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Tribes and Translations

Scot McKnight has been blogging about the controversy generated by the TNIV  announcement (see here and here for Scot’s thoughts; see also here for discussion on this blog) this week as well and offers the following humorous synopsis of the “tribalism” that accompanies the varied and sundry English translations. I suspect these resonate a bit more deeply south of the border, but they’re recognizable in the Great White North as well (and pretty funny, in my opinion):

  • NRSV for liberals and Shane Claiborne lovers
  • ESV for Reformed complementarian Baptists
  • HCSB for LifeWay store buying Southern Baptists
  • NIV for complementarian evangelicals
  • TNIV for egalitarians
  • NLT for generic brand evangelicals
  • Amplified Bible for folks who have no idea what translation is but know that if you try enough words one of them will hit pay dirt
  • NKJV and KJV for Byzantine manuscript-tree huggers
  • The Message for evangelicals looking for a breath of fresh air and seeker sensitive, never-read-a-commentary evangelists who find Peterson’s prose so catchy

See the full post here. Also, be sure to check back at Jesus Creed next week as Scot will be devoting more sustained attention to questions around translations and the heat they seem to generate.

23 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thats good man… I have used NIV growing up and college, I thought TNIV was good, but I like the ease of NLT at least I found it useful when reading out loud to high-school students, I found them understanding the point much easier. Anyways the real comment that I have is do we have too many translations? What I mean is are we mass-producing them for sales, its ridiculous how much a bible is in a store, and of course the varieties ie. golfers bible, dads bible, emo-skating-comicloving-stepchild bible… I realize the later has nothing to do with translation and finding accuracy but I think it does fit in this find the ‘right’ one for you…

    September 4, 2009
    • I don’t know if we have too many translations or not, but I certainly agree with you about the stupidity of the marketing approaches some have taken toward the Bible. If I was a cynic, I might think that the endless varieties of Bibles have more to do with making money than anything :). The whole “find the Bible that’s right for you” approach really rubs me the wrong way. Instead of trying to accommodate ourselves to Scripture and its message we are tailoring Scripture to meet our needs. It is a consumer-driven model all the way and seems just a bit out of step with some of the important themes of Scripture itself.

      September 4, 2009
      • But isn’t the whole right translation for all to understand kind of that too, maybe everyone reading the bible for themselves isn’t a good idea…

        There are scholars trying to find the best translation so majority can understand the proper context, and yet most come up with their own ‘reading’ anyways, I don’t want to get this slippery slope going here… but you have guys like you a scholar a pastor and some one can simply disagree with you cause they read it ‘differently’ in their ‘number one boss in the world bible’

        September 4, 2009
      • Well, somehow you have to honour the intent of Scripture—which is clearly that everybody, regardless of intelligence, linguistic ability, etc, be able to understand and get in on the story of God—without catering to every imaginable real or perceived need in a desperate attempt to make money. People will always appeal to their pet translations, I suppose. These things are usually done through large committees which should, theoretically, provide balance and perspective. But if you have a committee stocked with raging fundamentalists (of the liberal or conservative variety) you get Bibles that appeal to those demographics. I don’t know what the answer is. I just try to compare and contrast as much as I can.

        September 4, 2009
  2. Gil #

    Are you saying I need to return the “Princess Bible” I bought for my girls?

    September 4, 2009
    • awesome!

      September 4, 2009
    • Wow. I almost don’t know what to say about this product. Good thing the bible floggers, er… I mean publishers do:

      Your little princess will love to read about the King of kings in her new Princess Bible. Features the International Children’s Bible with a jeweled snap closure, gift box and four-page princess section in the back.


      (I think you should keep the “Princess Bible,” by the way. In fact, I think you should preach/teach out of it one day, just for fun. See if anyone’s paying attention.)

      September 4, 2009
      • Gil #

        I was pretty pumped about the jeweled snap closure.

        September 4, 2009
  3. lisacolondelay #

    Hum. : )
    When the NLT Holy Bible Mosaic comes out in Oct… you’ll need to figure out a new pigeon hole. Check out my entry on the Trinity in the bookstore, since you probably won’t want to buy it.

    I like to use several translations and consult commentaries. I know the Holy Spirit tells me things I need to know, but when have I been the perfect vessel to hear God? I’ll take all the insight I can get, and pray about it.

    How important to stress reading the whole bible to understand the theme and nature of God! I love the helpful book, “How to read the bible for all it’s worth” … it mentions the same sort of thing, and talks about context culturally as well.

    There are plenty of biblical stories that are hard to understand. I venture to propose that many are so much so, just simply b/c we don’t live 5,000 years ago in ancient Israel when these stories were authored. What does come through as a running stream through Scripture is the kind of God, God is, and the nature inherent to him. Many people–at first–tend to impose traits on God that are quite human. If they assess their presumptions of God, they will see that they most often resemble, and quite closely I might add, the characteristics of their own father, or another human authority figure they are familiar with. “Normal” yet misguided.

    God is holy, he’s not like a man (or person) too much. He is also, and we must really “get this”, truly good. If we fully understand his nature and the continual redemption he offers and always has, we can follow that stream, and love and worship our Good Creator loyally, without understanding him through and through.

    Please stop by my blog site, you’ll love it, or the next post is FREE, and I mean that.

