The single most important principle for gaining an understanding of the Bible is to gain a thorough knowledge and scope of the Bible as a whole. The focus of any Christian believer must, of course, be those books of the Bible that deal with the proper beliefs and practices of Christian believers who live in the new covenant era which has come about as a result of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. With the giving of the gift of God's Spirit on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 a new era of salvation has opened up for all mankind. However, to understand this "gospel of salavtion" properly - and in depth - a Christian believer must have a good knowledge and understanding of the Bible as a whole from Genesis to Revelation because in the Bible there is a continuous story of the unfolding of God's plan with one era building upon another. There is therefore no replacement for reading, reading and reading the Bible itself to gain a scope and knowledge of the Bible as a whole.Below are listed recommended Bible Versions and Bible Study Aids. All of the works listed are works by Bible scholars of outstanding abilities who are experts in the original languages, history and cultures of the Bible. These authors are all believers and range from conservative to somewhat liberal in their scriptural viewpoints. They encompass many different denominations from evangelical Protestant to mainline Protestant to Roman Catholic. The works chosen are chosen solely on the basis of the quality of the scholarship. The one common denominator in all of these scholars is their view of the NT as presenting the culmination and fulfillment of God's OT promises to his people through the coming of the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. With Christ's first coming the power of God's kingdom was manifested on earth; through the giving of the Spirit on Pentecost the firstfruits of God's kingdom have already been received; and finally, the second coming of Christ will usher in the final establishment of God's kingdom in a renewed and glorious earth.Choose from these works carefully. Before buying any of them look them over in bookstores or borrow them from libraries or friends to see if they'll be useful for you. Almost all are also available through the inter-library loan system. As with any book, one should read the preface and introduction of each work listed in order to most effectively use it in the light of its plan and purpose. The following listings are our top recommendations but this does not imply that we agree with all that is said in any of them or that there are not many other useful works as well. It is assumed that our readers are able to think for themselves and come to their own conclusions as they use these works. Each study aid will be listed by either author or title or commentary series. The works most highly recommended will be in green print or bold print. Book titles are normally italicized and well-known titles are abbreviated for the sake of space. All books listed below are available from www.amzon.com or other booksellers. Out of print books are listed (OP) and must be found in used bookstores or wherever you can find them such as www.ebay.com and www.half.ebay.com and www.amazon.com. They will only be listed if they are of exceptional quality. The recommendations below are based on the quality of the particular work, their availability, and the price. Choose wisely according to your own needs.
The chart above gives a full range of recommended Bible versions ranging from more literal (word for word) translations to more free (thought for thought) translations. It begins on the left with those in the Tyndale/KJV tradition which are more literal (word for word) and and yet are still readable. These versions are in direct continuity with the traditions of English Bibles going back to the time of the Reformation in the 1500s when William Tyndale first translated the Bible into English from its original Greek (NT) and Hebrew (OT) languages. These versions try to maintain a high fidelity to the text of the original languages by translating "as literal as possible and as free as necessary." They are sometimes fairly wooden in the rigidity of their translation and retain a great deal of ambiguity in English because of their literalness. However, a few of them (NKJV, NRSV, ESV) can certainly be well used as one's main Bible version, especially if you grew up in this tradition or attend a church/fellowship which uses one of these as its main version. If so, they should certainly be spiced up with a heavy dose of the balanced or free versions listed in the chart above for help in understanding of the Bible as a whole and of individual Bible passages.Next, in the middle of the chart, are listed what I believe are those versions which feature the best combination, or balance, of accuracy to the meaning of the original languages of Hebrew (OT) and Greek (NT) and readability in good current English. These versions maintain some continuity with the Tyndale/KJV tradition but try to achieve more of a balance between word for word and thought for thought translation. These versions are some of the most all-around useful versions and are a good choice for one's own personal Bible for regular reading, study and memorization. Most importantly, the English used in these versions is understandable to the generally educatied English speaking public and archaisms for the most part are removed. Therefore, these versions are a good choice for general usage and also for new believers.On the right side of the chart are listed several free (meaning for meaning) translations which are both highly readable (good!) but also highly interpretive (sometimes good, sometimes bad!). These versions are especially good for gaining a basic knowledge of the meaning of the Bible as a whole and for jogging our thinking as to possible meanings of individual passages. They should not be used as the final word on a subject but, instead, in conjunction with the more literal and balanced versions above. Nevertheless, some of these can bring new vistas of understanding to the Bible reader, just as they have done for me ever since I first began using them in my teens.All of the above versions are excellent versions and are useful for either Bible reading or for more serious Bible study. I personally use and/or consult them all. There is, however, no single "best" version which would qualify as a version that would be the best for all English readers to use. Generally, I recommend that a person choose one version for one's own personal Bible for regular reading, study, and memorization.Then, use a range of the others for comparison purposes in Bible study and for reading to gain new perspectives on different Biblical passages. Below are listed my own personal favorites in each category above.
