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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bible translation and personality types #2

Thank you very much to each of you who responded to my preceding post. I have had the flu the past two days. Most of the time I was not well enough to walk the stairs down to our office to check my email and blog comments. But when I could check the comments, I have enjoyed them all. Tonight I am feeling well enough to write a followup to the first post on a connection (if there is one) between Bible translation preferences and personality types.

I mentioned in my preceding post that I had started out with a hypothesis about a connection between Bible translation preferences and personality types. The responses to my post showed how weak my hypothesis was. But since I want to be honest with you, I'll tell you my starting hypothesis anyway, and then maybe we (all of us, I hope) can pull something of value out of all this fun.

Over the years I have been bothered whenever I have had heard someone insist that a literal (or essentially literal) translation was the best kind of translation, the most accurate, whatever. That really grated on me, because I simply knew it was not true. After all, I have seen so many specific examples (!) of literal translation wordings which do not accurately convey the meaning of the biblical text, and I was willing to try to convince people with long lists of such examples. (OK, for those who don't know my humor or communication style yet, I'm having some fun at my own expense here, as well as stating what I have believed.)

Those with whom I disagreed with about Bible translation were so set (whoops, sorry, deeply principled!) in their ways. And those with whom I have had some of the most difficult interactions in the past often have scored with a "T" (Thinking) on the Myers-Briggs profile. So I assumed that those who believed so strongly in the value of literal Bible translations and lack of value of idiomatic Bible versions must also be a Myers-Briggs "T".

Well, I was wrong and I hope I have even been humbled enough to grow a little more on that necessary characteristic (which isn't on the Myers-Briggs profile).

As I read some of the first comments on my preceding post, I began to realize that those who hold so strongly to the value of literal translations (BTW, I do see some value in them, as I have tried to point out in previous posts) as well as those, like myself, who believe so strongly that translations should be worded in natural patterns of the translation language, do so because we value something so strongly. And furthermore, if we are stubborn (whoops, deeply principled), like myself, and believe that the kind of Bible version we prefer is the kind that we should continue to use, that we should recognize its value and stick to it, then we finally get to some connection with personality type (I think). This personality type, of course, which desires predictability, consistency, is the "J" on the Myers-Briggs profile. I have had some of my most difficult encounters in life with TJs. Well, I'm a "J" also--it's the T-F difference that is difficult for me. And sometimes I just cannot understand why Ts don't see things my way. It should be obvious, eh?!! :-)

So, rather than there being some overall connection between personality type and translation preference, I suspect that any real connection is of a less over-arching kind. Some of you who are naturally wired to be flexible and enjoy flexibility and spontaneity appreciate and use Bible versions which are literal as well as ones which are idiomatic. I recall Suzanne making that statement about her own translation preferences in a comment and probably there were others of you, as well.

I like I-ntuitives. They inspire me. I am stimulated by their ideas. Then I like to go into quiet, "practical" mode to try to implement their ideas. I suggest that every Bible translation project should have one or more Intuitives to help the rest of us nuts-and-bolts detail people think outside the box. Surely, Eugene Peterson is an Intuitive. I don't see how he be anything other than an intuitive to have produced The Message. That translation thinks outside the box, as did J.B. Phillips wonderful translation produced during World War II.

I don't know what translation preferences Intuitives might have. I haven't tried to chart any correspondences between translation preferences and personality types from the comments to my post. (Although I would love to do such detailed charting, if I had more data! Data, data, data!! Empirical data!) Perhaps some of you can think of what Intuitives might prefer as Bible translation styles.

I am not an Intuitive. I am a S-ensor. I trust what I see, hear, touch, taste, and feel (with my hands, not my intuition). I want things to be clear and explicit, including the Bible versions I read. For me, I can understand a Bible version more clearly if it is written in some natural, standard dialect of English. There are many more ambiguities (at least ones I, as a language man, can spot) in literal Bible versions. If a translation has "the love of God" (e.g. 1 John 2:5; 5:3; Jude 21), unless the context gives me enough clues, I can't tell if it is referring to our love for God, or his love for us. If a translation has "the obedience of faith" (Rom. 16:26), I get twisted out of shape because I know that faith can't obey anything; only people can.

