Balancing the Sword - A comprehensive study guide to life's manual
Perfect to frame the discussions of your family worship or a church-wide study.


Buy Now


Reading Planner

Vocabulary Tool





Study Support








Tell a Friend


Bookmark and Share

What is the Easiest Bible Translations to Read?
      More Than 20 Translations Compared

Have you ever wanted to know what is the easiest English translation to read?  I've analyzed twenty-two (22) English translations to compare their readability using three different formulas:  Flesch Reading Ease, the Fog Scale Level, and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade LevelMy findings are below, but you'll benefit yourself greatly if you read this article to understand how this study was conducted.  Furthermore, there are very important caveats that should be disclosed so that the results are not misleading.

Why Might This Be Important?  If you are reading the Bible for high school credit or college credit, this form of analysis of the Scripture is the same standard by which all curricula is graded in the United States.  You should select a translation that is close to your expected grade level.  (Bear in mind the qualifications listed in the following disclaimers.)

Disclaimer 1 - Readability, Not Accuracy.  First, this study measured readability, not translation accuracy.  There is frequently a tradeoff between accuracy and readability.  Therefore, easier is not always better.  

What is God's Word?  The original manuscripts are the originals.  All English translations are (at best) brilliant and skillful English translations.  None are perfect.  The original authors were inspired and infallible, but no translators claim to be inspired and infallible.  This is true for translations into all languages:  Spanish, Russian, Chinese, etc.  It is foolish to claim that the English translators of one particular translation were infallible, but all other translators for all other languages are fallible.  However, some translations are of vastly better quality than others.

Inspired Scripture includes complex concepts and a wide variety of vocabulary words.  To make the Bible easier to read, some translations simplify the concepts and reduce the vocabulary.  This helps the young or struggling reader with reading ease, but compromises the accuracy of the Text as the translation morphs into a more child-like rendition.  We must respect that fact that God gave the original Text on a particular reading level which was not designed for first graders.

Disclaimer 2 - Mechanical Formula.  The formulas used are basic mathematic calculations which count and compare 

  • how many words are in each sentence; 
  • how many syllables are in each sentence; and,
  • how many sentences are in each section.

The Flesch Reading Ease, the Fog Scale Level, and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level do not consider (1) the difficulty of the vocabulary, (2) the smoothness of the words' sequencing, nor (3) the logical arrangement of the sentences.  The formulas were designed for contemporary English and gives misleading results for older English or foreign languages.  Older translations used more archaic language and word sequencing.  However, the age of the vocabulary, in part, is what makes older translations more helpful in expanding one's vocabulary and improve reading skills.  Finally, the reading level formulas all assume that sentences are sequenced in an equally logical manner.

Case Study of Two Sentences.  To illustrate, I've composed two sentences.  The first sentence has a more advanced vocabulary and structure, but is considered easier by the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level formula. 

  • Sample 1:  "As the fierce winds blew, the ass toiled with the farmer only a whit behind."

  • Sample 2:  "The farmer was very close behind the donkey as the donkey worked very hard as the hard winds blew."

Sample 1 receives a 5.21-grade level rating while Sample 2 receives a 6.73-grade level.  However, the second sentence is clearly easier to read.

Case Study of 1 Chronicles.  Another example of this shortcoming is found in the results for the first chapter of 1 Chronicles.  Any experienced Bible student knows that the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles are among the hardest to read, even for seasoned preachers.  The challenge comes from the hundreds of ancient, foreign names interlaced throughout the chapters.

As a test, I compared the averaged grade level generated for the KJV, NIV, and NKJV for the first chapters of 1 Chronicles versus 1 Corinthians.  The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level formula produced very inaccurate results.  1 Corinthians 1 has an average grade level rating of 9.26 while 1 Chronicles has an average grade level rating of 4.58.  Who thinks that reading the first chapter of 1 Chronicles is easier than 1 Corinthians?  No one.

