Living For Jesus

Selecting a Bible: How to Choose the Best Bible for Your Needs

With Bibles coming in so many shapes, sizes, translations and versions, it can be difficult to know which Bible offers the best fit for you. Whether you’re selecting a Bible for your beginning reader or one for your personal study, some guidelines will help you find the best Bible for your needs. First, determine who will be using the Bible. Different Bibles are meant for different readers. Second, determine the type of translation you want based on how the Bible will be used. Third, determine the physical aspects that are most important for your selection.

The Reader

Readability of the text is important. A beginning reader will need something that he is able to read, as will an adult who reads at a ninth grade reading level or an adult who reads at a college reading level. Different translations provide a means to greater understanding no matter the reading level of the reader. Putting the King James Version in the hands of a child may be in keeping with family tradition, but it often leads to misunderstanding of the Biblical text. For example: this child’s mistake from 1 Kings 11:3, “King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 porcupines.”

He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 1 Kings 11:3, King James Version

He had 700 wives who were from royal families. He also had 300 slave women who gave birth to his children. His wives caused him to turn away from God. 1 Kings 11:3, International Children’s Bible

The chart accompanying this article gives information about the reading level of different Bibles. The reading level means that the Bible has vocabulary that a typical reader of that grade level can read. Most children can understand on a higher level than they can read.


When translating from one language to another many problems can arise. This is especially true when the two languages are very different from each other. One language may have a finely nuanced sense of the past with multiple verbal forms to denote these nuances. Trying to translate these nuances into a language that has a very simple means of describing the past can be very difficult. That’s just one example; the differences between the structure, grammar, and time sense of two languages can be very complex. Translation isn’t a mathematical exercise of one-to-one correlations.

Bible translations roughly fall into three types of translations: formal equivalence, functional equivalence, and paraphrase. Of the three paraphrasing is probably most understood by the average reader because they may have experience from school in paraphrasing. A paraphrase restates the content of a passage in language easier for the reader to grasp. This is a thought-for-thought translation method that emphasizes understanding over strict word-for-word translation. On the other end of the spectrum, formal equivalence is an attempt at an exact word-for-word translation. Formal translation attempts to translate not only the exact renditions of vocabulary but also the grammatical structure and idioms used in the original. Idioms are expressions that have meaning distinct from the actual meaning of the words used in the idiom. An example of an American English idiom is top notch, meaning “excellent” rather than the top notch on a stick. Functional equivalence falls between formal equivalence and paraphrase. Functional equivalence is sometimes called dynamic equivalence. It places a greater emphasis on readability over strict word-for-word translation, but it is not like paraphrase, which can render thoughts in completely different language. A functional equivalent translation may change the grammatical structure of translated sentences so they read better, but it sticks a closely as possible to the original text.

Translation can be difficult, so placing a particular translation into one of these categories isn’t as cut and dried as you might think. There are no 100% formal translations of the Bible into English because even the most literal translations must at times render into English thoughts for which we have no equivalent words.

The translation you choose should be determined by what you intend to do with it. You wouldn’t want to use a paraphrase for a word study, because the words may be completely different. Adult Bible study should always begin with a formal translation. One who studies the Bible is presumed to want to know the exact meaning of the passages he studies. This is best achieved with as literal a translation as possible. The New American Standard Bible is considered the best study version because it is the strictest formal equivalent Bible. Bible study tools like dictionaries and commentaries can assist in the process, but the foundation should be the Biblical text. The English Standard Version is a newer and somewhat easier to read formal equivalent version of the Bible.

The New American Standard Bible may be perfect for Bible study, but many people find its grammatical structure difficult to read. Functional equivalent translations work well for daily or devotional reading because they are easier to read. The International Children’s Bible is an example of a functional equivalent translation for children. It’s been revised for adult reading and published as the New Century Version. The best selling functional equivalent Bible is the New International Version.

