Best Bibles for Artists

I am often asked, “What Bible do you use, and what Bible do you recommend for artists and creative people?”

The world of Bible publishing is a world of big money.  The best selling book of all time, and the number one selling book all the time is the Bible.   Because of this, the big five publishers in the US have bought up most of the formerly Christian owned Bible publishers.

So for full disclosure:  there are NO affiliate links in this article, and I will attempt to be as honest as I can.  I am a teacher and leader first, with a background in Bible and theology, and I am writing to artists and creative people.

I want to help you make the Bible the foundation of your life and work.  You need a Bible that does not diminish your call to the arts, and is also a source of inspiration.

 
My Criteria

When I am buying a new Bible, I consider a number of things:

  • How accurate is the translation?
  • Who translated it?
  • Does the translation diminish or mistranslate words and concepts related to the arts and artists?
  • What was the goal (or agenda) of the translation committee?
  • Is the Bible nice to look at (Is the typesetting beautiful, and is the binding high quality?)  I am an artist, and I need to have a nice looking Bible. There you go. 

And if you try to get all the right answers to these questions, you will discover there are very few Bibles that meet the needs of artists and creative people.

 
About Translation

There are a lot of nuances in Bible translation, because translation requires judgement calls based on original context–these are ancient texts that often have no equivalents in modern languages.  I find the most trustworthy Bible translations are translated by committees that follow historic decisions, and also represent the broadest possible scope of the Body of Christ.  It’s good to have more than one perspective.

I do not consider paraphrases in this article–they are not translations and should not be used in the place of the Bible, although some can be interesting reading.

 
First, These are the Bibles I use.

The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible.  I use a scholarly version of the King James Bible, edited by David Norton.  It is gorgeous to look at, hold, and read.  It is also the typesetting in the Penguin edition of the Bible.  It took me six months to find this Bible, and the search was quite an adventure.  In the end, I was surprised how readable the cleaned up King James is.

The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible.   The Ignatius Study Bible is one of the best study Bibles on the market.  It incorporates excellent Biblical scholarship with insights from church history.  I had just about given up on study Bibles before I found this one.

Biblehub.com  I do read Greek and have a working knowledge of Hebrew.  Because of this, I find that what I read in English is a springboard for deeper study.  Biblehub has been my goto place for many years, and I use it alongside my Bible.

From here on out, I will rank Bibles from highly recommend to do not recommend.

 
Highly Recommend.

Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE).   This is my goto translation, and is the one I use in my writing and for our community worship.   Of all translations, the translation committee represents the largest spread of Christian traditions.  The Catholic edition corrects several of the problems introduced by the liberals in the 1950’s, and the English is beautiful and poetic.

Nice editions of it are hard to come by, but they are improving.  There is a new notetaking version that was released this year by Ignatius Press.

 
Recommend

The New Living Translation.  Based on the Living Bible paraphrase, the NLT is a very accessible and accurate thought for thought translation.  It is the Bible I use in writing when I want the sound of the language to match my writing style.  There is a Catholic version that includes the Apocrypha.  There are also many affordable and nice editions on the market.

The Passion Translation.  Brian Simmons’ translation is very good–although any translation with one translator is going to have a distinct flavor.  I know Brian, he was a leader in New England, and was a linguist and missionary before becoming a pastor in Connecticut.  It’s a good translation.   I find it to be helpful in places where most translations make the text hard to understand.  Brian translates spiritual realities from the place of actual experience.  Brian’s point of view has enraged the Gospel Coalition, and there has been a full on war to censor this Bible.  This fact alone may be reason enough to check it out.  Hebrews 4 is great.

 
Recommend with Reservations

English Standard Version.  The ESV is an accurate translation.  It translates artistic words much more accurately than other Bibles aimed at the Evangelical market.  The nicest Bibles on the market, after the expensive Cambridge Bibles, are all ESV.  In most of my gatherings, the majority in attendance will be using the ESV.

That said, I don’t like it.  Until recently they were resistant to translating the Apocrypha (I received a very blunt email in response to questions about this.)   The translation committee is all reformed or calvinist in some form.  And the base text is the RSV without the beauty–to be more diplomatic, it leans “prosaic” rather than “poetic.”  I work with poets.  Like most things nowadays, there is a tendency to dominate and monopolize, and the advocates of the ESV are doing that to the Bible market.   We need more than one perspective.

The New Jerusalem Bible, Revised Edition.    I have big reservations about this version, but it is not ugly, or deceptive.  This is an odd Bible translation–a French translation based on the Latin into English.  It has questionable accuracy in places, but it is very helpful in getting a different point of view from most English translations.  In many places the translation is artful and poetic.

 
DO NOT RECOMMEND.

I divide these into three categories, the baddies, the pretties, and the uglies.

 
The Baddies.

To qualify as a baddy, the Bible has to intentional mistranslate in order to mislead the reader, or translate artistic words in particularly inaccurate ways.

The New International Version.  The NIV was created as a reaction to the liberal slant of the RSV, and also provide a modern alternative to the King James Version.   More than once I have been asked to teach and have picked up an NIV from the pews, and the verse I was going to talk about WAS NOT THERE.   The NIV purposely mistranslates artistic words, and when the meaning cannot be muted (as in the end of Psalm 86), the verse or phrase is removed altogether.  It is the worst translation for artists and creative people, and reinforces protestant biases against the arts.

The New Revised Standard Version.  I am very familiar with the NRSV, and used it in both my undergraduate and graduate Bible courses.  The NRSV is the official Bible of academia and the progressive/oldline denominations.  The Bible I used for many years when speaking was a copy of the NRSV (and that big square green Bible with large print is still the nicest looking Bible I have seen).  Even so, the commitment to gender inclusive language was what it often is–a trojan horse that allows for various agendas.  I started looking for another Bible when I started reading the Greek along side it.  There were so many mistakes, muddled meanings, and genuine mistranslations, that I had to put it aside.  I am guessing that there will be a new, new revised standard one of these days that is out and out progressive/marxist/post-modern.  You read it here first.

Update: Yes, there is now an NRSVUE (updated edition) that is trying to soften language regarding sexual immorality in the New Testament.  Am I a prophet or what?

 
The Pretties. 

Each year Zondervan and Tyndale, both owned by HarperCollins, put out a series of “Creativity, Inspiration, or Color me happy” Bibles.  They tend to be pink or lavender, and are filled with things in the margins you can color.  They are supposed to be marketed to creative people–but they are meant for Christian moms in Texas.   If you are an artist, you need to draw in your Bible yourself, not color somebody else’s drawings.  I won’t mention names, because in the past Zondervan would send me copies in the hopes I would endorse them.  I would end up with a pile of big, heavy, pink Bibles.

 
The Uglies.

The New American Bible and the New American Standard Version are both violators of the English language.  The NAB is the official Bible of the US Congress of Catholic Bishops and in the US it is the Bible required for all liturgical readings.  It is plagued with liberal scholarship and ugly use of language.  It was one of the biggest regrets Richard John Neuhaus had about becoming a Catholic.

The NASB represents the other end, is often the favorite for conservative baptists.  It is a rigorously wooden translation that tries to translate every word exactly, at the expense of grammar, flow, word choice, readability, and of course, beauty.  Skip it.

 
Conclusion

Regardless of what Bible you use (except of course really bad ones from the JW’s and LDS) you will still find the word of God.  Jesus said, “You search the scriptures thinking they contain life–but they point to me.”  Every Bible will point you to Jesus.  I hope you find the one that is right for you, and that you use it everyday to shape you, your creative output, and the story you tell for the Kingdom.

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