Choosing a Bible - Part 2, Differences in Versions

Updated: Nov 8, 2019


In Choosing a Bible – Part 1 we talked about the versions are divided into literal, balanced, or a paraphrase. In literal versions the translators chose words that closely matched the original Hebrew and Greek words even if some of the meaning to present day readers is lost. Balanced versions translate words into modern day language and are in general easier to read. Paraphrases are usually only written by one person and add a lot of extra words to convey the ideas.

King James Version (KJV), New King James Version (NKJV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), and English Standard Version (ESV) are considered literal versions of the Bible.

New International Version (NIV), Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), Christian Standard Bible (CSB)* and New Living Translation (NLT) are considered balanced versions of the Bible. Catholic Bibles are also balanced versions.

The Message is considered a paraphrase.

If you are new to reading the Bible, I recommend a balanced version of the Bible. If you already own a balanced version, you might want to consider getting a literal version.

Balanced Versions:

NIV (New International Version): The most popular Bible version sold in the world today. #1 in sales. It is written on an 8th grade reading level and is very readable and understandable.

NLT (New Living Translation): It is written on the 6th grade reading level and is easily understood. This version is very popular with young people and youth ministers. I like the NLT, but it doesn’t sound like Scripture to me. It reads like a book.

HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible): This is a wonderful balanced version that is really beginning to gain popularity.

CSB (Christian Standard Bible): This is a revision to the HCSB. Over 100 scholars with PhDs worked on this revision.*

Literal Versions:

KJV (King James Version): This version is written on a 12th grade reading level. Because it was translated in 1611 it has some difficult language such as “thee” and “thou” and “begats” and “begotten.” We no longer talk like that and most people today find the KJV more difficult to read and sometimes understand. It is popular with older people and is the second popular Bible version sold in the world. I do love some of the beautiful phrasing and wording - particularly in a passage like Psalm 23. The NKJV (New King James Version) replaced some of the difficult language and is more readable.

NASB (New American Standard Bible): This literal version is written on an 11th grade reading level. This is the version I read from daily and I don’t have any problem reading or understanding it. As far as I know the NASB is the only version which capitalizes all pronouns referring to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I notice a lot of books and Bible studies will do this now. This gives God the respect He (see how I capitalized “He”) is due and makes reading Scripture so much easier! I hope this is a feature that future versions will incorporate.

ESV (English Standard Version): This version has gained popularity among Bible scholars and seminary students. It is written on a 7th grade reading level. Most ESV Bibles are one column and combined many paragraphs. The combining of the paragraphs is very annoying because if I am trying to look up a certain verse, it is difficult to locate it in the long paragraph. And most of the ESV Bibles don’t have Jesus’ words in red. I like the Lord’s words sticking out to me and this is a feature that is important to me.

Paraphrases:

The Message is a fun version to read. It was written by one person, Eugene Peterson. He played loose and free with the translation to convey the thoughts of Scripture in a very easy way to understand. The Message also does not have the verse numbers like we are used to. It will number several verses together. This can make it difficult if you are trying to follow along in a Bible study or some other group. While this version is a fresh way to read Scripture, I would not recommend using it as your primary Bible for reading and study.

Literal versions: KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV

Balanced versions: NIV, HCSB, CSB, NLT, Catholic Bibles (These versions are a little more readable.)

Paraphrase: The Message

(Of course there are a lot more versions than just these listed. But these are the most popular ones on the market right now.)

You can compare Scripture verses from various versions on www.BibleGateway.com. Enter a Scripture verse or passage at the top and the version you want. Then on the right top corner click on add parallel. (It is an icon with lines in it.) You can add three more versions to compare side by side. Or you could search on the internet for “Bible Translation Chart” and there are plenty out there to compare various Scriptures. Or download a Bible app on your phone and just pick a chapter and read it from various versions.

Spend some time comparing various versions to know what you like to read.

What do I recommend if you are new to Bible reading? I recommend a balanced version. However, there are a bunch of various features to choose from. So don’t buy a Bible yet because in Choosing a Bible – Part 3 we are going to talk about various features of a Bible and what a study Bible has in it.

*This post was updated on 1/22/18 to include the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) which was published in 2017.

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