Top Ten Bible Translations in the United States


The Christian Booksellers Association has published its list of bestselling Bible translations in 2012 for the United States.

2012 – Based on Dollar Sales

  1. New International Version
  2. King James Version
  3. New Living Translation
  4. New King James Version
  5. English Standard Version
  6. Holman Christian Standard Bible
  7. New American Standard Bible
  8. Common English Bible
  9. Reina Valera 1960
  10. The Message

2012 – Based on Unit Sales

  1. New Living Translation
  2. New International Version
  3. King James Version
  4. New King James Version
  5. English Standard Version
  6. Common English Bible
  7. Holman Christian Standard Bible
  8. New American Standard Bible
  9. Reina Valera 1960
  10. New International Readers Version

Are there any surprises to you? How many of these translations have you read?



Posted on March 19, 2013

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Your email address will not be published.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 *


  • Ronnie J says on

    Hi. Dr. Rainer,
    Thanks for posting this helpful data! I think it would be interesting to see some trending data as well over the last say 10 years. I have read all of these translations at some point with the exception of the Spanish version, Reina-Valera. Personally I carry an ESV study bible with me most of the time and that is the translation of choice when I preach as well. We use the ESV student study bible in our teenage groups in the church as well for teaching and memory. When I preach, I go to my logos library and print out the ESV, KJV, Holman, NASB and the NLT to read over together. I really don’t prefer The Message but do often refer to JB Phillips in the NT. I grew up in a KJV only church and often when I quote from memory that is what comes out! In the end all of these owe a great debt of gratitude to the KJV and William Tyndale. Nothing in my mind will ever fully replace it and it’s poetic beauty, but I do like my ESV 🙂

  • I prefer the New American Standard translation as I’ve found it to be closet to the original language, which makes for a more accurate exegesis when preparing my Sunday School lessons.

  • Grew up on the KJV, then over the past 20 years shifted moved to the NIV, NASB and finally my current version, the ESV. I have heard favorable things about HCSB and like Steven, would be open to hear more about the Holman.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Scott –

      See my comment to Steven. Thanks.

      • Mike Brady says on

        I’m currently using New Life Version (NLV). I have used other translations. I think NLV is simple and easy to understand plus it doesn’t remove any verses like the NIV.

  • I would be interested in seeing what pastors prefer as their primary preaching text, in line with Todd’s comment above. Our senior pastor went to the HCSB this past year after the NIV 2011 update.
    I’m dismayed that the ESV and HCSB are not doing better, but I presume that most people buy a “brand” (forgive me) that they recognize.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Ted –

      Both the HCSB and ESV are young as far as translations go. They are doing well at this point.

    • david brainerd says on

      I had some initial interest in the HCSB, but then I noticed it used the word “Yahweh” in the OT, and I lost interest. LORD or Jehovah, only. Put “Yahweh” in a translation, and I won’t use it.

      • Michael says on

        David… if you do some research on God’s personal name used in the OT, you’ll discover that “Lord” is an incorrect translation. Why? Because, Rabbis, when they would read God’s name out loud from the text, would say “Adonai” (Lord) instead of God’s actual name (YHWH). They did this because they felt God’s name was too sacred to say out loud. Also, “Jehovah” was a medieval creation which combined God’s name (which consists of four letters and no vowels) with the vowels of Adonai. Also, in Latin, the “Y” became a “J”. Notice that we don’t say “Hallelu-Jah”, we say “Hallelu-Yah” (with a “Y” sound, not “J”). Hallelujah literally means “Praise the Lord!”. Or, better yet, “Praise Yah!” (YH). Sometimes, in Hebrew, God’s sacred name is shortened to the first two letters (YH).

        So, we know how to pronounce the first part of God’s name (Yah), but… scholars really aren’t sure how to say God’s full name. Since ancient Rabbis refused to say God’s name out loud and record the correct pronunciation for later generations, we can only guess as to how God’s name is pronounced. Yahweh, however, seems to flow off the tongue and seems to be a nice fit.

