What is your favorite version of the Bible and why?

What is your favorite version of the Bible and why?

I recently made a switch. For the past couple of years I’ve been very happy with “today’s new international version” because of several factors (and its new form in the NIV 2011).

First, I always look for a gender inclusive translation as this is more faithful to the intention of the Greek. For a great discussion of this check out the relevant chapter in “How to Read the Bible for all its Worth” by Fee.

Second, I always look for a translation that is readable yet gets at the heart of the intention of the Greek. I like a “thought for thought” translation more than a “word for word” approach because the power of the Bible is not in the words but in the concepts/ideas that it conveys. I could say more about this part of the debate, but I would encourage you to do some reading on the difference styles of translation. All of them have their value, but the TNIV does a good job of being faithful to the “words” while also rendering excellent thought for thought translation.

Those two above categories are just a few of the reasons why the TNIV has been my favorite for the last few years. I also enjoy how the TNIV translated some of my favorite verses. One of these, is 2 Corinthians 5.17 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” whereas most other translations rendered this passage to focus on an individual person, this translation rightly asserted that this passage about new creation is cosmic in scale!

So… Why did I make a change? Into which Bible have I change to?

A couple of months ago I received a review copy of the “Common English Bible.” this Bible represents a translation project of numerous denominations and theological background. One of the lead editors of this Bible is Joel Green, a theologian that I have much respect for. Having done my devotions in this Bible for the last months I can honestly say that I am impressed.

Not only does it contain the qualities that I listed above about that TNIV, but the language is smoother and the word choices are more theologically in tune to what I look for when reading Scripture. For instance, the Greek word that is often rendered “righteousness” equally can be rendered “justice.” What I have noticed in this Bible is that they make very careful word choices and often render the Greek word as justice which I think is a good move.

And remember that Corinthians passage above? Check out how the CEB translates: “So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 CEB). I love how this translation makes clear that when a person accepts Jesus, they become part of God’s new creation project, that was inaugurated in resurrection and will be consummated at the return of Christ!

There are several other reasons why I’ve made the switch to the “Common English Bible” but I will let you discover those for yourself. I have a feeling, if we share a similar theological and ministry framework, that you will be impressed as you compare your favorite passages with how the CEB translates.

So I ask you again: What is your favorite translation of the English Bible and why? What do you look for?

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  • I’m intrigued how, in your specific example from 2 Corinthians 5:17, the CEB retrieves the “individual” focus that you criticized when praising the TNIV, yet somehow manages to do so while putting the real emphasis on “God’s new creation project.” The best of both worlds, perhaps?
    (Full disclosure: I recently shifted to CEB from a prior emphasis on TNIV, as well, so I’m not unbiased in appreciating it when others do the same.)

  • The main thing I look for is either a Catholic Bible or an ecumenical Bible with the Apocrypha since the daily lectionary I follow includes Deuterocanonical books. My favorite is the Catholic Edition of the RSV(marketed as The Ignatius Bible), mainly because I like the way it reads the best. I have a large collection, though—King James (with Apocrypha), RSV, NRSV, NAB, Jerusalem, New Jerusalem, NEB, REB, Douay-Confraternity, and The Orthodox Study Bible (OT translated from the Septuagint and NT NKJV—majority text)—and I think it’s good to have multiple versions with good notes to compare translations. I’m planning on buying a CEB with Apocrypha, and your positive review of the translation is encouraging me to do so. 🙂

  • I myself have been NIV-positive for the better part of my 20+ year Christian life. Just recently I switched to the ESV and absolutely love it. It was good timing too since I feel the NIV has become victim of political correctness run amok. However, I too prefer the thought-for-thought emphasis, but not at the expense of wholly dismissing the word-for-word emphasis. And, the ESV lays claim to staying as pure as possible to both aspects. I for one like to stay true to the initial gender specificity of the Greek for Father, but recognize the ambiguity of gender in relation to the Holy Spirit. This was another reason why I strayed away from the NIV.

