If you are new to the Christian faith, or picking up your first Bible in years, it can be overwhelming to see all the selections available in a store. This guide is here to help you understand which translation and style of Bible is right for your level of study.
All English Bibles are translations from earlier manuscripts in Hebrew (Old Testament), Aramaic (Old Testament), and Greek (New Testament). There are many different manuscripts with different historical traditions. Since ancient manuscripts decay over time, they had to be copied frequently for long term preservation. Even the oldest manuscripts we have today are copies of older manuscripts, leading to some debate over which manuscripts adhere to the best preservation methods.
The Old Testament Hebrew is contained in the Masoretic Text, and Dead Sea Scrolls. A Greek version of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint is also considered in some Bible translations today.
For the New Testament manuscripts, the region where the manuscripts were found has become a point of contention. There are two main manuscript types: Byzantine (Antioch) and Alexandrian. The Alexandrian text is thought to be older, while defenders of the Byzantine text type assert that it follows a more accurate preservation tradition.
The Bible translations that follow the Byzantine text tradition are the King James, Modern English Version, and New King James Version. The Alexandrian text is the basis of many contemporary translations such as the English Standard Version, New American Standard Version, New International Version, and many more.
“WORD FOR WORD” OR “THOUGHT FOR THOUGHT”
Now that you understand some of the history of which Bible translations use which manuscript, the next piece to consider is translation philosophy.
Word for word translations, also known as formal equivalence, attempt to match the original language with the closest English language counterpart. These Bibles are for more serious students of the Bible who want to dig into what the Bible says. Bibles using this translation philosophy include Interlinear, King James Version, New American Standard Version, Amplified, New King James Version, New Revised Standard Version, English Standard Version, and more.
Thought for thought translations, also known as dynamic equivalence, attempt to pair the ideas behind each phrase or sentence with a similar idea in the English language. These Bibles are for those who want to grasp the ideas conveyed in Scripture, and examine the big picture. Bibles that use this translation philosophy include the New Living Translation, New International Reader’s Version, Contemporary English Version, Living Bible (paraphrase), and The Message (paraphrase).
For more information on accuracy in regards to these two translation philosophies, check out our Bible Translation Guide.
At this point, you should have a good idea as to which translation you want to read. The next topic to consider is how you might use your Bible. Are you looking for a study, reference, compact, large print, or journaling Bible?
Study Bibles include notes at the bottom of the page written by leading scholars, popular authors, and Bible teachers to help you gain a better understanding of more challenging portions of Scripture.
Large and Giant Print Bibles include larger font types to help the vision impaired read with ease. Compact large print uses larger fonts than usual for compact Bibles, and can vary between 8 and 12-point type. Large print generally uses 11 to 14-point type. Giant print can fluctuate between 14 to 16-point fonts. Super Giant Print uses 16 to 18-point font types.
Devotional and Specialty Bibles can often function much like a study Bible. Some devotional Bibles are set around a particular theme or include a guided reading plan. Many one year Bibles are arranged in particular order, to provide a collection of verses to read each day. Chronological Bibles attempt to rearrange the Scripture to fit the historical order of events. Other devotional Bibles focus on themes for men, women, or more.
Journaling Bibles include space in the margins to take notes or create illustrations. Some are lined for avid note takers, while others include illustrations throughout to inspire the more creative and artistic Bible readers to connect with Scripture by adding their own line art illustrations.
Reference Bibles usually include cross references, which pair Scripture verses that fit a theme or topic. Cross references are found at the bottom of the page, between columns of text, or at the end of a paragraph. The verse references help readers see fulfillment of prophecy form the Old Testament to the New Testament, or connect a running theme of Scripture. Reference Bibles are usually simple, basic styles of Bibles. For those who want a Bible equipped with study resources, but don’t want the distraction of study notes throughout the Bible, reference Bibles are a valuable resource.
Parallel Bibles allow you to read and compare multiple translations at once. If you are transitioning from one Bible translation to another, you can use a parallel Bible to see the differences and determine which translation is most appealing to you.
Compact and Thinline Bibles are basic Bibles made with portability in mind. Many include similar features to reference Bibles. If you have a more active lifestyle, or are in need of a good lightweight Bible, these are Bibles for you.
Gift and Award Bibles are also Bibles with a basic set of features, made with value in mind. These make wonderful gifts for first-time Bible readers. These Bibles could also be a great place to start when sampling a different translation.
Family Bibles make great coffee table books. They are usually much larger than standard sized Bibles. They are made for group readings during family gatherings. A good family Bible could be an heirloom to be passed on from one generation to the next.
Case Pack Bibles are bulk priced for church and outreach events. These are for supplying multiple people with a basic Bible they can read.
Youth Bibles are made for younger audiences such as teenagers and students. Many of them function as devotional or study Bibles as well, while having relevant information for specific age demographics.
Children’s Bibles cover a wide range. There are many full-text Bibles for kids that include relevant study notes and illustrations. For even younger children, there are story Bibles that include paraphrased or condensed Bible stories and illustrations to help capture the attention of young children.
I began my career with Mardel in 2006, while earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma. While I love to write fiction and convey stories through novels, I also have a passion for studying philosophy, theology, and apologetics. I enjoy the faith-building resources available at Mardel, and look forward to sharing what new topics and information I’m learning.