7 min. to read.
To be an apprentice of Jesus means to learn from Jesus how to see ourselves, how to see God and how to live. Often our first tool, one one of the most important in that journey is the Bible.
(Here’s the 1st post in a series that unpacks the idea of being an Apprentice to Jesus.)
In part 1 of this series I told you that you needed to get yourself a “good Bible.” I also suggested that the defining characteristic of a “good Bible,” was one you would actually read.
In part 2 I gave you some background on Bible translations and versions, so you could make an intelligent choice for yourself. Today, I answer the one remaining question.
Taking all of this together, what is the best translation?
Actually. There are two parts to the answer.
1. The Best Bible is Your Bible.
The first answer is this. The best translation for you to grow with spiritually is the one you can actually read and stick with. A perfect translation will make no impact in your life if you can’t comprehend it or won’t spend any time with it. So start with whatever translation will work for you.
Here’s the thing you must remember: God is big enough to speak to you through any version. So, for your spiritual growth, I’m going to suggest that it largely doesn’t matter what version you read. Pick a version that you can read easily, that uses a vocabulary that you are familiar with. That becomes your go-to Bible.
Don’t worry. This isn’t a marriage commitment. You can always change to a different version as you learn and grow. The Bible I grew up with was the King James. Then for many years, my go-to Bible was the New International Version. In school, I used the New Revised Standard version almost exclusively. Nowadays, my go-to Bible is the Holman Christian Standard.
You start by picking one and getting a physical copy of it on your desk ready to go.
I do have two suggestions about the physical edition you choose.
First, Keep it simple. Avoid study Bibles with lengthy notes, or special editions with articles meant for women, or men, or firemen, or college students, or whoever. Those notes are a distraction. I know, I know — right now someone is saying how helpful they’ve been. Yes, but, Those “features” are also are a crutch and a distraction from the text itself. If you read a hard text, you’ll be tempted to skip to the nots instead of sitting with it and wrestling with it yourself. Keep your study resources separate from your Bible. Plus, you’re more liable to carry it with you if it’s not 20 pounds and the side of a cinder block.
Second, if you can choose an edition with wide margins so that you can write your own notes, comments and observations.
But apart from these two things, don’t stress about the version or translation. Pick one you can easily read and be done with it.
That’s the best Bible for you to have as your primary, go-to Bible. But there’s something else you need, and that’s the second answer.
2. The Best Bible is all Your Other Bibles
The second answer has to be taken along with the first. Unless you are a Biblical languages scholar, the best translation for your use in study is all of them. OK, that’s a bit extreme. Better to say, multiple translations. You’re probably not going to learn Biblical Greek or Hebrew. But that doesn’t matter. You don’t need to.
That work has been done by incredibly smart and capable people. You have access to their work in a number of ways. The easiest way you can access their knowledge and experience is to simply compare passages in different translations.
This is easier than ever before because of the wide availability of all the major translations online, great online tools like Bible.com, BibleGateway.com and the BlueLetterBible.com, and rich in-depth Bible study software like Logos and Accordance. Tools like this allow you to compare translations side by side, as well as drill down into the specific words, and translation choices if you need to.
This is why you can feel pretty safe picking any version as your main Bible. When it comes time to sort out the nuance of a passage, it’s trivially easy to compare that passage in a handful of translations so that you can quickly learn the tone of the original language.
But wait! What about flawed or currupted translations?
There are some folks out there who will immediately challenge this. They’ll say that my counsel here will lead you astray. They are profoundly concerned about the issue of mistranslation, or even various agendas creeping into the translation of the Bible. There are thousands of websites devoted to proving that one particular translation is the right one and all the others are corrupt.
Well, I think that’s bunk. Heres why.
The Bible says that God is present in our lives through the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself promised that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth (See John 16:13 for a start). He didn’t say that the best literal translation of the Bible would lead you into truth.
I’ve studied the history of Christianity for a long time and you know what I see? This is the historical truth: Throughout history, God spoke to people, led people, even brought revival and spiritual growth regardless of the version of the Bible they had.
