If you are a new Christian, how do you know which version of the Bible to read, and that you can trust it? How do you pick a Bible version – especially if you’ve been taught the Bible isn’t trustworthy and has somehow been corrupted over time?

In 2014 Pew Research revealed 21% of people who say they are Christians think reading the Bible is not an important part of their Christian identity. Trust in the reliability of the Bible is dropping, too. Only 33% of Americans think the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches.

As a new (or returning) Christian, you might be confused about some of these issues as well. Consider this your complete beginner’s guide to choosing the best Bible version for you to read.

How do you choose which Bible version to read if you're a new Christian or don't know if you can trust the Bible? What are the best Bible versions to read? #FearlessForTheGospel #Bible #Study #Reading  #ForBeginners
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How not to choose the best Bible version for you

When I was a new Christian I didn’t put much thought into which Bible version was best for me to read. I was raised reading only one (King James Version) and was conditioned to believe the Bible was not reliable. It was correct “only insofar as it is correctly translated”. But, I knew I wanted to read the Bible.

So I walked into a Christian bookstore, was instantly overwhelmed by the stacks of Bibles on tables everywhere and made the decision to not make a decision. I picked a KJV Bible because that’s what I knew. Not exactly the best approach to choosing a Bible version. I have switched versions twice since then and you may too.

What is the best Bible version? The one you read every day! #FearlessForTheGospel #Bible #Study #ForBeginners Click To Tweet

The complete beginner’s guide to choosing a Bible

Choosing the best Bible version for you to read is actually a highly personal decision. You should not choose a Bible version based on what one person tells you. Some Christians choose their Bible version because their pastor uses a specific version to teach from. And that’s fine if that version works for you.

But what if that version doesn’t suit you? Then you will probably let that Bible sit on the shelf all week and only take it out on Sundays. The Bible itself instructs us to read, study, and meditate on it day and night. Since this book is the vehicle God has chosen for us to learn about Him, it is in our best interests to do as it instructs.

This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite it day and night, so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do.

Joshua 1:8

But how do you choose from the more than 450 English translations of the Bible? First, we’ll discuss comfortable reading levels. Then, we’ll chat about how Bible translation philosophy can affect which version you choose. Last, we’ll discuss how Bible purpose can affect which Bible version you choose to read. Sound complicated? It’s not. Let’s dig in!

1) What is your comfortable reading level and favorite types of books to read?

It might seem odd to start off your quest for the perfect Bible by considering your reading level and favorite book genre, but this is actually a practical factor to take into consideration. This is a book you will be reading daily. It needs to accommodate your reading and comprehension level. You need to enjoy reading it.

Reading comprehension level

Part of the reason why there are so many different English language translations of the Bible available is not everyone reads at the same reading level. Additionally, you might enjoy reading certain types of books at one reading level than other types of books. All of that is ok. Not everyone is the same. 

So, if you are not comfortable reading at a post-high school level, do not get a Bible version written at that level. An example would be the Young’s Literal Translation, which is not that much fun to read. The typical American adult reads at an 8th-grade level. Many Christians will claim they only read a particular translation due to its “purity” to the original texts – however, the version they are reading exceeds their reading level.

Make sure the Bible version you choose is a confortable, enjoyable read for you. At the bottom of this post I have included a handy chart you can save to Pinterest showing the reading levels for the common English translations.

Favorite reading genres

If you don’t enjoy or understand Shakespeare, why would you choose the KJV Bible?  My mom hated Shakespeare, and so she hated reading the KJV. Since she hated reading the KJV, she never read her Bible. It wasn’t until she received an NIV that she actually started reading her Bible daily and enjoying it. 

For example, if you like action/adventure books you would probably enjoy the Modern English Version. It was written with military chaplains on the translation team, so it “feels” action-oriented.

2) Which Bible translation philosophy fits you best?

Now we will be getting into some Bible history and technical terms. I’ll explain as we go because it is necessary information to help you make an informed decision about which Bible version is best for you.

Bible translation

This may come as a shock, but the original Biblical texts were not written in English. They were written in ancient versions of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek for the most part. Translating from one language to another can be a difficult thing. Many words in one language do not have a one-to-one correspondence into the receiving language. If you have ever learned a second language then you are familiar with this concept.

So how are the manuscripts translated? 

In Bible versions, teams of scholars from different disciplines form translation teams and translate the manuscripts as carefully as they can. It is virtually impossible to translate from one language into another word-for-word and have it be understandable and readable by people who read the new language. Here is an example of what a literal translation from Biblical Hebrew to English looks like:

How do you choose a Bible version to read if you're a new Christian or don't know if you can even trust the Bible? #Christian #biblestudy #biblejournaling #bibleverse
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So, we have 3 primary translation philosophies. They are not concrete, with definite starting and stopping points. Instead, they form a continuum.

