There are so many Bibles available today that it almost staggers the mind. It seems like, since the seventies when the “Living Bible” came out and was embraced by Billy Graham, the number of translations and versions to hit the market has exploded. Prior to that, we had variations of the KJV such as the ASV and RSV— but nothing like we have now. You probably already know this if you have been a Christian for any length of time. So which one should you read? That question can have a variety of answers provided, depending on who you ask. I can only tell you which I like and read, and why. You must decide for yourself and then take the plunge. Start reading. Ask God to guide you [through the Holy Spirit] to understand the truth he has in store for you within its pages. With one exception I know of (which I will note later), all of the versions tell the exact same story– the doctrine is clear and does not change.
I used to read the King James most often (if I kept track of the time I spend reading God’s Word). But why? It’s English is over 400 years old and many words have changed. The manuscripts it is translated from have come under fire for not being the oldest, most accurate. You will come to realize this as you read more modern versions and see certain verses removed or (as in the case of the ending verses of Mark) called into question as to their authenticity. So why would it be my favorite? Because it makes me think when I thumb through its pages. I often stop to look up words I’m not familiar with or ponder exactly what a verse is trying to tell me. Could a young person or new Christian understand the KJV? Certainly. If you wish to know God’s Word, He will make it known to you. Perhaps, however, a modern language version would be best for a new believer, since there are so many good ones to choose from and so many words have changed meaning over the centuries. By the way, who is to say that the manuscripts it uses aren’t the best ones available? If you love the King James and hate to stop reading it as your daily Bible, perhaps you might want to check out the New King James Version. It is very similar in style, uses the same textual base, but has modern words where the old ones no longer work.
For the past year + I have been using the English Standard Version. It is a literal translation that is easier to read than the KJV, as its English is updated, but still reads like a Bible. I would have to say it is one of my favorites. It is becoming very popular with conservative evangelical Christians. Many well known Bible teachers use and endorse it. Similar to the ESV in its literal nature is the New American Standard Bible, a revision of the American Standard Version of 1901. It is popular with well-known preachers and teachers like Charles Stanley and Kay Arthur. The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) is also an excellent translation that arrived on the scene a few years ago and strives to seek a balance between literal and dynamic without straying from the original intention– I enjoy it and carry one with me to worship on the weekends– I guess it’s my “second favorite.” It has been accused of being a “Baptist translation,” since it was a project of Lifeway (the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention). I think that criticism is unwarranted– and it’s not because I’m a practicing Baptist. I’m not. I actually attend a Calvary Chapel and am fond of a great many translations. I don’t pick up any bias in places I might expect to. I find myself reading it more and more lately. Some churches have replaced the controversial 2011 edition of the New International Version with it.
For a very easy-to-read Bible, you might consider the New Living Translation. Originally started as a re-working of the beloved Living Bible of 70’s fame, it transitioned into a whole new translation. Some accuse it of being nothing more than a reworking of the Living Bible paraphrase, because it uses many similar/virtually identical renderings as the LB did. To that I say, if it’s accurate and works, don’t fix it. It’s probably the one I would recommend the most to new Christians.
If you’re interested in why verses are translated as they and wish to know more about the language they come from, I would recommend getting a hold of a copy of the NET (New English Translation) Bible. If you do not wish to purchase one, you may read it for free at net.bible.org– an excellent resource for serious Bible students and one I would recommend for every Christian’s library. Although somewhat dynamic in its approach, it does offer a plethora of notes explaining how certain passages were derived.
It would be wrong of me not to mention a Bible I refer to quite often when studying certain passages and want to make sure I’m getting the right meaning from the original languages: The Amplified Bible. Not something I would recommend for daily “devotional” reading or preaching from, it is good to refer to it and possibly quote from it to make a point. It is a popular Bible among many charismatics– such as Joyce Meyer. I use it a lot in my studies and think it’s a valuable tool.
As I said earlier in this post, I know of one Bible version that should be completely avoided: The New World Translation. Popular with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, some of its verses have been deliberately altered to support their unconventional theology. I’m being nice– much of it is simply heresy, in my opinion. There is no support in manuscripts for most [if not all] of the changes. A popular example of this is John 1, where they alter the text to refer to Jesus as “a god” rather than GOD–THE CORRECT RENDERING. For that one verse alone, I recommend avoiding this Bible version like the plague.
The bottom line is this: pick one and read it. Then I might suggest reading another and another… my goal is to read at least one translation per year cover to cover. Whatever you do, find one that is an easy read for you and read it. God will bless you richly as you endeavor to know Him better through His Word.