The Bible can be difficult to read. It was originally written a few thousand years ago in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Which, by the way, is amazing: God’s Word is still changing lives and stirring faith in people throughout history.
Have you found the Bible to be difficult to read? Did you get stuck in your reading and felt guilty that you’re not enjoying reading the Bible as you think you should? You’re not alone. I have a few suggestions for you. I hope it can remove some of the barriers that keep you from receiving the benefits of studying God’s Word.
What version of the Bible is easiest to read? For many people, the New Living Translation (NLT) is the easiest version of the Bible to read because it uses normal modern English. It is an accurate thought-for-thought translation of the original languages of the Bible and is widely accepted.
Although the NLT is the best overall choice for most people, it’s not necessarily the best choice for everyone. Every version of the Bible has a slightly different aim in its translation. Here are my expanded recommendations. You can compare the text of each one on websites like Bible Gateway.
As you check out the options, you might also want to see if you like the ESV first. If you find it easy enough to read, it might be a good choice because you can also use it for more serious Bible Study in the future.
I enjoy the NLT but use the ESV as my main Bible because of its versatility. The one I use for my Bible reading is the ESV Personal Reference Bible (link to Amazon – opens in a new window).
When it comes to choosing a Bible version or translation, there is no one right answer. Some of the decision is based on personal preference. There is usually more than one way to translate from one language to another. It’s a balance of being true to the original and saying it in a way that flows naturally in English.
Most modern English translations of the Bible are fairly accurate to the original text. But, each version has its strengths and limitations which makes it better for some uses than others. Some are good for reading and others are better for more serious Bible Study.
The best bible version for beginners will be the one that fits the needs of the person reading. To help you decide, let’s look at a few more details.
What Is the Most Readable Version of the Bible?
Here are a few more details on my Top 3 Recommendations for Bible Versions for Beginners:
New Living Translation (NLT)
The NLT aims for a 6th-grade reading level. It’s not the lowest reading level on this list, but for most people, it’s the best overall choice. The NLT is what’s sometimes referred to as a thought-for-thought translation and strikes a good balance between being literal and easy to read. It’s not a word-for-word translation, which the ESV is closer to, but is still a good choice for Bible Study.
The NLT is best for: The NLT is a good translation for most people who are looking for a Bible that is easy to read. It’s a great translation for reading and is good enough for in-depth Bible Study.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The ESV aims for an 8th – 10th-grade reading level. It’s not as easy to read as the NLT which we just looked at, but it’s still clear and easy to read. The ESV is becoming the favored translation because it’s close to a word-for-word translation, but still clear and readable.
The ESV is best for: The ESV is a great version for people who are looking for a Bible that is a good balance of easy to read but still great for serious Bible Study.
Contemporary English Version (CEV)
The CEV aims for a 5th-grade reading level. It’s the lowest reading level in my top 3. The CEV is not as well known as some of the other translations, but it can be a good choice for some people. It’s recommended here because it’s still based on the original text of the Bible.
In terms of reading level, the CEV is the easiest bible to read.
Many of the Children’s Bibles on the market are paraphrases or storybooks. These are marketed as Bibles, but they’re more like stories based on the Bible and not translations of the original text.
The CEV is best for: The CEV is a good version for a Children’s reading Bible. It’s a full text of the Bible based on the original text but aimed at a lower reading level. It is also a good choice for those who are learning English as a Second Language.
Reading Level of Bible Translations
Reading Levels of the Most Popular Bible Translations (Chart)
|BIBLE VERSION/TRANSLATION||READING LEVEL|
|New International Version (NIV)||7th grade|
|King James Version (KJV)||12th grade|
|New Living Translation (NLT)||6th grade|
|English Standard Version (ESV)||8th – 10th grade|
|New King James Version (NKJV)||7th – 9th grade|
|Reina Valera||Spanish Translation|
|Christian Standard Bible (CSB)||7th grade|
|New International Reader’s Version (NIrV)||3rd grade|
|New American Standard Bible (NASB)||11th grade|
|The Message (MSG)||4th grade|
Here are a few things to note about the chart:
These are the top 10 most popular Bible translations based on data from the Christian Book Expo – March 2020.
The King James Version (KJV) is great for historical value and poetic language. It’s not on my recommended list of easy to read versions because it uses Elizabethan English from the 1600s.
Some of the reading levels have a range because different publishers and groups have different standards for how to measure them.