Well, I hope there is enough here to stimulate some more interesting comments. Perhaps you can carry the ideas on and find other connections between personality type and Bible translation preferences. I liked what someone said in the previous comments about artsy people preferring translations like the REB. I suspect there is a lot of truth in that. The REB is a classy translation. But some artsy type folks would also appreciate certain very literal translations, such as those being done by Hebrew scholar Robert Alter, who deliberately focuses on Hebrew idioms and other Hebrew language patterns which are important to understanding the Hebrew Bible (and translations of it).

It's only fair that I tell you my translation preferences. Overall, I think my favorite translation is the CEV. It has the clearest, most natural English of any Bible version I have ever evaluated, at least of versions that include both the Old and New Testaments. Our children grew up on the TEV/GNB which was the pew Bible in the church where we lived when we were translating for the Cheyennes. So we all have a fondness for its clarity and language naturalness, as well. The CEV came later. Both translations were produced by ABS (American Bible Society). Both translation teams included biblical scholars as well as language scholars, which is something that I crusade for. It is not enough (now I'm crusading!) to know the biblical languages well. It is also important to know English well enough (and be disciplined enough to follow that knowledge) to be able to express the meaning of the biblical texts accurately, clearly, and naturally (at least as clear and natural as were the original biblical texts). If we make such translations, those who use them will understand the Bible more accurately than they can translations which are not written in their own language (or dialect).

The artsy part of me (I don't know where that is on my ISFJ personality profile) is moved by The Message and J.B. Phillips translation. I love Peterson's and Phillips' use of natural English idioms and phrasings. I do think that Peterson gets carried away using some idioms which are not very well know to a majority of people. And sometimes accuracy suffers a bit, although far less, I think, than many people think who may not have looked at accuracy above the clause or sentence level, such as the rhetorical levels of language.

Oh, I've wondered if some Bible versions themselves fit on a personality profile. So, for fun (only that, I don't know if there is any value here) I'd suggest that The Message is an Extraverted translation. Most other translations are Introverted. Could I suggest that the NET Bible with its thousands of footnotes suggesting translation variants is an Intuitive translation, perhaps even an NP translation?! The NET translation team did not try as hard for concordance among the translation efforts of the various members of teams, so maybe that shows the flexibility of P.

Finally, I agree with those of you who have noted that personality types, as indicated by instruments such as the Myers-Briggers test, are simply indicators of tendencies. No test can tell us everything about someone, and there are dangers in stereotyping people when we learn their personality type. Our test results are not set in stone. We can change. Some have noted changes in their personalities over the years as reflected in test results. Often such changes are an indication that God has been working in our lives to help us better fit the kinds of work he has for us to do at each stage of our lives. We can also make deliberate choices not to operate with our default pattern in some contexts. That is not easy for me, but sometimes it has been helpful in my relationships with others.

Again, thanks for having fun with me on this topic.


At Tue Sep 25, 09:31:00 PM, Blogger Bill said...

Interesting thoughts, again. I very much think there may be some tendency for T's & J's to prefer literal translations more often than not. (If it was even 60%, that would support your hypothesis.)

Then again, sometimes temperment tests can skew because one area of my life is important to me. For example, if someone's a strong non-conformist in their current surroundings, they're far more likely to have that on their mind, and then they "test" more N, and less S. It's all generalization. And yet, I'm so clearly an NT (as noted so quickly last thread!) I put a lot of stock in it, too. :)

I do think my NT-ness has influenced the way I choose and use translations. The more interesting question, to me is: "Can the Lord get to me despite my selfish preferences and habitual tendencies." (And I mean that in a myriad of ways.)

I've heard that most people tend to balance out somewhat in "temperment type" as they approach middle age. I base that on life's experience teaching you the various benefits and occasional necessities of stretching your own repertoire in responding to things.