Paraphrases like the Living Bible and the Message are often used to make the Bible accessible to modern readers. While they shouldn’t be used as an adult primary study Bible, they can make a useful addition to Bible study by offering an easy-to-understand first impression of the scripture being studied. They can also put historical aspects of Bible stories into modern context.

When considering a translation you may wish to visit the Bible Gateway, which offers a number of Bible translations. A great computer Bible that provides a variety of translations and is free to download is E-Sword.


The typical pew Bible has the Bible text and very little else. Study Bibles come with all different kinds of study helps from simple concordances to extensive Hebrew and Greek dictionaries. Children’s Bibles often include colorful pictures and lists of important Bible topics like the Ten Commandments or the twelve apostles. Teen Bibles typically address issues that teenagers deal with today. You can expect any teen Bible to deal with sex, drugs, divorce, and other prominent problems in society today. There are also many Bibles available that focus on specific aspects of Christian living as well as Bibles for different Christian denominations. To determine which of these Bibles will best suit your purposes, you really need to get your hands on them and look them over yourself. If you can’t, then take a look at the Bible reviews we have posted at the Eclectic Homeschool Online.

Then there’s the actual physical makeup of the Bible. The size, cover, and layout of the Bible are all important. If you intend to tote your Bible with you everywhere you go, you’ll want a thinline Bible. For those with vision problems, large print is important. Children’s and teen Bibles need to be durable. Bibles come in everything from paperback to leather bindings. The less durable the Bible generally the less it will cost with leather Bibles being the most durable. You’ll also want a sewn binding rather than a glued binding if you want a really durable Bible. Ultimately, you have to decide if you want to buy a new paperback Bible every year or invest in a Bible that will last longer.

Paperback Least durable.
Kivar Slightly more durable than paperback. Paperback cover with plastic coating.
Hardcover Will last up to three years with the typical child or teen.
Simulated Leather Also known as imitation leather, leatherflex, leatherlike, or leather look, slightly more durable than hardcover.

Bonded Leather
Made from real leather pieces that are bonded together with latex. The finished product looks as if it were cut from a single piece of leather. Not as durable as genuine leather.
Leather Various types and grades of leather are available. The type of leather used will determine the cost. Leather Bibles are the most durable of all bindings.

Bibles come in single, double, and triple column layouts. If you’re planning to use the Bible to read through in a year, you may want a single column layout that reads more like a book. Some Bibles include references in a center column while others place them at the foot of the page. Red-letter versions place the words of Christ in red text. Some have wide margins to allow you to take notes in your Bible.

Most American homes have a number of Bibles that sit on their bookshelves unused. Don’t let your next Bible purchase end up sitting on your shelf collecting dust. With a little thought and some time spent shopping, you can find the Bible that will fit your needs perfectly.

Bible Translation Description Reading Level
Amplified Bible cross between formal equivalent and paraphrase – expanded words are bracketed. n/a
Contemporary English Version CEV paraphrase 5.4
English Standard Version ESV formal equivalent 8.0
Good News Translation GNT
paraphrase 6.0
Holman Christian Standard Bible functional equivalent 7th – 8th grade
International Children’s Bible functional equivalent 3rd grade
King James Version KJV
formal equivalent 12.0
New American Bible formal equivalent 6.60
New American Standard Bible NASB formal equivalent 11.0
New Century Version
formal equivalent 3rd grade
New International Reader’s Version NirV functional equivalent 3.5
New International Version NIV functional equivalent 7.8
New Jerusalem Bible NJB
functional equivalent 7.4
New King James Version NKJV formal equivalent 8.5
New Living Translation NLT functional equivalent 6.3
New Revised Standard Version NRSV
functional equivalent 10.4
The Message paraphrase 4.8
Todays New International Version functional equivalent n/a
Updated New American Standard Bible NASBnew formal equivalent 11.0

For additional reading about Bible versions visit:

For information on various controversies surrounding Biblical translations:

Information for this article was obtained from the following

Copyright ©  2006 Beverly S. Krueger