There are two decisions you need to make when choosing a Bible:
- What translation is best for you?
- Do you want just the Bible text, some devotional helps or a full study Bible?
What translation is best for you?
The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Since most people can’t read these languages today, Bible scholars have provided versions of the Bible in English. There are basically two versions of the Bible today: Translations and Paraphrases.
Translations look at the original text and translate it into English. There are many Bible translations available today that fall somewhere on a continuum with Word-For-Word translations on one side and Thought-For-Thought on the other. Word-For-Word translations exchange one word in the original for its English equivalent. The goal is to change as little of the original text and word-choice as possible. Thought-For-Thought translations work at the level of individual words, but preference is given to the basic thought or idea the author is trying to communicate.
Paraphrases, on the other hand, make the Bible easier to understand. The translator rewrites the original text in his own words and style. A paraphrase is a great second Bible, but not good for study.
Here are some popular translations and one paraphrase, along with a brief explanation of them:
New American Standard Bible (NASB, Word-For-Word)
This is one of the most accurate translations for detailed study. Colleges and seminaries frequently recommend this translation for their students. It’s fairly challenging in some places because it holds so tightly to original texts. While it can be used for devotional reading, it is used more often for study. This is Pastor Chuck’s favorite translation! He loves it because it is the most accurate, word-for-word to the original languages.
English Standard Version (ESV, Word-For-Word)
Another very accurate word-for-word translation of the Bible, the ESV, is good for study and devotional reading. The translators intent was to follow an “essentially literal” translation philosophy while taking into account differences of grammar, and syntax between current literary English and the original languages. This translation is used for the Scripture readings in worship at First Trinity and in our hymnal. Our national church body, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has chosen the ESV as its official translation.
New International Version (NIV, Thought-For-Thought)
The NIV is the best-selling Bible translation today. It has a good balance between precision (like a word-for-word translation) and being easy to read (like a thought-for-thought translation). The NIV is used widely for both devotional reading and Bible study.
New Living Translation (NLT, Thought-For-Thought)
The NLT allows for more creativity in translating from the original text than most other translations. Its very modern language and style helps to clarify the meaning of passages in a new way that’s designed to catch the reader’s attention. First Trinity’s Vacation Bible School curriculum uses the NLT for memory verses.
The Message (MSG, Paraphrase)
The Message paraphrase, written by biblical scholar Eugene Peterson, is current, creative and understandable. As a second Bible, it is great for seeing familiar passages in a new light, or learning how to share God’s word in your own words. It can be difficult to use in a small group or Bible study.
Matthew 5:13-16 (A Comparison of Translations)
To help you decide which translation is best for you, here’s a sample from Matthew 5 in each of the above translations:
New American Standard Bible
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
English Standard Version
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
New International Version
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
New Living Translation
You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.
Do you want just the Bible text, some devotional helps or a full study Bible?
Translators and publishers address the unique characteristics of the Bible and the needs of readers by putting together special editions of specific translations. These fall into three primary categories:
- Straight Text Bibles contain only the original text with little or no additional notes or commentary.
- Application Bibles are also called devotional Bibles and focus on the application of Biblical concepts to your daily life. They often include added stories, analogies and questions to increase your understanding.
- Study Bibles include notes from scholars that clarify and amplify the text itself. If you are looking for a study Bible, we recommend “The Lutheran Study Bible” from Concordia Publishing House.