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Bible Babel - Michael Marlowe

Bible Babel - Michael Marlowe

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The new translations of the bible prove the old adage...
The path to hell is paved with good intentions...
The new translations of the bible prove the old adage...
The path to hell is paved with good intentions...

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Published by: Spirit of William Tyndale on Mar 21, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Bible Babel
by Michael Marlowe
For then will I restore to the peoples a pure language,That they may all call upon the name of the Lord,To serve him with one accord. (Zephaniah 3:9)In the late 1950’s F.F. Bruce wrote a book on the history of English Bible versions in which heexpressed some appreciation of versions in modern English that had appeared up to that time, saying,“may their number go on increasing!”
 And increase they did! This was before the great proliferationof versions that began in the 1960’s, and before the appearance of any of the modern versions that arenow to be found on the shelves of Christian bookstores. In an enlarged edition of his book published in1978 we detect a note of concern, however, when Bruce complains that the number of new translationsof the Bible “keeps on increasing to a point where it becomes more and more difficult to keep up withthem all.”
 In 1991 D.A. Carson observed that “from the publication of the RSV Bible [in 1952] tothe present, twenty-nine English versions of the entire Bible have appeared, plus an additional twenty-six English renderings of the New Testament.” 
And yet they continue to increase. Turning out newversions and revisions of the Bible has become an established industry, with interests of its own, andwe can no longer extend a magnanimous welcome to everything that the Bible publishing industrychurns out.The problem lies not only the number of versions, but also in their mutability. Publishers arecontinually making changes in their versions, so that they do not remain the same for more than adozen years or so. The situation with the NIV is typical. Its New Testament was originally published in1973. Changes were made in 1978, and in 1984. By 1997 the people who control the NIV wererevising it with “inclusive language.” Apparently they thought this revision would be accepted in thesame way that the previous revisions had been. As it turned out, however, many church leadersobjected to this last revision as frivolous, and as a capitulation to “political correctness.” Now, the NIVis not really owned by a publisher. It is owned by a non-profit organization called Biblica (formerlycalled the International Bible Society). But this organization has a very close relationship withZondervan Publishers, and it was reported that Zondervan executives had requested the revision. 
The pressure brought against the project by ministry leaders prevented the revision from replacing thecurrent NIV, but Zondervan got what it asked for anyway, because the revision was published under another name:
Today’s New International Version
(published in 2002). The version wasmarketedasbeing one that was adapted to the language of “consumers” between eighteen and thirty-four years old.Prior to this, Zondervan had also caused the International Bible Society to produce a
New International Reader’s Version
(1995) adapted to the language of children. So at the present time there are threedifferent “New International” versions being published in America. And changes have also been madein the TNIV and NIRV versions since they were first published. But there is more: if we include theBritish editions (which are not identical to the American editions), there are at least five “NewInternational” versions. Yet another revision of the NIV is now in the works, and it is scheduled toappear in 2011.
This instability and variety within the NIV brand itself is not in line with the intentions of the originalNIV committee. When they began work on the version in 1967 they stated their goals in a documentwhich emphasized the importance of having “one version in common use.”Only with one version in common use in our churches will Bible memorization flourish,will those in the pew follow in their own Bibles the reading of Scripture and comments onindividual Scriptures from the pulpit, will unison readings be possible, will Bible Teachersbe able to interpret with maximum success the Biblical text word by word and phrase byphrase to their students, and will the Word be implanted indelibly upon the minds of Christians as they hear and read again and again the words of the Bible in the samephraseology. We acknowledge freely that there are benefits to be derived by the individualas he refers to other translations in his study of the Bible, but this could still be done insituations in which a common Bible was in general use.
The prospects for “one version in common use” are not good. Although the NIV has become the best-selling brand in America (according to statistics compiled by the Christian Booksellers Association), ithas not become the version most often read by people who do much Bible-reading. That honor stillbelongs to the King James Version—a version which has not changed in hundreds of years. In 1998 theBarna Research Group found that among Americans who “read the Bible during a typical week, notincluding when they are at church … the King James Version is more likely to be the Bible read duringthe week than is the NIV by a 5:1 ratio.”
 This might seem incredible to some people in the Biblebusiness, but it agrees with my own observations over the years. For whatever reason, people who usethe KJV tend to know their Bibles much better than those who use the NIV, despite the fact that theNIV (in any of its forms) is much easier to understand. I have also met people who say that althoughthey sometimes use the NIV for casual reading, they prefer to use the KJV for memorization. And I donot know anyone who uses the NIV for “word by word and phrase by phrase” exposition. People whostudy the Bible closely have generally preferred the
