October 18

How do I chose the right Bible for me?

I vividly remember my first shopping trip to purchase my first “real” Bible. I gathered up all my babysitting money and excitedly entered my local Christian book store. My balloon filled with enthusiasm promptly popped when I made it to the Bibles section. There were so many choices! After staring at them all, and haphazardly picking up samples to look through, I hesitantly chose a big black leather-like Bible—mainly because it looked studious and super-spiritual. I did not end up using that Bible much. In hindsight, it was a poor fit for me for many reasons.

You see, I was a toddler in the faith—actually not quite yet walking. I crawled around desiring to grow up and become closer to God. I just knew that getting a brand-new Bible would be the answer. But the version and type I chose was all wrong for me. This particular Bible lacked the simplicity and extra helps I really needed at that point in my spiritual journey. Plus, behind the study notes were beliefs that were a far cry from my own. This led to even more frustration and confusion. If I could go back and stand beside my former self, I would help past-Katie narrow down her choices in order to find a Bible that would fuel her burgeoning desire for the Bible and arm her with the basics of the Bible she needed.

That was in 1996, and the options today are much more numerous than they were then. So if you are in the market for a new Bible today, you might be just a bit overwhelmed! Past-Katie certainly would have been. She might have just walked out of that bookstore and given up on this walking-with-God thing.

So how do you know which one is going to be the best purchase for you? Before you go dropping dough on a Bible, you need to know the answers to three questions.

Why are there sooo many different Bibles for sale in the Christian book store?

The Bible was not originally written in English. Duh, right? But I won’t tell you how old I was when that fact finally dawned on me. I guess I just never really thought about it. It is important to recognize this fact because it will help us understand why there are so many different versions of the Bible (it can also help us with Bible study later on). Specifically, it is useful to understand that each publisher that has produced a new Bible has a purpose and a target audience. Some of them want to provide an accessible Bible that is super-readable to the everyday public. Others want to remain as true to the original text as possible, providing a better version for study. Therefore, each team of translators choose between “thought-for-thought” and “word-for-word” approaches, depending on what their end goal is.

If you are new to the Bible and/or want to do mostly Bible reading, I suggest you stick with one of the “thought-for-thought” translations below.  If you want study the Bible, a “word-for-word” translation is going to be most helpful. I think a healthy mix of using both types over time is ideal. There are loads of free Bible apps and websites that allow you to toggle between translations. I’m not super-familiar with all of the translations out there, but here are several I’ve had experience with. Those closer to “word-for-word” are listed first and as we move down the list, we migrate more and more towards “thought-for-thought” translations.

Common translations of the Bible:

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  • New American Standard Bible (NASB) – I grew up on this version and it was the primary version I used for study until the ESV came along.
  • English Standard Version (ESV) – This is the translation I’ve used since 2005 for all my deep studies and most of my Scripture memory.
  • King James Version (KJV) – I haven’t used this much, but it is certainly a popular version.
  • New King James Version (NKJV) – This version kept the translation work of the KJV, then updated the language to make it more readable. I used this for a little while as a teen but it never stuck with me.
  • Christian Standard Bible (CBS) – This version arrived on the scene in 2017. It claims to be the “optimal blend of accuracy and readability.”
  • New International Version (NIV) – Though a crowd favorite, I’ve never been a huge fan of this version. But many enjoy it and find it very easy to understand.
  • New Living Translation (NLT) – When I was in campus ministry, this was my “campus Bible” as it was very easy to understand. I enjoy this as fresh look at familiar verses. But this is not a great candidate for inductive Bible study.
  • The Message – In the technical sense, this is not a translation, but a paraphrase. So it is definitely a “thought-for-thought” and can be helpful if you find yourself completely unable to understand what a passage is saying. (Keep in mind, however, this is only one man’s thoughts on the passage.)

The Mardel book store has a super-helpful chart of translations, and how they rank on the scale of readability and accuracy, as well as loads of other helpful information. Here is another helpful visual.

Why are there so many different types of each Bible version at the Christian book store?

Once you’ve narrowed down your preferred Bible versions (translations), you need to understand the different types of Bible you want/need. For each translation, you will find several different types available, thus a myriad of combinations of Bibles for sale at your local Bible book store.

