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

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 of 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.

Posted on June 14, 2020


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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72 Comments

  • KENNITH ACLIN says on

    Thank you for you insight and I’ve read/studied Transformational church, I AM A CHURCH MEMBER, and Autopsy of a Deceased Church, very insightful as well. Thank you and your team for what you do as it is needed.
    I have a Heart for the Household of God and I read/study about Finances, Leadership, and Prophecy (Signs and Seasons).
    I read almost all of Larry Burkett’s books and was a certified Financial Counselor with CFC.
    Are their any rankings as to Study/Teaching Bibles? I’ve read that different translations are written at different readable levels.
    I have WORDsearch on my computer and I like to use Parallel Bible for Study and Teaching (ESV, NASB, KJV, CJB, AND Darby).
    I have not looked into the NLT, also have some friends that tell me that the KJV is the one and only true Bible, and I was told by my brother-in-law-pastor that I needed some professional help, however I don’t have a clue as to what he was referring to!!!!!!!!!!

  • Alexander Thomson says on

    Dear Mr Rainer,
    It is a pleasure to thank you for this information and for your interest in this area of study. I have had the benefit of one of your table reports in the past. It so happens (!) that my own interest in the study led me some time ago to participate in a project designed to ascertain what really was occurring, from 2014 to 2019 inclusive, in the matter of preferred Bible versions. That project has now been completed, and I was praying for two things :(1) an indication of the state of play for 2020 – and, lo!, I have it from you; and (2) a forum to invite some feedback and comment on my data, before making a final conclusion on matters – and, lo, this forum would appear to be a very good place in which to elicit responses!
    I shall not, at present, make any comments on mstters , as I would welcome information/comments/etc. from you and your readers.
    I hope now to send through four schedules, each of a page or less. Please bear with this ageing technofumbler!
    If it is not possible to pursue matters here, please say so – and do not worry!
    Thank you for your kind attention.
    Every Blessing,
    Alex.

    • Alexander Thomson says on

      ECPA – UNIT SALES – “TOP TEN” – USA

      2011 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020

      NIV 01 01 01 01 01 01 01 01

      KJV 02 02 02 02 03 02 02 02

      NLT 04 03 05 03 02 03 03 04

      ESV 05 05 04 04 04 04 04 05

      NKJV 03 04 03 05 05 06 05 03

      CSB 06 06 06 06 06 05 06 06

      RV 07 07 07 07 07 07 07 unranked

      NirV 09 10 10 08 08 08 08 09

      Message 08 09 09 09 09 09 08

      NASB 10 09 10 10 10 10 07

      CEB 08 08

      ? 10

      • Alexander Thomson says on

        IUPUI REPORT

        “The State of the Bible” Report issued on 6th March 2014 by TheCenter for the Study of Religion and American Culture’ at Indiana University-Purdue University Indiana (IUPUI). The following statistics are reproduced vat Wikipedia, under “Bible Translations into English”.

        Table, by percentage, of Americans’ reading of preferred version of the Bible :-

        %

        King James Bible 55

        New International Version 19

        New Revised Standard Version 7

        New American Bible 6

        The Living Bible 5

        All other translations 8
        ……………………………………………………………..
        TOTAL 100
        ………………………………………………………………

      • Alexander Thomson says on

        PREFERRED VERSION

        American Bible Society’s
        “State of the Bible”2014 Report,
        per BARNA, for comparison “Public Arena” Project Results “Serious Students”‘ Project
        2014 2014 2019 2014 2019

        US US UK US UK US UK US UK

        KJV 38 41 37 15 13 42 45 33 29

        NKJV 11 12 14 19 21 13 17 14 23
        ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
        “KJV” 49 53 51 34 34 55 62 47 52

        NIV 15 21 29 23 26 11 17 5 11

        ESV 7 5 4 12 18 23 12 32 21

        NLT 5 3 3 15 7

        CSB HCSB unranked 2 2 5 4 1 1 2 3

        NRSV 3 3 3 2 4

        NASB 2 4 4 10 8
        ……………………………….. …………………………………………………………………… …………………………………………………………………….
        Total 81 87 92 91 93 94 96 96 95

        Others 9 13 8 9 7 6 4 4 5
        ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
        TOTAL 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100
        …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. … …………………………………………………..

      • Alexander Thomson says on

        https://www.statista.com/statistics/299402/preferred-bible-version-usa/
        Preferred Bible version in the U.S. 2017
        Published by Amy Watson, Oct 10, 2018

         The data represent the popularity of the versions of the Bible read in the United States as of January 2017.

        (Rebase factor = x100 -:-92) Reported Rebased
        % %

        King James Version 31 34

        New International Version 13 14

        English Standard Version 9 10

        New King James Version 7 8

        Amplified 7 8

        Christian Community 4 5

        New American Standard 3 3

        New Living Translation 2 2

        Revised Standard 2 2

        Contemporary English Version 2 2

        New American Bible 2 2

        All others (1% or less combined) 10 10
        ……………………………………………………………….
        Total “sure”, and rebased 92

        Not sure 8
        ………………………………………………………………………………………
        TOTAL 100 100
        ………………………………………………………………………………………

    • Alexander Thomson says on

      Last Schedule! I look forward to any information/observations/comments. Many thanks!

