"What is the best Bible translation for today – readable and accurate?"
Choosing the best Bible translation for today using the criteria of readable and accurate is not an easy task. Some “translations” are translations in name only, e.g., Phillips translations is admittedly a paraphrase. Thought-for-thought translations, e.g., the New International Version, would seem to fall into the same category. How can it be a translation when the translators are not making an effort to find the best equivalent word in English for the word used in Greek, but are determining what the original writer thought and then choosing English words that may or may not be in the original to express that thought. When the original text is capable of two or more possible meanings, the thought-for thought approach chooses one of the possibilities and places it in the text, often using language that does not suggest the other possible meanings. In such cases the thought-for-thought translations literally become commentaries, and poor ones at that. Good commentaries discuss all possibilities. They do not choose one for the reader and fail to discuss the others.
There are several word-for-word translations. The King James and its modern speech counterpart, the New King James, fall into this category. The King James is criticized for its archaic language (corrected by the New King James) and its textual basis, which is generally considered to be inferior by most modern scholars. It is clearly the most beautiful English to be found in any translation, and archaisms have not been so much a problem for the mass of readers as they have been an arrow for critics of the King James to fire.
The American Standard Version was published in 1901. A word-for-word translation, it had a better textual basis based on discoveries made since the 1611 publication of the King James. The major criticism leveled at the American Standard is that it often slavishly follows the order of the original Greek rather than the manner in which the words would appear in English. However, the American Standard version is both accurate and readable.
The English Standard Version is a new word-for-word translation published in 2001. It follows the textual tradition of the Revised Standard Version of 1971, and describes itself as an “’essentially literal’ translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on ‘word-for-word’ correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original. The preface of the English Standard provides a good discussion of the difference between word-for-word and thought-for-thought or dynamic equivalent translations.
For Bible study I would recommend that you acquire a copy of the King James version and/or the New King James version, the American Standard version, and the English Standard version. Read each of them, compare them, and reach your own conclusions.
Which is the most accurate? I believe it to be the American Standard Version of 1901. However, copies of it are hard to find. The only company publishing it today of which I am aware is Star Publications, P. O. Box 821220, Fort Worth, TX 76182. One Greek scholar stated that he judged a translation’s accuracy by how accurately the English could be translated back into the Greek. Based on his application of this standard, he chose the American Standard as the most accurate. A free copy of the American Standard Version is available here.
If you desire to read more about the translations, you can find such information in many books on the subject. One of the best is The English Bible from KJV to NIV: A History and Evaluation, by Jack P. Lewis. Another excellent book is The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation by Leland Ryken.
You Must Hear the Gospel
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
You Must Believe
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You Must Repent
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You Must Confess
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
You Must Be Baptized
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
You Must Be Faithful Unto Death
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)