The Bible never changes, but the variations of translations and special features available to consumers do change from time to time. It can be difficult to keep up with the alphabet soup of translations, much less things like publisher speak with terms thought-for-thought and word-for-word. You may also have questions about all of those little extras placed in Bibles today. What types of things are helpful and which might either confuse your children and teens or quickly make them believe they have outgrown the Bibles you provide in classes and other ministry environments? Which Bibles are the best use of your limited resources?
We are going to try and cut through some of that confusion and list some of the more popular versions and why we believe they may or may not be the wisest choice for your ministry. Then we will list what we believe are some helpful additions to some Bibles and why we believe they may add value to a purchase. So, let’s get started!
NIrV Bibles. This has been our top recommendation for a first personal Bible for children and teens for independent Bible reading for many years now. It is also our top suggestion for most ministries. This is based primarily on the fact that it has been the Bible with the lowest reading level, making it easier to understand for beginning readers and more advanced readers who are beginning independent Bible study. (There is another version at that level now, that will be discussed later.) The “r” is important because that means it is the version of the Bible written on a third grade reading level. It is not a paraphrase per se, but does appear to be moving more towards the thought for thought translation rather than word for word. The downside is that it is not the most accurate version (most believe the word for word translations are in general the most accurate), but to my knowledge the only huge observable difference one could argue the interpreters have made is making it somewhat gender neutral (for example people instead of mankind). There are other differences in random verses that some might argue change the meaning from the more accurate versions available. Although not perfect, it is still the best Bible to use with children and even many teens. Why? Because any Bible with a reading level too far ahead of a child’s current reading level will be a frustration text and convince the child that the Bible isn’t worth reading for themselves because it is “too hard”. Most of the remaining popular versions range from 7-12th grade reading levels.
International Children’s Bible (ICB). While also on a third grade reading level, this version has one major flaw… its name. Anyone who works with children and teens understands that beginning fairly early in elementary school, most young people don’t like to be thought of as children. While I did find some covers that weren’t childish, I still believe once they see the name of the version, most young people won’t be nearly as interested in using that version. Which is a shame, because otherwise it would have jumped ahead of the NIrV on our list since it is slightly closer to the word-for-word end of the spectrum.
NIV. For many people, this is the automatic choice. It is closer to a word-for-word translation that the two earlier translations on this list, but is still not even quite half way there. It also contains a lot of gender neutral words that were not in the original. The reading level is 7-8 grade, meaning it is not a great Bible for any child reading below about the 6th grade reading level (your child’s school teacher can tell you the reading levels of your children). The one benefit is that many churches read from the NIV in worship services and Bible classes, making it easier to follow along.
ESV. In recent years, this version seems have to become more popular with teens and young adults. It’s advantage is that it is much closer to a word-for-word translation than the NIV.
Note: A word about Bible apps. While having a Bible app on one’s phone has a lot of advantages, there are also some downsides. Encouraging teens to use the app rather than a paper Bible in class or independently, drives them to their phones – problematic devices that many already have a legitimate addiction to. The other argument for paper Bibles is that secular educators have found students remember more from reading text from a real book versus an ebook. Remembering text is crucial to help young people make better choices in situations when they don’t have the time to look up scriptures, but need to immediately remember what God would want them to do. In spite of our reservations, Bible apps do have a lot of advantages and students should be encouraged to use them in addition to, rather than instead of, paper Bibles.
There is no perfect choice for any ministry or young people in general. When purchasing or recommending Bibles, however, using the information above can help you make a more informed decision.