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Friday, February 09, 2007

ESV wins Bible reading poll

Since the beginning of this year we have had a poll in the right margin inviting visitors to this blog to tell which English Bible version they would read if they read the Bible through this year. It is now time to bring that poll to a close. But first, some comments are in order. Yesterday I discovered a post on the Marching to Zion blog about our poll. I found the comments from Gary interesting. Like Gary, I have been surprised by how the ESV has taken such a commanding lead in this poll. It didn't start out that way, as I recall, but over time the votes for the ESV have far out-paced those for any other version. This is especially surprising since we do not get many comments from visitors to this blog who advocate for the ESV.

After 520 votes, here are the results of our Bible reading poll:


I really do not know what to make of these poll results. There are several possibilities. One is that the poll results are as accurate as is possible for self-selecting polls (which are not at all scientific). In this case, we would guess that ESV readers are, for one reason or another, more active than other Bible readers, in the Christian blogosphere. I would have expected NIV readers to have that distinction, but my expectations are not always right.

Another possibility is that the results are not an accurate reflection of the sentiments of those who regularly visit this blog. In other words, it is possible that there have been private email messages or messages posted on other blogs or discussion forums encouraging fellow ESV users to vote in this poll. (And there is nothing wrong with that if it was done; it just wouldn't accurately reflect the sentiments of the usual visitors to this blog.) Perhaps there was a campaign to boost the score for the ESV to put us BBB bloggers "in our place" for commenting so often on aspects of the ESV which we find disturbing, in particular its low quality of standard English in contrast to several other English versions. (Click here for my latest evaluation of such standard English in Bible versions. I have reduced the number of examples in my study from 100 to 85, by removing some of the entries which visitors to this blog were most concerned about as well as some which were essentially duplicates.) I'd hate to think that that is what happened, since I don't really care for conspiracy theories and I usually prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to being straightforward about things. Well, I don't know if we will ever know if we got anything like reasonably fair results in this poll. I can tell you that I had the poll set so that no one could vote more than once, so the results must reflect those who actually voted. And there is no doubt that the ESV has been selling well, at least among some segments of conservative Christians. If our poll results actually do reflect the normal flow of visitors to this blog, then I am even more interested in the popularity of the ESV and want to know more about why people like it and use it.

I congratulate the ESV team, if any of them have paid any attention to our poll. And I, once again, extend an invitation to anyone who does like to use the ESV to post as informative and objective information as possible about their feelings for the ESV. I have found few blog posts or scholarly reviews about the ESV which present objective data demonstrating its superiority to other Bible versions. I would very much welcome scholars or others who can write including as much empirical data as possible to share such information here on the Better Bibles Blog. I'd be glad to provide space for one or more blog posts for this, as I have mentioned in the past.

However any of you voted, I hope that your Bible reading is going well. I have spent many hours lately reviewing the ISV, checking for literary or other translational glitches which might trip up Bible readers and submitting my comments to the ISV team. They have been quite appreciative. It has been interesting to get a much better feel for yet another English Bible version.

We will remove this Bible reading poll soon, since it has served its purpose and the time for making New Year's resolutions, including ones about Bible reading, is past.

24 Comments:

At Fri Feb 09, 09:30:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy said...

Wayne,

Maybe it is possible that many of the people who voted for the ESV (like me) will be reading it this year but not be reading it next year. It's only Feb. and I've already decided to read another version next year.

Of all the verses that have puzzled me (and I've been collecting them) this one was the most fun:

Gen. 30:35 But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped and spotted, and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had white on it, and every lamb that was black, and put them in charge of his sons.

Peace,

Jeremy

 
At Fri Feb 09, 09:46:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

the time for making New Year's resolutions, including ones about Bible reading, is past.

Ironic in a post about people voting with their feet, since about three billion feet will soon be celebrating the Year of the Pig.

恭喜發財

 
At Fri Feb 09, 10:16:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Maybe it is possible that many of the people who voted for the ESV (like me) will be reading it this year but not be reading it next year. It's only Feb. and I've already decided to read another version next year.

Yes, Jeremy, that is a very reasonable guess. There are quite a good number of people who like to change which version they read through in a year. I forgot about that in my speculating in the post.

I found the ex. you posted funny. Thanks. It's interesting how those things fall through the cracks, or between the poplar branch, however the case may be.

 
At Fri Feb 09, 10:53:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Ironic in a post about people voting with their feet, since about three billion feet will soon be celebrating the Year of the Pig.

But maybe very few of those using that annual calendar will be reading through English Bibles in 2007.

