First in Hebrew, then Greek and Latin, down to modern languages. From hand-copied papyrus sheets to the Gutenberg press. The Bible has been used to abuse people and a firebrand in the hand of reformers. It has been tightly controlled and smuggled into countries under the noses of government officials. But in all these contexts, it is the Word of God.

One question I am often asked is how to think about the various translations. Perhaps you find it maddening when you go to choose a Bible—your uncle says read the KJV, you heard one version was written by communists, and you’re not sure which of the study Bibles fits your mood.

Jokes aside, it can be hard to know which Bible fits where. In How We Got Our Bible, we give a helpful way to think of Bible translations: they fit into five families.

  • Bibles in the King James family. These include not only the KJV but the New King James Version (NKJV) as well as many others. Some people can’t stand the older language, others were raised on it and love it. Each of these versions go back to the first KJV printed in 1611, but they do not take into account modern biblical research
  • Bibles in the RV family. These cover a wide number of versions, such as the English Standard Version (ESV) and New English versions. Older versions (used by fewer churches) are sold today as the New Revised Standard Bible (NRSV). Several paraphrases—such as the Living Bible and its successor the New Living Translation (NLT)—are based on the ASV. So too is the Amplified Bible. Most of these versions are based on good biblical research, though they often cited as being wooden or more clunky English.
  • Bibles in the NIV family. These include all the editions of the NIV, which is the bestselling Bible today. But there are many paraphrases and simplified versions based on the NIV, such as The Message. The NIV is often considered one of the best Bibles in terms of English style or readability.
  • Bibles that stand alone. Some Bibles are translated by one person, or for a church or denomination. There are a number of these, such as the Holman Christian Standard Bible. If you’ve ever found a Bible with a strange title that does not fit the three families, it fits here.
  • New Vernacular Catholic Bibles. The rule that required Catholics use the Vulgate was relaxed at Vatican II. Around that time (and ever since), English versions of the Bible have been developed for Catholic readers. These include the Jerusalem Bible (JB), the New American Bible (NAB), the New Catholic Bible. You will spot these easily, since they will have the Apocrypha between the Old and New Testaments.

Hopefully, this helps you make an informed decision when buying a Bible. But the important thing is that, whatever translation you buy, find time to enjoy reading the Word.

Get Ryan's new book: How We Got Our Bible