Ok, I really do not want you to worry about anything, but which Bible that you choose to use for your reading plan and for all of your other Bible reading and study is a very important decision. Choosing a Bible is probably one of the most important decisions we make as Christians.
This time of year there is usually a lot of attention given to Bible reading plans. People are gearing up to start a plan January 1 and are looking around and asking for suggestions. That’s great! I love that there is desire to read God’s word regularly, and a Bible reading plan is a great way to accomplish that.
What I do not see is emphasis on which Bible to use. This should be considered carefully so that the time you spend with your Bible reading plan is time well spent. For example, if you chose a highly recommend reading plan but paired it with The Message Bible or The Passion Translation, you would not be spending your time well nor contributing to your spiritual health. Quite the opposite. These versions would create a wedge between you and the inspired words of Scripture because they alter the words and meaning of Scripture to a great degree.
So which Bible to use? First, it is helpful to understand how Bibles differ. They come in all shapes and sizes, but there are two distinctive factors that should get the most scrutiny. The first factor is how accurately a version represents the words and meaning found in the manuscript copies of the original inspired texts. The second factor is readability.
In regards to these factors, today’s Bibles are on a continuum. On one end there are Bibles that translate the original Hebrew and Greek words and meaning more literally and accurately. On the other end there are versions that paraphrase the original. With these things in mind, Bibles are usually categorized as one of three different types: word-for-word or essentially literal translations, thought-for-thought translations, and paraphrases. Some are a blend of two types.
I recommend word-for-word or essentially literal translations. This includes versions like the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV), the King James Version (KJV), and the New King James Version (NKJV). I have compared countless Bible verses in various translations types to the Hebrew and Greek, and the word-for-word and essentially literal translations repeatedly do the best job of accurately translating the words and meaning of the original languages.
Do you know where your Bible falls on the continuum? You can find out by visiting the link below. It contains a number of Bible translation comparison charts to help you choose a new Bible or check on your current translation. It also contains more information about the different translation types as well as information as to why versions like The Message Bible and The Passion Translation should be avoided.
Why I recommend Bibles on the word-for-word or essentially literal end of the continuum
The books of the Bible, being translated from the manuscript copies of the original inspired texts, contain the special revelation that God has given us. His special revelation should be cherished, respected, and guarded. This gift is too valuable to minimize accuracy as it is translated into our native tongue. There are lots of reasons why we should use the best possible translation of the Scriptures. Here are some reasons why I recommend Bibles on the word-for-word or essentially literal end of the continuum.
More accurate Bibles keep us close to the original inspired words. Choosing a Bible that uses words that most closely match the words and meaning of the original helps us get as close as possible to what God intended for us to read.
The accuracy of the Bible that we read and study affects what we know about God. We need and should desire to have correct knowledge. (Colossians 1:10, 2 Peter 3:18)
Though I stress using accurate translations, readability is important too. A Bible that uses commonly understood words that are set in a logical and flowing sequence increases readability and understanding. What I am not in favor of is when readability is so high a priority that faithfulness to the original words and meaning falters.
Better Bibles minimize the middle man between us and the Scriptures. Every translation is going to be affected by the translators’ decisions about which words to use. Thought-for-thought translations and paraphrases, by their very nature, are affected by this more. A higher degree of interpretation of the original words is done by the translators for the reader. Word-for-word and essentially literal translations tend to minimize this. Choosing one of them minimizes the middleman and helps us to stay more closely connected to the words that were actually inspired. I trust the power and work of God to enlighten me and affect me with the words He inspired more than someone’s interpretative rendering of those words.
Better Bibles lead to stronger doctrine. Translations that move too far away from the original words and meaning can make it harder if not impossible to see the fullness of certain doctrines and teachings in the Bible. This happens when translators render Hebrew and Greek words into English words that do not carry the same meaning as the original or when they translate the same original words inconsistently. The Message is a good example of this. Through inconsistent rendering of certain original words, The Message obscures the doctrines of justification and sanctification. People who read the Message suffer loss because of this.
Less accurate versions of the Bible do not feed us properly, and this can affect our spiritual growth. We must worship in truth and “grow in respect to salvation” by the “pure milk of the word”. (1 Peter 2:2) That’s harder to do with a Bible that is not as accurate as it could be.
Better Bibles could better protect the church. The church would be better protected from false teachings if more people (both in the pulpit and in the pew) used better Bibles. Less accurate versions can hinder discernment because they are not as rich with the truth in God’s word. This can leave readers less protected from false beliefs and teachings. According to the Bible Translations Bestsellers, Best of 2018 top ten list by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, the New Living Translation (3rd place), the New International Reader’s Version (8th place), and The Message Bible (9th place) all came in ahead of the NASB. I would love to see better Bibles in more hands. Thankfully the NASB made the top ten.
