you-Version-BiblesSunday morning seems like an appropriate time to mention this story. The New York Times has taken notice of YouVersion, a free social-networking-enabled e-Bible application for mobile devices. Built by evangelical megachurch, the application is a non-denominational electronic Bible with access to hundreds of translations in hundreds of languages, including the NIV.

The article covers a lot of themes we’ve talked about in relation to other e-book initiatives. For example, the value of free:

“We have a generation of people that can’t fathom paying 99 cents for a song that they love,” [YouVersion creator Bobby] Gruenewald said, “and we were asking them to pay $20 for a book that they don’t understand.”

While some Bible publishers are concerned about their works being available completely free, they also see the availability as beneficial and potentially driving sales of printed versions of their books. (And not all versions can be downloaded for offline reading. Some, such as the NIV, are only available while connected to the Internet.) It also provides aggregated information about readership patterns, much as the Kindle does of regular books for Amazon, that YouVersion can share with the Bibles’ publishers to help them understand what parts of their books people look over most.

I downloaded the app to my iPad and have been playing around with it. It seems like a pretty decent way to read the Bible, if all you’re looking for is reading passages for your own interest, or following along with your pastor in church. It also allows you to share your favorite verses with friends on Twitter or Facebook. But unlike the Biblical websites I looked at here, it doesn’t offer much recourse to the serious scholar. If you’re looking for commentaries and analysis, or the ability to compare multiple versions in parallel, you’ll have to look elsewhere.


  1. Chris, I didn’t know you had an interest in Western religion. As far as the topics we cover here are concerned, here’s something I’ve always been curious to know regarding the Christian Bible:

    It’s been said over and over again that while it never shows up on bestseller lists, the Bible is supposedly the best-selling book of all time, and has been for many years. I suspect there’s some truth to that. But the Bible, of course, comes in many, many different versions and translations. You’ve got your New American Standard, your King James, your Revised Standard Version, your New Revised Standard Version, your English Standard Version, etc., etc. And that’s to say nothing of all the foreign translations, of which there are many hundreds – probably thousands.

    So. I’d love to know which particular version (or even which particular modern English-language version) has historically been the best-selling. Anyone out there have any idea?

  2. Also, for what it’s worth, regarding my previous comment: For those of you who weren’t raised in a Christian church and/or aren’t familiar with the Christian Bible, the various versions of the Bible are actually very different – in many cases, significantly so, I would say. There are untold examples of a verse, say, in one version, having an almost completely different meaning from the same exact verse in a different version.

  3. Well, I have about the same interest in the Bible that I think any Christian has. It’s a guide for how we should live our lives. (Generally speaking, anyway.) The biggest problem with it was that it was written for a completely different culture than our own, which leads to disagreements as to which parts need to be followed literally and which should be reinterpreted more figuratively.

    This is also why there’s so much disagreement between the versions, because you can’t just translate it word for word like plugging text into Babelfish or Google Translate. It’s more like fansubbing or dubbing anime in that you also have to figure out how to render various concepts from a completely different culture that were taken for granted by the original writers but modern people would have no idea about.

    One of my favorite examples has to do with Jesus’s parable of the yeast of the Pharisees (referring to the Pharisees’ teachings). To us in the here and now, yeast is this thing you buy in little paper packets and dump into your bread dough. But we’ve only even known what yeast really was for a couple of hundred years. Back in Biblical times, people would put their unleavened dough out in the open air, and this magical something that they didn’t know what was would come down out of the air into it and change it. And they called that something “yeast.” Just like teaching comes out of nowhere and changes your mind.

  4. I really appreciate this review/article on the YouVersion app. I’ve heard of it but really didn’t know anything about it. I’ve thought about using it in church, so that mention was helpful. Thanks so much!

  5. Dan, the King James Version, or Authorized Version, is very easily the best-selling translation of all time. Now in the public domain, it was translated in 1611, used closed to exclusively in Western culture until the past generation or so (though still very common), and therefore has 400 years of seepage into our cultural minds.

    As for differences, remember that the Old Testament was a collection of Hebrew books, whereas the New was a collection of Greek books. It’s not that the “meanings” are different, but they are given to modern readers in different wordings to be understood better. I think you may have seen “paraphrases” such as the Living Bible or The Message that do radically sound like entirely different verses at times. These are very free and loose rewordings of the Scripture. But the more popular translations, from the English Standard (fairly new) to the NIV (1978) to the Revised Standard Version (1952) are quite rigorous, usually word for word or phrase for phrase translations. While no original manuscripts of biblical materials exist, all of the portions of both testaments are very well attested by a huge number of fragments and portions of those scriptures, spread across countries and dating from the first few centuries. So scholars are able to make comparisons and come to intelligent conclusions about what the originals may have said and, through comparison to other ancient manuscripts and study of those cultures, what they meant to ancient readers.

