Christian Book Distributors (CBD) sent me a 2006 Bibles catalog two weeks ago. (Some of you undoubtedly got the same catalog.) There are sixty pages of Bibles listed in this very attractive catalog. And the cover informs me that there are 250 new Bibles in this catalog. 250 new Bibles!!! I find that number staggering to be truthful.

I have had always had a favorable response to the publication of new English Bible translations. I am also inclined to believe that almost all of these modern versions are well done and thus they serve a positive purpose in the church. I have never been impressed with the various campaigns against Bible versions that are often launched by very conservative evangelicals. One would think that the truth police would be happy to have folks read any version of the Bible when most Christians do not read the Bible at all based on what surveys tell us. (Some think there is a conspiracy at work here since people read their Bible more faithfully when all we had was the KJV!)

Though the approach taken to translation (literal, dynamic, paraphrase, etc.) varies from one version to another each version allows English readers to get a sense of the meaning of Scripture through contrast and comparison. Something is clearly lost by not having a common Bible in our churches but a lot is gained by the use of different versions as well. In the end academic scholars will rightly rely on the Greek and Hebrew text as primary but ordinary readers should not be intimidated by such scholarship. The simple fact is clear—you can hear God’s revelation through an ordinary English text.

Having said this I must tell you that the many Bible versions produced, and the resultant editions and study Bibles that are published in combination with these various new versions, are a major source of revenue for publishers. This is not wrong, in and of itself. But it should give publishers greater pause about both their motives and goals. Sometimes I think the “Bible version wars” are as driven by profit, both the profits of publishers and the profits of those who make wars over “bad” versions of the Bible. I hope I am wrong but this beautiful catalog made me wonder once again.

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  1. Adam Shields August 30, 2006 at 9:07 am

    I have heard that Lifeway started it’s new translation because it was tired of paying the high cost of NIV royalties and wanted a way to be able to print cheaper bibles. There is both good and bad in that.

  2. Robert Campbell August 30, 2006 at 11:24 am

    I’ve often wondered about the nichification of study Bibles. The particularity of target markets doesn’t sit right with me when we are speaking about the Word of God which intended to unify the believing community.

  3. Ken Shomo August 31, 2006 at 9:13 am

    I am a pastor, and I also used to manage a Christian bookstore. I’ve spent much time speaking to people about Bible translations.
    I generally tell people that all the major translations have their strengths.
    However, I am very concerned about the popularity of the very, very loose translation called “The Message.” It is treated like a Bible translation when it is more like a personal meditation on the text — like a jazz variation of God’s word, not God’s word itself.
    I have also seen very loose translations such as “The Message” cited in popular Christian books, and then theology drawn from the specific phrases — even when these phrases represent very loose translation decisions.
    Because of the proliferation of translations, I think it’s harder for the average person to know when something like “The Message” isn’t on equal footing with something translated more carefully from the Hebrew and Greek. This is my concern, because I want people to connect to God’s word and not to something two or three steps removed.
    Yet, as I said, I don’t want people to be too concerned about any of the major translations.

  4. Kevin D. Johnson September 4, 2006 at 8:11 am

    I believe the pendulum has swung all too far in this direction contra the way it was in the ancient/medieval world where access to the Scriptures was found primarily in the synagogue or local church rather than in the hands of individual members.
    I don’t think it would be a bad thing to return to the ancient practice of the synagogue and local church in having the Scriptures read more in our services and studied less on our own in an American cowboy fashion. Adopting the use of a lectionary such as the Revised Common Lectionary would also help us move past this rampant individualism we see put forward in the multiplicity of Bible translations that are out there.
    I’m not saying that individual Christians can’t or shouldn’t read or study the Word–but perhaps one reason why we have issues with catholicity and barriers to unity is because we all feel that we each have to have our own take on whatever Scripture is presented before us.

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