God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

On Translations for Poor Readers

Not long ago, I asked about the merit of tailoring translations to children. When I starting reading about the new CEB translation, and in particular that “[t]he new Bible translation would be pitched at 7th-8th grade reading level (compare 11th-12th grade reading level for the NRSV),” I started thinking about what children’s translations and poor-readers’ translations have in common.

Clearly some of the issues are different: Unlike children, adults with poor reading skills may still be able to understand the adult topics of the Bible. (Barrenness was one example I gave regarding children.) Reading skills may or may not correlate with aural comprehension. And so forth.

But in many ways the two questions are alike. Should poor readers be given the impression that it doesn’t take much to understand the Bible? Is there merit to teaching people that they will understand the Bible better if they learn to read better? Can the messages of the Bible be accurately conveyed in 7th-grade-level writing?

Does the Bible have an inherent reading level? (I think it must — though I think it varies from passage to passage.) And if so, isn’t the reading level of an accurate translation already determined by the original text?


November 2, 2009 - Posted by | translation theory, Uncategorized | , , , , ,


  1. As to the Bible having a reading level, it seems to me that any reading level scale is determined by the education system of a culture (whether formal or informal). While it may be true that the Bible has an inherent reading level, I wonder how on earth one would actually determine it, especially in the OT.
    I agree that whatever the reading level is varies from passage to passage. I think it would be interesting to try to make a translation where Moses, Isaiah, Paul, Luke, and John, actually sounded perceptibly different in English. Although, how you actually do that is a challenge.

    Comment by Ryan | November 2, 2009

  2. Many translators claim to make the different parts sound different, though I’ve yet to come across a translation that is entirely successful.

    As for reading levels and cultural relativity: hmmm. On the one hand, it sounds reasonable to translate for the reading level of the middle of the bell curve of any culture. On the other hand — and I think contradictorily — maybe it’s the language that should match the middle of the bell curve.

    Comment by Joel H. | November 2, 2009

    • Our bell curve kinda dips back down in the middle, though.

      Comment by Gary Simmons | November 5, 2009

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