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Saturday, August 13, 2005

Which are the easiest English Bibles to read?

I blogged corrective information in my preceding post. In this post I wish to cite reading statistics which indicate which are actually the most easy to read English Bible versions.

Click here or on the title to this post to read my Bible Translation glossary entry on "Reading level." That glossary entry has been on the Internet for many years. It is easy to find through a Google search. From that glossary entry we can see reading levels for a number of English Bible versions. Following is that list, rearranged from lowest (easiest to read) to highest reading level, with the reading level of 7.4 for the ESV added, which the ESV Bible blog recently posted:

Continue reading


At Tue Aug 16, 01:09:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

NIrV 2.90
NCV/ICB 3.90
TM 4.8
CEV 5.4
GW 5.8
NLT 6.30
NAB 6.60
TEV 7.29
ESV 7.4
NIV 7.8
LB 8.33
NKJV 9.0
NRSV 10.40
NASB 11.32
KJV 12.00

I suspect that each of these reading levels was computed with the Flesch-Kincaid reading level test, so that should be kept in mind when comparing the reading levels in this list. Those versions which are not written in contemporary English, such as the KJV and ESV, actually should be adjusted to rank higher due to the amount of obsolete and non-standard English wordings found in them. Subjectively, the NIV reads better than the ESV, since the NIV does not have have, for instance, the long outdated inverted negative word orders which the ESV translators only began to correct from the RSV. Similarly, the NIV has, IMO, less obscure, strange wordings than does the NIV. The Flesch-Kincaid reading test is too primitive to adjust reading level for strange ESV English such as:

The like has never been, nor ever shall be. (Ezek. 16:16)
Let not oil be lacking on your head. (Eccl. 9:8)
they drop trouble upon me (Ps. 55:3)
a wild donkey used to the wilderness, in her heat sniffing the wind! (Jer. 2:24)

I believe that a more accurate reading level for the ESV would be approximately grade level 10, as I have stated previously.

The easiest English Bible versions to read are the NIrV, NCV, CEV, and GW. (The Flesch-Kincaid test is reliable for these versions because they are written in contemporary English.) The ESV is one of the more difficult versions to read, especially if we take into account, as we should, the amount of outdated English and wordings which only have English words but are otherwise not English. The Message receives a Flesch-Kincaid reading level of 4.8, but that is by no means indicative of its actual reading level. Again, The Message is a case of a Bible version written in non-standard English, so the reading test results are not accurate. My wife and I happen to enjoy reading The Message. But it is full of Eugene Peterson's unique idioms and metaphors, some of which are difficult for us, as native speakers of English, to understand. But if we only rate versions based on average word and sentence length, we are going to come up with inaccurate, misleading statistics. We need better testing instruments to give more accurate comparisons of ease of reading among the various English Bible versions.

Categories: Flesch-Kincaid, Bible versions


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