When you’re first starting out, don’t be too dogmatic on things, but also don’t be quick to believe everything you read or hear. Keep an open mind, but guard it by praying and keeping your eyes fixated on the Gospel of His grace. Those starting out tend to have a lot of zeal and passion, and they see things in black and white, easy to be tossed to and fro.
There are people who will try to persuade you that the KJV is the best translation. Whether it is or it’s not, I’ll say this: It’s not the best translation for those just starting out and are coming to know Christ. I am speaking from experience here. An obsession with the KJV earlier on will stunt your spiritual growth and maturity, and make a legalist out of you.
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4, NKJV)
And the Devil knows this, for it was to him that Christ spoke these words. But it’s not the Devil that shall live by God’s word, but man, us, Christians, who shall live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Knowing this, the Devil will do whatever he can to slow down your growth. And one of his tactics is to get most starters to start with the KJV as their first and primary translation. Here’s why you shouldn’t start with it: Is the KJV at a Fifth-Grade Reading Level? (YT)
So what’s the best translation for starters? The best translation is the one that you can actually understand the words you’re reading without having to pick up a dictionary every few seconds (avoid paraphrases such as The Message). For me, when I first started out, I was given the Easy-to-Read Version (ERV). I read it all the way through, and then got into the whole KJV movement because I wanted to seriously study God’s word, you know. Long story short: It didn’t help me at all. I had the KJV and was obsessed over it, but I wasn’t reading or eating it (metaphorically speaking). What good is having the best sword that is not being used? Then a friend gave me a brand new ESV. And for the first time, my spirit was stirred as I read the Epistles and got convicted by what I was reading. Why and how? Because I understood what I was reading. I carried this ESV with me everywhere I went, and I have literally kissed the cover a few times. I was in love with the Word (not the ESV translation) and sought to live it out. God was illuminating my mind and showing me many things as I read and meditated on His word. I grew by leaps and bounds—thanks to the ESV—so much so that everyone around me noticed a change.
Best translation for starters? Pick one that you can understand (ESV, NKJV, NASB, NIV, NLT, etc… but avoid paraphrases such as The Message). When you’re starting out, the big picture is a lot more important than the little details. Later on you can be picky with translations as you grow in your knowledge and understanding. So don’t rush.
I held on to that ESV for about 7 years. Now, as of this writing, I have moved away from the ESV as my primary translation and prefer the KJV. However, I do not have the “onlyism” mentality and do read and consult other translations in my studies of the Scriptures. More on this in future posts that deal with Bible and Translation.
See also: The Original Languages