The main types of Bibles for sale in the Christian book store:

  • A Bible – This is just a plain ol’, regular Bible. There might be a few textual notes in the bottom margin, but typically these contain only the book titles (Genesis, Ephesians, etc.), maybe a few headings throughout each book, and the chapter and verse references. These are often referred to gift edition, slimline, compact, or thinline Bibles. One example is this pretty “Premium Gift” teal Bible I use for my speaking engagements.
  • Study Bible – These are typically very thick Bibles, filled with loads of helpful information. Most include important info like the author, audience, and aim of each book, commentary (teaching and explanation by the really smart people who have studied the Bible in an academic setting and know what they are talking about), charts, and maps interspersed throughout—all geared toward helping you understand what you are reading/studying. Many study Bibles are geared around a certain Bible study method or even a theme, which often means the commentary provided will be mostly within that subject. Study Bible examples: ESV Study Bible, CSB Study Bible, Inductive Study Bible.
  • Devotional Bible – Typically geared toward a certain group of people (women, men, students, children, etc.), these Bibles contain short devotional thoughts and stories throughout each book of the Bible. You can think of them like a devotional book all split up and appropriately placed into the Bible for you. Examples include the (in)courage Devotional Bible(I contributed to this one!), She Reads Truth Bible, ESV Men’s Devotional Bible, and many, many more.
  • Journaling Bible – These Bibles are laid out to give you white space for note-taking or art journaling. Some provide designations in the title of where the journaling space is, such as single column, double column, interleaved (where every other page is blank), and whether or not it is lined. If not in the title, you’ll want to be sure to check the description or look for an opened sample so you purchase your prefered layout. Examples: ESV Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition, ESV Single Column Journaling Bible, and the mac daddy of all Journaling Bibles, Dayspring’s Illustrating Bible (I have this one and love it!).

How are you going to use this new Bible?

This may seem like a silly question, but it is important. Another way to ask this question is, “What do you primarily need from this Bible?” Room for sermon notes? Teaching on what a verse means? Space to record prayers and/or what you are learning? You might have your eyes on a stunning journaling Bible, but what you really need is a solid study Bible. Maybe you have a well-loved study Bible, but need room to record your study notes. You might be like me—continually forgetting to pack your Bible and favorite pens—so having a Sunday morning bag with a dedicated Bible and pens for recording sermon notes is just what the doctor ordered.

Generally speaking, a solid study Bible is going to be a great first investment I recommend the ESV Study Bible, especially if you are new to the Bible. Here’s the key though: you need to use it! Study Bibles can be pretty overwhelming at first, but the charts, book info, and study notes are invaluable guides as you begin to explore Scripture.

Though ill-fitting, I’m glad I did pick out a Bible way-back-when. It was a choice of obedience for me. A determined step in the right direction. Though it wasn’t a perfect choice, God used my frustration with not understanding what I was reading to draw me even closer to Himself and also to seek help from others. So if you are still feeling a bit stymied by all the options of Bibles for sale at the Christian book store, I encourage you to step out, regardless. His Word is alive (every version and type!), our God is in control, and He can guide you even through an eeny, meeny, miny, moe approach. Narrow it down by version, type, and something you can afford, then take action … pick one!


Bible, Bible Study How-Tos, bible study tips, books, christian book store, doctrine, focused15, Life

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  1. I love this! It’s really helpful to think through those 3 questions before a big Bible purchase!

    I’m also a fan of using several types & versions. God has and will preserve His Word!! And like you said, His Word is alive and active, you just need to get into it!

    I wanted to contribute about my experience with using the NIV. I’ve used it for the last 20+ years (as my main Bible; still using several versions to study). I wanted to share 2 points about it:

    1. I am still using the 1984 NIV version. The NIV was last revised in 2011, and I own copies of that version, but I have just not yet moved to using it as my daily one. I bring this up because I know there were many well- known Christians who have their issues with the 2011 updated version (as well as the TNIV of a few years before it). I honestly don’t remember all the ins and outs of the opinions, but I think one part had to do with ‘inclusive’ language. Again, it is great to check other translations for clarity when studying.

    2. I have used for many years the NIV “Key Word” Study Bible (AMG Publishers, Spiros Zodhiates). Inside of it are Old and New Testament lexicons and dictionaries that correspond with thousands of words and phrases in the text by number. Many times I’ve been in class or in discussion with someone who strictly uses a word for word version and they’ve made statements questioning words used in the NIV. So I turn to the original language lexicon (Hebrew or Greek) right inside of my Key Word Bible and find that in the original language definition of the “questionable” word was the same word used in their version. I have found every time the true meaning is still in there. And these days with lexicons at our fingertips online we can do this with any version! It is quite a wider perspective (and also fun!) to learn using lexicons during your Bible reading and study. I’m not pushing for use of this particular study Bible (it is heavy to carry!), but I am just making the point that it has been a valuable resource for me to feel confident about the NIV.

    The NIV is reader-friendly so I like to encourage others to choose it if they like it without having doubts. Just get into the Word 🙂

    Whichever type or version, praying when reading the Bible is so important. Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and teaching, and for the discernment to rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15, KJV).

    Thank you, Katie, for always sharing your wisdom and encouragement to enjoy the Word and meet God in it!!

  2. Great article! I think the problem I have now is I have way too many bibles! I want to thin the herd some, but then I feel guilty about it, especially those that were gifted to me. Any thoughts?

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