The Bible Translation Wars

John ArmstrongAmerican Evangelicalism

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.