Which Version of the Bible Should I Buy as a Gift?

(This diagram is attributed online to Zondervan.com, although I could not find it on their site now.)

Every year, especially at Christmas time, one of the most common questions I receive from people in my church and online is “What Bible version should I buy as a gift?” It’s a great question, so I decided to give my answer in a post. (You may want to read THIS POST first, so you’ll understand my philosophy in not answering the question with a single answer.)

Let me make this VERY clear. I am not writing to theologians or scholars with this post…mostly because I am not one. I have been a Bible student for many years, I am a seminary-trained pastor, I have a couple master’s degrees and consider myself well-read, but this is one subject that often divides the best of scholars, and that’s not my intent with this post. This is not written for scholars, but for the average person in my church or those just beginning to become a Bible student.

So, which Bible version should you buy?

First, you should understand that every Bible we are reading today, including the King James Version (KJV) is a translation from the original text. Most of us don’t read Greek or Hebrew very well. The translators of all the major Bible translations have each attempted to take the original language and write a Bible that helps us grow in our walk with Christ.

As you can see from the diagram in this post, there are different approaches to this, with the goal leaning either more towards making it readable (thought for thought) or making it as close in accuracy to the original text (word for word).

I like to explain it like this by adding another phrase. The translators have chosen one of these approaches:

Word for word – This is where every word is attempted to be translated from the original language to an English word. If you want to be a serious student of the Bible, you’ll want a Bible using this approach. While this makes the version more accurate, it may be harder to understand at times, because we have sometimes changed the order in which we say something as much as we changed the words. The original language, for example, did not always follow the same sequence of sentence structure you learned in English class. This is one reason there are newer, more “modern” translations, trying to remain accurate, but make it more readable. (The ESV, HCSB, KJV, NKJV would be examples of this approach.)

Phrase for phrase – This is the middle of the two approach. I don’t know who originate this term, but I like it explain this approach to translations. In this attempt, instead of word for word, the translators broke sentences down into smaller phrases in the translation, so they could adapt to more of the sentence structure we use. This approach makes the Bible easier to read and is still considered an accurate translation, but may not be as accurate as the previous approach. (The NIV or NLT would be examples here.)

Thought for thought – This is where the translators, more concerned that the translation be readable, took an entire passage and translated it into the most modern language they can find. This is often called a “paraphrase” of the Bible. It can be fun to read and help illuminate a passage, but shouldn’t be considered extremely accurate when trying to apply the Bible. (The Message is the most popular example here.)

In reality, all the translations use parts of each of these approaches, but, as the diagram indicates, most will fit somewhere along this continuum.

With that explanation, here are some common versions all of which I use on a regular basis:

ESV – In recent years, this Bible has been one of my favorites. It’s actually replaced the NASB as my “go to” for accuracy Bible. I read it almost daily and more than other versions at this point. I highly recommend this translation for those wanting to read and study the Bible.

HCSB – This is one of the newer translations and fast-growing in popularity in Bible schools and personally speaking. I am liking more each day and highly recommend it. They are limited in selection at some retailers, but if you find one you like, this can be a great choice.

KJV – The King James Version is the oldest and therefore best-selling version of all times. I love it for the beauty of the language and there are some passages that I simply want to read from this translation. I do believe it uses older and harder to understand words and so I don’t usually recommend it for people as a first choice. Also, ancient texts of the original language Bible have been found since the KJV was written which have helped define some of the newer versions accuracy. (I realize those last statements alone makes me discounted by many “KJV Only” people, but that’s a whole other argument and not the focus of this post.)

The Message – This is highly readable (aimed at 3rd grade level), but it is a paraphrase. That means it’s completely translated thought-for-thought and you will lose some of the original meaning. This can be a “fun” read and I love it for illustration purposes, but I never rely on this as my sole reading experience. It’s certainly not a Bible for serious Bible study.

NKJV – The New King James Version has attempted to take the beauty and accuracy of the KJV and make it more readable. It’s a good option for those who want to feel they haven’t strayed too far from the KJV. I have several copies of this translation, including one that sits open on my desk at the office, and I do read it often.

NIV – I have preached and taught from the New International Version almost since the 1984 version was released. I love the readability. In very serious study, I always refer to another version before concluding my understanding of a passage. This remains a good option in the 1984 version, but I am not a fan of the newest revision after several major verses, such as Philippians 2:5, lost significance in the revision. (I wrote about that in THIS POST)

NLT – This is still a fairly new translation and has become a favorite of many, especially it seems among college and youth groups. It is highly readable and credible in accuracy. This is a good choice for the beginning Bible student or someone who simply wants to read for pleasure and inspiration.

(Some will wonder where the NASB is on this list. I still use it occasionally, but not as frequently as I once did.)

My advice if you are going to give a Bible to someone:

Make sure it’s readable – Open it up to several passages you enjoy and read it. Perhaps read a little in the beginning, such as Genesis 1, then read a Psalm or Proverb, then read something from one of the Gospels. Is it easy to understand for you?