Formal Equivalence

One end of the spectrum is called formal equivalence. This means the texts are translated as close to word-for-word as they can without making it impossible to read in the new language. These versions are not literally word-for-word translations but emphasize keeping fidelity to the original word meanings as much as possible. If you are a more literal, analytical type of person you will probably enjoy this type of Bible version. Some examples are:

  • King James Version (1611)
  • American Standard Version (1901)
  • Revised Standard Version (1952)
  • New American Standard Bible (1971)
  • World English Bible (2000)
  • Lexham English Bible (2011)
  • New King James Version (1982)
  • New Revised Standard Version (1989)
  • English Standard Version (2001)

Please note that none of these versions are literal “word-for-word” translations. You may hear Christians try to make this claim about their particular favorite Bible version. These versions place priority on fidelity to the original meanings over readability for the target audience but they are not written literally word-for-word.

Optimal Equivalence

Next on the translation continuum is optimal equivelence. It is called optimal because the translation philosophy here is to maintain an optimal balance between literal meaning fidelity and readability for the target audience. Bible versions translated using optimal equivelence are moderate in their use of formal and functional equivelence. Some examples of Bible versions using optimal equivelence translation philosophy are:

  • Amplified Bible (1965)
  • New International Reader’s Version (1996)
  • New Living Translation (1996)
  • Holman Christian Standard Bible (2003)
  • New English Translation (2005)
  • New International Version (1978, revised 1984, 2011)
  • Today’s New International Version
Functional Equivalence

Functional equivalence used to be called dynamic equivalence, so you might hear that term still in use. Functional/dynamic equivalence means a higher priority is placed on a more natural rendering of the foreign words in the target language. This means that more weight is given to the “thoughts” or ideas presented by the texts. Some people call this a “thought-for-thought” translation, but that is not a completely accurate description as there is still fidelity to the original literal meanings.

These versions still work to hold true to the original words but the priority is placed on translating the thoughts or ideas from the original languages into the target language. Some examples of predominantly dynamic equivalence Bible versions are:

  • New English Bible (1970)
  • Good News Bible (formerly “Today’s English Version”) (1966)
  • Christian Community Bible (1988)
  • Revised English Bible (1989)
  • God’s Word Translation (1995)
  • Contemporary English Version (1995)
  • Complete Jewish Bible (1998)
Paraphrase

Last on the translation continuum is paraphrase style. This is easily the most controversial of all translation styles. There are a couple reasons for this.

To paraphrase is to retell something in your own words. So a paraphrase Bible version is one where an author has attempted to retell the meaning of the Bible in their own words. Second, a paraphrased version of the Bible is not the same thing as a translation. An actual translation is one where a team of scholars from various disciplines actually translate using one of the translation philosophies mentioned above.

Paraphrase Bibles are generally written by one person. This means it is one person’s interpretation of what the Bible texts actually say. I do not recommend these for reading or study. I will provide you with an alternative to a paraphrase a little later in this article. Examples of paraphrase Bibles are:

  • The Living Bible (1971) 
  • The Message (2002)
  • The Passion Translation (still being written)

3) Consider different types of Bibles for different purposes

I read different types of Bibles for different purposes. I have an archeological study Bible and an apologetics study Bible for personal Bible study and learning about the different archeological finds that help support the claims of the Bible. But when I want to simply read the Bible as the story it is (like we would read a novel) I read a Reader’s Bible.

You don’t have to have different Bibles for different purposes. The Christian or Bible police are not going to show up and revoke your Christian membership card if you don’t. I do recommend it though, even for new Christians or those who have never studied the Bible deeply as it is good to develop good habits quickly. So what are some of the different types of Bibles and what are they for?

Study Bibles

A study Bible is a Bible that includes resources to help readers get deeper into the text, understand historical meanings of passages and make connections between passages. Study Bibles usually have footnotes and other annotations that help clarify meanings of words, indicate parallel passages, or summaries. The back sections usually have maps, concordances, or charts of information. Some popular study Bibles are:

Devotional Bibles

Devotional Bibles are Bibles designed to help readers take Biblical concepts and apply them to their lives. They might include inspiring stories, analogies, or thought-provoking questions to get the reader to think about what the Scripture means to them personally. This supplementary material usually appears near the particular passages of Scripture so that its correlation is easily made. Popular devotional Bibles are:

Reader’s Bibles

I mentioned that I use a Reader’s Bible. I had never heard of a Reader’s Bible until a little more than a year or so ago, and they are becoming quite the rage amongst Christians.  

A Reader’s Bible is a Bible that is exactly like a regular Bible – but with the chapters, sub-headings and verse numbering removed. It is amazing to read the Bible in a similar way to what Jesus, the Apostles, and the early church would have read.