        So, now you know! 🙂

  • Steven Menteer says on

    I would have lost a bet over the number one slot. I thought it would have been the KJV. On a personal note, after my conversion I was given a NLT by my pastor, even though he was/is a KJV onlyist. As of right now, I favor the NASB for its literalness, but I’m open to hear why I should study and preach from the Holman.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Steven –

      For you and the other readers: I would love to send you some pretty insightful information on the HCSB. If you are interested, send your mailing address to [email protected]. Thanks!

      • I love the HCSB. I only wish that they would have used the “Textus Reseptus” to translate from. Maybe then it would not be criticsed as much as it has been. Yet then they would say its not as accurate as it could have been! But anyway, please send me all you have pertaining to this translation. Thanks and God Bless!

  • Brother Thom: Thanks for the list, and thanks for your leadership @ Lifeway.
    I love bibles, and like to read a lot of translations. Our church uses the NKJV and that is what I preach from every week. It is what I started using in seminary – The Believer’s Study Bible – and took with me to the pulpit. However, I like the NLT as an easy to read and have passed along that recommendation to new Christians. I like the NASB for a literal translation. I have tried to like the ESV. I appreciate the scholarship and endorsers of the ESV, but I just don’t like to read it for some reason. The HCSB is good as well and more and more people in our church use this translation, which I certainly do not discourage. The NIV . . . well, IMHO there are just better choices. The old KJV is hard to beat for the simple beauty of the English language, and it is hard to read the Psalms in any other translation.

  • Heartspeak says on

    I grew up with KJV, so I tell people I’m still ‘fluent’ in KJV. Used NASB in Bible school and preferred it. It seems like NIV is most common in my circles these days and it’s grown on me. I have a copy with the NIV and Message side by side and really like the ability to quickly compare. I love reading the MSG and it gives a more wholistic sense of the passage (especially NT epistles) but I’d never use it for technical study, hence having the NIV right there keeps me from losing the intent of the passage.

  • Todd Benkert says on

    Would love to see some data on what translations are being purchased/used by evangelicals.

  • I have read the NKJV, NASB, and the NIV. I am almost finished with the RSV (taking well over a year and a half to finish a 1 year reading plan), and in Deuteronomy reading the ESV. I may or may not have read through the HCSB. I can’t really remember. I try to do a different translation each year, and think I have completed 4, but the HCSB is uncertain. I grew up KJV, but I have never gotten beyond the Psalms trying to read it. Funny enough, KJV isn’t my preferred translation (I go back and forth between the NASB and ESV), whenever I try to quote scripture, I default to KJV. 🙂

  • Not so much surprises as trends–Interesting to see that (1) KJV is *finally* slipping to #2 & #3. Powerful tradition, isn’t it? Also (2) Rise of the NLT is interesting. I wonder if that was accelerated by the 2011 revision of the NIV?

  • Jim Jacobs says on

    Always enjoy your blog. In reference to what Bible versions I’ve read, the NIV, NLT and the Message are versions I’ve read through. Grew up with the KJV.

  • I think it could be defined as a surprise that the ESV continues to run middle of the pack, and cannot even supplant its closest formal equivalence rival in the NKJV. I view this as almost a rejection of the version in one sense, it doesn’t seem like it will supplant the NIV as being the closest thing to a universal English version we have, contrary to what the groups pushing it are asserting. I think the HCSB is hanging tough but suffers from lack of marketing and awareness. The CEB gets the boost because its the mainline translation.

    The only versions that have a shot at “dethroning” the NIV are the NLT and HCSB, it would seem. I figured the NIV would suffer a little more based on the controversy surrounding it, but it still seems to be the favorite.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Excellent analysis DH. Great points on the different translations. Thanks for the contributions.

      • And thank you for the excellent blog. I really hope the HCSB does well; I prefer the traditional language that it retains over the NIV, and that places it above the NIV and NLT which both read well (as does the HCSB).

        I just wish for a little better layout when it comes to the poetry. It’d probably also help to one day get a copy of it that’s as nice as my ESV genuine leather large print version I lucked up and won on Twitter. However, I don’t typically spend that much on Bibles!

