“I used to have a teen Bible and was hoping for something similar…but more adult.”
I received this message recently from a friend who was asking if I had any recommendations for a good Bible and it struck me; if she’s asking, I’m sure a lot of other people are also. And as she said to me, it can be overwhelming when you’re looking at all your options on Amazon to know if you’re getting a good one or not.
Throughout my life I’ve had my fair share of different Bibles, so I thought I would collect my thoughts on each of them combined with a bit of other research online and give you something very practical to help you make this decision.
First I will say, one of the most important pieces about choosing a new Bible is choosing one you will READ.
So if the King James Version with all of its thous, thys, and thuses puts you right to sleep, then maybe you should look for something different. *Please hear me: I am not saying you can choose a Bible that says what you want it to say. One of the biggest challenges of our time is people picking and choosing what they want to believe about Christianity.
So do not choose a Bible because you think it is “more in line” with what you want to believe. How about we just read the truth, and let God shape our hearts until we come into agreement with that truth (easier said than done, I know).
So anyway, how do you choose a new Bible? Let’s get back to the guide.
There are a number of things to consider when buying a Bible. I’ve outlined some of them below with things for you to think about for each. Later, I’ll link to some examples of Bibles I use or other good ones I’ve found in my research.
One of the most confusing parts of choosing a Bible is deciding which version to use.
First of all, it’s important to explain why there are so many versions of the Bible. To someone new to the faith it might be confusing why Christians are reading different things. The answer is that the Bible was not originally written in English. The different versions have derived from different people translating the Bible differently.
Anyone who has studied another language knows that some things just don’t translate perfectly into English and most of the Bible was originally written in Greek and Hebrew. Unless you’re planning on learning those other languages so you can get the exact meaning of every word in the scriptures you’ll have to settle for an English translated version.
Some versions take a more “word-for-word” translation and some versions capture the meaning of that sentence and try to put it in a sentence that would make more sense to readers who have English as a first language. Both can provide great value in understanding the text.
Below are the four main versions you’ll find on a shelf (or online shopping cart) and a little explanation about them. There are many many more versions than this, but for the purpose of keeping this post relevant to the majority of my readers, I’ve narrowed it down to four.
There is a lot of debate about different versions of the Bible, and I’m not claiming to be an expert on the topic by any stretch of the imagination. This is simply a summary of what I’ve learned so far.
The King James Version came about, not surprisingly thanks to King James I of England. The “formal” or “majestic” tone made it a staple of the time, but in the hundreds of years that have progressed, many modern readers are left more confused than inspired.
There is something quite beautiful about reading the word of God in such a tone, and I recommend it for some things. But largely speaking in 2019, it’s a rather difficult version to read daily in an effort to get to know the heart of God.
Historically speaking, the New International Version of the Bible is somewhat young, being first published in the 1970s. The goal of the translators was to produce a Bible that used modern English as a way of increasing the level of readability and understanding.
It balances a word-for-word approach with a more conceptual approach. Meaning the translators aimed to capture the meaning of each of the words as close to the original meaning as possible but also considered how to make the concept of the larger passage make the most sense in English. Another good way I have heard this explained is that it is a “thought-for-thought” translation.
The English Standard version is even younger than the NIV, making its first appearance after the turn of the century in 2001. The newness of the text is certainly not an indication of the lack of historical accuracy however, as the ESV quickly became the preferred version of many churches and seminaries.
The goal of the translators who created the ESV was to make a more literal translation of the word. Other than accounting for small grammatical differences, the translation is largely a “word-for-word” interpretation.
d) The Message
The Message became a popular version of the Bible in the last few decades as well, and to the average reader will appear the most different from the others. You will find The Message written in a way you might hear your friends, or neighbors or pastors talk and less in a literal translation or tone of the text.
While many Christians are quick to dismiss the text because it is so different from the original manuscript I believe there is still value to be had in it.
While I would not suggest someone use it as their primary text for study and meditation, I do believe it can add a fresh perspective to those wanting to absorb a passage and make it come alive in their hearts. So keep a copy on the shelf and pull it out every now and then when you’re needing more insight into a passage that’s difficult to understand, or use it as a supplemental read to make your relationship with God take on more meaning.
