Top ten bible versions

The original scriptures were written mostly in Hebrew and Greek, two languages which are not commonly spoken today. That means all of our modern English versions are translations from the original. Because words and phrases can be translated in a variety of ways, we end up with a bookstore full of titles and abbreviations which can be a little confusing. Hopefully, this brief summary and unscientific rating system will help you to choose the version that is best for you.

In order of popularity by unit sales in the U.S. (CBA, January 2014):

New International Version (NIV)
Accuracy: ****
Readability: *****
Tradition: ***
Popularity: *****
Grade Level: 7.8
The NIV (1978) was freshly translated by 115 evangelical scholars, directly from the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. The primary concern was for accuracy and clarity, with a natural English style. This balance between accuracy and readability has made it the most widely used English version today, and it is considered by many churches and seminaries to be the default modern bible translation.

UPDATE: In 2011 NIV released an update that replaced the 1984 update most commonly in use (NIV 1984). Although a few changes are hotly debated, the vast majority of updates are positive and the NIV 2011 is already becoming the default NIV version online and in bookstores. In addition to some gender inclusion where men and woman are both intended (never in regards to God), here are a few improvements to consider while deciding whether or not to update:

"Sinful nature" is now "flesh", one of the more unfortunate overtranslations in the original NIV has been corrected to restore one of Paul's most powerful topics.

"Christ" is now "Messiah" in some cases, where the Jewish audience would have used the Hebrew title instead of  the Greek.

"Spirit" is now capitalized when it refers to the Holy Spirit, differentiating it from references to the human spirit.

"Saints" is now "God's people" as modern people associate that word with unbiblical teachings about sainthood.

Click here for a complete summary of the 2011 update »
King James Version (KJV)
Accuracy: ****
Readability: **
Tradition: *****
Popularity: ****
Grade Level: 12.0
The King James Version (1611) was translated in the contemporary language of the time to unite the English speaking church. It is considered a masterpiece and was long the most popular version of the Bible, surpassed by the NIV in 1988. Although many phrases are now archaic and hard to understand, its historical continuity, tradition and beauty make it still the favorite of many traditionalists.
English Standard Version (ESV)
Accuracy: ****
Readability: ****
Tradition: ***
Popularity: ***
Grade Level: 7.4
The ESV (2001) is an update of the Revised Standard Version (1952) which was an excellent modern translation that was criticized for its non-traditional interpretation of certain passages. The ESV fixes some issues, while capitalizing on the strengths of the often forgotten RSV (on which the Amplified is based). In some places is remains more archaic than the NIV, while remaining more readable than the ultra-accurate NASB or NKJV. A previous update to the RSV, the NRSV (1990) is preferred by many in mainline denominations and in academia for its preferrence for gender-neutral and enclusive language, while the ESV is preferred by many conservatives.
New King James Version (NKJV)
Accuracy: *****
Readability: ***
Tradition: ****
Popularity: ***
Grade Level: 8.0
The goal of the NKJV (1979) was to make the KJV more readable by replacing outdated wording such thee, thou, and thine with modern equivalents, while staying as true to the KJV as possible. The result is a half-way point between modern language readability and the strong tradition and phrases of the well-known KJV.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Accuracy: ***
Readability: *****
Tradition: **
Popularity: ***
Grade Level: 6.3
This update is based on The Living Bible (1971), Ken Taylor’s landmark paraphrase of the ASV, which he wrote to make the Bible more understandable to his children. Since he was not a scholar, the original was widely loved for its simplicity, but criticized for many doctrinal inaccuracies. The NLT (1996) was rewritten by 90 scholars from different backgrounds to fix most of these problems while staying true to Taylor’s gift for everyday speech. Its natural readability make it an excellent choice for new believers and for devotional reading.
Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
Accuracy: ****
Readability: ****
Tradition: **
Popularity: **
Grade Level: 7.5
The HCSB (2004) is an excellent original language translation with the unique characteristic of using the proper names of God (Yahweh) in place of the English equivalents. Having been translated almost entirely by scholars with a Southern Baptist background, it has a tendency to translate verses about spiritual gifts with a non-Pentecostal perspective.
Reina-Valera Revisada
Accuracy: ****
Readability: ****
Tradition: *****
Popularity: **
Grade Level: 10.0
The RVR (1960) is a popular update to the original Reina-Valera Spanish translation published in 1569. It is roughly equivilant to the Revised Standard Version in English, and is the default bible translation of most evangelical Spanish speaking churches in the world. It has grown in popularity the U.S. due to the increasing hispanic population and its faithfulness to traditional Spanish.
New International Reader's Version (NIrV)
Accuracy: ***
Readability: *****
Tradition: **
Popularity: *
Grade Level: 2.9
The NIrV (1994) is a scholarly simplification of the popular NIV. It was specifically designed to help young children and new readers understand the Bible for themselves and create an easy stepping-stone from a children’s Bible to an adult Bible. While not childish, it uses simple, short words and sentences. It may also be helpful to those with reading disabilities or speaking English as a second language.
Common English Bible (CEB)
Accuracy: **
Readability: *****
Tradition: *
Popularity: *
Grade Level: 7.0
The CEB (2010) is a new translation published by more liberal leaning mainline denominations. It includes apocryphal books not included in most Bibles, and attempts to make the Bible more culturally reflective and politically correct. In so doing, however, it sacrifices accuracy to the text and some of the more important aspects of the gospel (Jesus' title "Son of Man" is now "Human One"). In short, there are better contemporary versions.
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Accuracy: *****
Readability: **
Tradition: ****
Popularity: *
Grade Level: 11.0
The NASB (1971) is an update of the original American Standard Version (1901) with the goal of creating the most accurate word-for-word translation available in English. It is highly respected by scholars and is excellent for study and reference, without having to go to the original Greek or Hebrew. Some, however, find the resulting English to be too choppy and awkward for devotional or public reading. It was update again in 1995 (NASU), with minor refinements and improvements.