The Top Ten Best Selling Bible Translations Compared to Ten Years Ago

June 14, 2020

There is a lot of stability in the preference of Bible translations, at least from the perspective of sales. The latest data I have is from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association as of January 2020. The numbers in parentheses represent the rankings in 2011. As a caveat, I understand that some Bibles may be paraphrases rather than translations.

Rankings as January 2020 (numbers in parentheses are 2011 rankings) 

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

 Observations:

    • The rankings are amazingly stable since 2011. One translation dropped three spots (NASB). One dropped two spots (NKJV). No other translation dropped or gained more than one spot. Technically, the CSB was the HCSB (LifeWay) in 2011.
    • The TNIV was discontinued in 2011. It was ranked 10 that year.
    • The NLT is “the quiet Bible.” The translation continues to gain readers without as much attention as other translations. It is now 3 in the rankings. I started reading the NLT this year and I love it.
    •  Obviously, the RV is a Spanish translation.

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45 Comments

  • Alexander Thomson says on

    DearThom,

    I am surprised not to have received comment on the matter of the data on Bible literacy and preferred versions. I take it that folk are not really bothered about the matter. So, I’ll sign off, thanking you for the opportunity of putting forward the data.

    Every Blessing,

    Alex.

  • Alexander Thomson says on

    According to my latest (final and audited) schedules, and in line with my earlier drafts, it can be seen that; (1) the US and the UK are equal in their latest (2019) OECD scores – Average (of 77 countries/economic areas) 487 – US 505, 12th in ranking – UK 504, 13th in ranking; (2) that each of them has one-third of its adult (16-65) population at the OECD average Level 2 Basic and Level 3 Intermediate literacy, being one-third at each of the two Levels; (3) that the everyday-task reading age of the average adult is in the range of 11-14 years, though 15 might sometimes be used; (4) that blockbuster novels are written at reading age 12 Level, and that daily newspapers are read in the range 9-11 years – though editorials are pitched in the range 11/12-14 years.

    All this tells us that both the US an the UK are really operating at the level of functional literacy, though the newspaper editorials example (and other evidence and experience) show that the average adult is capable of reading at two to four years above everyday level – if there is real interest in a matter and/or the matter is serious,

    My review of the preferred Bibles of those, in the US and the UK, who express a preference for a particular version/translation, consistently (and over some years) shows that between 70% and 80% of preferred Bibles are shared by only 4 versions/translations. (In the following, the figures given are on two bases : the first for public=general readers; and the second for private=serious students.) KJV commands US 26-33 and UK 13-26; NKJV commands US 18-14 and UK 21-23; NIV commands 13-10 and UK 26-11; ESV commands US 15-21 and UK 18-21.

    What leaps at me is that, in order to encourage and improve Biblical literacy and understanding, we should be promoting (only or mainly) these 4 Bibles, paired or parallel – ie, KJV+NKJV and NIV+ESV. In fact, why not all four together? (I have ideas about the formats for pairing/parallel.)

    The public sales figures for the NIV show that it is the top sales Bible in the US, but it does not figure high in surveys. Many of the copies registered as US sales are sent abroad. The NIV figures lead me to wonder about its future. And the KJV, though figuring respectably in declared sales, is understated, as many private groups print and use and distribute it.

    Please do let us in this Blog have your thoughts. Many thanks!

  • Alexander Thomson says on

    Dear Thom,
    I hope you will allow me to post two of the schedules from my final report on Bible literacy and Preferred Bible version.
    (All the earlier schedules can be deleted!)

    OFFICE OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND CO-OPERATION
    PISA TRIENNIAL LITERACY RESULTS (Ages 16-65)

    Countries/Economic Areas No. 65 65 70 77
    Scored Results for each Year 2009 2012 2015 2018

    lowest score 314 384 347 316
    highest score 556 570 535 555
    average score 493 496 493 487
    US score 500 498 497 505
    UK score 494 499 498 504
    US ranking 17 26 22 12
    UK ranking 25 25 21 13

    PROGRAM INTERNATIONAL ASSESSMENT ADULT COMPETENCIES

    34 Countries/Economic Areas US ranking 12th UK ranking 10th
    PIAAC ANALYSIS 2018
    Percentage Shares = 100 Total
    Category Level Average US UK
    College [University] 5 2 3 2
    Proficient 4 10 9 11
    Intermediate 3 35 36 35
    Basic 2 34 33 34
    Below Basic 1a 4 8 4
    Below Basic 1b 5 3 4
    Below Basic 1c 5 3 6
    Nonliterate nl 5 5 4

    Basic Level 2 is the level needed to cope with everyday tasks.

    Blockbuster novels are at reading age 12 level.
    Popular newspaper text is at reading ages 9-11 levels,
    but their editorials are set at reading ages 11-14 levels.

    The “tolerable limit” can be taken as 2 years above the nominal year.
    Most Americans and Britons at Basic Level 2 can, within a shorter or
    longer period, increase their reading age, by two years plus.