So the LORD can be one of those experiences. And translation choice can be an example of stretching... or of not stretching, in some cases. ;)

It's all valuable to consider.

Again, very interesting post, Wayne. And on whether some Bibles have 'personalities'... I absolutely bet there are many whose production and/or translation TEAMS had very specific bents. Which raises an interesting related question...

If a whole translation team was clearly and signicantly of a certain 'bent'...

What might we conclude about that?

At Tue Sep 25, 09:57:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

If a whole translation team was clearly and signicantly of a certain 'bent'...

What might we conclude about that?

I'd say we could conclude lack of balance. God made every personality type and intends for each one to be used to glorify him. I don't think we can apply a litmus test for employment or Bible translation teams that requires a certain balance of personality types. But I do think there is value in all of us becoming more aware of personality types and the benefits of each and where potential stress points come. I think taking the M-B test and discussing its results is a good part of marriage counseling. It's good for HR departments of businesses to have someone who understands personality types to help people who naturally conflict to understand better why they do so naturally.

As for Bible versions with different personalities, just as there is value in different personality types, I strongly believe that there is value in using more than one kind of Bible translation. In my own Bible translation work I make sure that I look at more than one translation type when checking translation, since there is danger that any translation type can leave something out.

I appreciate your comments, Bill.

At Wed Sep 26, 02:41:00 AM, Blogger ElShaddai Edwards said...

First, I'm glad you're feeling better - hopefully you've had your turn with the flu now and the rest of the winter (!?) will be a healthy one.

As I mentioned in a comment on the first thread, my wife is a certified MBTI tester and has boiled down the indicator types pretty well. If I understand correctly, the I/E type is where you get your energy from; the N/S is how you gather information; the T/F is how you make decisions; and the P/J is how you act.

I would think (I'm a T!) that the N/S type would be the most interesting one to look at in terms of what translation preferences we skew to. Are we Sensors, who want the target language of a translation to clearly communicate a range of idiomatic detail, or are we iNtuitives, who may be more able to automatically overlay a literal translation with our own idiomatic "hunches" (regardless of whether they are right or not).

I like I-ntuitives. They inspire me. I am stimulated by their ideas.

Wayne, I'm going to assume that you meant "i-N-tuitives". The "I" of course is the I-ntrovert type.

At Wed Sep 26, 06:40:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

ElShaddai assumed:

Wayne, I'm going to assume that you meant "i-N-tuitives". The "I" of course is the I-ntrovert type.

You assumed right, my friend. And in the past I have typed it as i-N-tuitive or something close to that that focuses on the "N". Some things just flew by me when I had the flu. :-)

At Wed Sep 26, 08:44:00 AM, Blogger drm said...


I don't see how he be anything other than an intuitive to have produced The Message.

How he be? And you a linguistics guy!

Yes, yes, I shouldn't pick on the sick guy :P
Hope you feel 100% soon. I've enjoyed reading the discussion on this.

At Wed Sep 26, 09:12:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

drm wrote:

How he be? And you a linguistics guy!

Yeah, well, I'll tell you a secret: linguists make just as my typos as other people.

But you know, I think what I typed is grammatical in at least one dialect of English.


At Wed Sep 26, 03:31:00 PM, Blogger Brian F. said...

I still think you were on to something and in some ways this conversation was a blessing to me. I think it could very well be that certain personality types will find themsleves geard to certain types of translations and be quite happy doing so! And that is just fine.

At Wed Sep 26, 06:47:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

We're all glad you're better and are back, Wayne! Thanks for sharing the hypothesis and subsequent observations.

Perhaps it makes more sense to look at patterns of Bible-translation preferences against four learning styles (vs. the 16 MTBI types). These four are the temperaments: Artisans, Guardians, Idealists, and Rationals.

Artisans are the SensingPerceiving SPs (using the 5 senses to see possibilities). They are Activity Oriented; love to Perform; and ask “So, what can I do?”

Guardians are the SensingJudging SJs (using the 5 senses to justify plans). They are Solution Oriented; love to Inform; and say “So be it!”

