with a limited vocabulary I recommend the New Living Translation (NLT). If you are going to purchase additional Bibles I would encourage you to consider your need, and shop accordingly. Need? Yes, are you lacking information? Study Bible. Devotion? A worship Bible. Motivation? Motivational Bible. You see where I am going. If you are buying a Bible for your child, resist the temptation to buy a giant study Bible. The text of the Bible can be hard to get into at times, but a study Bible will only draw in a child who is studious already. However, a Bible with extra material that helps relate the Bible to their world in other ways will likely draw them in again and again.

God bless you as you continue the adventure of exploring God’s word!
Pastor Mark

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