There are dozens of English translations and versions of the Bible.
There are formal equivalency versions (word-for-word) and dynamic equivalency versions (thought-for-thought). On the far end of the thought-for-thought variety is a particularly concerning type of translation called paraphrasing. A couple of versions exist on that end, the Living Bible and the most extreme, The Message.
Delight in Truth highly recommends the English Standard Version for older children and adults. It contains sentence structure at the 8-9th grade level, it is very easy to read, and it is very adequate for Bible study because it is close to the word-for-word approach.
The New International Version (NIV) is also suitable for reading, but much less suitable for Bible study due to a more thought-for-thought approach. It is written closer to the 7th grade level of competency. This is one the reasons many recommend the NIV for younger children or new converts.
I would still recommend the ESV for middle school children because of it is true to the original text and easy to read.
Traditionally, the most popular version is the King James Authorized Version (KJV), a beautifully translated Bible in 1611 which has stood the test of time. However, its archaic language places it at the 12th grade level (or perhaps college level). It contains the thous, thees, and medieval English verb conjugations.
Are any of the translations in mainstream use today bad?
John Piper was asked that question and he said that any translation is better than no translation. While that may be correct, one needs to know that extreme thought-for-thought and paraphrase translations insert the translator’s theology and perspective into the Word of God. That is not a good thing because it dilutes and even changes the message.
I will provide one passage from the ESV followed by the same passage in the Message to illustrate the contrast
1 Corinthians 6:9-10
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (ESV)
“Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom.” (The Message)
What a difference!
The Message does not mention homosexuality and the other sinful lifestyles, but it inserts the environmental agenda in there. So, the word of God is twisted to fit the flesh and liberal agenda of progressive Christians.
Examine the chart below and see where your translation of the Bible falls.