Mar 16, 2021 08:00am
Which Bible Translation Should I Choose?

If you’ve ever tried to buy a Bible in a physical store or online, you know there is a CRAZY amount of options! Where do you start? How do you cut through all the options and find the perfect Bible? Let’s talk about it!

Maybe you want to buy someone a Bible as a gift or maybe you’re the one who needs a new Bible. Where do we start with all the options we have? Whether you are buying for a child, the pastor of your church, or anyone in between, to find the right one.

The first thing is this—get the right translation. Here are a series of questions that will help you determine the best translation for you or the person you are buying for:

First question – Do you have a translation preference? If yes, buy that one. People get used to and love the translation they regularly use—so don’t mix it up on them if they’re content. If they don’t have a preference . . . 

Second question – Does your church have a standard translation? If yes, buy that one. Most pastors preach out of the same translation each week; therefore, most people would do well to have that translation of the Bible with them as they hear the sermon on Sunday. 

So if the person you’re buying for uses a particular translation, get that one. If not, ask the  . . . 

Third question: Will the person you’re buying for be doing deep study or general Bible reading? If they’re really into deep study, you’ll know it—because they probably talk about it a lot! If that’s the case, I’d go with the NASB.

If the person you are buying for is primarily using this Bible for general Bible reading, go with the NLT. Since the original languages aren’t English, the way sentences are structured can get awkward. Why these two translations? The more a translation reflects the original languages thought-for-thought, the more awkward it can seem in terms of reading and understanding it. And, of course, the opposite is true: The easier to read the version is, the more it strays away from a perfect reflection of the individual words. Therefore, in this way of translating, you get a Bible that’s much easier to read but you don’t always get a perfect reflection of the individual words in the original languages.

Here is a three-way comparison of the NASB, the NLT, and the CSB.

NASB (New American Standard Bible)—a word-for-word but awkward translation: “Now when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.” 

CSB (Christian Standard Bible)—the balance between word-for-word and thought-for-thought: “After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.” 

NLT (New Living Translation)—the easiest to read, but not on point word-for-word with the Greek: “She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home. And she urged us until we agreed.” 

They are all the same verse and they all convey the same thought, but one reads most like how you talk in everyday life? In your life, if someone asks you to come over, would you say “she prevailed upon us”? Probably not. Would you say “she persuaded us”? Maybe. Would you say “we agreed”? Probably. 

For me, the tail end of this verse illustrates the differences in the translations clearly. You see how the first two are pretty close in structure, but the CSB is much easier. The NLT is much freer to make things sound normal in English. I use all three of these translations regularly. 

PersonalIy, I read daily from the NLT, I preach from the CSB, and I do deep study with the NASB. All three are great translations, but they have different uses. Purchase the translation that most fits what you or the person you are buying for will do with it. For everyday reading, I recommend the NLT all the way. Also, if the person you are buying for is young or has a low reading level, the NLT is the best way to go with its easy-to-understand English.

Picking the translation is only the first step. Don’t be intimidated, though, the translation step is by far the hardest one. Before we continue, let me give you an illustration that I think will help: 

Think about buying the car: We pick out the car model we want by choosing various options, add-ons, and trim packages. When you buy a car, you can get the base model or you can upgrade to various trim levels to get extra features. Here are the four major types: 

#1 When buying a Bible, the base model is a plain Bible—just the text and nothing else. Many people use Bibles like this—no shame in that! But, there are things you can add that a lot of people like to have: 

#2 The first upgrade is a study Bible. This one has notes about the verses on that page at the bottom—the name for these notes is “commentary.” This is good for helping you study—hence the name “study Bible.”

#2 The second upgrade is a life-application Bible. Life-application Bibles also have notes at the bottom, but they are less about explaining the text of the Bible and more about helping you live the text of the Bible out—you know, applying it to your life. 

#3 The third major type is a journaling Bible. These Bibles have extra wide margins on the side so you can have plenty of space to jot down your own notes. Typically, you don’t see more than one type in a single Bible because that would make the Bible—an already large book—a very, very large book. 

So in summary, you have four trim levels: plain Bible, study Bible, life-application Bible, and journaling Bible.

All the rest are not choices between four things, just some things to add or not to add—kind of like, “Do you want the upgraded floor mats or the towing package?”—optional stuff. So here are some examples of add-ons, like the new car you’re gonna buy.

First up, text size. Do you want regular text size—which is kinda small already? Do you want large print? This is not just for the older set—I unashamedly use large print in my daily reading Bible—there’s no need to strain! You get to pick. If you want large print. 

Next add-on: red letter. Red-letter Bibles simply print the words of Jesus in red letters instead of black. To me, this isn’t a big deal, but a lot of people really like it. 

Up next, size. There are roughly four sizes of Bibles: XL, L, S, XS. Study Bibles, life-application, and journaling Bibles are typically extra large or large because they’re adding all those extra features. The “small” bible is often called a “thinline bible”—this means that the footprint of the Bible is larger, but it’s very thin. Generally, these lay flatter, so that’s nice. 

Lastly, the extra small bibles are called “compact.” They’re great for bag packs and they’re generally the cheapest. They also have microscopic text—I personally avoid these because the point of having a Bible is reading it and if you hate reading it because it strains you eyes, is it really doing you any good? 

OK, last thing to think about: covers. Like all books, the Bible comes in paperback and hard back, but it also comes in a cover that is somewhere between these two. Don’t get a paperback Bible—those are meant to be inexpensive purchases for churches to give people who don’t have a Bible. 

Hardbacks aren’t very popular because people really like the fancier leather covers that Bibles often have, but my daily reader is a hardback and I really like it for using at home. As far as leather and faux-leather covers, you can spend as much or as little as you want on them. I recommend getting a color and design you like, because who doesn’t love a pretty book?

That’s it. You’re going to do three things: 

#1 Pick a translation. 

#2 Decide if you want just a plain Bible or one with helpful notes. 

#3 Pick your preferred text size, red-letter or not, size preference, then the cover. 

If you work your way down this list, you can pick out the best Bible for anyone! Full disclosure here, there are other Bible types that don’t fit into the neat list we worked through: 

First is the chronological Bible. Chronological bibles arrange the Bible as it unfolded in history, not as it is organized by individual book. I have been reading from a chronological NLT for years now and I really like it. 

The second is a parallel Bible. Parallel bibles are actually two or more translations in one Bible so you can compare them. I have a four-way parallel bible that compares the NASB, KJV, NIV, and NLT. 

Finally, there’s the rainbow Bible. I have always wanted one, so I bought one last week so to do a better comparison for you. This Bible color-codes various themes in the bible—like faith, family, prophecy, etc.—for quick reference. Pretty neat!

Like I’ve said before, the best translation and the best Bible “package”—if you will—is the one you read. 

Copyright © 2021 by Stephen Castleberry @ No part of this article may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from