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For the purposes of reading longer sections of scripture as a story or for "un churched" audiences, more accessible versions can be really useful but there are a lot to choose between and some attract a lot of controversy e.g. Passion Project.

The Good News bible was popular when I was a child but that was 30 years ago so I'm not sure if it has been superseded.

Among mainstream protestant denominations in English speaking nations (Church of England, Baptist, etc) what such versions are most widely used? I am focusing on audiences who speak English fluently.

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  • I believe this may differ depending on which denomination you follow.
    – depperm
    Jun 29 at 10:24
  • Hi Mr. Boy. I'm voting to close this question as opinion based - answers will depend upon answerer's judgements of what constitutes a 'well-regarded' translation. As @depperm has suggested, it might be better to ask (for instance) 'which thought-for-thought translations of the Bible are widely accepted by American Evangelicals?' Jun 29 at 11:08
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    @CaptainHat, I'm not asking "what version do you like best". e.g. I have never read Passion but it is objectively true to say it is controversial. But I will see if I can re-word...
    – Mr. Boy
    Jun 29 at 12:09
  • It is remarkable that, despite widespread 'scholastic' contempt for over a hundred years and despite widespread commercial pressures, the KJV remains the second most bought/used bible in the English language Top Ten Best Selling Bibles 2020.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 29 at 18:07
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It' is easy to determine the most popular Bible translations. Within that you would have to be more specific about what constituted "simple English".

Of the ten most popular translations listed, there are three you might consider "simple", in order of popularity by sales:

  • New Living Translation "clear, contemporary English that was written to be read aloud...with a focus on clarity"
  • New International Readers Version A deliberately simplified rendering of the popular New International Version
  • The Message "highly idiomatic ... simplistic translation of the Bible's original languages."
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  • The list to which you refer has 1. NIV 2 KJV 3 NLT. Your list appears to read 1.NLT 2 NIV 3 The Message.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 29 at 18:02
  • 1
    @NigelJ The list is filtered by "simple", and presented in order of appearance in the list: NLT (#3), NIrV (#8), The Message (#9). Jun 29 at 18:53
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    I think presenting Message as "simplistic translation" is not ideal, it presents itself as a paraphrase. I have no problem with that as a useful resource but the distinction is important to many people
    – Mr. Boy
    Jun 30 at 21:24
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Simple English translation options

Among the top 10 bestselling Bible translations in 2020:

  • NIV (1978, latest update 2011) ranks #1
  • KJV (1611, latest update 1900) ranks #2
  • NLT (latest update 2004) ranks #3
  • ESV (2001, latest update 2016) ranks #4
  • CSB (2017, revised 2020) ranks #6
  • NIrV (1996) ranks #8
  • The Message (2002) ranks #9
  • GNT (1976) is not in the top 10

Judging by the chart below (source), and from Logos Bible Translation Spectrum wiki page, from most literal to paraphrase: Translation Comparison Chart

  1. ESV: word-for-word, "essentially literal"
  2. KJV : word-for-word
  3. CSB (major revision of HCSB) : thought-for-thought, "optimal equivalence"
  4. NIV : thought-for-thought, "balanced approach"
  5. NLT : thought-for-thought, dynamic equivalent
  6. GNT : thought-for-thought, Eugene Nida's method "functional equivalence"
  7. The Message : paraphrase

As for readability as US school grade level, BibleGateway and christianbook.com ranks:

  • KJV: 12
  • NIV, CSB, and GNT: 7
  • ESV: 10
  • NLT: 6
  • The Message: 4-5
  • NIrV: 3

Based on the comparison above, to fit your criteria of most widely used "simple English" for "unchurched" people, and taking into consideration accuracy, I recommend 3 options: NLT, CSB, then NIV. But as a replacement for GNT, I think NLT is your best choice since it is the most readable. Although The Message is very readable, it's not recommended, since it is a paraphrase (not that accurate). Although KVJ ranks #2 it is requires too high a reading level.

  1. NLT (New Living Translation): NLT has also been gaining popularity (move to rank #3 from rank #4 nine years ago) and there are more packaging choices as well as more study Bible with NLT translations compared to the GNT (Good News Bible). In a 2018 Bible Gateway blog guest post The Mission and Impact of the New Living Translation Bible, Mark Taylor (CEO of Tyndale, publisher of NLT) made the case for NLT, which grew out of The Living Bible which his father published in 1971.

  2. Christian Standard Bible (CSB): more accurate than NLT, ranking #6 in sales and only slightly higher reading grade level. According to a report from Global Bible Initiative CSB has the best overall score (70.3%) when balancing readability and literalness compared to ESV (69.3%), NIV (63.6%), KJV (61.0%), NLT (56.6%), etc. (GNT is not included in the study).

    • For Literalness, ESV is 68.74%, KJV is 66.58%, CSB is 64.83%, NIV is 53.10%, and NLT is 39.90%.
    • For Readability, NLT is 70.08%, NIV is 67.20%, CSB is 66.75%, and KJV is 48.83%.
  3. NIV : similar reading level with CSB, but less literal than CSB. Since it has been around the longest, has the most selection of editions and study Bibles.

Study Bible for beginners

For "unchurched people" I also recommend a Bible embedded inside a beginner-level study Bible such as the NLT Life Application Study Bible, 3rd Ed (2019), winner of the 2020 Christian Book Award for Bible of the Year (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association). Purists may object to the unavoidable denominational perspective of a study Bible (I try to research the bias of the NLT Life Application), but I think it's more important that a study Bible can sustain their actual reading of the Bible via its user-friendly book intro & commentaries, and catchy side notes.

There are several options for study bible for new believers reviewed at The Best Bibles for New Believers (written in 2020), recommending the New Believer's Bible NLT published in 2020 with special features tailored for new believers. It's edited by Greg Laurie, founder and senior pastor of a non-denominational mega church Harvest Christian Fellowship which in 2017 joined the Southern Baptist Convention which should give you a clue of the possible theological bias in the study notes.

CSB also has a growing number of study bibles available.

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  • This does not answer the question. The most commonly bought/used bibles (in the list to which you link) are 1. NIV 2 KJV and 3 NLT. This answer simply promotes the third in the list for no clear reason. But what of the first and the second ?
    – Nigel J
    Jun 29 at 17:59
  • @Nigel OP is interested in a Bible for "unchurched" people. I have extensively used NIV, KJV, ESV, NLT, NASB, and NRSV in studying Bible with my family, and found that NLT is a lot easier to understand for first glance meaning, since it translates dynamically into 21st century English but a lot more circumspect in paraphrasing than The Message or The Good News Bible. That's why I recommend it over NIV although NIV remains to be #1. Of course, more serious Bible study should use either ESV or NRSV, or even Hebrew/Greek interlinear. Jun 29 at 18:15
  • One point I'd make is you describe the Good News bible as a paraphrase, which I do not believe to be accurate. At least according to wikipedia it is a translation from the sources, not a paraphrase.
    – Mr. Boy
    Jun 30 at 12:13
  • The CSB is becoming quite popular in the circles I move in; my church switched to it a few years ago, and even my theological college supports it. I find it very clear and accessible.
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 30 at 13:52
  • @Mr.Boy After reading more about Good News Bible, I agree that GNT is a dynamic translation rather than paraphrase. As the wikipedia entry said, they now name Good News Bible as Good News Translation to improve public perception (which include myself apparently) that GNB is a paraphrase :-). I edited my answer thoroughly with more data. Please let me know if there is anything else to improve. Jun 30 at 13:52

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