The Best Bible for Beginners: Top 5 Versions to Read & Buy

Choosing a Bible is an important step in a new believer’s life. But with more than 100 complete English translations available, a beginner may not know which one to pick.

Of the popular Bible translations, the NIV Study Bible is the best Bible for beginners based on my analysis. It is the most reader-friendly, accurate, and widely used in the Christian church. It also includes extra resources such as footnotes, maps, charts, and concordances. But it is not the only good starter Bible version I have found. If you prefer the translations of my other recommendations, they are also top-notch choices.

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My Recommendations for the Best Beginner Bibles

  1. NIV Study Bible: Best Overall Version
  2. NLT Life Application Study Bible: Most Complete Thought-for-Thought Version
  3. TLB Bible: Easiest to Read Translation
  4. CSB Study Bible: Good Blend of Accuracy and Readability
  5. ESV Study Bible: Best Beginner-Friendly Word-for-Word Translation

Beginner Note: The Bible Translation Spectrum

The Bible translation spectrum is a way of classifying different versions of the Bible based on how they approach the task of translating the original languages into English. Different translations have strengths and weaknesses for different purposes and audiences. Some are better for beginners, while others are good for lifelong readers, in-depth study, devotional reading, or evangelism.

Word-for-Word Translation

Word-for-word Bible translations are on the far left side of the spectrum. These Bibles strive to translate each word, phrase, and concept in the original text with an exactly matching word, phrase, and concept in the target language. They aim to reduce the human interpretation factor in Bible translation but also tend to be less readable or natural than other translations for beginners. These Bibles are great if you want to dig into the Bible and understand what it originally meant word-for-word.

Examples of word-for-word Bible translations are the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV), the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (New KJV), and the Amplified Bible (AMP).

Thought-for-Thought Translation

Thought-for-thought Bible translations are in the middle of the spectrum. They do not always follow the exact wording or structure of the original text, but they try to convey the main message and ideas. These Bibles make good starter Bibles because they are accurate and readable in modern language. However, this type of translation also involves more interpretation and paraphrasing by the translators, which can introduce some bias or error.

Examples of thought-for-thought Bible translations are the Christian Standard Bible (CSB), the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New American Bible (NAB), and the New International Version (NIV).

Paraphrase Translation

Paraphrased Bible translations are on the far right side of the spectrum. They convey the meaning and message of the original text in easy-to-understand language without regard to specific words or sentence meanings. Translators examine and paraphrase entire sections so readers can get the gist of what was originally written. However, paraphrased translations can strip entire meanings from words and rearrange the text in a way that is not biblically accurate. These Bibles can be good for beginners and new believers who prefer an entry-level Bible or devotional-style text.

Examples of paraphrased Bible translations are the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV), the New Living Translation (NLT), the Green’s Literal Translation (GLT), The Message (MSG), and The Living Bible (TLB).


The Best Bibles for Beginners to Read & Buy

NIV Study Bible: Best Overall Version

NIV Study Bible Slipcover

The New International Version (NIV) Study Bible is the top Bible I recommend for beginner readers and new believers. It is a thought-for-thought translation that provides a great balance between readability and accuracy to the original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. It is also a “study Bible” which is a special kind of Bible that has extra features to help you understand and apply God’s Word to your life, such as bottom-of-the-page notes, maps, charts, topical articles, book introductions, and concordances.

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The NIV is also the best-selling Bible translation in the world for daily devotion and is widely used in churches because of its approachable style for people of all ages. When I first purchased a Bible as a new Christian, the NIV Study Bible was the beginner Bible I chose for those same reasons without even knowing how popular it was at the time. Plus, I liked the red-letter text, where the words attributed to Jesus Christ are printed in red ink, and the ribbon marker for bookmarking my spot.

Recommended Versions to Buy

If you want the easiest and most comfortable NIV Bible to read, then I suggest you buy the leather version with a thumb index, which is a cut-out in the pages of a Bible that helps you find specific books faster. The hardcover version is also a good choice (and cheaper) but it does not include those nicer features.

Example Translation

Genesis 1:1-5
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

NIV Study Bible Photos

NLT Life Application Study Bible: Most Complete Thought-for-Thought Version

NLT Life Application Study Bible Box Cover

If you want a starter Bible that is a bit easier to read than the NIV, but still a thought-for-thought translation, then New Living Translation (NLT) Life Application Study Bible is an excellent option. It is the #1 best-selling study Bible among Christians and is considered to be the most complete Bible ever compiled for studying God’s Word. It is called the “Life Application Study Bible” because it includes advice on how to apply the Bible’s teachings to your everyday life, making it the best beginner Bible for adults and students.

