best uses for different Bible versions

There are a variety of ways that people use the Bible. Some people study it in detail, as scholars. Others read it devotionally. Some study it to compare the teachings of Judaism or Christianity to that of other religions. Some use a biblical text as a jumping off point for a sermon or homily.

Some people use a number of different Bible versions. Sometimes they prefer one version for one use while they find another version more helpful for another use.

What versions of the Bible do you use and what is the most important use you have found for each of those versions? There are no right or wrong answers as we share our responses here. Let’s try to keep all comments positive. Remember, what works for one person may not work well for another. And that’s OK.

60 thoughts on “best uses for different Bible versions

  1. Bill Blue says:

    The NKJV is my principal translation. Over the years, it has been the translation I have invested the most time with and the translation from which I have memorized verses and phrases.

    I consult many translations for different perspectives on verses. I love the NLTse. I read from the NLT One Year Bible daily and at least twice weekly, I consult the NLT Study Bible.

    Approximately once a week I will consult the ESV Study Bible, the TNIV (which I prefer over the NIV), and the HCSB.

    I used to use the NIV when teaching less-literate adults from books like Romans. When the TNIV came out, I preferred its ease of reading to the NIV. Today, the NLTse has supplanted the TNIV for the same reason.

  2. Jay Wermuth says:

    I generally use the NRSV for academic work, mainly because it is what my professors require. At home for devotional reading I use the TNIV, because it is the best balance I have found between “word for word” and functional translation.

  3. Tim says:

    NRSV for all around
    *It is close enough to the other translations that I often run into in ministry work, like the RSV, NAB, or NIV.

    RSV for study
    *I have the New Oxford Annotated RSV, which I still think is the perfect size, plus it has all my notes. However, I am considering going with one of the NRSV study Bibles, but have yet to decide on which one to go with before I transfer notes.

  4. Eddie Gonzalez says:

    For study, NRSV and NET (online). When I’m in the NT I have the UBS 3rd Cor or 4 along side (because I’m still shy of a nice diglot).
    For personal reading, NET and NLT
    For reading to the kids, NLT
    For communicating/dialogue with those who wouldn’t consider themselves disciples of the Lord, NLT.

  5. Nathan Stitt says:

    TNIV is my primary reading Bible.
    NLT and ESV Study Bibles are used for immediate comparisons.
    NJB, NEB, REB, Message, & NRSV used for in-depth comparisons.

  6. Nathan Stitt says:

    I forgot to mention the NET Bible. I use it along with the TNIV as my primary translation. The TNIV is what I read from during bible classes, but I prefer the NET due to the notes.

  7. Ed says:

    ESV for serious study, NIV for reading and devotional, but I am beginning to like the HCSB as a compromise between ‘literal’ and ‘dynamic’.

  8. Jake says:

    ESV for my all around Bible… I use it for reading, I carry it around with me (I sometimes reference my Bible during discussions or when witnessing), and I use it for study coupled with my NASB study Bible.

    I use NIV for church because it is what my church uses, although increasingly I bring my ESV along instead.

    I occasionally reference to NKJV because it uses different manuscripts and my version marks the differences clearly. I also sometimes compare with a more dynamic translation. I use NCV and NIV in print and when I’m in my Bible study software I use ISV and NET (I actually like these better but I don’t have them in print).

    I have a CD audio Bible in NKJV and a digital audio Bible in ASV that I use.

  9. formerdonutjunkie says:

    HCSB — current favorite for primary translation. Devotional, study and teaching.
    TNIV — recently acquired but really liking this translation. Could see it becoming primary translation.
    NLTse — devotional reading and alternate perspective.
    ESV — public reading in some traditional biblical settings.

  10. Brant says:

    NRSV is my go-to Bible. It is my denomination’s translation of choice.

    I use the NKJV to check my Greek translations. It is wooden and literal. Often my rough translation agrees with it completely. Of course, I keep in mind that it was translated from different underlying texts than I use.

    I also refer to the NET and NETS.

    My daily devotional reading is from the NLT.

    I have more than 20 translations at hand by my desk. I refer to them all for purposes of comparison.

    I like the TNIV for a women’s Bible study. It is plenty readable, but also sufficiently scholarly for that purpose.

  11. ElShaddai Edwards says:

    NLT’07 for everyday reading and study; HCSB or TNIV for my “church” Bible (we are a NIV church and I’ve found those two translations work really well for reading along with the NIV). And (too) many others for comparison’s sake.

  12. Dan says:

    TNIV is becoming my all around Bible…until Zondervan finally kills it off. I can preach from it and it’s close to the NIV, which many people use.

