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.
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  • Alexander Thomson says on

    Dear Thom,

    Thank you for your continuing work in Bible matters.

    I refrained from further comment on Bible statistics, until the completion of the [extended] report, for the thirty years from 1993 to 2022 inclusive, of the Serious Bible Student’s Project (SBSP).

    As far as I am aware, only the Evangelical Christian Publishers’ Association (ECPA) publish annual statistics of the “Top Ten Best-Selling Bibles” – ie, for the US : there seem to be no corresponding statistics for the UK.
    But, such sales statistics must be cautiously received. In particular, the NIV may be the US best-seller, but many of its copies go abroad, and so are not read in the US; and there are individuals and organisations that publish and distribute the KJV, but do not register data with ECPA or other(s).

    The following extracted (audited) data sets out a synopsis of the position for US General Readers. [There are separate data for each of three other categories : US Serious Students, UK General Readers, UK Serious Readers].

    1903 and 2011 and 2014 and 2017 and 2022

    The Bible versions are stated in the order : KJV, NKJV, “KJV” (as surveys show that respondents can confuse or confound, or use together or alternately, KJV and NKJV), ESV, “TOP 3”, NIV, “TOP 4” – seven results in all.
    1993 66 8 74 na 74 9 83

    2011 63 6 69 2 71 8 79

    2014 44 10 54 6 60 17 77

    2017 39 12 51 12 63 12 75

    2022 24 14 38 21 59 8 67

    I have found that individuals can be shocked, even hostile, when they realise that only four versions dominate even the public arena; and they are often not able to understand that their preferred version many not figure high in the market! Be that as it may, I offer the above data for consideration and discussion.

    Two final points – concerning NLT and CSB. NLT may well be overtaking NIV. NLT figures slowly increased to 9 for both 2019 and 2020, then went to 12 for 2021, and have increased to 14 for 2022. It does seem that the NLT may be displacing the NIV. CSB was hovering between 2 and three to 2019 inclusive, then went to 5 for 2020, then increased to 8 for 2021, and has again increased to 10 for 2022; and it too may be displacing NIV.

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

    Kind Regards,


    • Alexander Thomson says on

      Just wondering if anyone had any comments.

      • Alexander Thomson says on

        Dear Thom,

        I write further to my comments of July 14, 2023 and August 16, 2023.

        The ECPA table of the top-ten best-selling Bibles for the 2022 year displaced the KJV from its usual second place to fifth place. Many thought that the end of the KJV was arriving, but some of us were not so convinced! Anomalies do occur in all systems; but it was unclear whether the displacement was a clerical error or a temporary anomaly! Now we can see that the KJV is restored to its usual place, by looking at the 2033 published table : 01-NIV, 02-KJV, 03-ESV, 04-NLT, 05-CSB, 06-NKJV, 07-RV,(Spanish). 08-NiRV, 09-NASB, 10-NRSV.

        My comments of July 14, 2023 gave the “Top 4 Preferred Bibles of US General Readers, the category coveredESV-22 + by the ECPA figures. As the 2023 Serious Bible Student’s Project (SBSP) has had audited its completed 2033 report, I can supply the following SBSP 2023 figures (as percentages) : KJV-21 + NKJV-18 = “KJV”-39 + ESV-22 = Top 3-61 + NLT-15 = Top 4-76. [“KJV” is presented as some respondents confuse, and some deliberately mix, KJV and NKJV.]

        Thus, we see that the NLT, which has been steadily challenging the NIV for six years, has definitely now displaced the NIV. The NIV percentage was 7. The CSB has also been challenging the NIV for four years, and its percentage was 10. [Will there be a challenge between the NLT and the CSB?] It does seem that the NIV has lost its attraction for the general reader.

        The SBSP 2023 figures for Serious Students were : KJV-30 + NKJV-14 = “KJV”-44 + ESV-22 = Top 3-66 + NLT-12 = Top 4-78. NIV was 5, and CSB was 6 : neither seems to threaten the NLT’’s position.

        So — 76% of US General Readers and 78% of US Serious Readers prefer only these same four translations! Food for thought and for informing both church and evangelistic policies?

        I do hope that you, and others, will be able to comment on the matter herein; and I thank you [all] for your kind attention.

        Kind Regards,


    • Alexander. Thomson says on

      Dear Thom,

      An update to my comments of July 14, 2023, now that the Serious Bible Student’s Bible Project [SBSP]
      has competed, and had audited, its 2023 findings.

      The following are the percentages for the “Top 4 Preferred Bibles of US General Readers” for 2023 : KJV-21+NKJV-18=“KJV”-39 [as many respondents confuse and/or use together KJV and NKJV] + ESV-22=Top3-61+NLT-15=Top4-76. [CSB-10, and NIV-7]

      The Top3 remain KJV, NKJV, ESV; but, for three successive years, NLT has been ahead of both CSB and NIV; so that SBSP has now put it into fourth place. Will NLT remain fourth? Will CSB continue to rival, or even overtake, NLT? And will NIV continue to become only a small player? [But the NIV Study Bible remains popular.]

      Available are the 2023 figures for : US Serious Students; UK General Readers; UK Serious Students”.

      Thank you once again for the opportunity to comment on the matter of Bible sales and preferences. Personally, I think that we can now be confident that we have a very good picture of which Bible versions are preferred by both US and UK General Readers and Serious Students !

      Kind Regards,


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