If you’d like to know more about what a Reader’s Bible is and why you might want to consider using one, read Why Is The Bible Divided Into Chapters And Verses – And Should We Read It That Way?

4) Read different Bible versions at once

I often read the Bible in parallel versions. Reading in parallel means you are reading only a small section of the Bible at once, but in several different versions at one time. This can be helpful when you are trying to figure out which version you like best. Some of my go-to sources:

Read different Bible versions on a Bible app

There are a lot of great Bible apps out there, so I’m only going to mention a couple. Two popular ones are the YouVersion app and the Blue Letter Bible app. Which one is better? Again, that comes down to personal preference. I’ve been using the YouVersion app since I became a Christian, so I am used to where everything is.

Many of my Christian friends use the Blue Letter Bible app and wouldn’t dream of switching. (It does have a great parallel version scroll feature that I’m kind of jealous of.) Incidentally, if you go with the YouVersion Bible app we can be friends! Send me a friend request.

You’re ready to shop for your new Bible

We’ve covered a lot of information, so to recap what we’ve talked about in discovering your best Bible version to read:

  • Your comfortable reading level (typical reading level is 8th grade)
  • Which translation philosophy would fit you best (formal, optimal, functional)
  • Consider different types of Bibles for different purposes (study, reading, devotional)
  • Read different Bible versions to see which you like best (use free online tools or free apps)

By now you should have a pretty good idea of what Bible version you think you want. Keep in mind you are going to use this Bible daily, so it needs to hold up to daily handling. My first Bible started falling apart very quickly. The cover is falling off, pages are sticking together, and there are bleed-through marks from highlighters. P.S. – don’t use regular highlighters.

Bible covers – the Bible geek’s best friend

Ever wonder why you see Christians walking into church with these fancy Bible covers? It’s because if you are using the same Bible every day to read and study from, your Bible might start falling apart. 

Plus they hold all your Bible study stuff such as pens, highlighters and notebooks. Yes, I am one of those people that takes up 2-3 seats in church because I have my Bible study stuff spread out on the seats next to me. 

This is my Bible cover and I absolutely love it. I wish I had bought one when I bought my first Bible. It is a purse style and size, and holds all of my paraphernalia. I can just grab and go on Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights, and Starbucks study sessions. I even don’t need to carry a purse with me when I have this with me.

Bible-safe highlighters and pens – the Bible geek’s other best friend

After you choose your Bible and start reading and studying, you’re going to want to begin writing notes and highlighting passages in it. Even if you don’t think you’re going to, trust me when I say you’re going to 😉

So do yourself a favor and get one of these sets of special Bible study pens. They are the best out on the market as they are archival pens, made specifically for writing on delicate documents. Having them in different colors is going to come in very handy, especially if you wind up doing inductive Bible studies.

You might want to also pick up some Bible tabs, to mark the different books in the Bible for you. This makes flipping to a particular book on Sunday mornings during church or mid-week Bible studies much easier! No fumbling around for the location of a particular book. I have these, but there are others and in various colors. These seem to be the sturdiest, and they are self-adhesive and pre-printed. Just stick and go.

I researched the information from the most commonly used Bible versions, correlated the reading levels and translation philosophies, and put it all together in a handy graphic for you. Feel free to save to your phone, pin it on Pinterest, save it to Facebook. Whatever makes it easiest for you to use it as you’re checking out different Bible versions. Enjoy!

How do you choose a Bible version to read if you're a new Christian or don't know if you can even trust the Bible? #Christian #biblestudy #biblejournaling #bibleverse
Pin to Pinterest for handy reference!

Conclusion

We’ve discussed a lot of information in this article, so you’re a rockstar for making it all the way to the end. Hopefully, this information will help you be more confident when choosing your new Bible version and you won’t feel intimidated by the volume of choices and comments from well-meaning Christians. 

As you check things out, keep in mind:

  • Your comfortable reading level
  • Your reading style
  • What you plan on using the bible for
  • Bible translation styles that suit you

Ultimately, the best Bible version for you is going to be the Bible you pick up and read every day!

I’d love to hear what you think

What is your favorite Bible version, and why? What advice do you have for someone who is picking a Bible version to read and study?

Resources I Recommend:

If you’d like to dig deeper into Bible versions, I recommend How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding and Using Bible Versions by Gordon D. Fee and Mark L. Strauss. Written by two seasoned Bible translators, this guide helps the Bible student understand the various translation approaches, and strengths and potential weaknesses of different contemporary English Bible versions.

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References:

Based in part on information provided by 1. Thomas, Robert L., Bible Translations: The Link Between Exegesis and Expository Preaching, pages 63ff; and 2. Clontz, T.E. and Clontz, J., The Comprehensive New Testament, page iii and the various Bible version publishers