Major Shift in the Top Ten Best-Selling Bible Translations the Past Year

There has been an amazing shift in the sales of Bible translations in less than a year. After years of relative stability, the King James Version (KJV) lost its number two ranking. In fact, the KJV dropped two spots to number four. The modern language translation of the KJV, the New King James Version (NKJV), fell one spot.

While the New International Version (NIV) is still ranked as number one, the New Living Translation (NLT) has moved to the number two spot, followed by the English Standard Version at number three. We realize that The Message is a paraphrase, not a translation.

Let’s look at the rankings, followed by a few of my observations.

Rankings as of March 2022 (numbers in parentheses are June 2021 rankings). 

  1. New International Version (NIV) (1)
  2. New Living Translation (4)
  3. English Standard Version (ESV) (3)
  4. King James Version (KJV) (2)
  5. Christian Standard Bible (CSB) (5)
  6. New King James Version (NKJV) (6)
  7. Reina Valera (RV) (7)
  8. New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) (8)
  9. The Message (Message) (9)
  10. New American Standard (NASB) (not ranked)

 Observations and Notes:

  • If the King James Version remains at this level, it will signal a major shake-up in Bible translation preferences. It has held the number two spot for many years. Is it a reflection of the decline or closings of smaller KJV-only churches? Or perhaps, it reflects cultural shifts. If a family wanted a Bible for the coffee table, they typically would pick a KJV. Families may not want a Bible at all in their homes.
  • Is the New Living Translation (NLT) headed toward replacing the NIV as the number one preferred translation? While we don’t have market share data, we hear anecdotally that many pastors have moved to the NLT. Their congregations are likely following.
  • The New American Standard Bible (NASB) is back in the top ten after a year’s absence.
  • The New King James Version (NKJV) was number three ten years ago. It has gradually lost its ranking over the years to number 6 today.

 

There was an error in the June 2021 rankings in the original article. It has been corrected.

Posted on March 28, 2022


With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

21 Comments

  • Thanks again for sharing this information Dr. Rainer!

    I found an interesting counter trend when comparing the Google Trends information for the main Bible Translations. Their interest over time shows the KJV moving steadily up and becoming very dominant. This is very curious to me and I’d speculate online Bible reading and Bible sales are two very different data points.

    Sorry to paste a link , but here is what it looks like on Google Trends going back to 2004.
    https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?hl=en-US&tz=240&date=all&geo=US&q=%2Fm%2F02hx5x,%2Fm%2F048lc,%2Fm%2F02mhw5,%2Fm%2F05g92,%2Fm%2F03dm63&sni=3

  • JW Roberts says on

    Thom, my go to study Bible has become the Amplified Bible (AMP). I use their app on my cell phone.
    What do you think about AMP? Would you consider it a translation?

  • Several years ago, as part of a debate on different translations, I predicted “one day the KJ translation would slowly fade into history like Reformational translations that came prior.

    Looks like the “earliest days” of that prediction are here.

  • John Draper says on

    I’m glad to see the top 4 translations mentioned, all of which have their strengths. For several years the ESV was the translation I favored, but a couple of years ago, a website I often use called biblehub.com used the Berean Study Bible on their home page. Over time, the accuracy and flow of the translation won me over and I now use that as my preaching Bible–and the one I use confidently for my own reading and Bible study. One thing I’d like to see translated differently: where some translations use the word “Counsellor” or “Comforter” for the promised Holy Spirit in John 16, they use the term “Advocate”. That is properly within the range of translation possibilities, but I still favor the more familiar terms.

  • Leo Howard says on

    The rise of the NLT is concerning, not because it is horrible, but because it is (as I understand it) a revision of the Living Bible, which was one man’s paraphrase. I would love to see the NKJV rise in popularity, as it is really the best of several worlds based on footnotes and readability. Yet Nelson doesn’t seem to care much about it. And that NIV is just stubborn, right?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Leo –

      Thank you for your input. You are incorrect. The NLT is a translation from the most reliable manuscripts, not a revision of the paraphrased Living Bible. I do think the word “living” lends itself to that confusion, so I encourage you to look at the plethora of reviews and research regarding the NLT.

      • Thanks for clearing that up, Dr. Rainer. Just the other day, I made a not-so-positive comment about the Living Bible in my sermon, and someone later asked me if that was the same as the New Living Translation. I told her I was not familiar with the NLT, so I didn’t know. Now I do! Thanks again.

    • The NLT is actually a translation with a translation committee. The Living Bible was the paraphrase of one individual, Kenneth Taylor.

  • As a Conservative Southern Baptist the CSB is quickly becoming my go to translation!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks, David. Here is some trivia you will likely never need. I led the creation of the CSB when I was CEO of Lifeway.

  • Katherine says on

    I checked the ranking of June 2021 and March 2022 from ECPA, and the only difference is the ranking of KJV and NLT, all other rankings are the same. Could you check the source again?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Katherine –

      You are absolutely correct. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. We have corrected it in the article.

  • NLT is becoming the go to Bible in my congregation. They used NIV for years but they like the readability of the NLT. I remind them to keep a KJV, MEV or NKJV available for serious study due to Greek text differences.

  • neil macqueen says on

    Important to note that these sales numbers only reflect sales of Bibles by the Evangelical Publisher’s partners at “retail locations” such as bookstores according to the ECPA website. Doesn’t include Amazon or Kindle sales, or Bible apps. It doesn’t adjust for promotions which publishers notoriously use to boost rank. It also doesn’t include the NRSV which is one of the best-selling Bibles among UMC, UCC, PCUSA, ELCA, and various Reformed denominations. If I had to bank on the stats, I’d say NIV and KJV are still the most widely purchased and read.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      THanks for the input, Neil.

    • I agree. Evangelical data skews in one direction and it is likely that the NRSV is in the top 10, maybe even top 5 in reality. And the message sells well across those platforms and may be a bit higher than this data as well. But the KJV will drop even further in the bigger mix as mainline people all but ignore it as an option anymore. So KJV is reducing and as evangelical churches decline post political mess and Covid, their impact on market share seems to be reduced as well. So I echo Neil’s comment and add a few things that would emphasize Neil’s point but actually bet that KJV is not higher than this list in reality. NLT and NIV are both doing well in mainline sales/use and likely keep their spots in my opinion. Thanks!

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Thanks so much for that perspective, Dave.

      • Charles Smith says on

        I think the KJV is actually higher. Alot of KJV only people buy their bibles through Independent Baptist ministires that reprint the KJV, in particular the Scofield Bible of 1917 that is out of print.

  • When I became senior pastor at the church I am currently serving in, after many years being the student pastor, I continued to use the NLT as I had while teaching students. I found the language easier for students to grasp and understand. I got positive feedback from the adults as well. Many of them have bought NLT Bibles or are using an app with that translation on their phones or tablets. This wouldn’t have happened without me using the NLT.