    I use the TNIV for study as well, and have a NRSV wide margin for study as well.

  13. Wayne Leman says:

    My main Bible these days is NLT2.

    My wife and I read The Message together for our daily Bible reading.

    I refer to the NRSV for my academic work. I also check the NET for my academic work since I like its translation footnotes.

  14. Melody says:

    For literal study, I like the NASB, followed by the NKJV. I use the NIV at church (only because my pastor preaches from it) but have come to prefer the TNIV. For devotion I love the NLTse or the NCV.

  15. Ted Leaf says:

    As I have noted elsewhere, I have no training for translations. However, I still like the KJV for it’s majesty (if you can read Shakespeare, you can read the KJ), but I do have the NIV, which has terrific sidenotes.

    Also have NKJ and an NASB/Amplified parallel bible. Still on the TR, Jay Green’s Literal Translation brings out some nuances of that text, as well as the Apostolic Bible (Septuagint).

    I do have an ESV (my church uses it), but I find the wording at times doesn’t “flow right”.

    I also read Farstad’s Majority Text Interliner, and the NET.

    The NET online, if anyone hasn’t checked it out, is a treasure trove of commentary.

    HCSB is good too: Jesus was born in a “feeding trough”, which I’m told is what the Greek word means. Check out their Apologetic Bible, too.

    Good reading to all.

  16. Michael Nicholls says:

    I like the NLT for general reading.
    I often use the NJB for OT (because of its use of God’s name).
    I like my NET/Greek parallel too.
    Spent many years reading and studying the NKJV, so it still goes down pretty smooth.

    For translation work, I usually have open the NLT and NIV. I used to reference the NASB, but found there wasn’t much point since I had a Greek interlinear open. I’ve found an interlinear to be much more literal, consistent, and faithful to the original than other translations that make such claims. That’s a joke, btw. 🙂

    I don’t have a TNIV yet. Would like to give it a shot (as long as my church doesn’t find out).

  17. David Dewey says:

    ESV for personal reading, study and sermon prep
    NLT for comparison with the ESV
    (And, for study, both the ESVSB and NLTSB, occasionally the NIVSB)
    For preaching from, the GNB, because it is our church Bible, though we are considering a change; some would like the NIV.

  18. Bob Cook says:

    NLT2 for devotional/general reading
    ESV/NASB for in depth study
    NIV for teaching (church uses this as main version)

  19. Richie says:

    I use ESV, NIV/TNIV, and NLT2 almost equally for personal reading:

    For more literal and traditional – ESV.

    For all-around use with best combination of accuracy of meaning and readability – NIV/TNIV which I use almost interchangeably with each other to take advantage of the best features of each. NIV is also far and away the most used Bible in the area I live (NC).

    For overall enjoyment of reading and communication of the main message of the Bible – NLT2.

    For comparative purposes I also use “The Complete Parallel Bible” which contains four elegant and always interesting versions – NRSV, REB, NAB, NJB.

    For quick on-line reference and study – NET.

  20. Nathan says:

    NRSV as a go-to version and for initial study
    NET for more in-depth study
    NRSV, TNIV, and The Message for devotional & home use

  21. Yasmine says:

    I do read Scripture for the real pleasure of it and have different Bibles to cater for every thinkable mood I might be in at any given day.

    English Bibles are:
    NIV (but I don’t like it much as it is very wooden)
    NLTSB love it

    German Bibles:
    NLB (German translation of the NLT)
    Gute Nachricht Bibel (German translation of German Good News Bible/TEV)
    Hoffnung für alle (German translation of the Living Bible)
    Zürcher Bibel which I like better than Luther – wonderful language, single column text, my favorite
    and two Catholic Bibles
    one Jewish Bible

    I love the all!

    Brant, what makes you say the TNIV is a good study bible for woman? I had a look at Zondervans website and there is no devotional womans bible mentioned. Please be so kind and give me a hint why you say so.

    Regards Yasmine

  22. Trierr says:

    NLT(07) for daily reading and study. (It’s also what I use for quotation in papers).
    NRSV for study
    NET/Greek diglot for NT study
    JPS/Hebrew diglot for OT study

  23. Glenn says:

    ESV & ESV Study Bible for Church, Study, personal devotions and daily reading.

    To aid Study; NKJV, NASB, NIV, Amplified, NET

    I also have the Comparative Study Bible with NASB, NIV, Amplified & KJV for quick comparisons

    I also own Study Bibles for Living, NASB, NKJV, NIV

    I also have the Message (for comparison only as I consider the Message to be very flawed and almost unusable for any study purposes)

  24. Theophrastus says:

    I like to read in original languages, and treat translations as commentary. It’s more work, but I believe that Scripture is divinely inspired, so I want to capture all the nuances I can.