My Personal Favorites:
1. Essentially Literal:
The English Standard Version (ESV) - This "essentially literal" version updates and maintains continuity with the Tyndale/KJV tradition going all the way back to the first English Bible translated from the Greek and Hebrew by William Tyndale during the time of the Reformation in the early to mid 1500s. The general rule of thumb for all of these translations is "as literal as possible, as free as necessary" in translating from the Hebrew or Greek into English. The ESV itself is a major revision of the Revised Standard Version (RSV pub. 1952) which itself was a revision of earlier revisions in the Tyndale/KJV tradition. The ESV is, therefore, the most recent revision of this tradition and it encompasses most of the beauty, knowledge and familiarity of that time-tested tradition while updating both the accuracy of the text and its English usage. It was first published in 2002 and it was also recently updated in 2007. The ESV is far more accurate than the traditional and popular KJV which was first published in 1611 and, in my view, it reads better than its Tyndale/KJV cousins including the NKJV, the NASB, the NAS, etc. In addition, its translation of gender related language seems to just about find the right balance reflecting the Biblical cultures of the OT and the NT in correspondingly accurate and current English usage - a very tricky thing to do! In this way, it also surpasses the NRSV which often goes overboard in its gender related language usage, though the NRSV is still an excellent and useful version. Hopefully, the ESV will continue to be updated as time goes by and therefore continue to refine what is already a very good version into an even better "essentially literal" version in the Tyndale/KJV tradition. The ESV can certainly serve as one's main personal Bible version for reading, study, and memorization. Though its language can be somewhat archaic at times, it has a beauty, dignity and familiarity to it that make it a pleasure to read and study.
The New International Version (NIV - either the 1984 or 2011 editions). This justifiably renowned version of the Bible continues to be one of the best all-around versions for reading and everyday use as one's own personal Bible for reading, study and memorization. For good reason its 1984 edition is the most popular Bible in the English speaking world and currently there are over 300 million copies of it circulating in the world. The 1984 edition of the NIV was a masterpiece of accuracy combined with readability in modern idiomatic, yet reverent, English. In fact, one could say that the NIV 1984 has revolutionized Bible reading and the understanding of the Bible for millions of people over the last three decades. The new 2011 edition of the NIV attempts updates to the accuracy of the text and also updates the English usage of the text. Unfortunately, the gender language usage used in this new edition is somewhat controversial and only time will tell how well it will be received. Most likely there will be a mixed reception depending on many factors such as the age, background, and geographical location of the reader. There is, however, very little difference in meaning between the 1984 and 2011 editions and my recommendation is that readers use both editions almost interchangeably depending on the purpose for which they are using them. In my view, the NIV should be a Bible version which everyone uses at least for comparison purposes or for secondary reading, if not as one's main version.
The New Living Translation (NLT - Second Edition with 2013 update) - In my view, the New Living Translation is by far the best free or "meaning for meaning" version now available in English. Its many updates (try to use its latest 2013 edition) has actually made it into a version that is extremely readable while also being very accurate as to its meaning normally. In fact, it now verges on being in the "balanced" category and could easily serve as the main Bible version for many people. As with the HCSB above the NLT also has an extensive footnote system that often gives more literal renderings of the translation in the main NLT text. This should be mastered and made us of by any reader of this version. I would highly encourage everyone to get a copy of this and to use it for both comparison purposes and for reading for overall meaning. This is also a good choice, along with the others above, for being a gift Bible for new or young believers alike. For teaching purposes it should first be compared with the other balanced or more literal versions listed above since it is by nature a more interpretative translation.4. Other Major Versions witht the Apocrypha:The Complete Parallel Bible (this parallel Bible includes the NRSV, REB, NAB, NJB - all with the Apocrypha) - This parallel Bible is a gold-mine. It contains four highly respected mainline Bible versions - side by side - which are all excellent for study and comparison purposes. All of these versions are well thought of in the scholarly community. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is what is used by many universities and seminaries as well as many mainline denominations. It is a very accurate version as to meaning and it generally reads very well despite going too far, in my view, in its gender language usage. The Revised English Bible (REB) is a revision of the New English Bible (NEB) and was made primarily for a British audience. Its English usage is, perhaps, the most eloquent of all major English versions. It is good for public reading, for enjoyment of reading, and for comparison purposes. In my view, however, its translational choices are too interpretive to have it be used for one's main version. The New American Bible (NAB) is the main Bible version of the American Roman Catholic Church community. It is a very accurate rendering of the text but its readability often leaves something to be desired, a fact that very many leading Roman Catholics have often noted as well. It is, however, a good version to be familiar with and to use for comparison purposes. The New Jerusalem Bible is a revision of the Jerusalem Bible which was based on a French version of the Bible. It is a Roman Catholic version in the free tradition of versions. It is an extremely elegant rendering of the Bible with some great translations throughout. It should be high on the list for comparison purposes; however, it is too interpretive to be one's main version. Note: the NAB has recently been updated from the edition that is in the Complete Parallel Bible above.5. Online Bible Versions:BibleGateway.com: This web-site