Disclaimer 3 - Limited Sample.  We sampled six chapters from each translation of the Bible.  I attempted to select somewhat representative books.  Three chapters were from the Old Testament; three were from the New Testament.  Therefore, we tested 132 chapters in total (i.e., 6 chapters x 22 versions).  There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible.  So, this is truly only a sample.  Which chapters were tested? 

  • Old Testament:  Genesis 1
  • Old Testament:  Deuteronomy 1
  • Old Testament:  Proverbs 1
  • New Testament:  John 1
  • New Testament:  1 Corinthians 1
  • New Testament:  Revelation 1

The average results from all twenty-two versions of the Bible were compared for these six sample chapters/books.  Which chapter is the easiest to read among the six?  John 1.

Chapter / Book

Combined Average for the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level
OT:  Genesis 1 5.59
OT:  Deuteronomy 1 8.52
OT:  Proverbs 1 9.20
NT:  John 1 4.72
NT:  1 Corinthians 1 8.93
NT:  Revelation 1 8.88


Translations Listed from Most Difficult to Least Difficult Reading

Translation Year First Published Grade
Young's Literal Translation (YLT) 1862 14.86
Amplified Bible (AB) 1958 10.52
American Standard Version (ASV), a.k.a., 
American Standard Bible (ASB)
1901 10.02
Geneva Bible (revised) 2006 9.87
King James Version (KJV), a.k.a., 
Authorized Version (AV)
1611* 9.52
Revised Standard Version (RSV) 1952 9.33
Darby Translation (DBY) 1890 9.21
New American Standard Bible (NASB or NAS), a.k.a, 
New American Standard Version (NASV or NAS)
1971 8.81
New King James Version (NKJV) 1982 8.47
New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) 1985 8.12
The Jerusalem Bible (JB) 1966 8.05
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 1989 7.96
English Standard Version (ESV) 2001 7.9
New International Version (NIV) 1973 7.08
New English Translation (NET Bible) 2005 6.61
Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) 2003 6.51
Good News Translation (GNT), a.k.a., 
Good News Bible (GNB), a.k.a., 
Today’s English Version (TEV)
1976 5.44
The Message (MSG) 2002 4.73
New Living Translation (NLT) 1996 4.72
New Century Version (NCV) 1991 4.23
Contemporary English Version (CEV) 1995 4.21
New International Reader's Version (NIrV) 1994 1.94
Rules for the Analysis


Little Sentences.  Translators divide concepts into smaller sentences in order to make their version of the Bible easier.  An extreme example is found when we compare the New International Reader's Version (NIrV) against the Young's Literal Translation (YLT) for the first chapter of Deuteronomy. 

Version Grade Sentences Words/Sentence
New International Reader's Version (NIrV) 1.71 159 8.61
Young's Literal Translation (YLT) 21.55 21 58.29

Notice that the NIrV has a very low grade level.  The YLT has more words per sentence and 138 fewer sentences.  In all six chapters tested, the New International Reader's Version (NIrV) had the highest number of sentences.

General Observation.  The translations that are more "word for word" (as opposed to more "thought for thought") challenge the reader to a more advanced level of reading because concepts originally presented in the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek are more carefully retained.  Idioms from another language may not make sense to the average English-speaking reader.  However, translators assume a misleading approach if they take the liberty upon themselves to disguise or distort those idioms.

WARNING:  If you elect a reader-friendly version which is highly paraphrased and less trustworthy, use it as a secondary translation.  Read a more reputable version as your primary translation of the Bible.  Comparing several reputable translations may also prove very beneficial. 

Related:  Books of the Bible Based on Difficulty

Passing on Credit.  Do you appreciate these findings?  Well, I was not alone in these endeavors.  Melissa Merritt was my lead researcher with assistance from Ann Merritt.  I'm grateful for their careful work.

Rules for the Analysis:  We eliminated all elements other than the translated Text. Therefore, we deleted chapter numbers, verse numbers, editorial footnotes, paragraph headings, and pericope headings.  We tested a maximum of 5,000 characters for each chapter.

Buy Balancing the Sword!

Balancing the Sword is a structured study guide for every chapter of the Bible.