The Bible Buying Season

Christmas-shopping season is here. And I’ve already been asked the question that comes every Christmas and graduation season: I’m giving Sara a Bible. Which one should I buy? There are so many translations. So many bindings. So many editions. Which is the best one to buy?

For purely practical reasons, don’t get one so big it hurts your back to carry or so expensive it wounds your purse or wallet to buy. Binding, size, color – there are so many that you can find one your recipient will like. So there isn’t much guidance to give on those things – though high school and college students seem to prefer hardback to leather-bound Bibles. But is one translation better than others? Should you get one with study notes?

There is no perfect translation. Translating the Bible from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek into German, French, or English is a human process. Some versions are good in a given culture or generation and lose their value in others.

If you are buying for a young person, you likely should stay away from older versions such as the King James (KJV) and American Standard (ASV) Versions. They aren’t very readable and simply don’t communicate the Word of God clearly to this generation. They are, in fact, typically off-putting and tend to discourage reading. The “updates” of them –the New King James Version (NKJV) and New American Standard Bible (NASB) – haven’t improved their clarity very much.

For young or old, the best contemporary translations are the New International (NIV) and New Revised Standard (NRSV) Versions. Though both are subject to criticisms on this or that text, they give generally trustworthy renderings of the original text in readable style. (There are versions I prefer over these, but they aren’t used widely and don’t have study tools prepared for them.)

The NIV is far and away the most popular English Bible today. It has the advantage of having all sorts of study tools geared to it. It is appropriate to public and private reading of the Word of God. In Sunday School or small-group study, either NIV or NRSV allows you to follow the flow of passages and discussion. In either hardback or leather binding, The NIV Study Bible edited by Kenneth Barker (Zondervan) is one of the best editions for personal reading and study. As with translations, however, there is no perfect study Bible. You still need to think.

For someone who already has a good study Bible in a standard version, you might consider a paraphrase such as Eugene Peterson’s The Message. It is now available not only in NT editions but for the entire Bible. Many of its readings are so fresh and arresting that they jolt you to hear as if for the first time. But it is, after all, a one-man paraphrase and neither perfect as such nor a good idea as someone’s primary study Bible. (I have sometimes found it helpful for reluctant or hostile readers of Scripture simply because it isn’t “churchy” in tone!)

There are lots worse gifts out there this year than a Bible. You might even think about getting and using a new one for yourself.