QUESTION: What Bible versions do you use for Bible study?

ANSWER: When someone asked me what English versions of the Bible I prefer to use for Bible study purposes, here is how I answered that question.

There is no substitute for knowing the basics of Greek when studying the New Testament (and the basics of Hebrew for the OT—but I will limit my comments to the NT). At a minimum you should go online and learn the Greek alphabet, including how to pronounce Greek words and look them up in reference works. Then you should have four things.

First, you should have a Greek-English interlinear NT, to identify the Greek word (in its original form) that corresponds to the English word in your translation. Let’s say you want to look up what is translated as “God GAVE them OVER” (NASB) and “God GAVE them UP” (ESV) in Romans 1:24, 26, 28. I.e., you want to look up what Greek word is translated “gave over” or “gave up.” Your interlinear will show that the word is paredōken. But to look this word up in a dictionary (lexicon), you have to know its basic form. So –

Second, you need an analytical Greek lexicon, which lists alphabetically every Greek word in the NT in the specific form in which it appears in the Greek text. In this case it is paredōken; so you look that up and you will find that the original or basic form of this word is the verb paradidōmi. Now you know what to look up in your next volume –

Third, you will get out your largest volume, your Greek-English lexicon, which is basically a dictionary of the Greek words used in the NT. I use an older version of Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. (There are later versions with other editors’ names, such as Bauer and Danker.) Here you simply look up paradidōmi, and you will find that it is a very common word with several meanings, e.g., “hand over, give over, deliver, commend, commit, hand down, transmit, permit.” The lexicon may give you a hint as to what your word means in its specific verse, but you will have to judge that by its context. But it also helps to go one step further –

Fourth, use a Greek-English concordance to look up all the occurrences of the particular Greek word as it is used in the NT. I use the Kohlenberger/Goodrick/Swanson work, Greek English Concordance to the New Testament. When you look up paradidōmi, you will find that it is used about 119 times in the NT; and the concordance will give you every usage with a one-line translation from the NIV. You can scan down these and get an idea of how the word is used throughout the NT, especially by the book or writer that you are studying.

I use these four volumes as much as any volumes in my reference library. They are all within arm’s reach of my study station.

But I digress. Your question has to do with my preferred English versions. Here they are: the New American Standard Bible (NASB), 1995 ed.; the English Standard Version (ESV); the New King James Version (NKJV); and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). I also sometimes use the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and occasionally the NIV—but more out of curiosity than inquiry.

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  1. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. I just chanced upon this site via College Press website as I was looking for info on various subjects.

    If you are able and so inclined, do you have any thoughts on a couple of more recent Bible versions I have noticed people using: 1) The NET (New English Bible). 2) The WEB (World English Bible) that claims to be an update of the ASV.

    Alternatively, do you know of any good resources for getting an unbiased evaluation of various Bible versions?

    • By “reference books” you must mean Bible versions. Yes, I use that website myself. There you can access the text of most major translations. Thanks, John.

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