    September 4, 2009
    • Well that’s certainly interesting…

      September 4, 2009
    • Ken #

      I think Lisa approaches the BIble as many of us do, finding something in it that transcends the words.

      Perhaps we choose the particular translations that we do in part because they help us to find that transcendent thing. I think that is why some of us lean towards the translations that are concerned with the treatment of gender.

      September 5, 2009
  4. Gil #


    September 4, 2009
  5. Paul Johnston #

    The tragedy of the ongoing Protestant delemna; who is in authority?

    More discussions about lesser things.

    September 5, 2009
  6. In a seminar class last year where a specific bible version was not required the different interpretations of ten students was remarkable. Often the translation was what determined the students main points pertaining to a certain discussion. I must add that there was only one identified Christian in the group and yet we still argued over many points.

    The bible is hard enough to interpret and discuss, this added another layer. As with all translations, how much of the original meaning is lost? Is so many versions a good thing if it can lead to even more strife? Which version is most accurate and doesn’t have an agenda of appealing to a certain variety of Christians? If something is trying to appeal to a sub group, well, in my opinion its already flawed. A life is meant to be lived in accordance with the bible, not the bible in accordance with a life.

    September 5, 2009
  7. Yeah, you’re right Tyler. Often what we think “the Bible says” is heavily influenced by which Bible we’re reading. I think that’s why it’s important to be read multiple translations and be somewhat aware of the strengths and weaknesses of individual translations. Simply because there is no direct linguistic map from Hebrew or Greek to English, every translation has to decide where they fit on the formal vs. functional equivalence scale. Some try to preserve the form and you get very wooden, grammatically awkward sounding English. Some go to the other extreme and just try to convey (what they see to be) the intent of the text. Maybe this is yet another example where the Aristotelian “Golden Mean” isn’t a bad policy! 🙂 The NRSV, ESV, NASB, and even the TNIV fall somewhere in this middle ground. I usually start with these and then branch out to the other ones for contrast.

    A life is meant to be lived in accordance with the bible, not the bible in accordance with a life.


    September 5, 2009
  8. Randy Macho Man Savage #

    Have you checked out my New Pile Driver Version *yeah*?

    September 6, 2009
  9. George Bush #

    Y’all gotta get yer hands on the new Bible I jus’ finished commissnin, its the…
    MAV (Mission Accomplished Version)
    it has a brand new red letter section in all the spots that Israel fought a battle and a new WMD (the WisdoM of Dick (Cheney that is)) commentary section.

    September 6, 2009
  10. Jerome Iginla #

    Hey guys just poppin in to let you know that I am reading the New Miracle Bible. The NMB is so refreshing and filled with hope and reassurance. There have been some important rewrites like the part where the rich man comes to Jesus. Well Jesus just tells him to go out and try hard and not worry about the slump he is in. Its cool! And yeah I love the special attention given to Hezekiah. Sure its controversial but who can resist prophesy like this is chapter 6 verse 12-16:
    “therefore now in the day when you have turned away from blind guides and returned to favoured lineage. In that day when your young men will rise up in place of the fallen and broken men and your very young men will clothe themsleves with the armour of the lord, yeah i will grant to you courage. i will sustain you. I will place on your feet shoes that walk on the greenest grasses and clothe you with the raiments of cotton. i will cover your nakedness and your shame. And you will walk in the meadows with your brothers from the west in the spring. You will beat your blades into clubs and you will rest. In that day you will cry out and say once again tomorrow the victory is ours – next year the enemy will be slayed.
    wow those words are so precious to me…

    September 6, 2009
  11. Dave Chow #

    LOL! Any U2 versions?

    September 7, 2009
  12. Sorry to diverge from the comical, but check out Ben Witherington III’s comments on his blog.—the-case-of-the-tniv.html

    This quote stood out to me:

    “There are no infalllible English translations because there are no infallible English translators and there never have been. The inspiration came at the point of the revelation to the originally inspired authors who wrote in the Biblical languages not in a language that did not exist yet— the King’s English and its successors. Translators, alas, are lesser lights and are far from perfect. Hence the cry of the Reformation ‘Semper Reformanda’– always reforming does and should apply to translations as well as other things.”

    September 10, 2009
    • Thanks for the link Dave—I saw that post as well but didn’t have time to read it. The quote you’ve highlighted really sums it up, in my opinion. Translations aren’t perfect. And, more importantly, they don’t need to be and aren’t supposed to be for good theological reasons.

      September 10, 2009
  13. Interesting take on the translational differences. I like it.

    For a seminary class, I had to translate 5 passages of Colossians without the aid of computer software or any other English translations. Talk about an eye opening experience! It is easy to see how so many factors can influence translational style and choice, which is why I am always encouraging people to understand the backgrounds and biases of at least a few different translations and then consult them frequently.

    And as for Holy Bible: Mosaic (NLT), take a look. Despite your feelings on the translation, it should prove interesting in how it approaches weekly devotionals. (I contributed to it as well.)

    The NLT is not my translation of choice, but my wife and I are reading through it together for our devotionals and sometimes it sheds light on something differently because we are so accustomed to hearing something a specific way.

    September 17, 2009
    • Thanks for the recommendation Bryan!

      September 17, 2009

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