Make sure it’s accurate - In most cases, if I were buying a Bible for someone because they are wanting to grow in their knowledge of the Scriptures, I would stick with something at least in the “word for word” or “phase for phrase” category, as I’ve listed them above. If you are buying for someone who already has several Bibles and just wants something fun to read or for someone who thinks they’ll never be able to understand the Bible, then something such as The Message may be an option for them, but it wouldn’t be my first choice in gifting a Bible.

Make sure it’s practical – Make sure the Bible is easy to hold, that it has a cover that fits with the person’s personality, and that it is written in a font that the person you are buying for can easily read. Also, stick with a version where there are multiple styles on the shelf when gifting a Bible. Don’t buy one that is an obscure or “unique” translation, just because it’s on sale. There may be a good reason there is only one style available and it doesn’t appear as popular of a translation.

Here’s the bottom-line for me. Find the Bible you think the person will like, you can afford, in a reliable text, and that you think they will actually read! As a pastor, I personally care less about which version you choose and more than you are reading God’s Word on a consistent basis.

Any questions?

Which Bible version do you prefer?

You may want to include a copy of 7 Ways to Make Bible Reading Fun.

Note: I welcome the “scholars” input or for you to add your own versions I’ve not talked about here. As I said, this was not written for scholars, however, but for the average person in my church or those just beginning to become a Bible student.

10 Random Thoughts about Following God

For the last 25 years or so, I’ve attempted to listen to, obey and follow the voice of God. It’s been a long road, and I’m still a pilgrim in the process, but I’ve learned a few things.

Based totally on my personal experience…

Here are 10 random thoughts on following God:

  • I’ve never been able to see very far down the road.
  • Sometimes I get a clear vision of a big goal God has for me, but I usually have no clue at the time how to get there.
  • The road to following God has never seemed to be easily paved. (This requires faith.)
  • There are often several options available of “how” to proceed towards what God is calling me.
  • I am often tempted to quit.
  • God doesn’t give up…people do.
  • The greatest obstacles, all of which God can overcome, are usually other people, resources and the battle within my own mind.
  • Satan is the great disrupter.
  • The more I know God and the closer our relationship, the clearer I hear His voice.
  • God calls people to impossible tasks.

Have you had similar experiences? I’d love to learn from and be encouraged by you.

What have you learned or experience about following God?

Money is NOT the root of all evil…

“Money is the root of all evil”

Have you ever heard that phrase?

I hear it often. The problem is that it’s not in the Bible. It’s from a commonly misquoted verse from the Bible.

The actual verse says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” 1 Timothy 6:10 (emphasis mine)

And, you’d have to admit that verse is true. You’ve seen people fall in love with their money and it causes all kinds of grief.

But, money isn’t bad in itself. I happen to like money. It provides for the necessities of life and some of life’s pleasures. It pays the church bills too. We can use our money to bless others.

God uses our system of commerce (money) to further His Kingdom. Sure, He could do without our money…He could do anything He wants with no money at all…but God does choose to use money. You’ve most likely seen Him do so.

Where we get in trouble isn’t with money. It’s with the love of money. Jesus said we can’t love both God and money. He was referring to that sold out, fully committed, do whatever it takes to get kind of love. That love isn’t to be towards our money, but towards our Savior.

Be honest, which do you love more: Your money or Your Jesus?

The best way to tell is to have to give one of them up for the other. Hope you never have to choose that way, but it would at least determine the truth of your heart.

How can you tell when someone is loving their money in an unhealthy way?

Notes: Catalyst Atlanta… #Cat11 – Francis Chan

Francis is passionate about God and His glory. Anyone having ever reading his books or listened to his messages would confirm that fact.

Francis started with a confession. He struggles with being present. (The theme of this week’s conference.)

Has that ever been you? (I’m guilty of that.)

Francis says, “There’s nothing worse than having a conversation with someone who is not present.”

The title Catalyst gave Francis for his talk: His presence matters...

Francis wondered, as He reflected on what he called “the understatement of the year”

Does anything else matter?

Then Francis Chan shared some nuggets of thoughts on the presence of God in our life:

  • Right now, if God decided to make His presence known, isn’t that all that would matter?
  • When God’s presence is here, amazing things happens.
  • “The Spirit gives life…the flesh is no help at all.” John 6:63
  • David, after an enemy took his wife and children captive, the people were tempted to stone him because of what happened…how did David respond? He strengthened himself in the Lord…1 Samuel 30:1-6 (How would I respond?)
  • One thing I have asked, and one thing that I seek… to dwell in the House of the Lord. Psalm 27
  • Satan knows everything depends on my relationship with God, so if he can distract me…
  • Are you present enough in your prayer life that He actually hears you?

Wow, I’ve been challenged in my walk with Christ! Thanks Francis!

