Choosing a Reading Bible (Type and Translation)

In my first post on choosing a reading Bible (, I offered up a number of conclusions.  Here’s the first post in which I explain some of them.  These are factors to consider before you start looking at particular physical Bibles at all. 


The first thing to keep in mind when buying a reading Bible is that to get a good reader, you might have to spend a little bit.  To many brethren, this is anathema.  They’re the kind of people who walk into Lifeway and ask to be shown the cheapest Bible in the store.  I get that.  There aren’t very many people in the world who are cheaper than I am!  However, I also believe in using quality tools, and a quality Bible is a quality tool.

Just how much you’re going to have to spend to find a Bible that is right for you depends on you.  The Bible that I use for reading (and indeed for everything these days) is a Crossway Large-Print Thinline Reference that I can find online for $80.  I love the cover and the feel of the Bible in my hand.

On the high-premium end of the scale, I know people who use $200 Schuyler Quentels.  On the other end of the scale, my wife uses a polyurethane-cover Crossway Large-Print Compact that costs less than $20.  It’s all about you and what you love.

The key, though, is to make sure that you aren’t lying to yourself about loving a particular Bible because it’s cheap.  A $100 Bible that you read is an infinitely better purchase than a $10 Bible that you don’t.  Never buy a Bible that doesn’t make you happy when you hold it (and if you get a Bible online that doesn’t make you happy when you hold it, return it!).

Paper or Plastic?

Of course, a lot of people try to avoid paying for a Bible at all by using an eBible on their phone or tablet.  I’m not opposed to digital Bibles; I think they have their uses as readers, particularly for older people with the vexing combination of poor eyesight and weak hands.  Sadly, such Christians no longer have the strength to hold a paper Bible that has print large enough for them to read.  Somebody like that should go digital.

However, for the rest of us, particularly those who have struggled to complete a reading plan on their phones, a physical Bible may well be a better choice.  There are several reasons for this.  First, digital devices often have problems with formatting text.  Many paper Bibles are carefully optimized for reading.  Text on a screen, however, is commonly haphazardly arranged, which creates subtle but significant obstacles for reading comprehension.

Second, when you’re reading the Bible on a phone, you’re holding your phone.  When you’re reading the Bible in a paper Bible, you’re holding the Bible.  We are physical creatures, and physical cues matter to us.  If you love a particular paper Bible, you will want to pick it up and read it.  If you love your phone, you will want to pick it up and use it—but NOT necessarily to read the Bible on it.  Paper Bibles tug on our emotions in a way that Bibles on phones don’t.


Among brethren, there’s been a lot of confusion over the years on the subject of translation.  Many brethren call the freer Bible translations (NIV, NLT, and so on) “paraphrases” even though they aren’t.  Paraphrases (like The Message, which I do not recommend) are taken from existing English translations; translations are taken from the original manuscripts.

What’s at issue is translation philosophy.  Our more familiar translations (NKJV, NASB, ESV, and so on) mostly follow a word-for-word translation philosophy.  They want to match up Greek words with English equivalents.  Other translations shift more toward a thought-for-thought translation philosophy.  They try to express the concepts of Scripture as clearly and comprehensibly as possible.

I prefer word-for-word (also known as formal-equivalent) translations for close study.  In my experience, thought-for-thought translators sometimes miss important nuances in their rendering of Biblical texts.

However, I do think there’s a place for freer translations in daily reading.  Translations like the CSB, the NIV, and the NLT are undeniably easier to understand (though I don’t mind the CSB for close study either), and that makes reading a more pleasant and fulfilling pastime.  If they miss a nuance, well, you’re not really trying to delve deeply into the text anyway.

This is particularly helpful in the Old Testament (which is where the bulk of next year’s Jackson Heights reading will be).  I wouldn’t try to teach the book of Romans out of the NLT (the translators missed too many things), but I think the NLT is great for reading through the Old Testament.  I read the entirety of the NLT Old Testament a few years back, and that was the first time I ever understood the book of Micah.  Honestly, I think Micah 2 in the NASB is positively opaque!

If you want to read from the same translation you use for study, that makes sense to me.  However, I think there’s merit in branching out to a different translation too, maybe even one you otherwise wouldn’t have considered.


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