      BIBLE READING LITERACY AGES….AND RECOMMENDED BIBLE TRANSLATIONS PAIRINGS
      The relevant OECD literacy levels are set out below:
      Level 3: Adults are required to read and navigate dense, lengthy or complex texts. Level 3 literacy skills are the minimum considered necessary for coping with everyday life.
      Level 4: Adults can integrate, interpret or synthesise information from complex or lengthy texts. Adults can identify and understand one or more specific, non-central idea(s) in the text in order to interpret or evaluate subtle evidence-claim or persuasive discourse relationships.
      Level 5: Adults can search for, and integrate, information across multiple, dense texts; construct syntheses of similar and contrasting ideas or points of view; or evaluate evidence based arguments. Adults understand subtle, rhetorical cues and can make high-level inferences or use specialised background knowledge

      VERSION *AGE OECD CATEGOR….. LEVEL . RANGE BRIEF COMMENTS ON THE TRANSLATIONS PAIRED

      KJV 17+ Proficient 4.5-5 17-18 To be acquainted with THE English classic.
      NKJV 12+ Basic 3 11-14 The modernised partner for the traditional Bible.

      NIV 12+ Basic 3 11-14 A modern bible with a ”less literal” approach.
      ESV 15+ Intermediate 4 -4.5 15-17 A modern bible “softening” the “less literal” approach.

      NLT 14 Basic 3 11-14 Perhaps to become the Bible of many average readers?
      CSB 12+ Basic 3 11-14 A good stater bible for reluctant average readers?

      NRSV 16 College 5+ 18 plus The Bible for academics, students and church lecterns!
      NASB 16 College 5+ 18 plus The best translation in English, but hugely underused?

      * The (years) age is an estimated age at which a reader can fully read and understand it [the Bible}.

      Blockbusters are written at 12 year level.

      The average American reads daily at a 14 year age level.

      Millions of British adults are functionally illiterate, but the problem is ignored.

      OECD PISA TRIENNIAL REPORT – LITERACY 2009 2012 2015 2018

      lowest 314 368 332 340

      highest 556 613 556 555

      average 493 494 498 497

      US 500 481 496 505

      UK 494 494 509 504

      US ranking 17 36 25 14

      UK ranking 25 26 15 15

    • Alexander Thomson says on

      Sorry! One “last last” set of data, important to understand where the US and the UK look from the viewpoint of the OECD standpoint.

      LITERACY TABLE arising from OECD data for 2018. (Total 100)
      Category Level Age Range. US UK
      College(University). 5 plus 18 plus 3 2
      Proficient 4.5-5 17-18 14 12
      Intermediate 4-4.5 15-17 35 33
      Basic 3 11-14 34 36
      Below Basic 2 ….10 8 10
      Nonliterate 1 n/a 6 7

      Please do contribute your information/observations/comments, in the matter of the various schedules.
      It will help in the task of understanding the various questions that we may have about various Bible translations — and it will greatly help me in making recommendations in a report that I am completing!
      Many thanks!

  • Hi Thom,

    I’ve been in the publishing industry for a while and I’ve witnessed a lot of change from the frontlines. Increasingly, my hunch is that these ranking reports have a greater margin of error.
    Within the timeline you list, ECPA has experienced the departure of hundreds of Family and LifeWay stores and many other brick and mortar stores. Additionally, some news outlets say that Amazon could be responsible for somewhere near 50% of book sales in the US, but they do not divulge that information. Their volume has likely grown while ECPA members’ volume has likely declined. Can you verify if these numbers also include Amazon’s sales and ChristianBook.com? I suspect both of those would be the 2 largest customers for most Christian Publishers. If the ECPA ranking contains sales data from both those sources then my confidence would increase.

    Thank you Thom.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I can’t verify any of the details. I am simply using their rankings.

      • Alexander Thomson says on

        It’s precisely why I began to take a serious interest in matters! We don’t seem to be getting much transparency or disclosure in these matters! Are there no audits or the like?

      • Alexander Thomson says on

        Until 2014 inclusive, the American Bible Society published its “State of the Bible” reports, commissioned from BARNA. In these reports, they gave numbers about respondents’ preferred Bible version. The 2015 report was published, minus those numbers: and no explanation was given. No further reports were published in the public domain. Many, including myself, complained about this, but were either ignored or given short shrift. Just very, very recently I checked again on the ABS website – but no reports found. Just today (on a prompting?), I looked at the website, and, lo!, the 2019 report is there (dated April 2019)! See https://www.americanbible.org/uploads/content/state-of-the-bible-2019_report_041619_final.pdf Still no numbers about preferred Bible versions, as far as I can see: but I shall refrain, for the moment, from further comment on the matter. But, press on the ta for each of the years from 2011` to 2018, and you will be told, “404 Not Found”!