    As a commentary, I often find the NRSV most useful, because I can use it to communicate with a wide variety of faith traditions and it sheds light on the original languages.

    For pleasure, I like to read the KJV, because its English is magnificent, and the way the translators solved various translation puzzles is brilliant.

  25. Brant says:


    I was unclear. Sorry. I like to use the TNIV in a women’s Bible Study that I lead. It strikes a good balance between readability and scholarship for a group of lay people.

  26. W Larry Enzor says:

    NASB is my primary translation. I do also refer to the ESV Study Bible, as well as the HCSB, when preparing to teach Sunday School.

  27. Sue says:


    You write,

    I was unclear. Sorry. I like to use the TNIV in a women’s Bible Study that I lead. It strikes a good balance between readability and scholarship for a group of lay people.

    This is still unclear. What would you use for a men’s Bible study?

    I do think the TNIV is a good Bible to use, and I would use it in a context where the NRSV was not familiar, for any lay study for both men and women. The NIV has seen its time and the TNIV provides many much needed updates in the direction of being more literal.

  28. Sue says:

    I always prepare for a study using the original lgs, but sometimes that is awkward if I am the only one in the group who reads those lgs. Then there is no one to challenge my reading and make me rethink it. This is where the internet comes in very helpful. There is no limit to how one can be challenged.

  29. Nathan says:

    I principally use NKJV for worship and study. I will often look on to compare any particular verse with each version they have listed.

    However, I enjoy reading from the Jewish Publication Society’s Hebrew English Tanakh when I want a different interpretive perspective from the English. It helps better shape my understanding of the text to filter out potential biases when it comes to doctrine (while recognizing the JPS have their own biases as well.

  30. Ted M. Gossard says:

    Glad to see this site again, and relinked it on my blog.

    TNIV hands down, NLT a distant second for me- but too often to me NLT seems to talk down to people as if they’re on a third or fourth grade level, but that may be more me than the translation itself. At the same time I think the TNIV could be clearer and can come across in ways we don’t speak or think, in some places, though overall I think it’s quite good.

    NRSV preferred for a more literal translation. I really would prefer to go to the Greek and Hebrew after that, but I’m not sufficient enough, although I do get into the Greek NT more nowadays. So I really don’t care to go to a translation like the ESV. Besides, I’m tired of the translation wars.

    I am open to the CEV as well, and even like to give the Message a look now and then. But again, the TNIV. And I won’t go back to the NIV, either. If the TNIV dies out, I’ll wait for something akin to it, but in the meantime would probably opt for the NLT. (I managed to say just a few things in many words here!)

  31. Brant says:


    It would appear that I have a talent for being unclear. Let me try again.

    I lead a women’s Bible study. We use the TNIV. I like it. It is a good translation for use in the context of a study for laypeople. I would also use it in a men’s study, if I led one. I do not mean to suggest that the TNIV is a “women’s translation.”

    At the risk of further unclarity, I will add that the TNIV is useful even in a context where the NRSV is familiar. My denomination as used the NRSV since its publication in 1989. Using an unfamiliar translation can open up new understanding of the text.

  32. Edmond says:

    I’m reading the Chinese and English bible.

    For the Chinese bible, I’m using the Chinese New Version.

    For the English bible, the ESV is currently my main translation. I would refer to the HCSB when I’ve difficulty understanding the phrasing in the ESV. HCSB used to be my main translation, but switched to ESV earlier this year because I could not find a Chinese-English parallel bible with HCSB.

  33. docdeer says:

    Historically, I have used the NASB as my primary devotion Bible and my primary teaching Bible. Of late, I have tried to use some others in my teaching ministry. I am currently using the ESV when I teach because I read many who suggested that it was “more readable” (although I am beginning to think that it’s not any more readable than the NASB). Now, I tend to read the NLT devotionally, and I am spending more time in the HCSB.

  34. CD-Host says:

    For careful reading: Brown and Comfort. A readable interlinear is unbeatable for careful reading. IMHO Tyndale’s best product I keep nagging them to do a Hebrew like their NT.

    When eyes tired: Reformation study bible. Yes it is an ESV but… the typesetting is so good on the Reformation study bible. I think Westminister’s typesetters did this bible and they deserve unending praise.

    When mind tired: NIV study bible. I’ve had it for 21 years, I used it a primary bible for over a decade and I know it stone cold.

    For fun reading: Andy Gaus.