Idealists are the iNtuitiveFeeling NFs (using the 6th sense with passion). They are Meaning Oriented; love to Transform; and advise “Let’s just get to the ‘So What’ here!”

Rationals are the iNtuitiveThinking NTs (using the 6th sense with intellect). They are Theory Oriented; love to Reform; and ask “Why is that so?”

So far:

1 “so-what-can-I-do” Artisan has expressed a preference for NLT and TNIV.

7 “so-be-it” Guardians have most expressed preferences for ESV and NRSV.

9 “here’s the So-What” Idealists have most expressed preferences for NLT and NRSV.

10 “why, so why” Rationalists have most expressed preferences for NLT and TNIV.

The solution-prone Guardians do NOT seem to mention or to like NLT or TNIV.

The theorizing Rationals do NOT seem to mention or to like ESV.

Some meaningful Idealists will go for KJV (but not many of the solution-prone Guardians or the theorizing Rationals). But some of the solution-prone Guardians and some of the theory-prone Rationals will go for the NKJV (but none of the meaning-prone Idealists and not even that solo activity-prone Artisan will even mention that old KJV).

If there were more of us talking, then the patterns would likely be clearer. There do seem to be several patterns of four among us.

At Wed Sep 26, 07:44:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

J.K., I think it helped that you broke the groups down into the four Keirseyan groups. I'd like to keep working with you and others on this. Maybe I can post a poll and get input from some other contacts I have to increase the numbers of responses. I do think I can see some rationale for the kinds of versions preferred by these subgroups, but we still need many more responses to be able to have much confidence about a hypothesis for version preference of personality types. Thanks a lot for not giving up on this. You're stimulated me to keep going on it also.

At Wed Sep 26, 10:20:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

I score high for N on the MBTI, and you ask what sort of Bible translation we Ns prefer. The answer is both simple and complex: I can't tell you what category, but I can tell you that for this passage that translation seems right! But that for ahat passage, this translations fits better...

At Thu Sep 27, 03:25:00 AM, Blogger Michael Kruse said...

I’m an I-N-T-J, although only slightly to the Introvert side. For everyday reading I still default to the TNIV.

Anecdotally, I can tell you that I always scored high on vocabulary and low on spelling and grammar when taking skills tests at school. A Phd. language instructor I knew years ago explained to me that this was not uncommon for INTJ types. Words and grammar are mere conveyors upon which ideas arrive. They are the wrapper on the candy and the candy is the idea. Precise spelling and grammar are rather superfluous to the enterprise of grasping the larger truth the words are trying to convey. :)

The “N” part of me is obsessed with the ideas. The “T” part of me is primed and ready to analyze those ideas. The “J” part of me wants to get on with it and apply the ideas. I study language construction and use, not because I enjoy it for its own sake, but because of what it can do for me in grasping ideas.

We misspellers are so horribly misunderstood. My motto is, “Misspellers of the world, UNTIE!

(BTW, J.K. Great summary of the MB types.)

At Thu Sep 27, 04:38:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I am feeling lonely as the only "Artisan" in your sample. But I am only three percentage points away from being yet another NT to confirm your prediction for rationalists. Maybe the real hard core SP artisans don't prefer any Bible at all, perhaps tending to base their faith more on what they see happening than on what they read in an abstract book. I can see this tendency in myself.

Perhaps TNIV should be renamed INTV, INT-version, especially if as Michael suggests INTJ's are prone to mis-spelling!

At Thu Sep 27, 11:05:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

I have a very hard time seeing the NET footnotes as anything but very extreme S. I'm not sure what could be N about them. They are excessively detailed, focused on very specific issues that most readers don't care about, and anything but abstract. They do not draw on larger principles. They rarely deal with connecting up the passage with other texts, although I suppose sometimes they do need to do that to make a point (but it's not the focus). N-types are more interested in systematic theology than detailed exegesis.

At Thu Sep 27, 11:22:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

I have trouble with the temperaments. When I take the new temperament test in Keirsey II, I come out rationalist, which is NT. But I am as far from an N as can be. My actual typing puts me as a Guardian.

