All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (KJV)]
Generally speaking, there are three kinds of Bible translations: paraphrase, word-for-word, and thought-for-thought. With their straightforward contemporary language, paraphrase versions like The Message and The Living Bible are easy to read. The further we get from literal translations, however, the more room there is for interpretive error. Paraphrase Bibles are a bit like a radiologist’s report on a CT scan. If we were surgeons, we wouldn’t base our surgical plan solely on his summary of the scan; we’d examine the patient and look at the actual scan before operating. A surgeon doesn’t perform surgery based solely on the radiologist’s analysis and we shouldn’t base our faith entirely on our reading of paraphrase Bibles. Nevertheless, just as the radiologist’s easily understood report has value (especially to the layperson), so do paraphrase Bibles.
For many of us, the word-for-word King James was our first Bible. Unfortunately, with its archaic grammar and phrasing, it wasn’t always easy to understand. The word-for-word English Standard Version, however, is quite readable. Unfortunately, a single English word often can’t capture the gist of the original Greek or Hebrew. The strict word-for-word translation in Young’s Literal can seem nearly incomprehensible to anyone but a scholar. Most of us probably prefer thought-for-thought Bible translations like the New Century Version, New International Version and New Living Translation. Rather than translating each word, they translate the meaning of a sentence or paragraph into modern English and are easier to read than many other translations. Regardless of the translation used, the additional explanations found in study or life application Bibles make them easier to understand. As for me, whatever translation used, I prefer it in large print!
Sadly, claiming that it’s beyond our comprehension, many of us don’t read any version of the Bible. Although the King James Version is considered twelfth grade reading, the New King James Version is written at seventh grade level. The Message and God’s Word translations are written at fifth grade level and the New Century Version is considered third grade reading. While the Bible can be confusing at times, it isn’t incomprehensible. What’s important is finding a Bible or Bibles with which we feel comfortable. We should never forget that the primary purpose of Bible study is not to become Biblical scholars or to win a Bible trivia contest. The reason we study the Bible is to know more about its author—God! That can be done any translation; we must, however, do the reading!
The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. [Søren Kierkegaard]