    • Alexander Thomson says on

      It is my understanding that the numbers do not include the “big boys” such as Amazon and Christianbook; and neither (points to consider) do they include private/nonmainstream/missionary editions of (eg) KJV and WEB.

      It is interesting to keep track of the monthly numbers : google > espa bible translations bestsellers > read for June, and tweak the date for other months. I refrain, for the moment, from making observations and comments!

  • Stuart Allsop says on

    It’s fascinating and encouraging to see a Spanish translation on the list, but it would be interesting to know which specific version of the Reina Valera was evaluated here. There are currently six that I’m aware of: The “Reina Valera Antigua”, “Reina Valera 1960”, “Reina Valera 1977” , “Reina Valera 1995”, “Reina Valera Contemporánea”, and the “Reina Valera Actualizada , 2015”. Or perhaps this statistic was the sum total of all these translations? Either way, it is interesting that Spanish language bibles are high on the list of popularity for the first time. It would be even more interesting to discover if that is due to an increase in interest in reading the Bible among Spanish speaking people, or a decrease among English speakers.

    • Alexander Thomson says on

      In the past, and I assume now, the Spanish version is the Reina Valera 1960. My American friends tell me that this is THE version for serious students! The RV has held 7th place for some time, but it may be going places this year : since January, four months at 7th place, but two months at 6th place. The consistent past placing might be explained by older immigrants going to an English version, but new immigrants starting/continuing with the Spanish version.

  • I have read most versions of the Bible. The most readable — and, I believe, the most reliable in terms of modern language — is the NLT. I have developed a real fondness for it and now have it on the easel on my desk. It’s the one I start with for my early morning devotional time.

  • Would you be able to provide percentages with this. Thanks.

  • David Moore says on

    I still use my NIV published in 1984. The newer editions have updated inclusive language which is less accurate, sometimes clumsy, and sometimes inaccurate. I do not like the newer NIV versions.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      The NLT is similar to the old NIV in translation philosophy without some of the changes of the updated NIVs.

  • Thom, I assume this applies only to printed Bibles. Purchases of digital Bibles are probably not included in the data; is that correct?

    • Alexander Thomson says on

      You may wish to look at the American Bible Society’s “State of the Bible” 2019 report. Page 65 has a table showing that, whatever other formats may be used, a printed format is preferred – from 2011 to 2019, the range was HIGH at 89% to 93%
      A printed Bible would seem to be the one to give to individuals!

  • Brent Pittman says on

    “Technically, the CSB was the HCSB (LifeWay) in 2011.” Technically, is that completely accurate? Is the CSB merely a renamed HCSB? As I go back and forth between the two, I see that they are not identical. It was my understanding that the CSB was a new translation.

    • The CSB is an updated version of the HCSB. I preach out of the CSB because I know several professors that helped translate it and update it. Also it is the only Bible translation that uses word for word translation if it is understandable to the reader today. And if it isn’t understandable then it chooses a more dynamic reading translation.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      My comment was to clarify that the 2011 rankings for the CSB were the rankings for the HCSB, not that the translations were identical. I know the two translations pretty well since I commissioned, approved, and provided the funding for the CSB translation committee.

  • Charles Pospisil says on

    I’m glad NASB is still on the list. It is what I bought for myself in 1971 and still enjoy it. I read from several others too but often go back to NASB. What I hate to see is preachers reading out of a paraphrase version when preaching. I don’t care if they encourage new Christians to read such to get a feel for the scriptures, but since they are explaining the meaning and application of the scripture in their sermon, it seems fitting to be reading from a Study Bible to accurately present the original language to the listeners.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      The NASB is still one of the most literal word for word translations.

      • Alexander Thomson says on

        What do you think of the two revisions now being done: (1) the Lockman NASB 2020; and (2) the McArthur Legacy Bible? I fear a splitting and falling away of a loyal NASB fan base; and I suspect that Crossway is anticipating increased sales!

  • As far as Bible translations, I grew up with the KJV and if I quote a verse it will come out KJV. I have been using CSB recently. I remember my pastor damning the RSV when it came out, mainly because of the Isaiah passages where virgin was transferred young woman.
    As far as being s consultant, I would love to do that but my health will not let me. Having been in the active ministry since I was 15, I have s deep love for the churches no matter what size.
    Thank you for your guidance and encouragement bus your posts.

  • NLT is a favorite of mine. Has been for a while. It is faithful and the language is alive and relevant. If I could, I would swap out our NIV pew Bibles (which are being removed in accordance with pandemic guidelines) and replace them with NLT. For more precision and in-depth study, I prefer the ESV or NASB.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks, Bob. The NLT continues to gain a lot of traction. Many like it because of both its accuracy and readability.

      • Alexander Thomson says on

        It certainly seems (from the ECPA numbers) to have been doing more than nudging its way up table of bestsellers, for the first six months of this year!

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