    • ESV (with Apocrypha) is another one I want to pick up at some point. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Honestly, I’m not sure I understand what you (or other NIV-opponents) even mean when they complain that it’s “become victim of political correctness run amok”. Do you mean that you disagree that the move toward gender inclusive language is more correct to the intentions of the original Greek (as Kurt has already suggested in his post. An assertion I agree with.) ? If not that, what other issues are you thinking about?

      (Re: gender language. I don’t see that Kurt is commenting about Father-language for the First Person of the Trinity, for what that’s worth, and I myself am certainly not, although I don’t see God as having gender, per see. But to your point, does the NIV even do anything to neuter that language in regard to the Father? If so, I’m not aware of it. Could you provide examples?)

      • Mark – Please see my response to Kurt above. I believe I address some of your questions.

    • Greg… I think you might be mistaken about the NIV. It does not change the gender of God, Jesus, or the Spirit. It only makes references to human beings gender inclusive. Instead of saying “man” it says “humanity.” instead of saying “brothers” it says “brothers and sisters.” These gender inclusive translation decisions represent what the Greek intends anyway. Again, a good discussion of this isn’t the latest edition of “how to read the Bible for all it’s worth” by Gordon Fee. I personally have been unimpressed by the ESV because it clearly reflects a reformed translation bias and does not deal adequately with the issue of human gender. Any translation that says “man” does not get a thumbs up for me 🙂 … unless of course it is talking about a specific man.


      • Thank you!  Yes Kurt, I don’t understand why this has been an issue at all.  If the original text was referring to men and women it seems odd to me that the translation wouldn’t include that.  I’ve been a fan of the CEB and my next Bible will probably be CEB.

      • The original manuscripts refer to humanity as man/men as in mankind. This is no way implies that salvation is only for men (males), but instead all of mankind (i.e. John 1:4) So, why does the tNIV feel it has to change it? 

        This is why I believe the tNIV’s move to be gender specific is an example of modern day political correctness.

        For more on this see:


        Kurt – I digress on one point I made in reference to the gender neutrality of God. I was mistakenly referring to the NIV. Instead, there is another version (not sure which one) that decided to eliminate references to God as Father. I agree that God transcends all genders, but if Jesus refers to God as Father (masculine reference) then that is good enough for me.

        Also, I agree the ESV tends to lean heavy towards Reformed, and this is why I refuse to read any commentary found in the ESV Study Bible. In other words, I have the ESV text minus the commentary of Reformed theologians. Nevertheless, by itself it stands as a formidable translation to the NIV and NASB.

        • “The original manuscripts refer to humanity as man/men as in mankind.”

          Actually, that right there is one of the issues I have. Modern English speakers don’t use the term “Man” or “Men” to refer to humanity (as a whole) as much as we once did. TNIV and CEV recognize that this shift has happened whereas other translations feel the need to retain the old language, with many of their adherents often (wrongly, in my opinion) believing that there was something valuable in asserting the old masculine-specific version of ENGLISH (not getting to the issue of which is more faithful to the Greek at this point).  

          I would argue that this is not about “political correctness.” I’m not concerned about offending those who don’t think of “men” as inclusive. I’m concerned that they actively misunderstand the word when it is intended to be inclusive.

          Note: (I prefer to use “humanity” over “mankind” for this same reason, but I don’t make the case that the term “mankind” is so easily misunderstood by modern audiences as being masculine-specific as “men” is.)

  • I generally gravitate to a more literal/academic version so NRSV is typically the first choice – it was always promoted to me as the best academic Protestant translation in my theology studies. That said, as a student I generally need to look at my Bible more for study than for devotion. Once I’m done school I hope to develop a better devotional reading habit and for that I’ll probably switch to something like the CEB.

    I also really enjoy the JPS (Jewish Publication Society) for the Old Testament (or just plain Bible to them), as well, because it really can show you some things like how translations are influenced by pre-existing theology.

  • Charles Morrow

    I like the NET bible – tons of notes.

  • James-Michael Smith

    Two short articles I wrote  that your readers may dig, Kurt:

    Bible 101: ALL translations are interpretations – http://www.examiner.com/article/bible-101-all-translations-are-interpretations

    G.I. Joe Bibles – http://jmsmith.org/blog/the-bible-and-g-i-joe/ (for those of us who grew up in the 80s!)

