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More on choosing a Bible version

There is a glut of modern English Bible versions! None of them are perfect, of course, but how do we choose which is most appropriate?

I’ve argued previously that the NIV is the most versatile version. However, different translations serve different purposes. For exploring this further I highly recommend this article by Bible translator Donna.

So then, depending on the setting, there are several different versions that I like to recommend. These include…

  • CEV • Great for its easy English level, this is ideal for international students and English beginners. (See it online.)
  • NLT • Wonderful for fluid readability, I often recommend this for devotional use. (See it online.)
  • NET • Very similar to the NIV but entirely free to use!

A couple of other versions have particularly gained popularity in the last 10 years: the ESV and HCSB. Both of these versions are pitching at the kind of versatility that the NIV began to master in the 1970s. However, I’m not so keen on either of them…


The ESV has been a publishing and marketing phenomenon. It’s being sold as the ultimate all-purpose Bible, along with some gushing endorsements: “The Bible of the future.”

It sounds amazing! But then you open it. You turn to the Gospel of Luke. That’s when things start looking a bit odd:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us…


The ESV tends to sound old-fashioned, ‘religious’ and clunky. This is partly because it sticks pretty closely to the Tyndale tradition (KJV, RSV, etc). Churched people may certainly appreciate this, and it can make a great study Bible, but it’s hardly contemporary English. I would never consider giving the ESV to a new Christian, an international student, or an inquiring non-Christian. It’s just not all that readable! For the same reason, I’ve seen it used as a congregational Bible and been disappointed.


The Holman Christian Standard Bible is a sort of Southern Baptist NIV 2.0. It’s dynamic; it’s accurate; it reads very well. It’s versatile!

Now, I take it for granted that all Bible translations are political at some level. However, because the HCSB has been closely linked to a particular denomination and publisher, there have been questions about its neutrality. Of course, this doesn’t make it a bad Bible version, but it does potentially turn the HCSB into a sectarian statement. This would be difficult to endorse if, like me, you’re a fan of robust, interdenominational evangelicalism.

Both the ESV and HCSB are useful translations, but it seems to me that neither of them have the versatility or breadth of the NIV. The ESV continues a venerable tradition but it’s not very accessible, while the basis of the HCSB just seems a bit narrow.

The question for me remains, Why not the NIV?

What other reasons are there for choosing particular Bible versions?

Categories: Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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