After I recommended that the KJV be permanently retired, people have asked me to recommend some versions. So I brushed off this article that’s been in preparation since before that one. This article, however, takes a different tack than recommendations: I talk about my favorite versions at the moment.

The following versions were translated by committees or a group of translators, rather than by a single person, such as McCord, Littrell, or Phillips. This list also includes only those versions distributed by major publishers, rather than smaller efforts, like the PEB. As well, only entire Bibles are included; translations which only have the New Testament finished aren’t considered.

That three of the seven in this list (ESV, NASB, NRSV) are revisions of revisions of the Authorized Version testifies to the strength of the KJV tradition.

Please note that this isn’t a review, properly speaking, of versions, but a listing of my favorites within the constraints mentioned above. Favorite means (1) I like it for what it offers and (2) I tend to consult it more than others.

The list follows a chiastic structure. (That means the middle version, “X,” is my favorite.) How’s that for Biblical?

A. ESV. Fast becoming a favorite among brethren, this 2001 revision of the RSV appeals to conservatives, while avoiding some of the stiffness of the NASB. I’m not as familiar with it as I’d like to be, and this one will probably grow in my estimation. Tyndale has made it readily available on the Internet and in applications, a laudable position which strengthens its use. I was turned off when it first came out, because the hardback binding of my copy broke, with no returns from Brazil. Not a way to endear me to a version. But it’s a good one, nevertheless.

B. NIV. I’ve appreciated the NIV since the whole Bible was released in 1978, a translation made from scratch rather than a revision. In spite of criticism from some corners and the publishers shooting themselves in the foot with bad editorial decisions, they seem to be getting on the right track with the 2011 edition. This best-seller looks to pick up steam with the new edition, and I don’t begrudge it the #1 position it has today. My pet peeve with the NIV is that it often omits connecting particles like “for.”

C. NASB. As a literal version for seeing the original language behind the translation, the New American Standard Bible attempts, sometimes badly, to approximate the Greek text as closely as possible. Now, however, the notes of the NET do much of the job in a better way. The NASB was my college choice, after migrating from KJV to ASV. From there I went to the NIV, before moving to Brazil. The 1995 update mitigated the accusation of being a wooden translation, but it still comes across as stiff. For me, a good comparative version.

X. NET. Some porridge is too hot, some is too cold, but once in a while you get a bowl that’s just right. The more I use the New English Translation (NET Bible), the better I like it, and I liked it well from the beginning. I have the three print formats and constantly refer to the online and electronic versions. It’s pretty much my standard now in English. To my mind, the translation strikes a good middle, much like the NIV. Its 60 thousand-plus notes, most of them textual, give it the edge over other versions.

C’. NLT. Perhaps the New Living Translation is not as loose as the NASB is tight (as a first glance might conclude), but they’re on different ends of the scale, so the C/C’ pairing is a contrast. Both are revisions that wound up being new translations: NASB from the ASV; NLT from the Living Bible, with which it doesn’t have much in common. Released in 1996, the second edition (NLTse) followed up in 2007. This thought-for-thought translation has much to commend it, just don’t ask it to be what it’s not. When it’s good, it’s great; when it’s iffy or overly interpretative, it’s frustrating. I like it for reading through a chapter or book, getting a feel for the flow of thought or narrative.

B’. HCSB. Like the NIV, the Holman Christian Standard Bible was made from scratch (is that possible anymore?), hence the B/B’ pairing. Though the NIV came at the right time, as sales testify, one wonders if the 1999 HCSB wasn’t produced so the publisher wouldn’t have to pay rights. But it’s here, so let’s take it for what it is. It’s sometimes thought of as the Baptist Bible, published by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Holman Broadman. It is more, however, and deserves a look-see, which I’m doing. Some have criticized the HCSB Study Bible for conservative evangelical doctrine (faith only, etc.), but one sees that as well in other study Bibles.

A’. NRSV. For all its gender tweaking, this 1989 rendition is still an good resource to consult. This is the choice of liberal and mainstream Protestant scholars. It is a serious work, in spite of flaws, and brings the KJV fully into the 21st century, for good and bad. It’s paired A/A’ with the ESV, because both are revisions of the RSV. The ESV is the conservative revision; the NRSV, the official translation, under liberal control. I tend to use it as a check against conservative evangelical translations.

Versions that used to be on my list included the New English Bible, a British version with fresh language, but taking liberties with the text (has REB done better?), and the Amplified Bible. Perhaps in five years, or less, this list of my favorites will change again. After all, new ones come out, situations and tastes change, needs vary. Who knows? Future possibilities might include the ISV, LEB, or GodsWord.

Maybe now I ought to make my list of favorite Portuguese Bible versions.

I’d be interested in reading about your favorite versions. Got a list?

5 thoughts on “My 7 Favorite English Bible Versions

  1. The NET is *my* favorite as well! Hands-down, nothing comes close. The language is both accurate and resonant in a way that the NIV, NRSV, and even The Message sought to be, but never seemed to get the job done this well. And you’re right about the notes as well – they’re FANTASTIC. The YouVersion NET Bible on my phone is head and shoulders better than the other translations because of the ease of taking in the notes.

    Second place for me is a tie between NIV 2011 and the ESV.

    The NRSV and NLT used to be my favorite reading bibles, until the NET pushed them off my end table and back onto the shelf.

  2. Well, I have to admit that I have been using the NASB since 1978, and it is difficult to change. And as an amateur Greek student, it makes my studies much easier. I like the ESV also. Will have to check out all this NET business, though, since it seems to be the new favorite for many.

  3. I preach from the KJV because most of our members use the translation, but I like the ESV, NET, NASB and beginning to appreciate the NLT. It has its moments. I think its rendition of Isaiah 53 is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever read. It will truly bring tears. I appreciate your posting because I know how many people are willing to draw lines of fellowship around “issues” like this. Wish we could all just use some common sense. When I’m asked about this, I tell people that understanding God’s word is so important, I will use any tool at my disposal.

    • John, I won’t consign you to the inferior chambers of heaven for using the KJV. That’s a good reply you make to those who ask. Sometimes I feel (or actually hear) disapproval for recommending some versions. And as you mentioned, there are a few who make it an issue. I’ll have to head to Isa. 53 with the NLT.

What do you think?