  • Good work!  I have been using the TNIV since Wheaton College gave me a free copy a number of years ago, and I’ve also been using the CEB recently.

    I think it is exceptionally important that we use a gender accurate translation, and both of those are great.

    I also use the NRSV for more formal study, since I’m not proficient in Greek and Hebrew.

    On occasion, I also use the NAB or the NJB for added perspective.

  • Hirschyc

    As a Biblical Studies student I have been trained that the best Bible to use in biblical study is the NASB. When studying passages for class I tend to look at the NASB first. However, it tends to read to hollow for me when I do personal devotions and reading. My everyday choice is definitly the ESV. They did a great job capturing the intent of the Greek while still allowing for readability in English. In the past I have also enjoyed the NLT. It’s mostly paraphrase but reads extremely well for young Christians and new believers.

  • It depends on what I’m doing:
    NRSV and NET for the academic stuff, CEB for everything else.

  • Mason

    NRSV for me, though I turn to the NIV(2011) often as well.

  • Karen Searcey

    Growing up catholic we weren’t given to reading any version and all we learned was fear. I still can’t get rid of the fear but any translation sounded a whole lot better than nothing. I do have problems with the old testament- it seems that women and girls were just not worth as much. But I figured if its in there, there must be something I don’t understand. On top of that I’m definitely NOT a desk- jockey

    • James-Michael Smith

       Karen, as an OT guy I have to say that while women and girls were not valued as much in the ancient Near East, in the Hebrew Bible we see them elevated to a status of equality that most people aren’t aware of. The fact that there are books of the Bible named after women who are honored (Ruth, Esther) and that Israel was at one point ruled (and delivered from their enemies!) by a woman, and that the Song of Songs is largely given over to the female perspective…all of these should be recognized before people make snap judgments on the the OT’s view of women. I’m not saying you’re guilty of this specifically, I’m speaking of Christians and society in general when they approach the OT.

  • Shelly

    I have never heard of the CEB, I will check it out!

  • RQC

    Combo of NLT (it’s like smooth peanut butter for easy reading) and NASB (like chunky peanut butter sticks in your teeth).

  • James-Michael Smith

    I like the CEB…but I absolutely cringe at the “we are God’s DNA” line in 1John. That’s just borderline ridiculous and belongs in a paraphrase like the Message if anything.

    But other than that I think it’s a good mainline alternative to the NLT.

    • I was not aware of that DNA reference… Dont like it either!


      • “Human One” may be lexically & exegetically correct, but I dislike it & find it grates on the ears.

    • Now I feel like a fool! How did I miss that? Guess I don’t read 1 John enough.  That’s poor translation. 

    • Eutychus

       Actually, the CEB doesn’t have the phrase “we are God’s DNA.” I think you must be referring to 1 John 3:9: “Those born from God don’t practice sin because God’s DNA remains in them.” The term in question is “sperma,” for which BDAG suggests “genetic character.” I think that’s what most people mean by “DNA” today, since “DNA” is used in popular discourse in a non-scientific sense.

  • Justin Heap

    I was part of a test study back in College which provided for us copies of the TNIV and have used that as my personal study Bible with the GNT since then. However, I have been reading from NT Wright’s The Kingdom New Testament and thoroughly appreciate it…there are a few English/British lines which are kind of…odd, haha, but generally I very much appreciate his work here –and the attention to the Kingship (obviously) when considering word choices.

    Thanks for writing this, Kurt, will definitely have to give the CEB some time!


  • I usually switch between the ESV and NRSV. The latter is gender-inclusive, but I think in the effort to be so they sacrifice other important nuances…for example, some places rather than translate adelphoi as “brothers and sisters” (which, while editorializing, at least is accurate insofar as the Greek does not connotes only males) they instead translate it as “believers” which completely abandons the familial language for describing our fellowship. Gender is not the only important concept that must be conveyed by a faithful translation. This gets to my real concern, that a faithful translation represents the words of the original speaker as closely as possible, and with the least editorialization. Contextual and cultural insights, important to solid hermaneutics, belong in footnotes and teaching in the church, not in anything which purports to be a translation, as opposed to a paraphrase.