    If I were stuck on a desert island:
    Best translation: REB
    Best study bible: New interpreters

  35. Tim Chesterton says:

    I tend to bounce back and forth between the TNIV, the NRSV, and the REB. My church has NRSV in the pews so I preach from it, and I have the New Interpreter’s as my main study Bible. I like the TNIV but it is hampered (in my setting) by the lack of a translation of the Apocrypha. And I really enjoy the vividness of the REB translation; there are all sorts of places where it casts fresh light on the meaning of the text.

  36. Dru says:

    REB as my usual personal Bible. The church uses NIV. I used to use the RSV and it still tends to be the version I remember by heart.

    I also use the NET notes, the NRSV and the AV for some study purposes, particularly as the AV is a translation from a different culture, in the ‘past is a foreign country’ sense. Sadly, I don’t find the NRSV reads as well as the old RSV.

  37. Robert Jimenez says:

    I have recently changed over to the TNIV as my primary bible.
    Primary TNIV: devotional, study, teaching & preaching
    Secondary NLT2: devotional, study, preaching

    With the ’07 updates coming the NLT may become my primary devotional/teaching bible.

    Other translations that I use to compare and study with are:

  38. Tim Worley says:

    I tend to use translations in tiers, according to the order in which I consult them.

    First-tier: Toss-up at the moment between HCSB and TNIV – generally whichever one I grab off the nightstand first 🙂

    Second-tier: ESV (especially since I like to check the notes in my Reformation Study Bible), NLT, NKJV

    Third-tier: NASB, Phillips, NIV

    Sometimes my usage depends on what point I’m at in studying a particular book. When I’m first beginning a new book (at least, a new epistle), I like to read it through quickly (and often aloud) from either my NLT or Phillips. Then, having gotten an overall feel for the book, I’ll work through it with my HCSB and TNIV. Finally, if I have a more detailed question about wording, I may consult the ESV, NKJV, and NASB.

    On a side note, you don’t see much love for Phillips these days. I realize the NLT fills a similar niche and is more up-to-date, but there’s just something I love about ol’ J.B.

  39. Rick Ritchie says:

    I use the Zondervan NASB Study Bible for preparing for my adult Bible class. (And my NA26 and my Rahlf’s.) This has been my Bible of choice with this study Bible, since it has the same center-column references that made the NIV Study Bible and Concordia Self-Study Bible so useful but with a more formal equivalent translation.

    I tend to read our passage for the morning from the NASB to my Bible class, and there are NIVs in the pews that they read. When it is particularly striking (in a good way), I will read The Message to the class and suggest that they read along in the NIV for comparison, taking The Message as a commentary. Many said they were blown away by The Sermon on the Mount in The Message. Also, at our Easter Vigil, I used the Message for the passage on the parting of the Red Sea from Exodus. Our best reader read it. It was one of the most exciting public readings I have ever heard. (And I’ve heard James Earl Jones read Luke 2 before in person.) On the other hand, I have found passages in The Message that were unfit for public reading for certain occasions.

    I definitely think different Bible translations have different strengths.

  40. Clay Knick says:

    NRSV & TNIV are my two main bibles. I also have an NIV that I have marked up pretty well and continue to use. I also continue to make extensive use of the RSV. Now and then I look at the following: NASB, NKJV, REB, JBP, & The Message. The NLTse is great for general reading, but for this purpose I pretty much stick with either the NRSV, TNIV, or NIV.

  41. Dave S says:

    For myself, I have finally narrowed it down to four versions that represent 95% of my reading, the NASB, ESV, HCSB, and NLT (due to change, of course). The ESV now represents over 50% of my reading. For me it is the best combination of literal translation, ease of reading, beauty of prose and poetry, traditional sounding verbage, etc. I have not had many problems using it for devotional reading with my children either. When there are questions, we go to the NLT and that usually resolves any misunderstandings. The one thing I think we overlook with Bible translations is that the Bible is meant to be discussed and talked about and generate conversation to help resolve issues of misunderstanding. Taking this into account is why I lean towards the literal side of things in translations. For my bible study, the Ryrie in NASB comes in very handy along with an ESV study bible, an ESV literary study bible and a HCSB bible. I wish I could get a parallel bible with the NASB, ESV, HCSB, and NLT. It would almost be a perfect bible for me and mine. I own a TNIV, an NRSV, a Message, a KJV, a NKJV, a CEV, and a few more I can’t come up with right now but just don’t find myself using much any more. I still use them on occasion, but less than 5% of the time.

  42. Clay Knick says:

    I also use the NASB & ESV for study, will quote them when I teach
    and hand out notes and in sermons, but don’t use them for readings from the pulpit. The NRSV & TNIV/NIV are best for that purpose, IMO. Now and then the KJV is striking.

