God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Bible Translations Make News in 2011

According to the Religion Newswriters Association, Bible translation stories were among the top 10 religion stories of 2011.

The RNA singled out three events that contributed to the prominence of Bible translations in the news this past year:

  • Celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version. There’s no doubt that the King James Version (“KJV”) has had an unprecedented impact on English and on religion, as well as on the practice of Bible translation, though I insist that at this point its value lies less in what it tells us about the original text of the Bible — I did, after all, call it a fool’s gold standard — and more in its historical and cultural role. (For more on why I think the KJV is now inaccurate, take my “Exploring the Bible” video quiz: “Do You Speak KJV?“)

  • Criticism of the newest NIV. The NIV was officially published in 2011, but it was released on-line in 2010, which is perhaps why the RNA didn’t single out the publication of the NIV, but rather criticism of the gender decisions in it. Southern Baptists were especially vocal in this regard, and I don’t think this gender debate is going away. (Just a few days ago I was denounced by some Southern Baptists for my translation work, in particular for my suggestion in the Huffington Post that the Song of Solomon advocates equality between men and women.)

  • The completion of the Common English Bible (CEB). The CEB proved hugely popular, even beyond what its publishers expected, though I like it less than many. It’s not a surprise that the translation made news. It was reprinted twice within weeks of its initial run, and has over half a million copies in print. It also made some bold decisions, like changing the traditional “Son of Man” into “human one.”

Though all three of these news items seem to be about Bible translation, I think there’s more going on.

The gender debate, in particular, seems less about translation than about the role of men and women. As I told the AP, I think the NIV is a step backwards in terms of gender accuracy in translation. The loudest complaints this year were that it didn’t take a big enough step backward.

Similarly, I think the admiration (and sometimes reverence) that many people have for the KJV has a lot to do with keeping things the way they were.

And on the other side of the coin, part of the CEB’s appeal is tied up with specifically not keeping things the way they were.

Certainly one common theme here is how we deal with modernity. There seems to be a more specific message behind the stories, too, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

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December 15, 2011 - Posted by | Bible versions, translation practice | , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. Criticism of the newest NIV
    Southern Baptists denounce you, me, the NIV and everything else that is denouncable (not sure that is even a word). In my older years I’ve mostly offered them up as comedy anymore.

    I just got the Common English Bible. I suppose I should read it since I got it. :->

    I think the admiration (and sometimes reverence) that many people have for the KJV has a lot to do with keeping things the way they were.

    I think your on the right track here Doc…everything is a’chang’in from language, technology to the value of our money…down, down, down.

    Comment by nwroadrat | December 15, 2011 | Reply

  2. You have also received an honor badge from an SBC pastor? That is great news. There is one guarenteed way to stop learning and that is to be sure one already knows the answer to the question.

    Comment by Don Johnson | December 16, 2011 | Reply

  3. As you say, Joel, I reckon the criticism of the NIV has mostly to do with in-house Protestant consternation with gender roles (e.g., for some years now, the most strident and persistent criticism of the NIV has come from the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood). I would tend to see this as a symptom of Protestants coming to grips with a post-Christendom world: the less that wider society is seen to contribute to normative behaviour, the more the Bible’s normativity becomes a heated issue.

    Comment by Arthur | December 18, 2011 | Reply

  4. Of course there was another major Bible revision this year, the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE) which was released this past Ash Wednesday.

    Comment by Timothy | December 21, 2011 | Reply


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