    I would be remiss, however, if I failed to point out my Mom’s own original translation of the New Testament, The Pioneers’ New Testament, which can be downloaded for free from that website. I also recommend her article “The Task of a Translator” at the same site. What many have appreciated about Mom’s translation is that she avoids a lot of common “spiritual” language in favor of ordinary English, which can yield some surprising insights.

    • Thanks, Dan! We often miss the forest for the trees in some of these translations.  l’m also a fan of the NRSV but I think the CEB makes some fantastic steps toward accuracy in contemporary language.

  • Scott Gay

    New American Standard( it relates well in house church, bible studies, wednesday night groups, etc.).

  • I have four that I use all the time:  RSV, NIV, NRSV, TNIV.   They are the best, IMO.

  • Ben

    My first Bible was a Teen Life Application NLT. Its language was nice for me at the time, but whenever I read it now it feels so bland, like eating Wonder Bread. I’ve never owned an NIV, so I’ve actually never gained deep exposure to the most popular English translation. I basically ignore the NIV line because it’s so ubiquitous, and like the NLT, I get that bland Wonder Bread feeling whenever I read it.

    When I began attempting more formal study in college, I found an old Oxford Annotated RSV at a used bookstore. I didn’t know that it had been updated until I began reading up on Bible translations. So I tried using the NRSV, but realized that I liked the RSV’s language better… I guess I’m old-fashioned. My church uses the NRSV so I still look at it fairly often.

    In my defense, the RSV is still considered an excellent translation, and it carries historical significance as the first modern translation to challenge the KJV’s popularity, as well as ecumenical importance as a translation that includes Catholic and Orthodox deuterocanonical books. I also like that it offended a fundamentalist pastor so much that he publicly burned it!

    I know that the ESV is essentially the same, but its explicit evangelical origins bother me a bit. It’s such a light revision of the RSV that it kind of feels like Crossway “stole” the RSV because they wanted to capitalize on a translation in-between the wooden literalness of the NASB and the colloquialism of the NIV, while at the same time avoiding the stigma attached to the RSV and its mainline Protestant translation committee. Well, they have been very successful, but I wish the translators would acknowledge their debt to the RSV a bit more.

    Later, I began to read the KJV because I felt obliged to accustom myself to its language and literary influence. And a few months after that, I discovered the NEB/REB, and was delighted by its unique language.

    Nowadays, I read the RSV on a daily basis and read the Sunday lectionary in the KJV. Sometimes I check the NRSV. When I want something more colorful I read the NEB or REB. I plan to obtain a Common English Bible so that I can have an “easy reading” translation on hand; it was recommended to me by my college chaplain. I like what I have read of it, though I probably won’t make it my main Bible. I think I like the RSV/ESV/NRSV line because it 1) preserves many of the KJV’s best phrasings, and 2) feels literal enough to help connect me to many of the Greek and Hebrew’s most visceral images; this is especially helpful when I’m reading poetry.

    The funny thing is that even though my translation choices seem to run conservative, the gender-neutral language debates aren’t an issue for me at all. I don’t find the difference between “mankind/humankind” particularly important. And even if the gender-neutral language does change how a certain passage is interpreted (like Psalm 8 in the NRSV vs ESV), I know that there’s always another translation to check if it really bothers me (and it doesn’t 99% of the time.)

    I also like reading Robert Alter’s translations of various Old Testament books. I hope to read through Richard Lattimore’s New Testament when I have time. I also hope to aquatint myself with the newly revised New American Bible and the Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh. Maybe the Jerusalem Bible too.

    … jeez, it’s a real Babel of translations out there. English-speakers are spoiled.

  • Great article sir!

  • 9 month old thread, but it just came up today on my Twitter feed… generally I’ve used NIV84, NASB, NLT, and ESV in the past several years- after I got away from a KJV only church, that is. What merits would the CEB have over, say, the NLT? If they are both thought-for-thought, which one has an edge?