Okay, I’ll admit that title is clickbait, I’m not going to tell you exactly which Bible to buy, but people frequently ask me for advice when deciding what kind of Bible to purchase. Of course, the old axiom is true: The best Bible is the one you read. That answer hasn’t satisfied anybody yet, so here is the guide I typically share with people. Consider the following three items when selecting a Bible.
The Bible was not written in English. Every Bible is translated, a process that is always undertaken with great care and reverence by qualified experts working together as a team. Despite every intention to be as faithful to the original meaning as possible, translation is a process of interpretation and translators make a lot of hard decisions. Every translation makes compromises between faithfulness to the word-for-word translation and faithfulness to the “general point” of the text, always keeping an eye towards readability and comprehension. Different translations will give even the most famous pieces of scripture very different “feel.” See these parallel translations of Psalm 23, for example.
In the Gathering and in my Pastor’s Bible Study we use the Common English Bible (CEB) translation. There are two reasons for this. First, the CEB is very new and makes use of the most current Biblical scholarship and research. Second, it’s extremely readable, written at a seventh-grade reading level that is comfortable for readers of all ages. (Compare this to the NRSV, the translation that most United Methodist Churches have used for a generation. It’s written at the eleventh-grade reading level and is a bit harder to engage with.) Most local retailers don’t carry the CEB translation, however, so I recommend you browse the excellent selection available at CommonEnglishBible.com.
Many Bibles for sale are just the sacred texts translated into English with a few small translation notes when necessary, nothing more. Other Bibles, however, are published with a broad variety of additional materials. In a study Bible, this will take the form of footnotes, maps, charts, and even essays that give in-depth guidance on important topics related to Bible study. However, it’s important to note that these additional materials are not themselves scripture. They are simply commentary meant to help the reader understand the scripture more clearly. Additionally, the commentary will represent the theological commitments of the author. For this reason I highly recommend study Bibles that are written with contributions from United Methodist-affiliated researchers and institutions. The Common English Study Bible, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, and the HarperCollins Study Bible are the three I use most regularly.
For all their useful materials, study Bibles can be too bulky or in-depth for everyday reading. Most people prefer to use Bibles that have additional materials that are geared more towards faith and life than academic insights. These Bibles are often geared towards different audiences. They may be Bibles that are meant for children, teenagers, women, or men. They may be a guide to daily prayer or an aid to people in recovery. They might include prayers, questions for reflection, or a guide to engaging with key Christian concepts. Again, the additional material isn’t scripture, simply a guide to read and engage with scripture. Of course, I recommend that you start with the CommonEnglishBible.com website to explore the options there.
Finally, and this may seem silly, but the physical size, shape, and feel of the Bible you buy really matters! You will be spending a lot of time with this book, it’s important that you get one that you enjoy reading. Pay attention to the size and weight of the Bible. Will it fit in your bag, on your shelf, or on your nightstand? Is the font a good size for you? Do you like the thickness of the pages and the layout of the type? Is the cover attractive or silly? Would you prefer a Bible with extra room for notes and journaling, or a micro Bible that you can pack in a crowded suitcase? Be honest with yourself. Again, the best Bible is the one you read, and getting a Bible that you enjoy spending time with is a vital step in the process.
Okay, all that information aside, if you just want to copy me you can. This is the Bible I use every day, including during the Gathering worship services. This is the Bible I use most regularly for sermon preparation and Bible study. And this is a new product that CEB just released that I’m putting on my Christmas list.
Enjoy your new Bible. God bless y’all, I’ll see you on Sunday!