My preference for Bible versions
Please keep in mind, I am not theologically trained, so this is just my opinion after having experience in reading from each of these translations.
My preference is the NIV. While I reference the other versions (mostly ESV) quite a lot, I find that the NIV is easier for me to read.
I think it has something to do with the sentence structure, but I find it’s easier for me to read a section and understand what it means. Sometimes it seems that the ESV has a run on sentence that goes in three different directions before coming back to the main point and often I have a hard time following along.
Maybe that’s an indication of my reading level, but that’s how I feel!
Like I said, I do use an ESV on quite a regular basis. My husband primarily uses an ESV and I have a few more ESV copies on the shelf that I reference when digging into a passage and wanting to know what a specific word might have been literally translated to.
Maybe someday I’ll change my mind and prefer to read the ESV and I’ll have to update this post. But for now, I use the NIV when reading scripture, and the ESV when I’m studying and dissecting scripture.
#2 Bible Resources
If you’ve ever been confused by all the little words and numbers along the bottom and inside of your Bible, you are not alone. I don’t know how long it took me to realize what purpose they all served, but once I discovered it I knew I had found a treasure. There are a couple of resources in various versions, so below are a few options to consider.
a) Study Bible
If you have a study Bible, these are usually the notes you’ll find at the bottom of the page. It’s sort of like the editors notes that offer more context, historical references, or an interpretation of the text that helps you understand the meaning a bit more.
These notes often include maps and timelines as shown below. You can usually tell where the biblical text stops and the study notes begin marked by some kind of line, as pictured below.
Much like choosing a version to read, choosing a study Bible that is biblically sound is very important.
Generally speaking, reading the study notes as you work your way through a book of the Bible can be very beneficial. I highly recommend it, especially to those with less experience reading the scriptures but they can be helpful to anyone and everyone.
b) Reference Bible
References are the tiny letters you see in a sentence that point you to a margin of your Bible which point you to another passage in the Bible. (In the picture below they are the little bold notes in between the two columns.)
They’re exactly what they sound like. They reference other places in the Bible where that specific word or phrase was used and they prove to be pretty amazing.
I especially love when I’m reading something Jesus said and the reference section tells me where exactly in the Old Testament that word or passage first came up. Then I can go back and read that section to add more context to what Jesus was saying when he referenced it. These tools provide a lot of historical context as well as a greater understanding of how a word or phrase is used throughout the entirety of scripture instead of just in one passage.
After taking a few classes that helped me learn dig deep into the word of God, I have also come to appreciate letting God lead me in my study of the word. A study Bible or a commentary (a book separate from the Bible meant to break down the words even further with historical context and interpretation) is a great resource, but I find immense value in combing through other passages of the Bible and reading through something multiple times, starting my own research online, or spending a vast amount of time in prayer with God until I understand something. There is just something to the idea that when you struggle through something in an effort to understand it, you learn it so much more deeply.
Now that I have more experience reading through the Bible, the one I carry around is not a study Bible, but it does contain references. This is partly because I use the study notes less, and mostly because I wanted to carry around a smaller Bible.
c) Journaling Bible
A journaling Bible is a great resource for all of us note takers. A journaling Bible usually does not have study notes or references, but instead maximizes the amount of space on the margins of the page to allow you to take notes and make comments about the passage you are reading (see an example in the picture below).
My husband utilizes a journaling Bible because he likes to have all the notes about what he’s learned about a particular passage in one place instead of scattered throughout many journals.
I’m a journal girl through to my core (as you know if you went through my 7 Day Journaling Challenge awhile back) so I prefer to take my notes in chronological order in a separate journal that I bring with me to church and Bible studies. I like to be able to look back on a period of my life and see what I was reading and learning in that season. There are pros and cons to both, so do whatever works best for you!
#3 Bible Size
Some people I know have a Bible so small that I don’t know how they can read it (and I promise I’m not that old). I mean honestly, the font has to be like 6 point, so hopefully they read with a lot of light nearby. But other people I know have a Bible so large they have to practically bring a backpack with them to lug the thing around.
Study Bibles will be larger in size simply due to the fact that they have a lot more text because of all the added notes throughout. So size should definitely be considered when purchasing a Bible. Choose what is best for you.
