There are literally hundreds of printed versions of the Bible — the best-selling book of all time. Printed in languages you’ve never heard of and in versions that you could have trouble understanding even in your own language, the interpretation of the Bible varies from one copy to another.
So which one do you turn to? Which one is right for you?
In the English language, there are at least two dozen printed versions of the Bible. Some of today’s most common versions are the NLT (New Living Translation), NIV (New International Version), NKJV (New King James Version), KJV (King James Version) NASB (New American Standard Bible), and ESV (English Standard Version).
To give you an idea of the differences, here’s Genesis 1:1-2 of the aforementioned Bibles:
New International Version
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
New King James Version
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
New Living Translation
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.
King James Version
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
New American Standard Bible
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
English Standard Version
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
What’s the Big Deal?
The differences we see here are simple: a comma instead of a semi colon, one word changed for another, one sentence turned into two; but some of the other Bible versions do show more drastic changes, and the more “modern” translations can be so changed from the original meanings, that they can sometimes tell completely different stories.
The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. Translations of the original texts vary widely, some being more literal while others are more in tune with modern-day speak. When you’re looking for a Bible to read or purchase, it helps to know exactly what you’re looking for.
Are you using the Bible for research? Are you reading it for your own enjoyment? The Bibles that are closest to the original writings are the New American Standard and the New King James Version. The New International Version, favored by Protestants, is an easier-to-read Bible that uses more modern terms in its translations. If you’re looking for an extreme modern telling of the Bible’s stories, check out the VOICE, which is written almost lyrically, or the Message, which is written more in story format.
It’s really up to you when you decide on which Bible to choose. No one version is perfect—each of the books of the Bible were translated so many times over the years that the actual original manuscripts have long been lost, but we are able to get the general idea.
Many versions offer Study Bibles as well, including notes in the margins about how to better understand a passage, or greater analysis on a specific character in a book. If you’re studying and learning about Christianity, a Study Bible would be your best bet no matter what version you choose.
If you’re still struggling with making your decision, speak with a pastor or someone else in your church to find out what version your specific denomination endorses, and what personal experience they themselves have had with different versions. A second opinion is always good to have, especially since this is one book you’ll likely keep next to your bedside for a very long time.