    • Alexander Thomson says on

      PREFERRED BIBLE VERSIONS A = information from public information
      YEAR TO DECEMBER 2019 B = information from private information

      Bible OECD OECD Reading US US UK UK
      Version Level Category Ages A B A B
      KJV L 5 College 17 18 26 33 13 26
      NKJV L 2 Basic 11 14 18 14 21 23

      NIV L 2 Basic 11 14 13 10 26 11
      ESV L 3 Intermediate 12 15 15 21 18 21

      TOP 4 72 78 78 81

      CSB L 2 Basic 11 14 3 2 3 2
      NLT L 2 Basic+ 12 14 8 6 7 3

      NASB L 4 Proficient 16 17 4 8 3 8
      NRSV L 4 Proficient 16 17 4 3 4 3

      Others 9 3 5 3

      Lower age begins understanding of translation’s register and style
      Upper age brings understanding of translation’s language and style

      KJV To be acquainted with the English classic?
      NKJV The modernised partner for that classic?

      NIV A modern Bible with a “less literal” approach?
      ESV A modern Bible “softening” that “less literal” approach?

      CSB A good starter Bible for the reluctant reader?
      NLT To become the Bible of many average readers?

      NASB The best translation in English but hugely underused?
      NRSV The Bible for the academic desk and the church lectern?

      QUERY Are the reported ages (especially the lower ages) too high?

  • Alexander Thomson says on

    PREFERRED BIBLE VERSIONS
    YEAR TO DECEMBER 2019
    PERCENTAGE SHARES

    Bible OECD OECD Reading US US UK UK
    Translation Level Category Ages A B A B

    KJV L 5 College 17 18 26 33 13 26
    NKJV L 2 Basic 11 14 18 14 21 23

    NIV L 2 Basic 11 14 13 10 26 11
    ESV L 3 Intermediate 11 15 15 21 18 21

    CSB L 2 Basic 11 14 3 2 3 2
    NLT L 2 Basic 12 14 8 6 7 3

    NASB L 4 Proficient 11 14 4 8 3 8
    NRSV L 4 Proficient 16 17 4 2 4 3

    Others 9 4 5 3

    A = from public information B = from private information

    Lower age begins understanding of translation’s register and style
    Upper age brings understanding of translation’s language and style

    KJV To be acquainted with the English classic
    NKJV The modernized partner for that classic

    NIV A modern Bible with a “less literal” approach
    ESV A modern Bible “softening” that “less literal approach”

    CSB A good starter Bible for the reluctant reader?
    NLT To become the Bible of many average readers?

    NASB The best translation in English but hugely underused?
    NRSV The Bible for the academic desk and the church lectern?

  • Alexander Thomson says on

    OFFICE OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND CO-OPERATION
    PISA TRIENNIAL LITERACY RESULTS (Ages 16-65)

    No. Countries/Economic Areas 65 66 70 77
    Reported Literacy Scores 2009 2012 2015 2018

    lowest 314 384 347 316
    highest 556 570 535 555
    average 493 496 493 487
    US 500 498 497 505
    UK 494 499 498 504
    US ranking 17 26 22 13
    UK ranking 25 25 21 12

    PROGRAM ASSESSMENT INTERNATIONAL COMPETENCIES

    34 Countries/Economic Areas
    Level Average US UK

    College [University5 2 3 2
    Proficient 4 10 9 11
    Intermediate 3 35 36 35
    Basic 2 34 33 34
    Below Basic 1a 1a 4 8 4
    Below Basic 1b 1b 5 3 4
    Below Basic 1c 1c 5 3 6
    Nonliterate nl 5 5 4

    Blockbuster novels are at reading age 12 level.
    Popular newspapers are at ; text 9-11 ages, and editorials at 12-14 levels.

    Basic Level 2 is the level needed to cope with everyday tasks.
    The “tolerable limit” can be taken as 2 years above the nominal year.
    Most Americans and Britons at Basic Level 2 can, within a shorter or
    longer period, increase their reading, by at least 2 years.

  • Alexander Thomson says on

    Dear Thom, Having now completed my reviews, and having got them through the first stage of audit, I thought that y’all might be interested in the results that will be mulled over in order to finalise some policies. There are only two sheets, you will be glad to learn! I am neither a technophile nor a technophobe, but I am most definitely a technofumbler; and I use inferior technology! So’ please bear with me; and I hope that the two pages will be legible and understandable at your end! If so, you may wish to remove the previous pages, as they must be cluttering your nice blog! I hope that one or two readers here might offer observations and comments, as all good stuff is fodder for the mill of truth! Many thanks, and every blessing, Alex.

  • New International Version (NIV) is always the best one!

    • Alexander Thomson says on

      Now, sure and begorrah, and why would that be after being the case?

      • Alexander Thomson says on

        The NIV’s market share in the US, as the preferred Bible translation, is under 15%. (In the UK, it may be up to 30%.)

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