If you want a small one so you don’t have any excuses about bringing it places with you, get a small one. And if you need a big one because you need that big font or you want all the study notes possible than DO IT!
Personally, I like a nice book-sized Bible also frequently referred to as a “personal size“. (mine is 5.5 x 8.5) The one I use on a regular basis is not a study Bible but it does have scripture references. It fits easily in my purse, but I also don’t have to squint to read it. For every day reading and going to Bible study, small group or church, this size is ideal for me.
#4 Look and Feel
If you went through my 7 day journaling challenge a few months back you know I value something that “looks nice.” I don’t know what it is about me, but I’m more excited to journal when I like the look of the thing, and the same might be true for you about your Bible.
So if you need a teal one with beautiful scripture written on the front GET IT! But if you want something plain that’s okay too.
This would probably be an important time to note the increasingly popular digital versions of the Bible. Many apps and websites now give us access to the Bible as quickly as your thumbs can punch in the five letters.
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to using a digital version, so don’t let anyone tell you it’s not as good as using a paper copy.
It is all about preference. And I will repeat, it’s all about finding one you will actually READ.
So if having it as an app on your phone will serve as a constant visual reminder to open the word and you want to use that as your primary copy, do it. But if you’re like me and an app on your phone is as quickly forgotten as it is downloaded, a copy on your desk or table you open each morning might be better suited for you.
In an effort to be as helpful as I can I’ve included some links below to Bibles I think would be a great tool to have in your possession. I’m not endorsing these products, nor am I receiving any affiliate income for promoting them, I simply have had good experience with them or find them to be especially useful. So consider these a good recommendation from a friend and take my opinion for what it’s worth:
- ESV Study Bible
- This is a resources I leave at home and use often when wanting to learn more.
- NIV Study Bible
- This is one of the references on my book shelf that I go to when digging deeper into a passage.
- NIV References Only (Personal-Sized)
- This is the version I use personally for daily reading and carry with me.
- ESV References Only (Personal- Sized)
- ESV Journaling Bible
- This is the version my husband uses.
- The Message
- KJV Bible
- Commentary for additional study
- This is the commentary I currently am working through called Systematic Theology. This is a pretty thick, in-depth commentary, so prepare yourself if you decide to dig into it.
Before I wrap up this post, I’d like to press upon you the absolute miracle and immeasurable privilege it is that you can have so many options when it comes to purchasing a copy of the word of God.
To possess the inspired word of God, preserved for thousands of years and infused with the story of his glory spreading through the earth and bringing freedom and healing to millions is something we cannot take lightly.
Throughout history and even throughout the world at this very moment, millions of people are denied the ability to even own a copy of these words. Do not underestimate the power and privilege of owning the word of God.
Do not look down on others for which version or app or type of Bible they use, instead thank God for the ability to have such easy access to his word.
Let’s do that now, let’s take even just one minute to thank God that we live in a place that allows us not only to possess the Word of God but to speak about it freely.
Thank you Jesus for this gift, do not let me take it for granted or waste it. Let me constantly encourage others to absorb the words and the message while we still live in a time that allows us to do so. I know there are Christians suffering and being killed for attempting to own a copy of your word. Today I pray you will protect them and fuel them with a desire to know you more and do your will despite the intense persecution they may face. Remind them of their reward someday in eternity that will make all their present suffering worth it. Never let me forget how blessed I am for having access to your word at the tip of my fingers every single day.
I hope this list has been beneficial to you in some way, and you can use it as a resource the next time you are purchasing a new Bible.
The friend I mentioned at the beginning of the post mentioned she wanted a Bible more suitable for her age, because she had one from back in her middle or high school years, but had outgrown it and was in the market for a new one. Maybe you find yourself in that exact situation.
Or maybe you’ve never owned a Bible before. But either way, would you please let me know if you still have more questions?
I did my best to share what I currently know about the various types of Bibles, but obviously there are hundreds of other things I didn’t have room to cover. If you have specific questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. It’s an important purchase and the goal is to get something you’ll READ.
So please use me as a resource and leave a comment or email me with your questions and I’ll do my best to answer them for you.