The sharpness of the sword of the Spirit is needed. God’s word has supernatural power. (Hebrews 4:12) When we move too far away from the inspired words, the power fades. We need the cutting that the sword of the Spirit is capable of. This is important for conviction and sanctification. Paraphrases can dull the sword and in some cases grind the word to a pulp.
New believers need the best Bibles too. Some argue that paraphrases are good for those new to the faith. I do not agree. Why start them on versions that are less accurate when they desperately need to be fed? Unless there are extenuating circumstances like difficulties with comprehension, why keep them from the sharp sword? Without it, their growth could be stymied, and they may never make the move to a more accurate translation.
My Bible of Choice: The New American Standard Bible
In case you are wondering, I prefer the New American Standard Bible. It falls far on the word-for-word, and essentially literal end of the continuum. It is considered one of the most accurate translations. Due to its literal nature, the NASB has a bit of a reputation of being choppy and hard to read. This reputation has always puzzled me. I have found the NASB to be a joy to read ever since I started reading it as a Christian. In the decades that I have used the NASB, I have compared hundreds of verses side by side with other good versions like the KJV, NKJV, and the ESV. I have only found a small handful of verses that read a bit more awkwardly in the NASB. These few occurrences are no trouble compared to the accuracy that I gain.
There are a larger number of verses that read quite awkwardly in the KJV due to the fact that it has language that harkens back to an earlier time. Some of those verses make me chuckle, especial the ones with “bowels”. Even in spite of the language differences, I do like the KJV a lot. I have had a lot of exposure to it, but the NASB is still my favorite. For about ten years, early on in my Christian life, my husband and I attended a church that used the KJV in the pulpit and pews. We carried our NASB in every Sunday. Countless times, as the pastor was preaching from his KJV, he explained the meaning of the Hebrew or Greek words behind the English words in a verse. The words he gave us to explain the meaning would be close to what was in the KJV; but nine times out of ten, it was the exact words that appeared in the NASB. My husband and I would smile and nod to each other. It further cemented our appreciation for the NASB.
My introduction to the NASB happened before I was saved or married. I was given a copy from a man that I was dating. This man claimed to be a Christian. He wanted me to read the Bible and get saved so he could marry me. He was ok with dating me, but not marrying me. He even claimed me as his wife by faith. This flowed out of the “name it claim it“ culture of the time. He put a romantic spin on it, but it seemed silly to me. Since there was a part of me that was looking for God, I did try to read the Bible that he gave me. Nothing clicked. I understood the words that I was reading and sensed that there was something beautiful there, but I couldn’t see it. I clearly remember being in the Book of John. I wanted to “get” what was so special, but I couldn’t. I really didn’t understand what I was reading. After I was saved, since I had the NASB in my possession, it was the first Bible I read as a Christian. From the day I picked it up as a believer, I could understand it. It was if a translating device had been implanted in me. Oh, the power of God! I am thankful that such a good version was put in my hands so early on.
As time went on and I learned about other versions, I did consider switching. One time was when the New International Version (NIV) came out with a study Bible. You might remember how the NIV Study Bible was all the rage back then. The idea of a study Bible was exciting to a lot of people including me. It seemed like everyone was scooping one up. I did too. I read the NIV and compared it to my NASB and my Hebrew and Greek interlinears. Verse after verse I discovered that my NASB was closer to the original languages. I also discovered that the NIV uses lower case pronouns for God. Since the NASB capitalizes them, that was a hard thing to get passed. For that reason and for the sake of greater accuracy, I decided to stay with the NASB even as it grew less popular.
Another time that I considered switching was when the ESV came out. I got a copy and did some more comparisons. While it was much closer to the NASB and the Hebrew and Greek than the NIV was, I still found the NASB to be more accurate. And by that time, the NASB was deeply rooted in me, since I had been reading it for so long. I loved the wording and sound of the NASB, and I liked the capitalized pronouns for God. The ESV also uses lower case. Again, I decided not to switch.
Though I regard it highly, I do not think that everyone must read the NASB. I am comfortable recommending the KJV, ESV, or NKJV. But I would also not say that I don’t care which Bible you read as long as you are reading. I am jealous for God’s word, and I wish everyone would read the best versions out there. God works powerfully though His word, and hearts and minds are changed to the glory of God.