Often people ask what Bible I recommend. Not all Bible translations are equal, and when it comes to the arts and creativity, some are just terrible. There are a lot of reasons for this, but it mostly comes down to the blind spots or theological commitments of the translators. If the translation team is heavily dominated by scholars who believe that the Bible condemns all forms of art, then the translation will reflect this point of view.
I have now written two books based on mistranslations of the Hebrew, so this is a real issue. I recommend reading several translations but finding a good Bible for your daily use is important. I will rate Bibles and give my reasons much like how some consumer websites recommend things–Highly recommend, Recommend, Recommend with reservation, Do Not recommend. I will also tag on some at the end that are marketed to creatives with my thoughts. If you are not a Bible nerd, this post may not interest you.
I should note, that although I am pretty critical toward some of these versions, God will speak through every translation, regardless of strength or weakness. It was the Latin Vulgate that led Luther to his awakening.
Beware, cranky Bible scholar ahead.
The Revised Standard Version. I have gone away from and returned to this version for over 30 years. It was my confirmation Bible, the Bible that my church used for reading, and the Bible I quote when I write. Why? Because it still is unmatched for accuracy to the original languages, and uses beautiful language. It is the direct heir to the King James tradition, and is the only version accepted by the widest Christian communities–Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox.
The Ignatius Study Bible. This study Bible, using the RSV text is designed for Roman Catholics, but it has become my favorite study Bible. It is the only study Bible that gives in depth notes and also references the early church fathers. The Bible is edited by Dr. Scott Hahn, a convert to Catholicism from evangelical roots. Because of this history, he brings the strengths of both traditions to this Bible.
The New Living Translation. If you want to get an accurate sense of the original language, and have a Bible that really speaks to you, I recommend the New Living Translation. I have known many members of the translation team for this Bible personally, and have used it has my secondary Bible for study, and my primary devotional Bible at different seasons of my life. It really is a good Bible if you need one to inspire creativity.
The New Revised Standard Version. Many people ask where I got my big green Bible that I use for preaching. This is it. Not my favorite translation, and it often chooses inclusive language over accuracy, but it is the scholarly translation at the moment. The biggest strength–in the US HarperCollins owns the rights and they make beautiful books. Typesetting is elegant, and the editions are all well made and nice objects to have. For something you might live with daily, this is a great feature. As for the inclusive language, you can usually spot the change. Sadly, Exodus 31:1 is mistranslated, so when I preach I pencil in the correction.
The New Jerusalem Bible. This is an English translation of a French Bible Translation (wacky, huh?). Even so, it is a beautiful translation, and I have used it off and on for 2 decades. Not my primary Bible, but it can be helpful when doing in-depth study simply to give a different point of view.
Recommend with Reservation
The Passion Translation. Brian Simmons was a Bible translator and then a pastor in Connecticut. His dream project was this translation and it is being released as he completes each book. It is exactly what it says, passionate. He does bring a lot of insight to the text, but I find I read the footnotes over the translation. All translations by a single individual are prone to bias. Simmons also uses a minority body of original manuscripts that give an alternate read to most of the Bible. This can be a strength or a weakness. Regardless, like the Living Bible, and the Message in prior generations, the Passion Translation is touching a nerve and meeting a need for a current take on the scripture. Sometimes it definitely moves me, and I think it is a good translation to stir up the creative juice.
Do Not Recommend
The New International Version (NIV). When the NIV came out it definitely met a niche need for an Evangelical Bible. Here in the U.K. it is the Bible if you are an Evangelical. Sadly, the translation team was dominated by the reformed point of view, and because of this art, artist, imagination, dance, and artisan are all removed or mistranslated. When I was a student my tutor griped about the NIV regularly, and like many things “evangelical” it has dominated because of excellent marketing. I don’t use it.
English Standard Version (ESV). When this Bible came out, I was excited that it might be an update of the RSV. It’s not. It is basically the RSV text with a heavy dose of Calvinism. Translation team reflects one point of view, and this is not an artist friendly Bible. It does come in many types of covers, versions, and the like. Not only do I not use it, I have a strong reaction to it. Evangelicalism is trying hard to balkanize itself from the Charismatic world and this Bible reflects that trend. Bummer–it is a missed opportunity.
Bibles for Creatives
If you haven’t figured it out, Bible publishing is big business and a very lucrative one. All Bible editions sell well. Suddenly Bible publishers have figured out that there are artists in the church, and they are targeting you.
Inspire NLT. I think this Bible was inspired by Pinterest (really). Great idea to make a Bible to color in, but I have been doing that for years. Still, it’s great to put the Bible and sketchbook together. Just wish it wasn’t so girly. I’m a boy. Do you have a black one?
ESV Journaling Bible. Although the designer was not thinking people would draw in this Bible, people are, and it comes up when you look for Bibles for creatives. My feelings about the the ESV apply here. Crossway always comes up with cool concepts for Bibles, and this one is cool. And expensive. It comes in at $100.
If you are creative, I recommend buying a large print Bible and a Moleskin notebook. The Bible will have big margins, so plenty of room to color in, and the moleskin can handle the rest. A lot cheaper and more flexible.