It’s that time again-commercials showing that a glance out of the window reveals a luxury car with a bow on top, or a tiny box filled with big sparkle. Blogs are filled
with holiday gift guides and our inbox lights up all day long with coupons and ads for our favorite stores. One gift guide I want to share is for the gift that keeps on giving-Bibles.
I get asked this question a lot, “What is the best Bible?” My response is usually this:
The one you will read regularly and then do what it says.
Accuracy of translation, study notes, readability, print size, none of that matters if you don’t pick it up and read it. And reading it only does so much, then it’s up to you to respond. So what Bible will help you do both? This is the first in a two part (or more, depending on the word count) series, and we begin with a look translations.
A Word about Words
Look in any Bible section and you’ll see a plethora of cryptic initials lining the shelves; NKJV, NLT, ESV, NCV….how do you decode them? How are they different from one another?
There are three basic types of Bibles. First, and most accurate are the translations known as Formal Equivalent, or Essentially Equivalent translations. These are texts that have been translated as close as word for word as you can get, from the original language of the Bible to English. Rating them by grade reading level, these will fall anywhere from the 12th grade level (King James Version) to the 8th grade level (New King James Version). The key here is word for word; language is complex and one word in Greek may need four words in English and vice versa. These translations are seeking to be as close to literal translations word for word as possible. Why does that matter?
Think of the way you’ve seen the definition of words change over the years, or the way a word is redefined as a slang term. It can change the whole meaning of a sentence. By using a translation that is as close to the original language as a translation can be, you can be sure you are getting the original intent of the message. These versions are great for study, and here are some of those initials decoded in the Essentially Equivalent category:
- NKJV-New King James Version. The accuracy of the King James Version without sounding like an old English king. No thy or thee, but retaining the precision and poetry of the KJV. This is the translation the lead pastor at my church, Calvary Vista, teaches from every week.
- ESV-English Standard Version. A new favorite of mine, a readable translation from a different parent text than the NKJV. That subject is a blog post for another time, but both parent texts have more in common than differences, and both are trustworthy.
- NASB-New American Standard
- HCSB-Holman Christian Standard Bible
Let Me Give You the Gist
The second type of translation is called a Dynamic translation. These are versions that seek not to translate the text word for word, but rather verse by verse. While they are not a commentary, they have a more explanatory quality than the essentially equivalents. Still considered a translation, though not literal, the objective of these versions is to provide a readable translation that gives the gist of the verse in a more modern language style. These fall into the grade reading level at around 6th grade, which makes them close to the NKJV and ESV at around 8th grade. The two most widely known examples:
- NLT-New Living Translation. A revision of the paraphrase called The Living Bible, this is a true translation with a high degree of objective accuracy. This is my lead pastor’s dynamic translation of choice, and mine too, although I think he got the idea from me. Okay, probably not.
- NIV-New International Version. For years this was the go-to dynamic, but there’s been controversy. Revisions to the original 1984 version have caused concern among scholars and Bible teachers. In 2011 a revised edition with a commitment to providing a more gender neutral translation was released, and has caused some verses to be worded in a way that actually changes the accepted meaning of the text. This has led to some churches, teachers and stores no longer recommending or using it.
These translations are great for kids, for people new to reading the Bible, and for devotional reading. I use them regularly as a comparison text to shed light on verses I’m reading in the NKJV or ESV.
Should this be the only type of translation you read? Well, since the best Bible is the one you’ll read, if this is it, then read away.
But our spiritual life isn’t a stagnant existence, we’re to be growing, right?
So the way we read the word, the way we study and glean from it should grow with us, and moving into an essentially equivalent translation is a great way to do that.
If you think they are too difficult to understand, try this: instead of using a dynamic as a comparison text, start using an essentially equivalent as a comparison. Look up passages and dig a little deeper, learn to do word studies to help you understand the specifics of what you’re reading.
In Other Words…
The third type of Bible to know about is called a paraphrase. The definition of paraphrase is, “a restatement of a text, passage, or work giving the meaning in another form.” There is no translation here, but a rewording of the text to explain its meaning. These are highly subjective to the one doing the paraphrasing, more like a commentary. While helpful for devotions or comparison reading, I can’t recommend these for your sole scripture reading. That’s just me, but the dynamics are so readable they are a better choice.
Two you’ll find these days are the Living Bible and the Message Bible. Despite what I just said about not being the only Bible you read, I got saved reading the book of Romans in the Living Bible, and that worked out well, didn’t it? The Message? Not a fan. My blog, my opinion, I think there are just so many more beneficial choices out there.
So, there you have it, a primer on choosing the best Bible for you. As the wise Pastor Dave always says of reading the word,
“It’s not about getting through it, it’s about getting it.”
Make a practice of reading daily, reading thoughtfully and reading expectantly, and you’ll do just that.
Next, we’ll talk about study Bibles!