At Thu Sep 27, 01:36:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Wayne, If you set up a poll, I'll be happy to help any way I can!

Michael, les't untie thiz thign togethre.

Peter, Two of my family members are SP Artisans (and reading is one activity that's just not active enough for them). You're not alone in this world, just rare in the blogosphere, I suspect. On your being nearly NT Rational, I wonder if you’re not just like your Bible namesake, the Apostle Peter – don’t you see him as the energetic, active artisan (who finally takes time from all the hands on stuff to think about and write a couple of letters to the churches)?

Jeremy, The MBTI / Keirsey boxes bug me too. I hate being labelled and categorized. I can hardly stand the absolute either-or binaries behind the theory of fixed personality and steadfast temperament. And yet, still, I also recognize I’m writing some very NT Rational stuff right here right now very naturally. Hmm. And how about this:

On temperaments, the blood stuff the Greeks theorized (however we use it or discredit it today) is very interesting: choleric, phlegmatic, sanguine, and melancholy. (We certainly do type blood today – if differently – with great medical benefits!) I think what’s interesting is there are these very ancient, persistent, rather pervasive sets of 4:

In The Odyssey, Homer has:
1 βίᾳ (or life force, much like Keirsey’s active Artisan);
2 βουλή (or divine counsel, much like Keirsey’s structured Guardian);
3 δόλος (or craftyness, much like Keirsey’s analytical Rational);
4 θυμὸς (or craftyness, much like Keirsey’s relational Idealist). At least, that’s my theory.

At Thu Sep 27, 02:54:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Jeremy, from my blog interaction with you I would certainly call you a rationalist, and also (unlike me) as more interested in systematic theology than in exegesis. But both of these are said to be N characteristics. Are you the exception which proves the rule? But your Bible preferences are consistent with you being a Guardian.

JK, I may be an artisan, but I'm not the energetic, active type. I don't sit still for long, though, so I prefer reading short blog posts than long heavy books. I'm sure the apostle Peter was more E than I (and you can understand those last two words in two ways both of which are valid). But I see in your chart that my Artisan personality corresponds to the sower's rocky soil in the second column, and the good soil in the fourth column is my opposite the NF Idealist. Is there any hope for me?

At Thu Sep 27, 06:42:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Actually, I would get bored reading a systematic theology or a biblical theology. I've read parts of a few theologies, and they're just not the sort of thing I'm interested in. I'm much more interested in reading commentaries, which I read straight through rather than use as reference books. I'm just not trained in exegesis from the original languages. I had three semesters of Greek in college, and I've never learned any Hebrew. But I'd much rather read the results of a careful study of the text in order, at any level of detail, than I am at trying to build a system of thought. I'm even pretty awful of coming up with that sort of thing in my own field of philosophy. I'm good at making very small points here and there, criticizing others' arguments, pointing out where someone's view has been misunderstood, or working out the logical implications of some position or some combination of positions. I'm not great at coming up with new positions, giving new arguments for positions, or putting together various views on different issues into a larger system.

At Fri Sep 28, 08:20:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Peter (Gentle Wise Qaya), fun comments. Thanks.

So a concise reply:

it's just Ἀριστοτέλης and his Greek fathers who would lock us into precise either / or categories.

there's always hope for bedrock change in יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, right? He tells parables and preaches (what has been translated): μετανοείτε.

At Fri Sep 28, 09:19:00 AM, Blogger ElShaddai Edwards said...

On temperaments, the blood stuff the Greeks theorized (however we use it or discredit it today) is very interesting: choleric, phlegmatic, sanguine, and melancholy.

Ack! Those labels just brought back some wretched memories of a church I used to attend. They were insistent that all the small groups hand out the test to members, then proceeded to tell those of us who scored "incorrectly" that we had a bad personality to be a Christian and needed to work on that. I think it was the phlegmatic that they were looking for, but I can't remember. I was melancholy, if I recall correctly.


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