        To answer the questions as to what versions I’ve read, I’ve read 10 out of the 11 total listed. The only one I haven’t read is the Reina Valera, and that’s because my Spanish is muy malo.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Thanks DH. We are encouraged about trends in the HCSB.

      • I find the HCSB to be a beautiful translation. I would use it as my main choice except for one major flaw. When I read “this is the Lord’s declaration” it sets my nerves on edge just like scraping your fingernails across a blackboard. Change that and you have my undivided devotion.

    • I like NIV the best. However, I do not care for the 2011 update at all. I stick with the 1984 version.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Thanks Alice.

      • I too like only the NIV 1984 ver

        ,I do have the 2011 ver but I read part of it once and put it up. I have several other translations and I always compare each other.

        My favorite are the 84 NIV,NKJV, KJV,NASB , the others are ok because I do get the meaning of verses in each after comparing.

        I have noticed there are pros and cons for every single translation. Even at that I get the meaning of a Book and verse ,isn’t that what matters.

      • It is a though for though translation..not word for word..just for info

    • The biggest controversy with the NIV is from Ignorance, Hubris, and loyalty. Throw in a little KJV Idolatry as well…..

      There isn’t a translation out there with nothing to gripe about it. NET is great with all it’s notes. NIV is great with it’s concepts such as Sinful Nature for Sarx instead of FLESH every time which confuses people to no end and creates whole screwed up doctrines. (EX. if Sarx is literally intended as the flesh of the body every time Paul says it, then Paul was a walking skeleton, See Rom 7:5) So the concept of a “flesh nature” that which drives our hungers and lusts akin to how our flesh does our body except in the context of Sin alive inside of me, nearly like an entity, Paul dubbed Sarx.

      Personally, I have few issues with any of those. If I’m reading, I like NET or NASB. Nasb isn’t real pretty, but it’s pretty easy to understand and get a pure picture as the most literal translation. But, put that against the NIV, embrace the differences in words, to get the message right. One will say six inches the other a half a foot, one uses words literally, (which syntax from 2000 years ago may cast askew our understanding) and NIV captures the concepts and expressions better.

      NET, gives you a little of both, an in between. And if you own one, it gives you a crap load of notes on why they said what where they said it. They show you the conflicts, and their reasoning so you can, as a lay person, get a working understanding of what was being said.

      Between the three, I have a well rounded study foundation.

    • davidbrainerd2 says on

      The ESV is pushed by Calvinists like John Piper. So there’s going to be pushback to it. Plus, its English is often awkward. Look at Philippians 1:3 in the KJV/NKJV and then in the ESV. ESV stuck with the old english syntax, but made it grammatically incorrect by changing “upon” to “in.” There’s some typical stuff like that. For example, changing “hell fire” (KJV) to “hell of fire” (ESV) — that’s just not English.

    • The NIV is the most thorough, clear and accurate version that really speaks to me and a lot of people evidenced by its dominance in the marketplace. The 2011 is not so strong but I still have 1984 and show people how to still get 1984 version. Very soon I will lead a charge to demand that all that have purchased 1984 NIV digitally be afforded the right to always have it electronically. After all, its what they paid for. shouldn’t be much of a problem to get it done legally. The NIV is just simply awesome!

    • I prefer The New Catholic Bible published by CTS. It matches our liturgy. It is a modified Jerusalem Bible with Grail psalms. It is good reading. It is not a form-equivalent translation. It is closer to a function-equivalent translation but still fairly exact.

      I use the New American Bible (not the NASB) too and the Christian Community Bible.

      When conversing with some Protestants on the internet I will quote the KJV from time to time because my experience is that many Protestants have a high regard for the KJV and some will not use any other bible. Sadly the KJV editions most commonly available today have removed the ‘apocrypha’ from the Old Testament Appendix that was present in the KJV at the time of its first publication.

      It is also disappointing that many Protestant bible translations provide only 66 books. I prefer to have a bible with a complete canon.

      • david brainerd says on

        NAB is probably the worst translation ever made. You’d be better off with the NIV, and I’m not a big NIV fan.

1 2 3 10