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The Top Five English Bible Translations for Atheists

Updated on September 8, 2014

What you need to know and where to buy Bibles on the cheap

As freethinkers, agnostics, atheists and rational skeptics you probably encounter on a regular basis attempts to “convert” you from your sinful ways and derail you from your juggernaut-like descent to hellfire. Know that the Bible is the key to derailing these efforts. Your knowledge of the most popular versions – most likely to be used against you – will serve you well in your efforts to spread rational thinking, freedom from religion and maybe reverse-convert these proselytizers. You probably don’t want to pay a great deal of money, but no atheist should be without his or her scriptures from any of the vendor sites listed on this hub.

No matter what denomination approaches you, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholic, Protestant or whatever, the so-called “word of God” is the very basis of their belief system, and if you are knowledgeable enough about their own “holy writ,” you stand a very good chance of at least persuading them to back off. Most of the time they are too entrenched in their indoctrination to listen to anything that might undo their conditioning, but going right for the jugular, knowing the problematic chapters and verses, the moral contradictions, the logical inconsistencies, you can perhaps sow a few seeds of doubt. Provoking the slightest uncertainty is a major victory. Sometimes the best you can hope for is that they will leave you alone for a while.

If you are not too busy, you might consider learning ancient Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and a few “cognate languages,” such as Akkadian and Ugaritic. A smattering of Ancient Near East (ANE) archaeology, linguistics, astronomy and evolutionary biology would also help. Reading the testaments in the original languages is fine, but if you are like most people, take the time to study such Websites as The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, The Evil Bible, and read everything you can in your spare time to bone up on apologetics, the art of justifying faith against non-belief. Make sure you can find and use the top Internet sites that offer many translations, language tools, and apologetics classics, such as the Bible Gateway, the Blue Letter Bible, and similar sites. Perhaps you should not discount the Mormon scriptures or the Quran either.

Below is a list of the top five English translations of the Bible most evangelizing Christians are using, some recent and some considered archaic, listed in order of most important for the non-believer, namely:

The King James (Authorized) Version (KJV)
The New International Version (NIV)
The New Living Translation (NLT)
The New King James Version (NKJV)
The Message (MSG)

All of these versions are online, but nothing beats a paperback or even hardcover version readily to hand and suitably annotated, marked-up and disfigured to bolster you in the fray. Also note that a few have, or are, undergoing revisions for a variety of reasons, mainly to make 2,000+ year-old superstitions more relevant to our modern world, and a few come in a plethora of special editions. Even the newest incarnations can be had for a steal on auction sites, such as eBay. The short list has been culled by researching many forums, blogs and Websites for true-life accounts of actual confrontations between non-theists and theists. Someone else may come up with a different list; for example, although Catholics are unlikely to come at you in the same way and with the same ferocity as fundamentalists or evangelicals, the list might look somewhat different from a non-mainstream Protestant perspective:

The New American Bible (NAB)
The New Jerusalem Bible (NJB)
The Good News Bible (Today’s English Version) (GNB/TEV)
The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The New World Translation (NWT) (Jehovah’s Witnesses)

The question may occur to you that if you know the worst of the Bible in general, what need do you have to study particular translations? The fact is, not all Bibles are created equal in the eyes of the faithful. It would behoove the atheist in the know, for example, to learn the denomination of those who approach, Bible in hand, so that you don’t get entangled with such nonsensicality as, “Well, you’ve obviously only read the Devil’s favorite translation, the noxious New International Perversion,” or something along those lines. If you were engaging a so-called King James Onlyist, you would do well not to mention, although feel free to do so, that the verse they just quoted should be left out of the Bible due to modern liberal Biblical scholarship. You must devise another tactic altogether to even begin to knock on their block.

Relatively recent and pious books, such as A Visual History of the English Bible, by Donald L. Brake (Baker Books, 2008) are interesting enough, filled with fascinating anecdotal information and reports of confusion born of historical accidents. Thus evident is the fact that you need to know a bit of religious history in general, and the history of the Bible and how it got here, to effectively debate or attempt to dissuade the zealots on their own turf. It should be obvious that unless you run away swiftly form every encounter, you will at some point be forced to justify your worldview. Science, rationality, a grasp of history, healthy skepticism, plus informed critical-thinking are the best – sometimes the only – tools we have.


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    • John F. Felix profile image

      John F. Felix 3 years ago from Crystal Lake, IL

      Thanks very much, hoshie. I can't believe that after all this time I never noticed my error. According to my 2003 print version by Barbour Publishing, Inc., that edition has "NLV" on the cover [New Life(TM) Version with Topical Study Outlines]. What fascinated me with the NLV was its use of a "simplified vocabulary" of around 850 words, excluding proper names, which was something I had to see for myself. The error has been corrected.

    • profile image

      hoshie 3 years ago

      I found your post via Google. There is an error in your post. The NLT is known as the New Living Translation. The New Life Translation was published by two Canadian missionaries in the 1960s. They are not the same.

    • profile image

      Jesse 4 years ago

      The "Message" really is a terrible translation.

    • djseldomridge profile image

      Donna Seldomridge 4 years ago from Delaware

      Why do you feel you have to "defend" your beliefs. How about just saying, "Sorry, I'm an athiest," and closing the door or walking away?

    • profile image

      John F. Felix 8 years ago

      Many atheists read the Bible, or read it in their past, though not all. I have a printed copy of The Living Bible I purchased during a Catholic prayer meeting attended by some Protestant visitors while I was at Catholic HS in 1978. As an amateur Biblical scholar, I prefer to study the Bible in its original languages, but for English, I prefer the most formally equivalent translations, and though I support modern text critical scholarship and favor the critical texts over the so-called Received Text, because of the ubiquitous presence of KJV language in American culture, it remains my favorite in general. Thanks for the comment.

    • soulpower profile image

      soulpower 8 years ago

      personally i prefer The Living Bible, published in 1971 by Tyndale. its paraphrased but it works well for me when evangelizing, teaching, or reading; when researching i have a KJV that i use as a reference for the most part. I suppose an atheist reading any translation of the bible is somewhat strange in itself. Nice Read < 3