:-)

 
At Fri Feb 09, 11:04:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

But maybe very few of those using that annual calendar will be reading through English Bibles in 2007

No, very likely they have a Scottish version available for those who celebrate this event.

 
At Fri Feb 09, 11:05:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Jeremy, the ESV team caught the mistake in Gen. 30:35 and fixed it. This is the reading on the ESV website:

"But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped and spotted, and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had white on it, and every lamb that was black, and put them in the charge of his sons."

 
At Sat Feb 10, 05:37:00 AM, Blogger Bryan L said...

Picking up on Jeremy's comment, I remember when I bought the ESV and was excited about it because of all the good things I was hearing about it from certain places on the internet. I started reading through it (as part of a plan to read through the Bible not just verses here and there) and eventually I just gave up on it. I always felt like I was decoding it. Being that it was more "literal" I felt like I was spending to much time making sure I understood exactly what was being said. Reading became more work and more of a chore. In fact I found myself going to an NIV more often to verify what the ESV was saying. It just didn't read that smooth to me and so finally I put it down, never to pick it up again. I then went out and got me a TNIV which I've been using since in my reading. For me I understand the reasoning behind the ESV with it being more "literal" but for reading I just don't enjoy it. And if I'm studying a particular passage, or there's a question about what the text really says I'm not going to just trust a translation anyway (even if it's the TNIV). I'm going to refer to the Greek and the Hebrew and the commentaries.
So anyway, I was one of those people who started reading it through and then just gave up and got myself another translation that I enjoyed reading more.

Blessings,
Bryan L

 
At Sat Feb 10, 11:17:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Laban's poor sons! Sheep and lambs in charge of them! No wonder we don't hear anything more about these kids, umm, children.

On the survey, maybe one point which affects the survey is that the kind of Christians who read the Bible through in a year, or who make New Year resolutions to do so, are the same kinds of Christians who read the ESV, or that churches which teach that this is a good way to read the Bible tend to promote the ESV. Especially among the blogging community, this may be partly because reading the Bible in one year was specifically promoted on the ESV blog This would bias the survey relative to Bible reading in general, or relative to those like myself who did not vote in this survey because we did not want to commit ourselves to reading the whole Bible in any one version this year.

It might also be interesting to repeat the survey at the end of the year to ask who actually succeeded in reading the whole Bible in the year and which versions they actually read through. Maybe Jeremy will persist with his resolution, but there may well be others who are so put off by the incomprehensibility of ESV that they give up, or switch to other versions.

It is also interesting to note that TNIV came second, ahead of NIV and with twice as many votes as the fourth placed version.

 
At Sat Feb 10, 02:02:00 PM, Blogger exegete77 said...

I suspect that many people chose both ESV and TNIV to read through because these translations are the "newest kids on the block" (and maybe lambs, too!).

Sometimes circumstances change (I won't go into the details here). I had intended to read TNIV this year, which is what I voted in the poll) and started, but switched to ESV then to NKJV about three weeks ago. So my vote is not worth too much in terms of the poll.

But I think past translation reading can influence where someone ends up on the reading resolutions. Given my druthers, I would select NAS 77, since I have consistently read and studied it since 1978. In fact, I know where certain passages are based on the location on a specific page. Perhaps many will exprience the same thing. As someone above noted, going from NIV to ESV is harder than going from NIV to TNIV.

Just some ramblings... from an old(er) Bible student

Rich

 
At Sat Feb 10, 04:46:00 PM, Blogger Glennsp said...

Just because you don't like the results of your own poll doesn't mean you have to try and explain them away.

In your other polls 'with child' is doing very well as is 'gender neutralization', now I am reasonably sure that these results will also be of some surprise to you.

So, what will everyone come up with to trounce those?

In which case why bother having the polls in the first place?

I am sure that if the polls had matched your expectations no one here would be trying to explain them away, would they?

 
At Sat Feb 10, 05:00:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

And guess what Glenn, we are not going to delete your comment!!!

Some day I will list all the blogs that have deleted my comments. If 'explaining away' polls is the worst we do, at least we do it in broad daylight. But I mention elsewhere that women were preachers and missionaries in the 17th century and I get compeletely wiped out - obliterated - by those who think that denying something is the same as "it never happened."

 
At Sat Feb 10, 07:16:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Just because you don't like the results of your own poll doesn't mean you have to try and explain them away.

You're right, Glenn. And I tried to word my post carefully, to allow for the results being a fair reflection of the reading desires of those who regularly visit this blog.

How would you explain why the ESV came out so far ahead in this particular poll, when it is not the best-selling English Bible version today?

