A photo of a stack of books, with the Bible prominently placed on top, surrounded by a variety of reading level indicators, symbolizing the diverse comprehension levels required to understand its content.

What Reading Level Is The Bible?

The Bible is one of the most influential books in human history, with billions of copies sold over thousands of years. But with its ancient language and complex stories, many wonder – what reading level is the Bible actually written at?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: the reading level of the Bible varies greatly depending on translation. Parts are as low as late elementary while others are early college level.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll look at the factors that impact Biblical reading level, examine the grade levels of popular translations, and provide tips for making Bible study accessible.

What Impacts the Reading Level of the Bible

Style of Translation

The style of Bible translation can greatly impact its readability. More formal equivalency translations like the King James Version or English Standard Version use more complex vocabulary and sentence structure to closely mirror the original Hebrew and Greek.

This results in a much higher reading level. On the other hand, dynamic equivalency translations like the New International Version, New Living Translation, or The Message aim for natural, clear English making them more accessible to a broader audience.

Old Testament vs. New Testament

There is a marked difference in reading level between the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament contains many ancient laws, extensive genealogies, detailed rituals, and poetic books full of vivid imagery. The vocabulary is more complex and requires greater background knowledge.

The New Testament, originally written in Koine Greek, has a simpler vocabulary and grammar. The Gospels, in particular, contain many narrative passages recounting the teachings and ministry of Jesus in a straightforward style.

Literary Forms

The Bible encompasses many different literary forms including historical narrative, law, poetry, prophecy, Gospels, epistles, and apocalyptic. Books heavy in poetry like the Psalms or prophetic books like Isaiah and Jeremiah are more challenging with frequent metaphors and rich imagery.

On the other hand, the Gospels and New Testament letters have a lower reading level with their simple vocabulary and direct instructional style.

Familiarity with Biblical Allusions

A reader’s familiarity with the Bible can greatly impact the perceived reading level. The Bible is full of allusions and references to people, places, and events that are obscure to modern readers with no Biblical background knowledge.

Names like Melchizedek, Caiaphas, and Jericho, though simple words, represent concepts and stories that give them greater meaning. Readers well-versed in Biblical knowledge have less difficulty understanding these allusions leading to better comprehension.

Reading Level by Translation

King James Version

The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, published in 1611, has a reading level between 7th and 8th grade. This makes sense given the Elizabethan-era English used at the time. While the KJV uses eloquent language, the syntax and vocabulary can be challenging for modern readers.

New International Version

The New International Version (NIV), published in 1978 and revised in 2011, has a reading level around the 7th grade. The NIV uses contemporary language, aiming for a balance between word-for-word and thought-for-thought translation. This makes it easier to understand for most readers today.

English Standard Version

The English Standard Version (ESV) published in 2001 has a reading level between 7th and 8th grade. The ESV falls in the middle of the spectrum between formal/literal and dynamic/functional translation approaches. It uses some contemporary language while retaining a more traditional style.

New Living Translation

With a reading level of 6th grade, the New Living Translation (NLT) published in 1996 is one of the easiest versions to understand. The NLT focuses on translating the meaning of passages, not just words. This makes it highly readable, though some theological nuance is lost.

Tips for Accessible Bible Study

Use a Study Bible

Using a study Bible can make comprehending the complex language and concepts in the Bible much easier. Study Bibles include explanatory footnotes, section introductions, maps, charts, and indexes to help you grasp the meaning.

Popular study Bibles like the Life Application Study Bible and the NIV Study Bible simplify the Bible without dumbing it down. You can find study Bibles at Christian bookstores or online in various translations.

Listen to Audio Recordings

If reading the Bible feels daunting, try listening to an audio version. You can download the Bible for free to your phone or tablet as an app from Faith Comes by Hearing, Bible.is, YouVersion Bible App, or Audible.

Listening to the Bible being read aloud at a steady pace with good narration and sound effects can help bring the words to life. The Bible Experience audio Bible has a cast of over 200 actors dramatizing the text.

Listening while commuting, exercising, or relaxing at home allows you to absorb Scripture in a new way.

Join a Small Group or Church

Studying the Bible alone can be challenging. Joining a Bible study group at church provides built-in support, accountability, and fellowship. Meeting with a small group regularly to read Scripture together chapter-by-chapter helps you stay on track.

Led by a teacher, you’ll benefit from their knowledge and others’ questions. A group setting also allows for great discussions about applying the Bible. If you are not part of a church, find out if they offer open Bible studies or classes on books of the Bible that you can attend as a visitor.

Alternatively, join an online Bible study group.

Work with a Tutor

If you are really struggling to read and comprehend the Bible, consider working with a tutor. Many churches provide free one-on-one tutoring to help people improve their reading and writing skills. Local literacy councils also offer free tutoring services.

Meeting once or twice a week with a reading tutor can help you work methodically through passages at your own pace. The tutor assists with difficult words and concepts. In as little as 4-6 months, people can often raise their reading comprehension up to 2 grade levels through patient, understanding tutoring.

With improved reading skills, diving into the Bible becomes much less intimidating.


In summary, while parts of the Bible use language simple enough for children, other sections are written at a college reading level or higher. Factors like translation style, book genre, and familiarity with Biblical references all impact its readability.

By using accessible translations, audio recordings, study aids and group discussions, people of all ages and reading abilities can engage with God’s word.

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