Bible Shopping 101

You walk into your local Christian bookstore on a mission: to find a new Bible. Sounds easy enough, right? Um, not quite.  Have you seen the ginormous Bible section lately? It makes choosing ONE pair of shoes at your local DSW (an incredibly agonizing experience for me) look like a cake walk! Turns out, choosing a Bible requires a litany of other choices as well:

  • What translation? NIV, TNIV, KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV, GNT, HCS, NLT, RSV, TLB – one enormous bowl of alphabet soup!
  • What type of Bible? Study, Devotional, One-Year, Women’s, Chronological, Archeology, Couples, Student, Recovery, etc.? Shopping for a Bible these days is a lot like going to Baskin Robbins – whatever your “flavor,” some publisher somewhere has produced a Bible just for you. There are literally thousands of Bibles to choose from!
  • What kind of cover? Okay, so, we’re women, which means we certainly don’t mind sporting a super-cute Bible. And there are some really cute ones out there!  But do we want to sacrifice practicality and good content for the cute factor? Are we shopping for shoes or Bibles here? Oh yeah, Bibles. Yet another painful decision to make!
  • What kind of layout/graphics/size? Margins, red letter, cross references, maps, charts, graphs, notes, thin line, large print etc. [Sigh.] Now you’re ready to just walk out of the store.

But wait.

Don’t go.

I’m here to help you navigate through those 1,000 plus Bibles and find the one that is just right for you!

Of course, I will unashamedly promote my favorite. For an unbiased, totally neutral, not-in-the-slightest-bit-madly-in-love-with-a-particular-Bible opinion . . . well . . . I suppose you should Google it.

But I will do my best to educate you so that you can make a good choice that suits your needs. Again, we’re shopping for Bibles, not shoes. You MUST keep that in mind!


The Bible was not originally written in English, so in order for us to read it, we have to get a translation. What we want is a translation that is going to get us as close to the original language as possible. In a nutshell, there are three categories of Bible translations:

  • Literal translations, or what I like to call “word for word” translations. These attempt to keep the exact words and phrases of the ancient manuscripts. The KJV, NKJV, NASB, and ESV fall under this category. The only drawback is that sometimes the word-for-word translation of the Hebrew or Greek doesn’t flow really well in English. It’s just not how we talk. That is why a lot of people prefer . . .
  • Dynamic equivalent translations, or what I call “phrase for phrase” translations. These, too, closely reflect the original, but by translating phrase-by-phrase rather than word-for-word, the translators are able to make it sound a bit more modern, yet keep the historical accuracy. These kinds of translations can be a little easier to understand. The NIV is the most popular dynamic equivalent translation.
  • Free translations, or paraphrases. These translations express the ideas of the original text, but not the exact words or phrases. The point of the Bibles in this category is to close the historical gap between us and the original, making them the most modern translations available. Very readable, but not the most precise. Examples include The Message and The Living Bible (TLB)

For in-depth Bible study, you need a literal, word-for-word translation. (The NASB or ESV are my favorites.)

For new believers or those who are just starting to read the Bible, I always recommend a dynamic equivalent, phrase-for-phrase translation. (The NIV is the best. Stay away from the TNIV – it’s on a slippery slope toward gender neutral translations, which doesn’t sit too well with me.)

In my opinion, the only purpose a paraphrase should serve is to help us understand a passage a little better after we’ve read/studied it in a real, historically accurate translation. They are great “tools” to have in your Bible study tool box, but should NEVER, EVER be your main Bible. If you really want to know what Shakespeare wrote, you don’t just read the Cliff’s Notes! Same goes with the Scriptures. With that said, I refer to my copy of The Message quite often and find it very helpful.

You should feel really smart now. Most people don’t know why in the heck they use a particular translation. But not you. Not anymore.

Okay, moving on . . .

Style or Type

This is where it can get complicated. This is also where I am going to tell you that there is a certain Bible that I am head-over-heels in love with. Like, I will never own another kind. It’s my (non-human) pride and joy, love of my life, thrill of my heart, makes-me-smile-every-time- I-look-at-it, BEST . . . BIBLE . . . EVER.

Are you ready for it?

Your life is about to change . . .

It’s the unveiling of the century . . .

Drum roll please . . . .

And the title of “best Bible ever” goes to – the RYRIE STUDY BIBLE in the NASB or ESV translations (NIV is probably best for a newbie), published by Moody. Last time a checked, no cute cover available, but the AMAZING study notes and tools more than compensate for the lack of trendy, my-Bible-is-cooler-than-your-Bible style.

Remember, we’re not shopping for shoes.

What I love about this Bible is the layout and the fact that it has just the right amount of study notes. Charles Ryrie is a solid, revered theologian and scholar whose insights are right on the money. This Bible will NOT disappoint.

I think Moody should pay for this advertising. I would use the money for a new pair of shoes. Boots, actually. Or a really cute pair of red ballet flats.

But that’s beside the point.


When it comes to Bibles, cute isn’t always best. You may want to pick up a small Bible with a cool cover to keep in your purse or back pack. But for your heavy-duty Bible study, you need a heavy-duty Bible girlfriend!

I recommend splurging for the highest quality leather you can find, which the stores don’t usually keep in stock. The sales clerk should be able to help you order one though.



Did you get that?

It’s VERY important!

A Bible with no room to write is like, well, I can’t think of an analogy right now. But it’s bad. Real bad.

So put down that cute Bible with no margins and step away slowly. It’s not for you sweetie. You have years and years of Spirit-led insights to record on those precious pages. You need space. Lots and lots of space.

So what if the best study Bible in the store [insert another shameless plug for the Ryrie Study Bible here] is a little bit, um, “big boned.” It’s okay – you can handle it. Girls with big Bibles rock! Hmmm, a new t-shirt idea???

The Bottom Line

Go buy a NASB or ESV Ryrie Study Bible.

To put it another way, go buy a NASB or ESV Ryrie Study Bible.

To make it even simpler – go buy a NASB or ESV Ryrie Study Bible.

And then go buy shoes.


  1. Teri Reynolds says

    This so so great. Yesterday Lexi turned 17, and wanted a new study Bible for her birthday. She chose which one she wanted. I didn’t have time to research, so I just went with what she asked for. Guess what??? Drumroll…
    RYRIE STUDY BIBLE in ESV!!! Wow… I raised one smart kid…LOL.

  2. Ashley Smith says

    Thank you for the information!!! A new bible is on my list of “needs”! I currently have a Life Application Study Bible NIV – have to say I LOVE the Life Application section and will miss it! Well I will keep the bible but it won’t be in my new bible. One version you did not mention was the NLT – which I perfer over the Message. The Message gets tooooooo wordy for me. Here is a neat website I found about translations awhile back. Although you probably could have written it I thought I would pass it along.

    OH, did you see the advertisement you tube video on the bottom of your blog? I kept waiting to see if they shouted get a “Ryrie Study Bible in ESV” at the end of their ‘everyday I am shuffling song’!!

    As always love to read your blog – always helpful and FUN!!!

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