offers numerous Bible versions in English and in many other languages that can be read and/or compared with others. It is a wonderful site for Bible study and puts a wealth of information at the reader's fingertips anywhere in the world that the reader has internet access. This is very highly recommended and the student of the Bible should familiarize himself with all of the Bible study aids at this web-site.Bible Background: How to Read and Understand the Bible1. Understanding Scripture: How to Read and Study the Bible (A.B. & A.M. Mickelson)2. How to Read the Bible for All its Worth (Fee & Stuart)3. How to Read the Bible Book by Book (Fee & Stuart)4. The New Testament: its Background, Growth and Development (B. Metzger)5. The Cambridge Companion to the Bible (H. C. Key, et al)All of these books, beginning with the simplest and moving to the most advanced, give excellent background information for understanding the Bible according to its original intent and meaning. There are many other similar books to these that are being published quite often and are also useful. These books deal with both principles of interpretation and historical, cultural, and language information. They are all extremely helpful in setting-out the principles, methods and tools for proper biblical study.Study BiblesRecommended Favorites:1.NIV Study Bible2. The ESV Study Bible 3. The NLT Study Bible4. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the NRSV and/or The Harper Collins Study Bible with the NRSV5. The Catholic Study Bible with the NAB6. The New Jerusalem Study Bible with the NJBStudy Bibles are the most useful study aid for most educated Christian believers and there are very many good ones that match almost any of the major translations.. They are full of useful information: historical and cultural background, word definitions, maps, diagrams, short concordance, scripture cross-references, etc. I have listed above a broad range with different versions and from varying degrees of more conservative and more liberal scholarship. The NIV Study Bible is by far the best because it is very accurate, easy to use and loaded with useful information. If you can only buy one then buy this one. It is fairly conservative in its outlook on Scripture but recognizes the necessity for historical, cultural and linguistic study to properly understand the Bible. It has a two decade history now and has continued to be updated, getting better each time. The latest update was in 2011 and it was very well done. The ESV Study Bible is also well done and offers a solid and very thorough study Bible with moderately conservate scholarship. It's full of useful maps, charts and information of all kinds. The New Oxford Annotated Bible is also an outstanding and easy to use study Bible which uses the NRSV as its text. The scholarship is excellent - slightly theologically liberal - and the format is clear. The Harper Collins Study Bible (with NRSV) comes from the much more liberal view of Scripture of The Society for Biblical Literature whose expertise in all biblical fields is undoubted. The Catholic Study Bible is loaded with very good information that is not easy to find elsewhere and uses as its main text the New American Bible (NAB) which is the main Roman Catholic version used in America today. The New Jerusalem Study Bible also contains some very unique information from Roman Catholic Bible Scholars. The New Jerusalem Bible is also a very interesting version to read and use for comparison purposes. In fact, the diversity in these study Bibles - with the versions they use and with their study-notes - is just what makes them especially good for study purposes.Bible DictionariesRecommended Favorites:1. New Bible Dictionary2. New International Bible Dictionary3. The Eerdman's Bible Dictionary4. Harper Collins Bible Dictionary5. The International Standard Bible Dictionary (Multi-Volume)Next to a good Study Bible this is by far the best study aid for the general student of the Bible. It should be the first study aid to turn to when studying any topic. My favorite is the New Bible Dictionary(NBD). The NBD is conservative in outlook but deep on scholarship. The articles in it are written by many outstanding biblical scholars who are also devout believers. There are a lot of other good Bible Dictionaries - both single and multi-volume - which you can choose from to supplement this one as listed above.Word MeaningsRecommended Favorites (from simplest to most advanced):1. NIV Study Bible or other Study Bible2. The NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words3.The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology(NIDNTT Multi-Volume)4. Theological Dictionary of the NT in Abridged Form ("Little Kittel")5. A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT and Early Christian Literature by Bauer, Arntd, Gingrich and Danker (BAGD)Study Bibles have concise definitions of most key words and this is all the great majority of people need. It is a common fallacy to think that one can study words on their own apart from their contexts. Unfortunately, languages don’t work this way. For most people, therefore, it is much better to use a good Study Bible, Bible Dictionary or, especially, a good Commentary to help you to understand the meaning of a word - in its context - than to do word studies or to look up individual words in regular English dictionaries or, even, in Greek-English lexicons or dictionaries. Always remember, it’s the Hebrew or Greek word or phrase behind the English word or phrase that matters - not the English word itself - thus, English dictionaries are of little use in studying the Bible! For those who want to do more in-depth study there are four works that are more complex beginning with A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT and Other Early Christian Literature by Bauer, Arntd, Gingrich and Danker (BAGD). This has recently been updated and is an excellent standard work, though it is difficult to use without some knowledge of Greek. “Little Kittel” is more useful. It is a one-volume abridged version of the multi-volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament and gleans the best insights from that work. But my favorite is The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (NIDNTT). This comes in 3 volumes plus one volume of extremely useful indexes. In addition, there is a recently completed abridgement of this work keyed to the NIV. It is called The NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words. If you use the NIV this is, perhaps the simplest and most useful work of all for understanding NT words.Continue