The 10th on the list is the Message, which is a paraphrase of the Bible and intended for reading, not as a Study Bible. Most paraphrases are influenced by one person and not based on a group of language experts like the other translations on this list.
I don’t recommend paraphrases of the Bible for beginners. Paraphrases lean more towards making the original text flow smoother in English. They can also contain biases from one individual translator rather than a team.
This doesn’t mean that paraphrases don’t have their place as a devotional-type reading Bible. I recommend paraphrases to enhance your understanding, but not to rely on as your main version of the Bible. Most people who are starting out only have one version of the Bible, so I wouldn’t recommend a paraphrase to be the one.
Which Bible Version Is the Most Accurate and Easy to Understand?
There are a lot of translations and versions, so how do you know which one to choose? Who should you trust? There are so many opinions and options out there, so I want to explain the reasons why I recommend the NLT, ESV, and the CEV. Then you can make an informed decision that you feel confident about.
It’s helpful to know the two major approaches in translating the Bible from the original text.
The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek with a little bit of Aramaic here and there.
The two main approaches to translating the Bible are word-for-word and thought-for-thought.
In simple terms: Word-for-word translations try to stick as closely as possible to each word of the original languages. The thought-for-thought translations lean more towards being clear and expressing the Bible in modern English. This doesn’t mean that they are not accurate. It’s just a different emphasis and approach in translation.
Translations like the ESV are more word-for-word. The NLT and CEV are more thought-for-thought. Paraphrases like the Message would be on the far right of that spectrum. Paraphrases take the meaning and express it with words that are not in the original text.
A lot more can be said about Bible versions and translations, but that’s the essence of it.
Which Bible version is the most accurate and easy to understand? Word-for-word versions are “more accurate” and thought-for-thought usually means “easy to understand.” As you can see, that’s the tension. The ESV can be considered slightly more accurate since it leans towards word-for-word. And many people consider the NLT to be easier to read since it is translated thought-for-thought.
If I have to pick just one, I’d go with the ESV because people usually don’t argue about its accuracy and it is still clear and easy to read. That’s why the ESV is gaining in popularity as the study bible of choice for a lot of people.
If you compare the different translations, you’ll probably find that most wordings are similar. The meaning is almost always the same. There are a few places where translators disagree. This is why it’s usually safer to have a team of language experts rather than one person’s paraphrase.
Lastly, there is one thing I need to mention about the NLT and the CEV. They both lean towards gender-neutral language in some places. For example, it’ll say in Genesis 1:27 that God created humans where more word-for-word translations like the ESV will say that God created man – which is the more literal translation of the original text in Hebrew.
The NLT and CEV are not nearly as far leaning as some other translations like the NIrV (which is not included in my top 3 list here). For that reason, I don’t recommend the NIrV here.
Most of the gender-neutral leanings in the NLT and CEV are more for English usage reasons in my view and less so than translations like the NIrV and the NIV. For this reason, it’s not a deal-breaker for me. I have my convictions about what God’s Word says but I can also see that in English, it’s more natural for people to say that God created humans than to say that God created man.
For serious Bible Study, I recommend the more word-for-word translations like the ESV, so this is not an issue, but for a reading Bible, it’s something that I wanted to mention so you’re aware of it.
A lot more can be said about Bible translations in general. But for most people, this is probably way more information than needed.
The conclusion is that the most popular Bible translations are good and you can know what God’s Word says. I feel confident recommending the 3 versions: ESV, NLT, and the CEV. Whichever one you decide to go with, ask Holy Spirit to lead you into all truth (John 16:13).
Let me know in the comments below or through the Contact Us page if you have any questions or suggestions on what types of articles or resources would be the most helpful to you.
There will never be an end to scholarly and academic debates. If you keep your focus on wanting to know what God says and following Jesus, you’ll be well on your way to receiving all that God has for you through His eternal Word.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.2 Tim. 3:16-17 (ESV)
|If you found this article to be helpful, I think you’ll love this simple way to study the Bible, called the Sword Method Bible Study: The Easiest Way to Study the Bible (link opens in a new window). In the article, I share how I personally use it, but it’s simple enough that children can use it.|
Also, here are 21 Valuable Benefits of Studying the Bible. In it, I share some of the benefits and blessings of reading and studying the Bible.
Lastly here are Encouraging Bible Verses for Strength, Comfort & Perseverance. In it, I share 21 Scriptures that will encourage you when you face difficult times.