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Q39 : Bible Recommendation

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Q39 : Bible Recommendation

There are so many Bibles. What would you recommend? NKJV, NIV . . . study Bible? What would be your recommendation for the best all around Bible? Thanks for taking the time to respond.

A39 : by Tony Garland

My recommendation for a primary Bible would include several factors:

  1. The Bible text should be based on a word-for-word (essentially literal) representation of the original languages. In general, this means that it will contain italicized words indicating where connecting words and phrases have been added beyond the underlying Hebrew or Greek in order to improve comprehensibility or readability in English.
  2. The Bible text should be a version for which good study aids are available.
  3. Prefer a version translated by a group of scholars rather than an individual.
  4. Prefer a version which includes abundant cross-references to parallel passages. (This facilitates one of the most fruitful ways to study Scripture: comparing related passages.)
  5. Prefer a version with a reasonable concordance—not just the skimpy ones typically found these days.

When taken together, these factors lead me to recommend one of the following translations as a primary Bible: NKJV, KJV, ASV, NASB, and possibly ESV. 1 My personal favorite is the NKJV translation with cross-references (a cross-reference Bible).

Concerning a study Bible: they are both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that they contain a great wealth of material, especially for the new student of Scripture. A curse in that the study notes can inadvertently bias the reader in a way which causes one to accept interpretations of passages or doctrines which are not entirely accurate. (These are the same positives and negatives of any teacher in the body of Christ—yet God has given us teachers for our benefit!) Keeping in mind the previously-mentioned points, I would recommend one of the following study Bibles:

  • MacArthur Study Bible (NKJV). One drawback: this study Bible substitutes a topical index for a concordance. You'll want to consider purchasing a small NKJV concordance, such as Nelson's Quick Reference Bible Concordance, for use at Church and in home groups. (Typically you'll have an exhaustive NKJV concordance for in-depth study at home.) It is my view, all things considered, that the MacAruthur Study Bible (NKJV) is the best study Bible available today.

  • Holy Bible Baptist Study Edition (NKJV). This study Bible is also excellent, but not that well known. The advantages it has over the MacArthur Study Bible are: (1) versified text rather than run-together paragraphs; (2) larger print; (3) a concordance. The study notes are excellent, although not as comprehensive as MacArthur's.
  • Master Study Bible (KJV). This is an excellent study Bible which differs from others in that instead of verse-by-verse commentary, it includes an extensive topical index and encyclopedia. This can be a strong point as you are left with the yourself, the Holy Spirit, the plain text, lots of cross-references to parallel passages, and helpful topical/enclopedia entries without undo bias. However, this is probably not the easiest approach for a new believer. Also: some find the KJV difficult to understand or to read from in group Bible study.
  • Ryrie Study Bible (NASB). An excellent study Bible with versified text and a good concordance. Less comprehensive study notes than either of the above. (I prefer this to the NASB Study Bible by Zondervan because the latter has the same compromised study notes as the NIV Study Bible. I say "compromised" because in their goal to please all interpretive views, they do not consistently develop any view. Obviously, the text cannot mean all things. This seems to me to be a study text which tries to "please all men and offend none" — which is one reason why it sells so well.)

One of the pitfalls I take in recommending Bibles is that I am likely to omit Bibles that are a personal favorite for someone else. There are many excellent study Bibles out there to be sure. But the points above are what I'd look for in choosing a good Bible. Other study Bibles and translations have their strengths and weaknesses, but the ones I've listed above are my personal favorites from among many that I own and use.

May God bless you as you study His word!


1 The English Standard Version (ESV) is an excellent translation, but lacks italicized words to indicate where words or phrases have been interpolated by the translators.

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