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This Bible version also contains important clarifications that help you understand the original languages, context and settings, key Biblical figures, maps, charts, a dictionary, and concordance.

Recommended Versions to Buy

For beginners who want a lifelong Bible, I recommend you purchase the soft leather-look version with a thumb index because it is more durable and enjoyable to own than the hardcover. However, if price is a concern, the hardcover version is about half the cost and includes the added benefit of using red letter text for Jesus’s words.

Example Translation

Genesis 1:1-5
1I n the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.” And evening passed and morning came, marking the first day.

NLT Life Application Study Bible Photos

TLB Bible: Easiest to Read Translation

TLB Bible Box Cover

The Living Bible (TLB) is one of the best paraphrase translations you can buy as a new believer. Its purpose is to summarize what the authors of the Scriptures meant in the Holy Bible rather than quoting them directly word-for-word or thought-for-thought. The TLB is particularly helpful for those who are absolutely new to the Bible or the stories and lessons within it, as well as those who have difficulty understanding the words of the Bible in the more traditional translations.

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One thing to keep in mind is that this Bible is not a study Bible, but rather a standard Bible without the extra materials for in-depth studying. It does include footnotes for clarifying specific words and meanings in the text; however, its purpose is to be easy to read and understandable within the content itself.

This is definitely a good starter Bible, and one of the most enjoyable to read to get a good grasp of what the Bible is all about. But once you get comfortable with the stories, lessons, and teachings within it, I would recommend you pair it with the NIV or ESV (featured below), to enhance your understanding and appreciation of the Holy text.

Recommended Versions to Buy

I suggest you get the basic brown imitation leather Bible. There are two styles: one with and one without a thumb index. The hardcover green version, which is about $10 cheaper, feels more like a reference book that you would keep on a shelf rather than a personal Bible you would keep readily available to read.

Example Translation

Genesis 1:1-5
1 When God began creating the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a shapeless, chaotic mass, with the Spirit of God brooding over the dark vapors.3 Then God said, “Let there be light.” And light appeared. 4-5 And God was pleased with it and divided the light from the darkness. He called the light “daytime,” and the darkness “nighttime.” Together they formed the first day.

TLB Bible Photos

CSB Study Bible: Good Blend of Accuracy and Readability

CSB Study Bible Box Cover

The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) translation is about three-quarters of the way to the left side of the Bible spectrum, which makes it a good choice for any beginner who wants a more word-for-word translation but still has the improved readability of a thought-for-thought translation. The aim of this CSB Study Bible is to stay as literal as possible to the Bible’s original meaning without sacrificing clarity for the reader. It is a great Bible for beginners who are more studious.

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One key aspect you should know about this Bible is that it uses gender-inclusive language when appropriate, such as “brothers and sisters” instead of “brothers”, but retains the masculine terms when they refer to God or specific individuals. The NIV Study Bible, for example, is known for using gender-neutral language when the original text does not specify gender, such as “people” instead of “men” or “they” instead of “he”. This may or may not be a concern for you when choosing a beginner Bible, but I wanted to point it out just in case.

Recommended Versions to Buy

The best version of this Bible is the gray and black linen with a thumb index. It has a sewn binding which allows it to lay flat when open.

Example Translation

Genesis 1:1-5
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” There was an evening, and there was a morning: one day.

CSB Study Bible Photos

ESV Study Bible: Best Beginner-Friendly Word-for-Word Translation

ESV Study Bible Box Cover

If you think you would enjoy diving into a word-for-word Bible translation, then I highly recommend the English Standard Version (ESV) Study Bible. It ranks at the top of the list of the most comprehensive study Bibles ever published and contains a ton of extra features to help you go deep into God’s Word. For example, it contains more than 50 education articles, 200 full-color maps, extensive book introductions, and 80,000 cross references. For the serious Bible beginner, no other version compares to the ESV Study Bible for depth and accuracy.

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This is the Bible I own and read today, and is the translation my church uses for Sunday worship. The wide array of study materials inside is like having your own Bible resource library at your fingertips.

Recommended Versions to Buy

If you want a good beginner Bible you will own for life, then I suggest you buy the leather version with a thumb index. It is well worth the investment and comes with a lifetime guarantee. But if you want something a bit cheaper just to get started, then opt for the personal-size softcover; it is a thick Bible and the hardcover makes it a bit too heavy to carry around.

Example Translation

Genesis 1:1-5
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

ESV Study Bible Photos

Enjoy Your First Bible as a Beginning Reader

The Bible tells us that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV). It also says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17, ESV).

I hope this guide on my top recommendations for the best Bible for beginners has helped inform you on which translation you should choose. Regardless of the one you pick, my prayer for you is that it is helps equip you for righteousness and strengthen your Christian faith for the rest of your life.

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