One of the most frequent questions Bible educators get is “What Bible should I buy?” Usually, the person asking the question wants to know what you think is the “best” translation of the Bible to read.
The question and it’s answer are actually a little more complicated that one would think. Here are some things to point out the next time a Bible student or parent asks you to help them choose a Bible.
- Paper versus digital. Bible apps are great in many ways. They are usually free and you have the option to choose between several versions. Some also contain study helps. Convenience is also a major plus. The bad news is that studies are finding people don’t remember as much from what they read in the digital format as they do from a paper book. It’s probably best for most people to have both – a digital Bible app for quick reference or reading on the go – and a paper Bible for regular Bible study.
- Translation versus paraphrase. Paraphrases are falling out of favor in many circles and for good reason. The authors try to summarize passages rather than translate them from the original. As a result, many paraphrases contain quite a bit of the authors’ theological biases – which may or may not be accurate.
- Which translation or version? Oddly enough, many scholars reject the original King James Version for the errors forced upon it by King James. In general, the most accurate translations are thought to be the New American Standard Version or the seldom seen in the U.S. Lexham English Bible. There is a continuum of versions ranging from word to word to a more phrase to phrase translation. Or some would say formal versus functional translations. The more formal ones are closely related to how the original languages were worded, which can mean the phrasing may seem awkward. The more functional translations still strive for accuracy, but try to arrange words in a way that is more comfortable to an English speaker. This can make them easier to read and understand, but at times culture can sneak into the translation. Many scholars suggest choosing a more formal one and a more functional one and comparing them. The NIV and NIrV are more functional, with the popular ESV and New King James in the middle of the spectrum.
- Reading ability of the person reading the Bible. Every version of the Bible in English is at about the 7th grade reading level or above except for the NIrV. This means for any young person reading below about a 6th or 7th grade reading level, the Bible is a frustration text. They will struggle with both reading and understanding it, which is why many adults still think of the Bible as impossible to understand. Many students today read well below grade level. While an NIrV may be less formal, at least students can read and understand it. It should also help them avoid the fear of reading the Bible in the future.
- Study aids. What sort of study aids does the student want? Many Bibles contain a concordance and dictionary, but the thoroughness can vary greatly. Archaeology or cultural Bibles may interest some students. Other Bibles work in thinking questions and other study aids. Remember with some Bible students, too many aids will be more overwhelming than helpful.
Sharing these tips with students and parents who are purchasing Bibles can help them find one that the young person will enjoy reading. It’s worth helping them find the one that works best for them.