If you are a new Christian or a new ExMormon, how do you know which version of the Bible to read, and which ones are trustworthy?
How do you pick a version especially if you’ve been raised to believe our Bibles are not trustworthy translations and that they have been somehow corrupted over time?
Choosing a Bible version for confused Christians
When I was a new Christian I didn’t give much thought about which version of the Bible I ought to read and why. All I knew was that I needed to a Bible.
I walked into a Christian bookstore, took one look at the stacks of Bibles on tables everywhere (overwhelm!) and made the decision to not make a decision. I picked a KJV Bible because that’s what I grew up with.
Not exactly the best approach to choosing a Bible version. I have switched versions twice since then and you may too.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? Click To Tweet
3 Tips for choosing the perfect Bible
Choosing your Bible version is a highly personal decision. You should not choose a Bible version because one person told you to read that specific one.
Some Christians choose their Bible version because their pastor uses a specific version to teach from. And that’s fine
But what if that version is not well-suited to you? Then you will
Since the Bible was meant to be read and studied daily, that is not the best method and there are tools to help you. Before you part with your hard-earned money, here are a few things to consider so that you will get a Bible that you love to read and will spend time in it daily.
1) What is your reading level and favorite types of books to read?
It might seem odd to start off your perfect Bible quest with considering your reading level and favorite book genre, but trust me. This is a very practical factor to take into consideration.
This is a book that you will be reading daily. It needs to accomodate your reading and comprehension level. You need to actually enjoy reading it.
If you don’t then
Not everyone reads at the same reading level or enjoys reading the same types of books. Additionally
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 of that would be the Young’s Literal Translation. (Trust me, it’s not that much fun to read).
By the way, the average American adult reads at an 8th-grade level and yet there a ton of Christians claiming that certain versions are the purest. And these versions are above their reading level. So go figure on that one.
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.
If you like action/adventure books you would probably enjoy the Modern English Version, for example. It was written with professors and a bunch of military chaplains, so it is quite action oriented. (Yes, for real).
At the bottom of this article, I have for you a shopping guide where I’ve broken down the most common and popular Bible versions by reading level and translation style (which we’ll get to in a minute).
Feel free to pin it to your Pinterest board, bookmark it, download it to your phone, etc.
2) Which Bible version translation style fits you best?
This is where we are going to get into some textual history and technical terms. I’ll explain as we go
This may come as a shock, but the original Biblical texts were not written in English. They were written in Hebrew, Aramaic and a common Greek called Koine.
Translating texts from one language to another can be a difficult thing. If you’ve studied a foreign language, you understand what I’m talking about.
So how are the manuscripts translated?
In actual Bible versions
Here is an example of what a literal translation from Biblical Hebrew to English looks like:
So, we have what are called translation approaches. There are 3 primary types. Translation approaches do not fall perfectly into one category or another. It is more of a continuum.
One end of the spectrum is called formal equivalence. This means that 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 literal fidelity to the original texts.
If you are a more literal, analytical type of person you will probably enjoy this type of Bible version. Examples are:
- King James Version (1611)
- Revised Version (1885)
- Young’s Literal Translation (1862)
- Douay-Rheims (1610)
- American Standard Version (1901)
- Revised Standard Version (1952)
- New American Standard Bible (1971)
- Green’s Literal Translation (1985)
- New Jewish Publication Society Tanakh (1985)
- Recovery Version (1999)
- 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 have heard Christians try to make this claim about their particular favorite Bible version. These versions place priority on fidelity to the original texts over readability for the target audience.
Next on the the translation continuum is optimal equivelence. It is called optimal because the translation philosophy was to strive to maintain as much balance between the priorities of literal text 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)
- Modern Language Bible (1969)
- New American Bible Revised Edition (2011)
- New International Version (1978, revised 1984, 2011)
- New International Reader’s Version (1996)
- New Living Translation (1996)
- Holman Christian Standard Bible (2003)
- New English Translation (2005)
- Today’s New International Version
Functional/dynamic equivalence means a higher priority was placed on a more natural rendering of the foreign words into the target language. This means that more weight is given to the “thoughts” or ideas presented by the texts.
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 Bible Versions
Last on the translation continuum is paraphrase style. This is easily the most controversial of all translation style. 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.
- 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 for personal Bible study and learning about the different archeological finds that help support the claims of the Bible.
I also have a Reader’s Bible for when I just want to read the Bible like a story (because it is a story). I have another Bible for going to church with.
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. But you might find it helpful.
So what are some of the different types of Bibles and what are they for?
A study Bible is a Bible that includes resources to help readers get deeper into the text, understand
These 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:
- Archeological Study Bible (NIV)
- Life Application Study Bible (NIV)
- CSB Apologetics Study Bible
- The Swindoll Study Bible (NLT)
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:
- Beautiful Word Bible (NIV)
- Inspire Bible: The Bible for Coloring & Creative Journaling (NLT)
- A Woman After God’s Own Heart Devotional Bible (NKJV)
I mentioned that I use a Reader’s Bible. I had never heard of a Reader’s Bible until this last year.
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
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 online
I often read the Bible in parallel versions. This is something every Christian should do but is especially helpful for new Christians when you are trying to figure out what the Bible says and which one you should use.
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 do go with the YouVersion Bible app we can be friends! Send me a friend request.
Finally! It’s time to shop for your new Bible
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking it out with me! We’ve covered a lot of ground, and it’s a lot of information.
I’ve given you a few factors to consider:
- Your comfortable reading level
- Which translation philosophy would fit you best
- Consider different types of Bibles for different purposes
- Read different Bible versions in parallel
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 you need it to be sturdy. My first Bible started falling apart fairly quickly. The cover is falling off, pages are sticking together, and there are bleed-through marks from highlighters.
By the way, don’t use standard highlighters.
Get a Bible cover
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 seats in church because I have my Bible study stuff spread out on the seat 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 paraphenalia. I can just grab and go on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights.
Get good highlighters and pens
Speaking of highlighters, a friend at church turned me on to using Bible-safe highlighters one day. I saw her set and about died because of all the pretty colors. 🙂 I don’t have a need for all those colors, so this is the set that I bought and they are fantastic!
They are good to have because they don’t bleed through the pages, making it difficult to read the text on the other side.
Earlier I promised you a shopping guide to help you choose a Bible version you for you.
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!
I know 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 woll help you to have more confidence when you go to choose your new Bible version to read as a new Christian, and you won’t feel intimidated by the sheer 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 perfect Bible version for a new Christian is going to be a Bible version that will be read, every single day.
Have fun shopping and feel free to reach out if you have questions.
If you want to learn more about how to choose a Bible version and how to use them, I
How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding and Using Bible Versions by Gordon D. Fee, Mark L. Strauss
What do you think?
Are you confused by all the different Bible versions and translations? What advice have you given to new Christians on how to pick a Bible?
* Based 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