 
At Sat Feb 10, 08:50:00 PM, Blogger John said...

Almost everyone who visits this site, I imagine, uses more than one translation for personal study. It's generally not an either/or thing.

If the question is, what kind of Bible is going to be intelligible to people with limited competence in high register English and/or language and themes specific to biblical literature, then a translation like what ISV aims to be will be a good choice. I would really be impressed if ISV is born free of the vaguely Protestant cast which up until now has characterized all translations coming out of the evangelical world. A basically liberal Protestant translation like NRSV tries the hardest to move away from a confessional translation, but with mixed results.

If the question is, what kind of Bible is suitable for nurturing a particular confessional community, it will of course depend on the community. I don't know what translations are most often read in places of worship in English speaking lands. I would love to know.

Given a choice, the leadership in many places will choose a readable translation within the King James tradition. At least that is my experience.

It must also be said that translations become a part of who people are, and once that happens, it may be important first of all just to stand back and watch in awe. When I was a pastor of two congregations on the island of Sicily (I'm an ordained pastor of the Waldensian church of Italy), I went to a prayer meeting dominated by Pentecostals in which there was much extemporaneous prayer. I would struggle sometimes to follow the conversation between prayer because people naturally slipped into the dialect of that neck of the woods. It is different enough from standard Italian to be unintelligible to non-Sicilians. But when people prayed, they prayed in the language of the Diodati, an august Italian translation as old as the King James, and just as full of archaisms. But they prayed in it with a wonderfully distinct pronunciation, and I could understood every word of it.

For my Pentecostal Sicilian friends for whom Italian is just as much a second language as it is for me (born in the USA), the language of the Diodati is the language of God. I would never wish them to think otherwise.

John www.ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com

 
At Sun Feb 11, 08:42:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Given a choice, the leadership in many places will choose a readable translation within the King James tradition.

If only there was one! NRSV is probably close to this. But ESV is simply unreadable, except by the diminishing group of people who were brought up in the King James tradition. The problem comes when leaders who were brought up in this tradition don't recognise the unreadability of ESV and try to impose it on their congregations and wider groups of followers.

As for your Sicilian friends, John, while I wouldn't want to stop them praying in whatever language they wish to, perhaps they should consider the effect of this on outsiders who might come into their meetings. 1 Corinthians 14:23-25 was originally about "tongues", as I am sure these Pentecostals will tell you. But the same principle applies when people come into church and hear only an incomprehensible archaic form of their own language: "will they not say that you are mad?"; but if they hear their own heart language it is far more likely that "they will worship God and declare that God is really among you".

 
At Sun Feb 11, 12:10:00 PM, Blogger Glennsp said...

Suzanne, as you raised the issue, I have seen some of the comments you made which resulted in deletion and I have to say that in the instances I witnessed it was deserved.

Wayne, I have no idea why the ESV came out quite so far ahead in your poll. Considering the usual clientèle one might have expected a somewhat different result, but maybe after the usual pasting that the ESV gets here a lot of people were interested in what all the fuss was about.
I switched from the NIV after 12 years usage and have yet to be disappointed. (and no I am not going to start that debate up again)

 
At Sun Feb 11, 03:55:00 PM, Blogger John said...

Peter,

the problem with the ESV is not that it stands within the King James tradition. That is a legitimate choice, of a piece with other choices like music and liturgy that draws from both the old and the new.

The problem with the ESV is that it is not nearly as readable as it might be, and still stand foursquare within the King James tradition. I also have problems with ESV when it translates the Hebrew Bible in order to bring it into line with NT interpretation of it. More than anything, I'm looking for honesty here, but as the song says, honesty is such a lonely word.

I'm not sure that diminishing numbers of Bible readers are being nurtured within the King James tradition of Bible translation. The popularity of translations like NKJV and ESV suggests otherwise. All the more reason to insist that such translations be as readable as possible.

John www.ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com

 
At Sun Feb 11, 03:56:00 PM, Blogger John said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At Sun Feb 11, 03:57:00 PM, Blogger John said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At Sun Feb 11, 04:45:00 PM, Blogger Gary said...

Pardon the interruption.

In case anybody is interested, or even cares, I have shut down the blog that Wayne linked to in his post, and have consolidated all my blogs in a single blog, "A Friend of Christ" at http://afriendofchrist,blogspot.com

I moved the post he linked to over to that blog along with the comments.

Please resume the discussion!

Gary

 
At Sun Feb 11, 04:47:00 PM, Blogger Gary said...

