Todd's Thoughts

The Personal Blog of Todd Bolen

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Best-Selling Bibles

I don't normally follow the sales ranking of English Bible translations, but I happened to come across it recently and it got me thinking about some of what it says about Bible buyers in America. You can see the list here, but for convenience, I have pasted it below (from Feb 2006; the linked page is updated monthly and so may change).

1 New International Version
2 New King James Version
3 King James Version
4 New Living Translation
5 Holman Christian Standard Bible
6 New American Standard Bible update
7 The Message
8 New Century Version
9 English Standard Version
10 New International Readers Version

As I count, 4 of these are essentially literal translations and 6 are dynamic equivalent or paraphrases. Without the KJV and NKJV, I would guess the percentage of "literal" ones in the top ten would be lower.

Of the 10, 9 were translated or revised in the last 30 years. 6 were produced in the last 10 years. So clearly the newest Bibles sell better, with the exception of the top 3 which are older than 10 years.

What is not listed is also surprising: no RSV or NRSV. These are largely used by mainline and liberal denominations. Does this say anything about the Bible buying patterns of those in these groups? Also, there is no TNIV. That may be because of the controversy, because of the competition (a big market would be NIV users, who might not see a need to switch from the NIV), or because it is too new. It's probably all of the above, but I predict that marketing muscle will get this in the top 10 before too long.

It is interesting (shocking?) that the #2 and #3 best sellers are KJV and NKJV. Together they would easily be #1 (and in fact, by itself, the NKJV was #1 last month). That means that there are a LOT of people buying these. This is sad because 1) both are based on inferior manuscripts and 2) what the KJV has (an eloquent archaic style), the NKJV fails at and is a poor read. In my opinion, no one should ever buy the NKJV and only people over 60 should buy the KJV. Ok, that's a little strong, but at least these shouldn't be the best selling Bibles. Last week I was out on a field trip and I forgot my Bible in the hotel room and so I had to borrow someone else's to read to the group. It was a KJV and I found it quite difficult to read (and understand). You can call me uneducated, but since this would be the only indication of that, I would suggest that the old style is much less understandable at least to those born in the 1970s or later. Even to one whose first Bible was a KJV.

The worst named translation? The Holman Christian Standard Bible
In second place: New American Standard Bible update (every word is bad except for "Bible" in both translation names).

I'm not trying to make you mad; just to make you think. These are just my opinions, and I'm not pretending that my opinion counts for much. I am pretty sure that the issue is near the bottom of the list in terms of what really matters.


  • At 6:01 AM, Amy said…

    We were talking about Bible versions in my Biblical Interpretation class last night. Interesting that you should post about it now. So, Todd, (you knew this would come up I'm sure) what version do you use?

  • At 7:34 AM, Todd Bolen said…

    I read the NIV because of its excellent English style and its (usually) good translation from the original languages. I also favor the dynamic equivalent approach to translation. While you may think that I am swayed by the majority, in reality NIV readers were almost non-existent in my college and seminary circles and I was very much the odd man out. But it has nothing to do with majority or minority; I really think it is an outstanding translation done by top-notch scholars who also knew English :-).

  • At 4:19 AM, ed c said…

    You can't leave out the net Bible from That is a top notch tool that many have not used yet. It really saved my tail for a final paper in Hebrew poetry! I guarantee it will quickly become one of your favorites.

    The KJV must be a top seller because so many cheap versions exist.

    Good thoughts on the translation names. The "Holman" thing really is a turn off. I just figured that the name is used as a marketing ploy and never gave the translation a thought.

    It is a shame that the NRSV doesn't get around more. The NIV is actually criticized fairly regularly by many NT scholars, including NT Wright (the man with best corresponding initials and field of expertise).

    I must confess that I read the TNIV because it's supposed to have a lot of helpful changes (beyond the gender debate) that make the text clearer. But I only have it because I got a free copy from a seminary.

  • At 2:40 PM, Todd Bolen said…

    Ed - I certainly wasn't ignoring the NET Bible, as I use it a lot myself and find it quite helpful. But I don't expect that it will ever break into the top 10 because 1) it's too advanced for most Bible readers; 2) the the notes make it a great Bible, not the translation itself; 3) they give it away for free in the internet.

  • At 2:21 AM, Brian McClimans said…

    MacArthur Study Bible is NKJV, though IIRC isn't MacArthur a NASB guy? Or has he switched to ESV. I purchase an ESV Bible (Reformation Study Bible) and like it. The new Bible that Todd is touting (despite it being NIV) sounds great. FYI, there are at least two (maybe three) churches in town that are KJV only. Bob Jones/Pensacola Christian/Tennessee Temple style.

  • At 2:36 AM, Benjamin said…

    I agree with your praise for the NIV, as I find it to be a lot more accurate, reliable, and poetically stylized than its harsh critics give it credit for. I also give God enough credit to know what He's doing, and feel that there is perhaps a reason for the NIV topping the list. I own (and occasionally browse through) nine various translations, and though I do favor the formal equivalent approach, I truly feel that the NIV only "breaks ranks" when it is necessary for clarity, such as in Romans 9:7. Also, the newer formal equivalent translations refer to the FURNACE of Psalms 12:6 as a "furnace on the ground," when it is, in my opinion, a no-brainer that David clearly intended a "furnace of earth," "earthen furnace," or "furnace [made] of clay," as the NIV would correctly point us to. This whole "furnace on the ground" thing just really irks me somehow. . .
    Anyway, although the NIV is commonly grouped with all the dynamic equivalents, I really fell that it is a perfect balance between the two schools, and is therefore an OUTSTANDING translation, perhaps even the very best choice for the modern english-speaking world.


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