Faith

How Bibles Differ — and How to Choose the Right One for You

With countless translations and versions available, here are five ways to find spiritual transformation

Have you been down the toothpaste aisle recently? It’s enough to make you want to stop brushing your teeth for good. That’s exactly how I felt two weeks ago when I rushed into my local Wal-Mart at the end of the workday, intent on fulfilling my wife’s urgent text message: “Get toothpaste.”

When I finally reached the right aisle, I opened my phone and looked again at the cryptic text. Unfortunately, my wife failed to give me details about the brand of toothpaste I was supposed to buy. Now it was up to me to remember the exact toothpaste I had used that morning!

What is your purpose for this Bible?

As I stood there, eyes scanning over hundreds of tiny toothpaste boxes, I could feel the frustration mounting. All of a sudden I was in seventh grade again — standing at the blackboard trying to answer a pre-algebra problem that resembled an ancient Chinese riddle. What was that brand again? Was it the orange-colored box? Did it have a snazzy red stripe on it? Tartar control? Baking soda? Fluoride-free? Whitening? Extra-whitening? I was beginning to feel completely overwhelmed.

Perhaps you’ve felt this way, too, standing frozen before a sea of options. We live at a time when there are so many choices presented to us, it’s hard to know how to choose. This is true not only when it comes to buying practical things like toothpaste — but even when we go to purchase something spiritual like a Bible. Today’s Bible market is massive, and trying to choose one can be extremely daunting. With so many Bibles available today, how can you choose one that is right for you?

Before you buy, here are five things to consider.

1.) Know the basics. The Bible was not written in English, but in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). This means your Bible is actually an English translation of those original languages. Every English translation is a juggling act — balancing both accuracy and readability.

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Bibles like the King James Version and the New American Standard Bible are excellent “word-for-word” translations, but feel rigid to some readers. The New International Version has long been a favorite of readers, but is not a true “word-for-word” translation. Some Bibles like The Living Bible and The Message are not translations at all, but paraphrases. I often recommend the English Standard Version or the New King James Version; each maintains a great balance between accuracy and readability.

2.) Know your reading level. Did you succeed at comprehending Shakespeare in high school? If not, then you may not want the original King James translation as your Bible of choice. Every Bible translation falls somewhere on the reading scale, so you want a Bible that fits your level. Moving downward in difficulty, the original King James Version is on a 12th grade reading level; New American Standard Bible (11th); English Standard Version (10th); New International Version (7-8th). The best Bible for you is the one you read!

3.) Know your task. What is your purpose for this Bible? Is it for a group setting or is it for personal use? Are you reading — or are you researching, too? If you’re teaching a class or leading a small group, invest in a good study Bible that provides explanatory notes along with the scripture text. The MacArthur Study Bible, ESV Study Bible, and Reformation Study Bible are outstanding resources to help you go deeper. However, if you are easily distracted by footnotes, maps, or charts, you may want a plain Bible that features only the Bible text.

Related: Two Commonly Misunderstood Bible Phrases

4.) Know your budget. The Bible is the best-selling book in history. As a result, Bibles are always available at hundreds of retailers — traditional stores and online. Some offer expensive Bibles with calf-skin covers, acid-free pages, and lifetime warranties. However, inexpensive paperback copies of the Bible can be found at most dollar stores. Consider your budget and purchase the best quality Bible you can afford. Once you begin reading, it won’t matter whether the cover is paperback, hardbound, or leather. Your heart will rejoice in God’s truth.

Our greatest need is for more understanding about what God has done in rescuing humanity.

5.) Know your need. In the final analysis, reading the Bible is not about acquiring intellectual information, but experiencing spiritual transformation. God gave us His Word so that we might know ourselves, know Him, and know the salvation that He has provided through Jesus Christ (John 20:31).

When we read the Bible, our greatest need is not more religious facts, but more understanding about what God has done in rescuing a broken humanity. The Bible is the story of redemption — how God saves sinners by His amazing grace as they exercise faith in His Son Jesus (John 3:16). Discover that truth, or go back and read again.

Choosing a good Bible for reading, study, and spiritual growth is not a simple task. With so many different options to choose from, it might feel like you’re standing in the toothpaste aisle at Wal-Mart. Overwhelming? Maybe a little. But not impossible. With a willing heart and a little guidance, you can find a quality copy of the scriptures that will enrich your soul for years to come. The good news is, there’s only one brand you need to look for: Holy Bible.

Pastor Ryan Day is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where he has served for seventeen years. He is a regular contributor to LifeZette.

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