Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What Bible Should I Get?

I got a note from a friend the other day who was looking to purchase a new Bible.  He was asking me for my suggestions as to what Bible he should get and it occurred to me that there might be other readers of the blog who would have a similar question.

There are a number of considerations that go into purchasing a Bible.  For me, some of the most important ones include:
  • What translation do you want?
  • What type of study aids (if any) do you want?
  • How portable do you want the Bible to be?
We will address these questions in the following paragraphs.

What translation do you want?
There are varying strategies involved in the translation of any text.  Some Bibles, like the New American Standard Bible (NASB), try to attain a word-for-word translation.  Others, such as the New International Version (NIV), go for what is termed "dynamic equivalence," attempting essentially more of a thought-for-thought translation.  Still others, such as Eugene Peterson's The Message, can be better described as a "paraphrase" rather than a translation.

Each type has its benefits and its drawbacks.  The more one is to the NASB side of the spectrum, the more "literal" the translation of each word.  At the same time though, Bibles on this end of the spectrum tend to be far less "readable," with language that is often stilted.

It is my opinion that the English Standard Version (ESV) has done a wonderful job of combining the best of both ends, maintaining what they term an "essentially literal" translation of the words, accounting for such things such as idiomatic phrases, while striving for a (and attaining) a very readable English text  I think it is a great practice when studying a passage to go to various translations in order to bring out some of the different nuances of the text.  If I only had one translation though, it would definitely be the ESV.

What type of study aids (if any) do you want?
Bibles can come with all sorts of study aids such as study notes, charts, maps, etc.  Some people prefer to have none of these, opting to read the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, so help them God.  I can't completely argue with this strategy as it does cause one to rely more on the Holy Spirit's guidance.  I remember a summer when I was in college where the only Bible I used was one without study notes of any kind and I was richly blessed.

That being said, we must also remember that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.  There are many insights into the truths revealed in Scripture that have been accrued through the centuries, and we are unwise to neglect this body of wisdom.  For this reason, I recommend using a study Bible of some sort for personal study.  The key issues then become, whose notes do I want to be studying as I read the Bible and how in-depth and wide-ranging are they?
Considering these two factors, the ESV Study Bible is unsurpassed.  The study notes are wonderful. Many colorful maps and illustrations (like this one of the Temple at right) are included, often alongside the text.  These serve very well to help the reader understand what they are reading.  There are over 100 pages of helpful articles at the back of the Bible on various theological and biblical issues, as well as a concordance, a daily Bible reading plan, and an overview of the history of salvation in the Old Testament.

How portable do you want the Bible to be?
This is the only drawback to this Bible in my mind.  Due to the copious nature of what is included, it is necessarily a rather large Bible.  The pages are rather thin, but with over 2750 of them, this Bible still is hefty. If your plan is to carry it around a lot (as a student for instance) it might not be perfect.  But if it will mainly be used at a single location, you can do no better in my opinion than the ESV Study Bible.

The ESV Study Bible has a cover price of $49.99.  If you click here though, you will be directed to Amazon.com where it can be purchased for $31.49.

For a more in-depth look at the ESV Study Bible, watch the video below featuring Tullian Tchividjian.


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