New American Standard 
or the
New King JamesVersion
over the NIV. The
New Living Translation
is now being used in the worship services of manycongregations that had formerly used the NIV.In 1998 the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention launched a translation project of its own. At that time the President of the SBC (Paige Patterson) was asked to comment on the situation.His reply indicated the failure of the NIV translators’ hopes: “If the Sunday School Board didsomething really good, there’s enough dissatisfaction with the NIV that it might sell,” and he added,“We have over-translated and we have ruined Bible memorization and congregational reading. We havetranslation pandemonium out there. How it’s going to work out, I don’t know.”
When the NewTestament of this new version (theHolman Christian Standard Bible
) appeared in 2001, its preface  explained that there was a need for the version because “Each generation needs a fresh translation of the Bible in its own language.” By “fresh” they mean something completely new, as opposed to“revisions of translations from previous generations.” If the editors believe this, then thirty years fromnow they will have to say that their own version is obsolete. By then it will have reached itsgenerational expiration date. Also in 2001 the
English Standard Version
(a revision of the RSV)appeared under the marketing rubric “Truth. Unchanged.” Six years later a revised edition appeared,with 360 changes.In 2003 the situation reached a high point of absurdity when the
New Century Version
(the leastaccurate one of all) soared to the top of the sales charts in an edition called
“bringing the Bibleto teen girls in a format they’re comfortable with.” Designed to resemble the hollywood gossipmagazines sold at supermarket checkouts, this edition “shows them that the Bible is fun and applicableto life today.”
In the meantime—what has happened to the Holy Bible? It has become a piece of  merchandise.Bible publishing has become like the popular music industry, in which the songs are given only so much air time before they are replaced by newer ones. The Bible racks at the Christian bookstore have becomelike the toothpaste aisle at the grocery store—ten brand names, with several “new and improved”formulas, available in four varieties each. The resemblance is not accidental. In both cases the sameprinciples of product development and brand marketing are in operation.Regarding the contribution of “dynamic equivalence” to this situation, we will not say that Nida isresponsible for the
edition. We might connect it with the emphasis on cultural
that figure so prominently in his theories, but even if the publisher of such anedition presented it as an application of “dynamic equivalence,” we should rather see it as somethingwholly inspired by commercial interests. Nevertheless, the philosophy of “dynamic equivalence” hasobviously contributed to the current flood of popular versions and editions, not only by directlyinspiring many of them, but also by subverting the traditional view that continuity and uniformity areimportant in the ministry of the Word. Under the new regime of dynamic equivalence, there can be nocontinuity or uniformity in Bible versions, and no “standard” translation.The theory of dynamic equivalence actually demands multiple versions and frequent revisions. Becausepeople differ so much in their linguistic preferences and capacities, and because colloquial speechchanges with every generation, Nida maintained that every language ought to have several differentBible versions designed for different constituencies. In
Toward a Science of Translating 
(1964) hewrote:The ability to decode a particular type of message is constantly in process of change, notonly as the result of an increase in general education, but especially through specificacquaintance with the particular type of message. For example, at first a new reader of theScriptures is obviously confronted with a very heavy communication load, but as hebecomes familiar with certain words and combinations of words, the communication load isreduced. Obviously, then, the communication load is not a fixed characteristic of a messagein and of itself, but is always relative to the specific receptors who are in the process of decoding it.Because of this shift in communication load, we are faced with two alternatives: (1)changing the receptors, i.e. giving them more experience, and (2) changing the form of themessage, i.e. providing different forms of the message for different grades of receptors. Inthe past the tendency was to insist on educating the receptors to the level of being able todecode the message. At present, however, in the production of all literature aimed at themasses the usual practice is to prepare different grades of the same message, so that peopleat different levels of experience may be able to decode at a rate acceptable to them. TheAmerican Bible Society, for example, is sponsoring three translations of the Bible intoSpanish: one is of a traditional type, aimed at the present Evangelical constituency; another is of a more contemporary and sophisticated character, directed to the well-educated butnonchurch constituency; and a third is in very simple Spanish, intended especially for thenew literate, who has usually had a minimum of contact with Protestant churches.Communist propagandists, it may be noted, have engaged in a similar scaling of translations of Lenin and Marx, making important adaptations for various grades of background and educational experience.If the communication load is generally too low for the receptor, both in style and content,the message will appear insipid and boring. The failure of Laubach’s
The Inspired Letters
(atranslation of the New Testament Epistles from Romans through Jude) is largely due to thisfact. It is possible, of course, to combine a low formal communication load with a relatively

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