Oops! That's supposed to be a dot, not a comma, of course! Sorry about that!

 
At Sun Feb 11, 06:24:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

John:

It seems to me that there are least three broad groupings of ways to read Bible translations (here I am assuming a reader with what you call "high register" reading skills -- so I am excluding "accessibility" as a desideratum):

(1) confessionally, according to group (e.g. Jewish, Orthodox, Catholic, Mainline, Evangelical)

(2) as literature

(3) critically

My question to you is: is it possible or desirable to try to find middle ground between these? Or should we simply give up and advise readers to choose respectively (1) the latest trendy upscale sectarian translation, (2) the KJV, and (3) the New Oxford Annotated?

It appears to me that the (N)RSV translators (and perhaps the New/Revised English Bible translators) were attempting to find that middle ground and also support a broad-based ecumenical audience. Is that quest necessarily doomed?

 
At Sun Feb 11, 10:52:00 PM, Blogger John said...

Anonymous,

I would still insist on the criterion of readability. The need for a translation to be as intelligible as possible without sacrificing respect for the literary qualities of the source text is, as I understand it, one of the prime motivations behind the long tradition of revising the KJV.

A vernacular or “vulgar” (as C. S. Lewis used the term) translation goes farther, and does not hesitate to translate a high brow or middle brow source text into a low brow equivalent in the target language. There is a huge place for translations of this kind. It’s exactly the kind of translation you want the Gideons to hand out, not that black-covered small print KJV edition they put in hotels across the continent.

Truth be told, translations that paraphrase in the direction of middle brow or low brow language (a provocative way, I admit, of describing what people do when they translate ‘idiomatically’) tend to be rather inconsistent. I just went through ISV’s translation of Psalm 2. It was immediately obvious that it contains high-brow if not downright archaic elements. What else to call words like ‘therefore’ and ‘lest’? Wayne will do ISV a real service if he gets the translation committee to eliminate such language.

But I digress. No, I don’t think the quest of which you speak is necessarily doomed. The New Oxford Annotated Bible you mentioned, edited by Bruce Metzger [a mainline evangelical] and Roland Murphy [a moderate Catholic], is a fine example of what can be done. So are the HarperCollins Study Bible and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, to name two others on my shelf. These study Bibles are what I call ecumenical and ecumenical Bibles.

I prefer study Bibles that are ecumenical and confessional at the same time. They pack a lot more flavor. I recommend three in particular: The Jewish Study Bible (NJPSV base), The Catholic Study Bible (NAB base), and The Orthodox Study Bible (New Testament and Psalms only; NKJV [!] base). They are ecumenical because they are devoid of a sectarian spirit. They are confessional because they do not hesitate to flaunt the best their tradition has to offer.

It also won’t be long before a study Bible comes out that is evangelical and ecumenical at the same time, attentive to the genres and linguistic registers in which the source text is written, and open to alluding to the issues of today in the comment in a way that will pass muster with politically correct censors. I will call it, in anticipation of its publication, The Evangelical Study Bible. I have many friends who write in this style, and I try to do so myself, though the contrarian in me likes to bloody the nose of the pc censors now and then.

John www.ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com

 
At Mon Feb 12, 02:15:00 AM, Blogger Peter M. Head said...

I don't see the result as such a surprise:
a) the ESV publicity machine is superior to the NIV/NIVI/TNIV one;
b) they have pegged themselves (by various means) as the more consistently conservative translation (both theologically and stylistically);
c) you must have blogged more times on the ESV than any other translation, so you are doing all you can to draw attention to it;
d) it has some great editions available for reading and study (wide margins, interleaved, journalling etc.);
e) just possibly there is a range of people who find it to be a better bible.

 
At Mon Feb 12, 11:35:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

John wrote: "The problem with the ESV is that it is not nearly as readable as it might be..."

Indeed, I entirely agree.

He continued: "I'm not sure that diminishing numbers of Bible readers are being nurtured within the King James tradition of Bible translation. The popularity of translations like NKJV and ESV suggests otherwise. All the more reason to insist that such translations be as readable as possible."

Well, I was thinking mainly that diminishing numbers are being nurtured on KJV itself. But, given the popularity of NIV, NLT etc which are not in the King James tradition, we might suggest that today perhaps 50% (or it may be only 25%) of Bible readers are reading outside the KJV tradition, whereas 30 years ago that figure was probably less than 5%. That is diminishing numbers, at least as a proportion, and probably also represents a diminishing absolute figure. You might want to argue that that fall has now been reversed, but I was thinking of diminishing numbers in the long term rather than changes in short term fashions.

 

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