  43. Kathy says:

    Thats quite a question-what versions of the Bible do you use and what is the most important use you have found for each of these versions? Well,I just got a new NLT and I am using it for personal daily reading in conjunction with Search the Scriptures. I got it because my pastor uses it in church and I wanted to try it. Though I don’t take my Bible to church because they always put the verses up on an overhead screen. I recently finished reading through the Bible in the ESV because I heard it raved about and wanted to try it. Before that I read it through in the NKJV because I was briefly a member of the Gideons auxiliary (my husband is a Gideon) and that is what they were giving away and I wanted to know just what we were giving away. And before that I used NIV for many years because I worked with a children’s program at our church which used that in their program for readings and memory work so I used it too. I have read NRSV, LB, NAB, NEB in the past too but just for personal reading. I am not doing any teaching or church work just now so I am only reading for myself. For myself as an ordinary laywoman I like to use one version at a time. I get discouraged and don’t want to read it at all if I start comparing versions and my quiet time becomes a messy pile of Bibles. Its important to me to just read it regularly to find, as the song says, “strength for today and hope for tomorrow”.

    I like my Bibles to be just text Bibles and I also find it discouraging to go into a Christian bookstore and see the overwhelming choices and niche market Bibles though it is fun to see all the pretty bindings they have nowadays.

    I would like to see the study Bible helps available in separate books and not included in with the text. I would probably buy several of those but I won’t buy a big, ugly, heavy study Bible. I hate small, faint print.

    For my next Bible I want one with the apocrypha/deuterocanonicals, large (but not giant), clear print, single columns, pretty soft cover, no page bleed through, modern English. Maybe a REB or NRSV.

  44. Dave S says:

    After posting previously and reading your refinement of your question to “What are you doing in the Kingdom of God that is driving your choice of Bible translations?” I thought I would try to reword my post and be more concise at the same time. Hopefully the following works for what I was getting at:

    For study, I use the NASB.
    For casual reading I prefer the HCSB.
    To avoid a sermon when additional explanation is needed, I use the NLT (usually for my kids).
    For reciting and reading out loud, I use the ESV.

    Because reciting involves memorization, the ESV gets read a lot by me. It is especially good for devotions at the dinner table, etc. The poetic parts of the ESV are wonderful. Though the HCSB is readily understood when read out loud, it just doesn’t have the flair or ring to the ear the ESV does, especially with commonly heard verses. For all around use, the ESV excels, but the HCSB is no slouch. The HCSB is rising up the family charts because as my kids get older, they prefer the HCSB over the NLT to help them understand some forms of scripture. If I had started them out on the HCSB, I may have never needed the NLT, it’s that easy to understand. For my personal use, the NASB will never be replaced for study purposes.

  45. Dave S says:

    Just thought I’d relay an amusing conversation I had with a friend right after posting above.

    I told my friend about my “favorite four” post above. He said, “That sounds good but which one would you choose if you could have just one; you know, the deserted island thing?” I hate the deserted island question. It’s not based in reality but I played along and said “It depends.” “Depends on what?”, he queried. “Are there any other people stranded on the island with me or am I alone?” “What does that matter?”, he said with a puzzled look. So I explained… “If I was alone, I’d pick the HCSB. If I was with someone else, I’d pick the ESV because it would get read out loud.” “No other reasons?”, he asked. I said, “Sure, but that pretty well sums it up. They’re both good for multipurpose use.” He shook his head, then shrugged his shoulders and said “Hmmmm” So I added, “And since I live in a world with other people around me, where the bible is read out loud, I tend to use the ESV most.” to which he replied “I’m ok with that I guess.” We smiled and we left it at that.

    You don’t have to agree with me but it works for me.

    Dave S

  46. Grady Patterson says:

    Although it is not quite finished yet, I am surprised that the ISV ( ) has not been mentioned yet – I am using it more and more. The New Testament is complete, and the Old Testament only lacks Isaiah.
    It seems to me to strike one of the best balances I’ve seen between formal and dynamic equivalence – very readable, yet (it seems to me, at least) very accurate.
    I don’t have any formal training in Greek, so my opinion in that respect has a few grains of salt included …

  47. steve wester says:

    I use kjb as my only bible. I know there is a lot of controversy concerning kjb only. But I found that with a study of versions a difference not to be ignored.

  48. Michael Nicholls says:

    steve wester:
    But I found that with a study of versions a difference not to be ignored.

    Can you explain? I think maybe you left something out, or I’m missing something.

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