Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Different strokes for different folks

Translations of the Bible are made for some group. This is so axiomatic that it almost seems a truism. Yet sometimes we forget this most basic fact about Bible translation, that there is always one or more groups of people for whom a translation is made. Sometimes Bible translators will state who their intended ("target") audience is. When the Good News Bible was first published, its translators said it was intended to be used by people who spoke English as a second language. It turned out that many native speakers of English (I was one of them) also appreciated reading the Good News Bible. I recall being amazed at how well the GNB spoke "my language" when I began reading it, in the summer of 1969, in the paperback New Testament with the newspaper design cover.

Often translators or publishers of an English Bible version do not specifically state any particular audience for whom that version is intended. I suspect that often there is the assumption that if that version makes sense to its translators it will make sense to most other people. But, of course, things don't always turn out that way. Often a version is written in language which is not used by an entire language group, in this case, by all native speakers of English. In reality, many English Bible versions are "speciality Bibles," which best serve specific audiences.

The KJV is lovingly placed in hotel, motel, and hospital rooms by the Gideons. Yet, many of those who stay in those rooms cannot understand the language of the KJV very well.

The CEV and NCV are written in standard English (also known, technically, as Plain English), spoken by native English speakers of a wide range of age and social groups. Yet, neither version would be easily accepted as the pulpit and pew Bible in most churches. Most ministers and many in their congregations want to use Bibles that "sound like Bibles" and the CEV and NCV do not.

The NIV and TNIV translation team deliberately worded these versions so that they would have a "dignified" sound, acceptable in church settings and for Bible study by those who like their Bible to sound like a Bible, while still being more understandable than more formally equivalent Bibles, such as the NASB.

The ESV has received enthusiastic endorsements from some Christian leaders and pastors in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia. The ESV is promoted as having "literary excellence." Yet I suspect that this literary excellence will be most recognized by those who are already familiar with the beautiful Tyndale-KJV literary translation, such as those who endorse it and those who are taught by them. My own sense from study of the ESV is that it will likely not be very useable by those who are new believers, unfamiliar with "church language" or the older forms of English syntax and lexical collocations found throughout much of the ESV.

Many agree that the New Living Translation is pleasant to read, even though a sizeable percentage do not recommend the NLT for serious Bible study or as a pulpit Bible. Instead, for these purposes they prefer a Bible which sounds like a Bible to them, one which has a greater focus on translation at the word level so that careful study of Bible words can be done.

Some decry the multiplicity of English Bible versions that we have today. They point out that it can be confusing for someone not familiar with the different English Bible versions to enter a Christian bookstore or the Bibles section of a secular bookstore and look for a Bible which will meet their needs (or the desire of their faith community for them).

But in this multiplicity of versions I think there is actually strength. The same English Bible often does not work for everyone. There are very few English Bibles today which serve the needs of all of the people all of the time, to paraphrase an old saying. Different people, from different age, social, linguistic, and faith-commitment groups, have different Bible needs.

As with so many things in life, the old sayings are true, "different strokes for different folks" and "the same size doesn't fit everyone."

Can you tell from study of the Bible version(s) you use most what English audience it best serves? Do the translators of that version state anywhere for whom that version was translated?

Which English Bible speaks your language, your mother tongue, your heart language, the English which you understand best and which touches you, spiritually and emotionally? Which English Bible best meets your needs for careful Bible study? Which English Bible best aligns with your deeply held doctrinal or ideological convictions?

These are good questions to think about during debates about English Bible versions. All of these questions are relevant in your own spiritual journey as you use one or more more Bible versions, and as you help others find a version which is good for them at their stage of their journey.



At Tue May 10, 06:22:00 PM, Blogger Phil (Col 1:27-28) said...

I think that you have made some good points, I am not so sure that it is this simple, but then again this could just be me.
Good Post and Thankyou for your consistent effort to make us think about the Scriptures and Translations in general.
Blessings in Christ Jesus!


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home