God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Choosing What the Bible Is

I recently asked how people choose a Bible translation. (And I have more here.)

One interesting (though entirely predictable) result was that some people prefer more than one translation: the NLT for “readability,” for example, but the NET for “accuracy,” or the NASB for use in formal settings.

Even people who only have one preferred translation usually like the translation for similar kinds of reasons.

The upshot of this, though, is that people are deciding for themselves what the Bible is.

You can decide to have a formal Bible, a chatty Bible, an accessible Bible, or an esoteric Bible. You can opt for a Christian OT or a Jewish OT (even though it’s the same text).

Do you think this is okay? Do you think it’s okay that people get to choose what the Bible is (for them)?

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July 12, 2010 - Posted by | translation theory, using Bible translations | , , ,

14 Comments »

  1. […] up on my question about accuracy and choosing Bible translations, and by way of answering my question about whether it’s okay if people choose what the Bible is, it occurs to me that music might […]

    Pingback by Bible Translation: Where Melody and Mirrors Merge « God Didn't Say That | July 12, 2010 | Reply

  2. The problem is that people equate translations of the Bible with the Bible itself. I think of a translation as a commentary, not a Bible. The Bible requires interpretation, and a translation provides that, whether people realize it or not. With that in mind, it makes sense for people to choose a “commentary” that comes from a perspective they can identify with and appreciate.

    Comment by Aaron | July 12, 2010 | Reply

  3. The alternative is to get okay from the Pope. As I’ve often argued, canon is an arbitrary concept, based on dogmatic ecclessiastical authority, not on any objective criteria.

    Comment by WoundedEgo | July 12, 2010 | Reply

  4. Great question, Joel. By the way, thanks for continuing to blog.

    In answer to your question, I’d LIKE to say it’s communities (more or less) that have established these guidelines on *how* to choose, based on *what* it should be. Unfortunately, it may be more accurate to say that it’s mostly authoritarian figures whose attitudes have trickled down to the laity. But if you question is whether individuals should *each* choose what works best for them, then I’d agree that seems less than ideal.

    Historically, a lot of folks tend to swing from the one extreme (being told) to the other (choosing solo). As I began, above, it would be nice if we could all have a healthy community influence on how to make such decisions. The mind of Christ is *supposed* to be within his body…

    Comment by Bill | July 12, 2010 | Reply

    • But if your question is whether individuals should *each* choose what works best for them, then I’d agree that seems less than ideal.

      And yet, the ready availability of so many English translations encourages people to do just that.

      Comment by Joel H. | July 12, 2010 | Reply

      • Absolutely, which brings up another question. Marketing strategies aim themselves at the individual. (So do 99% of all sermons, at least, btw.) But…

        Do we have any history of translators & translation committees shifting their aim from communities to individuals?

        Comment by Bill | July 12, 2010

      • Need I remind you of The Conservative Bible Project? Not just do people get to pick which Bible they want — now they get to pick what their “translation” says!

        *Shudder*

        Comment by Gary Simmons | July 15, 2010

  5. >>>…The mind of Christ is *supposed* to be within his body…

    ISTM that you are alluding to where Paul suggests that the believers have the breath of God within them; Is he saying that the body has the breath? Or that each believer has the breath of Christ? And again, that the body has the mind of Christ, or each believer?

    I’m at work and can’t pursue this at the moment.

    Comment by WoundedEgo | July 12, 2010 | Reply

  6. 1Cor.2:16, and perhaps others (plural references)

    See here.

    Btw, the search default is KJV. BLB chose that for me, today, but I didn’t chose otherwise. Joel, is that okay? 😉

    Comment by Bill | July 12, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks for those references. I’m still not sure it isn’t plural rather than collective.

      Comment by WoundedEgo | July 12, 2010 | Reply

  7. I would hope for a more educated readership so that instead of knowing what the bible is, they would know what the bible is not. I believe that choices, based on something more than a dogmatic approach to a particular translation, is essential for building an educated readership.

    Comment by Joel | July 14, 2010 | Reply

  8. Do we have any history of translators and translation committees shifting their aim from communities to individuals?

    Bill: It’s a great question. To the best of my (limited) knowledge, translations have always been aimed at a community. I think modern translations are also designed for groups, but because we now have so many translations, people can choose for themselves which one they want.

    Comment by Joel H. | July 14, 2010 | Reply

    • You’re probably right, and the marketers merely take their own tack after the translators are finished.

      Still, there’s a subtlety to the question that may lie beyond our ability to suss out. Sermons, again, are delivered to an audience but usually directed to an individual. So the question I asked kind of poses a false dichotomy, or maybe a sliding ratio. Again, it’s probably beyond our ken, but interesting to consider.

      Comment by Bill | July 14, 2010 | Reply

  9. The stated purpose of the NLT translators was to develop a bible translated into the “heart language” that would speak tot the heart of each Believer. In so doing the changed many pronouns from third person to second and first person to male the passages seem more “personal”. I think the NLT qualifies as a translation created for the individual.

    Comment by Brad | October 29, 2010 | Reply


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