My daughter is In college and is wanting to buy a new Bible. She has these three options.. I would like her to have one that is easier to understand but still accurate. What are the differences and what do you recommend for her?

  • is it for a particular class or personal use? which denomination is she a member of?
    – depperm
    May 1 '19 at 17:13
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    May 2 '19 at 5:55
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    May 2 '19 at 11:17
  • Here is a brief Bible translation guide that discusses the differences. They employ different translation philosophies on a range from word-for-word to thought-for-thought translation. NIV would be a good combination of easy to understand and accuracy. ESV is more word-for-word (and thus my preference), but sometimes requires more work to understand. May 2 '19 at 14:35
  • If your daughter hasn't read Bible that often, for general understanding I highly recommend NLT, another thought for thought translation but more free than NIV, so the English flows better and it uses current idioms, leading to easier grasp of the main points. It can then be combined with ESV for Bible Study. The ESV Study Bible is one of the best today. I regularly use both NLT translation and ESV Study Bible. May 2 '19 at 15:55

Without knowing more about the reasons for your daughter wanting to buy a new Bible, and why it is she has only these three options, it is impossible to make a recommendation. However, having background information about each of these Bibles will help her to come to a decision. Below are links to three articles, which provide a brief history as well as pros and cons on each Bible. I have partially quoted from each article:

The English Standard Version (ESV) is a revision of the 1971 edition of the Revised Standard Version. The first edition was published in 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. The ESV Study Bible, also published by Crossway Bibles, was published in October 2008. It uses the ESV translation and adds extensive notes and articles based on evangelical Christian scholarship. Under noted theologian J. I. Packer, who served as general editor, the translators sought and received permission from the National Council of Churches to use the 1971 edition of the RSV as the English textual basis for the ESV. Difficult passages were translated using the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other original manuscripts. Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/English-Standard-Version-ESV.html

The New International Version (NIV) committee held to certain goals for the NIV: that it be an “accurate, beautiful, clear, and dignified translation suitable for public and private reading, teaching, preaching, memorizing, and liturgical use.” The NIV is known especially as a "thought for thought" or “dynamic equivalence” translation rather than a “word for word” translation... The greatest ‘con’ of the 2011 NIV is the inclusion of gender-neutral language and the necessity of interpreting rather than translating in order to present a more culturally sensitive or politically correct version. Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/New-International-Version-NIV.html

Although the New King James Version (NKJV) uses substantially the same Hebrew and Greek texts as the original KJV, it indicates where more commonly accepted manuscripts differ. The New King James Version also uses the Textus Receptus ("Received Text") for the New Testament, just as the King James Version had used. The translators have also sought to follow the principles of translation used in the original KJV, which the NKJV revisers call "complete equivalence" in contrast to "dynamic equivalence" or “thought-for-thought” used by many other modern translations, such as the New International Version. Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/New-King-James-Version-NKJV.html

I hope this information will be helpful.


First, because we are reading the Bible in translation (ie, not the original language) we must depend on the translators to properly convey the thought of the original text. There are no perfect translations - all have their strengths and weaknesses.

For this reason, I would never depend on a single translation to convey all the subtleties of the original. Always more than one and preferably several.

My favourite five are ESV, NIV, NRSV, NASB and NKJV. I note the following about these versions:

  • All are produced by large committees that keeps them reasonably (but totally) free of sectarian bias
  • All except NKJV use NA27/28 Greek NT text. The NKJV uses the Textus Receptus. The differences between these is a matter of much unnecessary debate in some circles but the differences never affect any Bible teaching.
  • The ESV and NASB try to be a literal as possible (no translation is completely literal), while the NRSV and NIV are less literal but contain more polished English.
  • Many verses in all five of these will read almost word for word the same. Where there are significant differences suggests that translators struggled and there is room for differences because our understanding is imperfect.

Hope this is helpful. If I were making such a selection, I would buy all of them.

  • Upvoted as it is very helpful, but the differences between these do make doctrinal differences. Some obscure some clear doctrines in the Textus Receptus. See this presentation titled "Battle of the Bibles", on this topic
    – jlaverde
    May 2 '19 at 15:09
  • Also, this presentation, titled Changing the Word, is the continuation of Battle of the Bibles.
    – jlaverde
    May 2 '19 at 15:11
  • You would make a great salesman Mac's Musings, or perhaps you already are one.
    – davidlol
    May 2 '19 at 16:18
  • Many thanks - I am not and have never been a salesman but thanks
    – user43409
    May 2 '19 at 21:30
  • @jlaverde - I am quite familiar with those presentations and they contain much misinformation and plain errors. I have many of the documents they quote and they misquote many things. They are a great distraction.
    – user43409
    May 2 '19 at 21:34
           RSV      NIV      NKJV                                        

|---------------------------------------------------------| Thought for thought. Word for word

Whilst NKJV is more word-for-word, RSV is more Thought-for-thought. This implies that NKJV is nearer to the original Hebrew and Greek scripts but could be difficult to be understood whiles RSV is more self explanatory because the translators tend to communicate the idea of the original Hebrew and Greek scripts.. NIV on the other hand balances the two which makes it preferable to many.

I prefer NKJV mostly and crosscheck scriptures from RSV and NIV. It is a matter of choice.

  • By RSV do you mean NRSV? I find the RSV very wooden and tricky. The NRSV is a HUGE improvement in both accuracy and style.
    – user43409
    May 3 '19 at 0:14

I have used the NIV as one of my daily readers since the late 70's early 80's. I would not recommend the latest version as the translators have ventured into the area of commentary on some verses. If you read the older and latest versions side by side you will find the translation to be longer in the new version.

I started using the ESV several years back and find it to be an excellent blend of nearly literal but still easy to read. When I teach I use the ESV as my primary teaching Bible. I will run a comparative translation when teaching with my Bible software using the following translations: ESV, NIV 1984, NIV, KJV, NKJV, HCSB (now called CSB or Christian Standard Bible). Generally they read well together. When there is a difference I find it more do to a word that is hard to translate into English.

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