On Choosing a Bible (Part 1)

A dozen and a quarter years ago, I was beginning my teen years and was in need of a good, hefty Bible to make me feel like a good, proper Christian.

An NIV Life Application Bible fit the bill–weighing in at approximately fifty billion pounds, it was my constant companion and sure proof of my spirituality.

Then, in my senior year of high school, I grew disillusioned with what I felt was the childish tone of the NIV. It just so happened that the Bible program I was in had me purchasing a number of different Bibles, so I found myself with a NASB Life Application Study Bible, a (second) NIV Life Application Study Bible, and a NKJV Thompson Chain Reference Study Bible.

The NKJV became my companion, probably for the sake of the non-applicable study notes.

Imagine, a study Bible that actually was about studying the Bible? (Do I sense some bitterness towards the–count them–three identical, expensive, and utterly useless Life Application Study Bibles?)

When I needed a smaller Bible for my trip to Sweden less than a year later, I chose a leather-bound NKJV.

A bit of a word-study nerd, I’d come to love the formal equivalence and old-fashioned syntax of the New King James. I was an NKJV girl, I proudly declared.

We had our little family squabbles over translations.

Half of us were squarely in the formal equivalence camp, favoring the translations that anal-retentive geeks everywhere adore. The other half didn’t really enter into the Bible translation conversation.


That was our big argument.

Abridged or unabridged.

Until Dad (up to that point a true NASB lover) turned tails and suddenly started using the TNIV.

We were all aghast.

Not only was he going for a dynamic equivalence instead of a formal equivalence, he was choosing the infamous gender-neutral Bible.

Why would he do such a thing?

I contemplated getting another Bible off and on for about a year.

My Bible was getting a bit bedraggled. It had been dropped in the bathtub several times, dropped in the toilet once (was that TMI?), and squished into my shoulder bag more times than could be counted.

I started reading up on textual criticism and the pros and cons of the NU text versus the Majority Text. I became sold on the NU Text even as I appreciated how the additions made in the Majority text have (by the grace of God) little impact on things of doctrinal importance.

I started reading Reformed bloggers and started attending a solidly NASB church.

But spending money on a new Bible when I already had five or ten at home seemed wasteful–especially if I was purchasing a translation I already owned.

I held off. No new Bible for this girl.

That is, no new Bible until the second to last day of July, when I sat at my parent’s kitchen table, puzzling over the “so then” in James 1:19–

“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;” (NKJV)

The “so then” clearly indicated that this command was related back to what the author (James) had just said. But I couldn’t find any reasonable connection between the previous statement and the current command.

I read it over and over and over again.

I set down my Bible and paced a bit, took a bathroom break, got some cereal. I picked the Bible up again and re-read some more.

I got frustrated. James was just the most confusing book. I’d been struggling all week to figure out its theme.

My dad’s statement that James is like a New Testament Proverbs helped me quite a bit in interpreting the book altogether–but with that “so then” in there, there had to be a connection. Dad’s “Proverbs” trick couldn’t get me out of this one.

That’s when I saw the footnote: “NU Text reads Know This.”

There wasn’t a connection. There wasn’t supposed to be a connection. The “so then” doesn’t exist. That was a Majority-text addition not included in the best (NU-text) manuscripts.

I was getting a new Bible.

Lest you be completely confused by this post, have no fear. I intend this to be a lead in to several articles about choosing a Bible. My intent is to explain some of the jargon (and jokes) I’ve used in this article, hopefully in a way that will help you to understand some of the thought process that goes into wisely selecting a Bible translation (and a study Bible).

5 thoughts on “On Choosing a Bible (Part 1)”

  1. interesting, In the past year or so I have been a NKJV Thompson Chain Reference Study Bible junkie. Looking forward to seeing your views on this topic. There are those like my grandmother who believes in nothing but the King James. Our pastor uses King James and some times NLT because we have such a diverse age group.

  2. Rebekah,

    I had a similar experience with Bibles, but I started with The Living Bible, which isn’t even a translation. So then I latched into the NKJV like you, because of the elegance of language in a more contemporary vocabulary, and because I couldn’t bring myself to read the NIV which seemed to be written for 6th graders. But as I studied, started to look into the Greek and the texts behind the translation, I came to the same conclusions as you – and now work exclusively out of the NASB, with occasional use of the ESV for its clarity of wording of some difficult passages. And my favorite study Bibles – aren’t study Bibles (with notes and such), but are simply the text.


  3. Just walking into the average Christian bookstore and choosing a new Bible has to be an overwhelming task for the average person who doesn’t know much about all the different versions.

    I’ve read the KJV mainly because it was what I was exposed to at first and then it was familiar, not to be “KJO” — I think that is one of the saddest and most divisive controversies affecting the church today.

    I’ve been reading the NASB this time through the Bible. I like that it uses the words that are only in the footnotes in the KJV (my husband says pastors could save a lot of time explaining what words mean in the original just by using the NASB.) My son and d-i-l are fans of the ESV, and I want to read through that next.

    Though some versions do make things clearer than the KJV, there are places in it where the language is so much more expressive.

  4. I have too many Bibles too — including one NIV Life App Study version, which I find useless. The notes seem to offer platitudes but not real direction on anything that I acratch my head over.

    Most recently I purchased a chronological study Bible but found that I have some internal barriers I didn’t know were there about violating the boundaries of this or that finite book in the Bible. (It weaves them together — which I expected to like but surprised myself.)

    My favorite Bible is one my grandparents gave me in college — now missing the spine and grown rigid, but it’s the one I return to anyway. It’s a NASB.

    I’ve read that the average American evangelical has 9 Bibles.

  5. I feel your pain. I have a Living Bible from when I was 11 years old. I have a KJV, NKJV, a 1984 NIV Study bible, a new very NIV (not sure that I love it …), an Amplified bible and probably a few more. I DON’T think I have ever owned a NASB. I am grateful for biblegateway.com, because it makes it easy to flip through different versions.

    What a problem to have, right? We are so blessed that we can live in a country where we can own and read our bibles. Hallelujah!

    Have a great day!


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