    • Rob — Thank you very much for the comment, and for the clarification. I was raised in a Protestant Baptist family, and when I was young, I went through a series of Bibles that were created specifically for pre-teens or teens, although for the life of me I can’t remember what they were called, or what specific translations they used. But yes, I do remember that quite a lot of the book was indeed “very free and loose” with its rewording! (Of course, I can certainly understand the intention behind creating a Bible that kids can understand.)

      So, King James Version is the answer. That’s good to know. And thanks also for the info about the Logos software, Rob. That’s something I’m not familiar with at all. Sounds like it’s definitely worth looking into, at least for those who are potentially interested in biblical studies.

  6. One other comment. Chris did a great job with these articles. He mentioned that most of these downloadable Bibles aren’t as helpful for the scholar. The best e-resource for biblical studies for the scholar is Logos software ( That company offers a massive suite of biblical software that pastors use and includes countless commentaries, biblical dictionaries, translational helps, and other resources. But much of it is available in the form of apps for phone, tablets, etc. Those who own Logos software, in particular, are able to make use of every bit of their scholarly materials–massive libraries of info–wherever they go through the apps. Certain resources, particularly those in the public domain, are available free.

    One of the more exciting projects they have is an ongoing, dynamic study Bible known as Faithlife that is free for a number of months ( It’s also in apps, connects verse by verse to your Bible, and offers layers of help with each verse. I’ve used Logos for years, and they’re passionate about the Word made digital.

  7. Dan, a funny example of what you and I remember–I grew up in a Protestant church like you, and at one time The Living Bible was very popular because of its down-to-earth, if extremely casual, rewording. We had a pastor who was very scholarly and worked from the original languages–then used the Living Bible from the pulpit because so many were reading it. One day he showed me that he had planned a sermon on Elijah the prophet, who had a duel with rival pagan prophets on Mt. Carmel. He taunted them and their god who could not make it rain. It’s in 1 Kings 18. At one point Elijah says sarcastically, in most translations, “Maybe your god is away, or out pursuing.” Well, it turns out that most scholars knew that in the Hebrew venacular “out pursuing” meant having a bowel movement. And the Living Bible translated it, therefore, “Maybe your god is off sitting on a toilet.” My pastor had just assumed the Living Bible would have a reasonable translation, and hadn’t checked it before he went to the pulpit. Just in time, he saw what he was about to read out loud–which would have shocked some folks in the early 70s in a church with a lot of members in the LATE 70s!

  8. It’s worth noting, though, that the King James is no longer really fit for the purpose for which it was originally conceived. King James (who was also one of the first big health critics of the practice of smoking, by the way!) commissioned it because up to that point, there had been no (successful) common-language translation of the Bible. Until then, all services had been conducted in Latin, which educated people spoke but was gobbledygook to common folk. So James ordered this translation to be made for the benefit of all English-speaking people. If they couldn’t read it, people who were literate could read it aloud to them. (It didn’t make him real popular with the Pope, as you might imagine.)

    Today, when people think of King James, they speak highly of the poetry of its words, which are written in essentially the same dialect Shakespeare used. But in doing so, they’re missing the point. The King James Bible wasn’t intended to be poetic. It was intended to be understandable to everyday people, who actually did speak like that back then. It basically was the “Living Bible” of its day. It…isn’t that now.

  9. Great comments, Chris. I agree that the KJV doesn’t get it done for serious study today. Interestingly, it actually WAS written with poetry in mind. I had no idea this was true until watching a recent documentary on its 400th anniversary. There were a couple of English translations around in 1611, notably the Geneva Bible, for Calvinists, and particularly in England what was known as the Bishop’s Bible. The Bishop’s Bible was extremely bland (and apparently inept–they called it “The Treacle Bible”). Part of the thinking of the translation team for the KJV was to popularize it for reading. The language is beautiful to us not only because it sounds like Shakespeare–but that that they actually went out of their way to make it easy on the ear for memorization and public reading. There are still many out there who grew up memorizing the KJV’s verses, and kind of hang on to it for that reason. It’s easier to memorize than the NIV which is accurate and rather plain. But I think the KJV is in its last generation of dominance, if not past it already. So many better options are available, including the New King James who want the familiar poetry with more responsible translation.

  10. Thanks for the post. One thing to note… the Bible App can actually do parallel reading of different versions on iPad if you turn the ipad in landscape position. We also have the same feature on Web (

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