The consumer’s guide to the Bible

extreme teenCathleen Falsani, the Chicago Sun-Times religion reporter — and author of the new book The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People — had an interesting story that ran on (Western) Easter Sunday. Rather than taking the controversy tack used by so many others, she wrote an article about all the different translations and versions of the Bible:

There are literally hundreds of English versions of the Christian Bible on the market, ranging from the traditional to the trendy.

There’s a Bible for brides and another for dads. You can get the Old and New Testament bound in Moroccan leather with gold gilded edges, or download them as MP3 files onto your iPod.

The article has sidebars that give readers helpful info, including a list of websites that readers can use to help them figure out which Bible to get, a list of top-selling Bibles and a comparison of the same verse in different translations. She explains differences in translation philosophies effortlessly and concisely:

There are two basic philosophies of Bible translation: word-for-word and thought-for-thought. In the former, translators begin with the original Greek or Hebrew and try to find the most literal English equivalent.

In thought-for-thought translation, which has been the more popular mode in the last 50 years, scholars also begin with the texts in their original languages but concentrate less on literal accuracy and more on readability by finding corresponding thoughts or phrases in English. The NIV is a thought-for-thought translation.

A third approach begins with an existing English translation to create a new version, resulting in a “paraphrase” rather than a true translation. One wildly popular example of a paraphrase is Eugene Peterson’s The Message. It has sold more than 10 million copies since 1993.

Falsani gives an interesting history of translation battles and discusses the commonalities and differences that match up with the divisions in the church. The article is enjoyable and informative. The only thing that surprised me was that I kept expecting her to get into the “so what?” of the different translations. We get to learn how different translations came to be but little about why it matters. I think it’s because Falsani takes a consumerist approach rather than a doctrinal one.

My church body doesn’t believe there is one true translation, and, in fact, we use several. But even I know that my pastor tends to use the New King James Version and it’s because he has problems with aspects of some other translations. I was eager to learn more about some of the doctrinal issues involved in different translations, but there clearly wasn’t room in her already thorough piece. I vote for her to look into the deeper issues in a follow-up.

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  • Michael Rew

    A friend and I were discussing the King James Bible vs. other versions. Some people prefer more modern versions to teach baby christians about God, she argued, to give “milk” to infant Christians. But I countered that the King James Bible is whole milk. Not skim or two percent milk? she asked. No, I answered, “skim” is how most people read two percent of the Bible.

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  • Jeff Ehler

    Michael, the KJV is not “whole milk”. In fact, it has quite a few translation errors due to the fact that at the time of its creation (1611) the translators had only a fraction of the Hebrew and Greek texts that we now have….and from all these additional texts and on-going studies we have a much greater understanding of the root languages.

  • Dirk Blaylock

    And yet, with this plethora of Bibles in the marektplace, I have searched in vain for a simple, moderately sized, high-quality leather NKJV without notes, thumb indexes or (especially) red letters. I hate red letters. They’re hard for me to read. Besides, I’m an inerrantist; every word is equally important. But I digress.

    I also find it amazing that adding Macarthur’s or Maxwell’s or Scofield’s notes (or teenzine types of articles) makes the Bible more marketable. It’s kinda like putting a can of Kroger brand corn on the table next to a meal at Spagos.

  • Stephen A.

    I checked out a copy of this Bible in the local bookstore and it is a very attractive presentation.

    It’s very colorful (the inside looks very much like the cover – lime greens and electric blues.) I bet it will reach its market.

    As for reporting on new versions, frankly, I prefer the informative model over the controversy model, although both have value.