7 Ways to Tell it May Be a God Thing

And without faith it is impossible to please God… Hebrews 11:6

We live by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7

For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you. 2 Chronicles 20:12

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1 Corinthians 1:27

God calls people to seemingly impossible tasks. It gives Him glory when I can’t do something, but He can. I can do “all things through Christ who strengthen me”, but often what He calls me to do can seem foolish to attempt (at least to others…and sometimes me) at the time. Imagine what the friends of Abraham, Moses, and Noah must have thought when God called them to what appeared to be impossible assignments. God calls people to walk by faith into the unknown.

If you know God has called you to something, don’t be dismayed if others can’t quickly identify with your calling. In my experience, God is often raising up others with the same heartbeat, but you can’t always see them at the time, so there may be periods when you have to stand alone on God’s calling. That may be for a season, but at times it could be for years. (Consider the case of Noah.)

With that in mind…

Here are 7 ways to tell it may be a God thing:

  • Everyone says it can’t be done…
  • You feel you aren’t qualified…
  • There aren’t enough resources available…
  • It makes no rational sense…
  • People call it (or you) stupid…
  • It would give God all the glory…
  • It honors God and is true to His Word…

I’m not saying this post confirms what you are attempting is from God. What I am saying is that you should not dismiss the call you believe God has placed on your life because it doesn’t make sense to others around you…or to yourself at times.

Are you in the midst of a God-calling?

Has God called you to things which made no sense at the time?

What would you add to my list?

We can only see what we can see…

I say this often…

We can only see what we can see…

I don’t know why…

I just find times that it seems to fit…

Sometimes the simplest statements have the largest meaning…

The fact is…

We can only see what we can see…

The rest requires faith…

In my experience, sometimes God lets you see miles down the road…

He told me once, for example, to plant a church…

17 months later we launched…

(That was after the 10 years I ignored what He was saying…but that’s another story…)

Sometimes God lets you see only a few steps…

It was that way when God called me into ministry…

I had no idea where I was headed next…

I could only see what I could see…

The rest required faith…

When you can’t see beyond the steps…and even when you can…

Remember “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7)

Because…

We can only see what we can see…

What about you?

Are you seeing the miles…or are you seeing the steps?

How to Know God’s Will

The world and all its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:17 NIV

Some of my best growth times with the Lord have been during teaching times with my children. I remember when my son asked an important question, “Daddy, what is the ‘will of God’?”

Now, he wasn’t asking, “What does God want me to do?” It was more general than that. He simply wanted to know what the phrase “will of God” meant. He had heard others say the term many times, but he never understood it. My hope is that you and I can also grow through this experience.

I explained to him in a way that has always helped me understand the will of God in my life. Understand this is a paradigm for understanding God’s will, not a script according to Scripture. I believe there are Bible verses that can further define each one of these (I’ve put a couple in parenthesis after each one for example), but my intent here is simply to help people process God’s will for their life.

First there is God’s individual will.

That is for the individual decisions you and I make each day. You know that God cares intimately for you, even down to the number of hairs on your head. God does allow, however, for you to make some decisions for yourself in life. You may choose what to eat for breakfast or you may choose a red car instead of a blue. It isn’t that God doesn’t care which you get, but He most likely will allow you to make that decision. (Proverbs 16:9, Jeremiah 29:4-6, Genesis 13:11)

Second, there is God’s moral will.

God’s desire for you is that you develop your character into the image of Christ. He will present you with every opportunity for you to do just that, but you will play a part in how far you grow spiritually. You may choose to love your neighbor as yourself or you may choose to be a very selfish person. God, however, is very concerned about your character, and for His moral will for your life. In fact, God cares more that His moral will for your life be done than His individual will, because God is in the character-changing business. (Philippians 2:5, Galatians 5:22-23, Romans 12:1-2)

Third, there is God’s sovereign will.

God has a will that is set in stone! It won’t change. It can’t change. It always stays the same! For example, God cannot help but love you because that is His sovereign will. God cannot break His promises, because that is His sovereign will. Some things God has set into motion, and they will never be different. (Job 42:2, Deuteronomy 4:39, Isaiah 45:18)

I don’t know what God’s individual will is for your life. (I hope today it includes your favorite cereal and a shiny red convertible…if that’s your color.) But I can tell you this. His moral will is that you be like His Son Jesus.
That begins with your sincere faith in Jesus as your Savior! And better yet, His sovereign will says that because of your faith in Him, He has reserved you a place in Heaven!

Do you struggle to know God’s will for your life sometimes?

Scripture Memorization, Week 33 (And a video)

This week, I want to encourage you to do something special with the memory verse. Write it on an index card or something similar. Place it where you will see it every morning…perhaps like a mirror where you get ready. Read it a few times everyday. Then pray it as a prayer.

Here is this week’s memory verse:

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. Psalm 57:5

See how it shapes your attitude each day this week.

As an added bonus, watch this video and sing it in the form of a song: