Which Bible do you use?

At church on Sunday, a friend leaned over and asked me what Bible I was using. It happened to be the ESV Study Bible; she asked because of the many (and long) footnotes, margin references, etc., but this is only one of the Bibles that I use on a regular basis.


If I ever needed to, I could hide my TNIV inside my ESV Study Bible.

In my experience, academic types tend to have strong opinions about their Bibles, especially on a few key points. Then again, maybe this is just me:

  • Which translation (if any)? Bible translations come in many varieties, with several different translation philosophies governing their production. I’ve known people who use only “literal” or “word-for-word” translations because of a concern for accuracy, and I’ve known people who use only “loose” or “thought-for-thought” translations…because of their concern for accuracy. If you hang out with Biblical studies types, you’ll probably also know a few people who read directly from the Greek and/or Hebrew, even for their personal devotions.
  • Good footnotes…? Being academically oriented, we like thorough citations and as much additional information as we can get. And a bogus interpretation or poor reference will turn us off instantly.
  • …or no notes at all? Then again, because we know that study Bibles only scratch the surface (and maybe we own several commentary sets as well), maybe we want the source text and nothing else.
  • How good is the paper and binding? We’re also the type to mark up our Bibles, especially if we had a strong InterVarsity foundation in manuscript study. The paper has to be good enough to take pencil marks and highlighting. The binding also has to last because we’re going to have the book open quite a bit (aren’t we?). Just this morning, I had a Bible fall apart in my hands because of cheap binding.

Currently, there are two Bibles that I use regularly. I call them “the Odd Couple.” (Okay – actually I don’t call them that, but it would make a good name for them.) 

The ESV Study Bible. Some folks have strong feelings about the ESV, both for and against. Quite frankly, I use this Bible because it had just come out when I was in the market for a new study Bible. This is my “bring to church” Bible because, yes, I have it in a Bible cover (with a handle) and use the pockets to carry my notebook and to store the reams of paper that get handed to me each Sunday (bulletins, kid’s Sunday School crafts, etc.). It’s also currently my usual devotional Bible, because the cover includes pockets for a pencil and a highlighter. (By the way, this Bible is so large that I had to get a special extra-large Bible cover, which came with some excellent no-bleed highlighters designed for extra-thin Bible paper. They are basically low-wax crayons, and they work very well.)

Today’s NIV from Urbana 06. The ESV and the TNIV were at the center of a heated debate over gender language a few years ago, and I expect that I’m one of few people to use both translations regularly. (Ironically, I find that they often mirror each other in their use of gender terms.) This TNIV is my “travel Bible” because it’s slim and about the size of a normal trade paperback. Sometimes, I also like to get back to just the text without being distracted by footnotes and commentary. It’s also considerably more comfortable to hold than my ESV Study Bible, which tops out at 2,750 pages.

Over the years, though, I’ve used a number of other Bibles on a regular basis:

  • A mass-market “gift” NIV, given to me when I was baptized. It was the Bible I used when being taught inductive Bible study by InterVarsity’s David McNeill. I continued using it even after our dog tried to use it as a chew toy.
  • The Quest Study Bible (NIV), my first study Bible. Years later, I met Bob Lowery, who wrote the notes for Revelation. Appropriately enough, he was teaching a class on Revelation at my church when I met him.
  • The HarperCollins Study Bible (NRSV), which I used for the OT/NT survey classes at Regent College. We were required to read through the entire Bible, and I wanted to use a translation that I wasn’t already familiar with. This study Bible’s notes focus mainly on textual and linguistic issue in the text, which made it useful for the academic work I was doing.
  • A mass-market “gift” King James, given to me when I graduated high school. When I was considering graduate studies in literature, I decided to start reading the KJV more frequently so I would be more attuned to biblical allusions. (By the way, it’s the 400th anniversary of the KJV.)
  • The Word in Life Bible (CEV), the brainchild of the late Pete Hammond, a pioneer within InterVarsity on racial reconciliation and faith in the marketplace. This was given to InterVarsity staff at our Graduate and Faculty Ministries staff meetings a few years ago, and for a while it was my “bring to church” Bible. I’m not too crazy about the CEV translation, but the articles in this Bible are amazing. They focus on the role of faith in everyday life and work; the notes frequently refer to the careers of biblical figures using contemporary terminology, which I find helpful. All of the articles from this Bible are available on the Urbana website.
  • A slim “pocket-sized” NIV. I was so proud of owning this Bible. I felt like I had finally “made it” as a Christian, because I had seen many speakers and preachers pull out a tiny Bible at the start of their talks. It had to be so small because they carried it all times, right? Therefore they were really holy, right? I hadn’t own this Bible for a week when my book bag got caught in a rainstorm and the once-little Bible swelled up to twice its size, along with my already-massive HarperCollins Study Bible. There’s a lesson in there, I think.

Enough about me. What about you?

Do you have strong opinions about your personal Bible? Which translation(s) do you use? Do you prefer study Bibles or Bibles with only the biblical text?

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Micheal Hickerson

The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.

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  • andunning@gmail.com'
    Andrew commented on June 15, 2011 Reply

    For the purpose of reading, I really enjoy the Revised English Bible. It’s a good, lucid modern English translation that doesn’t insult the reader’s intelligence, and is itself readily intelligible. I especially appreciate the fact that they don’t try to break up the text too much with headings: you won’t normally get more than one every other page. Its translations of Paul’s letters are probably the best I’ve seen.

    I’m also a huge fan of reading the Bible in a foreign language. I find the act of this, more than anything, really forces one to consider the actual meaning of the words. Thus, since I took Latin for a number of years, my primary Bible in the last couple of years has become the Vulgate, of all things. It has a beauty of its own as a translation, but reading it is also really useful for understanding the influence of the Bible on Western thought. (The edition going under the name Biblia Sacra Vulgata, ISBN 1598561782, also has an amazing set of cross-references. Most English Bibles are far too exhaustive when it comes to this, making it hard to find the wheat for the abundance of chaff. This one has just the right number.)

    • mikehickerson@gmail.com'
      Micheal Hickerson commented on June 15, 2011 Reply

      Thanks, Andrew. One of my friends on Facebook also mentioned reading the Bible in other languages. And great point about cross references.

      I think you’re the first person I’ve heard of who use the Vulgate on a regular basis, which I find fascinating. It’s easy to forget (unless it’s related to your area of specialty) that the Vulgate was THE Bible for the Western church for 1,000 years.

  • cd.host@gmail.com'
    CD-Host commented on June 16, 2011 Reply

    Put me down as another REB fan, Its a tough all around bible to beat.

    In general I think bibles are best for specific purpose. Devotion is different than study. In general a really well footnoted study bible with an excellent translation its hard to beat the NISB. The NET bible is also quite good.

    I have a post where I listed out my winners a few years back:

  • tobingrant@gmail.com'
    JTG commented on June 17, 2011 Reply

    A friend of mine teaches OT at Wheaton. He’s often asked about this by nervous parents. He told me something that IV guys may want to keep in mind.

    Some people knocked the idea of using the KJV because it’s not the best translation. But he lets students use it, in part because nearly all of his African-American students use it and are most comfortable with it. It’s a good reminder that with students, there can be subtle cultural differences that we need to be sensitive to.

    • mikehickerson@gmail.com'
      Micheal Hickerson commented on June 17, 2011 Reply

      Great point about the KJV. When I teach on Bible translations at my church, I try to avoid “better” and “best” comparisons. I try to emphasize, though, that we have newer translations than the KJV not simply because of a desire to update the language or make the Bible more relevant (though that certainly motivates some translations), but because we actually know more today about the original manuscripts and underlying languages than they did in 1611.

      With that said, the KJV has some real virtues that still stand out. It’s often more faithful to the original literary forms, especially the Hebraic poetry. And the translators knew the English language better than most contemporary translators, due to working in a less specialized academic context and living in a culture in which the educated were expected to know (and write) poetry and drama to a far greater extent than today. The KJV translators also paid a great deal of attention to how their translation read out loud. Their culture was much more attuned to the sound of the English language than ours is – when they went to a play, they said they “heard” it, not “saw” it.

      And then, of course, there’s the theory of a certain “celebrity” consultant contributing to the KJV. In the KJV, turn to Psalm 46. Count 46 words into the psalm from the beginning, then count 46 words from the end (not including the final “Selah”). Guess who would have been 46 at the time of the KJV’s publication?

    • Katelin108@gmail.com'
      Katelin commented on June 17, 2011 Reply

      Wow. Great point, JTG. I am sure it generalizes allong many demographics and contextual axies, that often it is worth reliquishing our own comfort to aid the inclusion of everyone. It is worth looking into what translations are most accessable to the various groups we serve–which I am sure various from campus to campus. Also, in terms of the inclusion of multi-linqual manuscripting, powerpointing, verse reading. Do we know which transaltions are popular for spanish, Italian, aribic speakers? What is most useful/popular in the Korean church?

  • tcassidy@iliff.edu'
    Thorne Cassidy commented on January 15, 2016 Reply

    #1 ESV (esp for devotional reading, personal study, evangelizing, & ministry) #2 NRSV (esp for academic study) #”s 3 & 4 NIV & NLT (ocassionally for evangelizing or ministry to clarify without boring folks with Greek words)

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