The apostle Paul most likely read the Old Testament in a Greek translation that today we call the Septuagint[note Certainly he had access to the Hebrew Torah, but some of Paul’s quotations of the New Testament are exactly taken from the Septuagint in the Greek, with wording differences that are unique to that Greek translation, so it seems most likely that’s what Paul was working from.] Well, guess what? Today we know that the Septuagint is flawed significantly in several places. Turns out God still used it to speak to Paul.
The Authorized Version, also known as the King James Version, was translated from the best ancient manuscripts available at the time. The time was 1611. Turns out we now have a signifiacnt number of manuscripts and fragments that pre-date the text that the King James was translated from. Those documents are closer to the original and thus more accurate. Those more acurate scraps of parchment hadn’t been found yet in 1611, but that didn’t stop God from using the King James Version for almost 400 years to call people to Himself. Lives were changed, people grew.
So, my recommendation to you is to not stress too much about the translation of the Bible you use. If God is real, present, and able to guide us as scripture claims, then God is big enough to help us grow, even if we’re using a translation that’s less than perfect. Who knows? God may even lead you to a different translation over time.
There’s surely one thing God can’t do, though. God can’t use scripture to shape your mind and heart if you never read it.
This post is in a 3-part series on the topic of Bible Translations.
7 thoughts on “The Best Bible for you? (How to find a Good Bible, Part 3)”
Interesting series of articles. I appreciate the work you’ve gone through to bring this. Especially that diagram. I have a question on your comment about the KJV. You said that in 1611 it was the best we had and then we found more fragments. That being true, wouldn’t that mean that it would be more responsible to lay that bible aside like one would with a say.. psychology textbook from the 1900’s? It great historical literature, but it’s not very responsible to read it now knowing that we have more accurate translations? Honestly just a thought. I recently traded in my ESV study-bible for the NIV First-Century study bible by Kent Dobson because he’s a real hero of mine. I’ve got a friend who still believes the KJV is the only true bible to read. And like you said, in its hay-day it’s really lead a ton of people to learning the gospel. However, in there a common-thread with the “KJV believers” and fundamental/conservativism? What are your thoughts on that? Thanks again for writing this!
Hey Joel, as you might tell from the series, I’m very light-handed on picking a version. I grew up in a KJV community, I fought in the “version wars” in high school and college, I’ve rebelled and had strong opinions, and I’ve been a working pastor for almost 20 years. I the end, what I’ve seen is that God works in people’s lives through scripture. Only two variables seem to matter. 1) That people spend time in the Bible and 2) That they have an authentic desire to meet God there. Over and over I’ve seen God honor that. So, I’ve finally come down on the view that it **pretty much** doesn’t matter.
In regard to your question about the KJV, when it comes to study, I think having access to other versions resolves some of the weaknesses of the older text. But, honestly, some newer versions (the NIV comes to mind) have pretty significant weaknesses, too. While the quality of original texts is better than the KJV, there was a bit of theological interpretive bias in the translation of the NIV. (Same holds true for the ESV, actually.) All that to say — I think the “best version” for anyone is actually access to all of them.
Thanks for the response. I had never been a fan of the NIV and was pretty surprised Kent Dobson used it for his study bible (seeing as Mars Hill Church hands out TNIVs when you walk in) however, on closer studying I can gather that he may have used the NIV for his study because it’s the bible that fills most older churches. And his notes inside are anything but conservative. So it’s like he almost used a conservative bible and balanced it out with more progressive notes. Have you read this specific bible yet? I would be really interested in your thoughts on this specific one.
Are you asking about the NIV or the TNIV?
The First-Century Jewish Study Bible.
Oh, I see. I tend to keep my study helps segregated from my scripture. This is a practice I’ve had for the past 15 years or so when I noticed that my reading was getting interrupted by frequent trips to the notes. Now I read the Bible in a couple different modes. I read to hear. The goal of this is not study. It’s listening. I don’t want anything other than the text present. I also read to study. In this situation I want lots of reference material. This is when those notes, commentaries, and increasingly electronic resources come into play. So, I’m not familiar with this particular edition you mention. I like the idea of helping people understand 1st century culture better though. IMO if you’re not reading in context, you’re making up your own story.
Thanks for sharing!