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Choosing a Bible

Bob Guaglione
August 17, 2016

When I was growing up in Philadelphia in the early 70s there were four sneaker choices available: Converse, white or black, high-top or low-top. That was it. Okay, PRO-Keds was the competitor, but no one would be caught dead wearing those.

Today buying sneakers can be a half-day endeavor of mulling through specialty and brand stores, and yes, Converse is still available.

Unfortunately choice-fatigue isn't limited to shoe apparel. I sensed the same weariness recently standing in a Barnes and Noble staring at all the Bible options before me. Not only are there numerous translations available but one must now choose between slim line, large print, compact, study, women's, men's, military, teen...you get the idea.

So, how do you choose a Bible? Answer: Wisely! This book is your manual for life, your gateway to fellowship with God, and the key to the greatest treasure on earth. Like your favorite knife, saw, or paintbrush, it's a tool you will have for a long time. (If you have ever had to look up a verse in someone else's Bible you know what I mean.)

Because purchasing a Bible is such an important decision, I have chosen to write down a few thoughts you may consider.

What Version?

Let's begin with the most difficult decision: choosing a version of the Bible.

The Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, so any English Bible you hold in your hand is a translation. Almost from the start, scholars have translated the Scriptures into the vernacular so the common folk could read God's word for themselves: from the Septuagint (the Hebrew Bible into Greek before the time of Christ), through the Latin Vulgate (the language of the Roman Empire), to the German Luther Bible at the time of the Reformation. The earliest known English versions date from eighth century, but the best-known early version is the one commissioned by King James in 1611.

Versions of the Bible are commonly referred to by their initials. For instance, I preach out of the NKJV or New King James Version. Other popular versions include the NIV (New International Version), NASB (New American Standard Bible), KJV (King James Version), ESV (English Standard Version), and NLT (New Living Translation).

As anyone who's ever studied a foreign language knows, translation can be a tricky endeavor. Because of this, versions may read differently. For some versions, like the ESV, the translators were striving for a strictly literal, word-for-word translation; for others, they were aiming for functional equivalence or "thought-for-thought" translation. In addition, a multitude of older manuscripts (hand-written copies) of the Bible have been discovered since the time of King James, which have influenced newer translations of the Bible.

It is important to note that some versions, such as the NKJV and Geneva Bible, have been translated directly from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek text fragments while some newer translations such as The Message are a paraphrase of an existing translation. While I do use paraphrased versions on occasion as a study tool to gain someone's reading of the text, they should not be your main Bible.

The truth is that all the versions listed above are valid Bibles. Though I have a technical problem here and there with a few verses in each version, by and large they get the job done. I like what a pastor told me long ago: if you're reading a translation I'm not fond of and living by it, I have no argument.

Study Bibles

With the advent of the mega-church pastor and televangelist, we now have a variety of study Bibles that contain each pastor's introduction, notes on particular verses, and outlines of each book of the Bible. The most accomplished of these is the MacArthur Study Bible, which has sold well over a million copies worldwide.

I want to caution, however, that a study Bible should be a tool and not your primary Bible. If you're like me, you will jump too quickly to the writer's commentary on verses instead of just listening to the Lord speak through His word.

But study Bibles can give you great tools such as cross-referenced texts, word or character studies, and even link up to the original Hebrew or Greek wording. I recommend that everyone have a study Bible in addition to a regular reading Bible, realizing that scholars have built upon, sharpened, and challenged one another's exegesis of Scripture for the past 2,000 years.

Form and Fit

I realize that with the advent of technology people aren't carrying Bibles as much and, if they do, they're looking for a cleaner, even cool-looking, Bible. But, oh, that smell! There's nothing like a new-Bible smell! I recommend leather, wide margins, and a small concordance in the back. No Bible app for me; I want my Bible to be worn and comfortable, something I enjoy taking around. Journaling Bibles are popular today, which energizes me because I have been writing in my Bible for 35 years.

So you're on your way. Do what these translators hoped you would do, and read God's word for yourself. More so, enjoy getting to know the Author!

The Shelf bookstore at ccdelco sells all Bibles at cost and carries a wide variety of translations.

More Essays & Articles

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