The year of the Bible [translations]

As the 400th birthday of the King James Version comes and goes this year, several new Bibles are hitting stores to offer “fresh” translations to a timeless word.  Whether these newbies will find a captive audience and dominate the Bible market as did the KJV is yet to be determined.

Regular readers of my column know that I have an affinity for Bibles.  Every year, I devote a column or two to Bible translations and point out the various nuances that make the world of Bible publishing an exciting one.  For this column, I offer a short report to keep us up-to-date.

One version due in September is called the Common English Bible, published by a consortium of denominational printers ranging from the United Methodist Church (Abingdon Press) to the Disciples of Christ (Chalice Press).  As a “paraphrase” translation (a mixture of word-for-word and thought-for-thought translation), it intends to reach a wide audience of all ages.

According to the CEB committee’s website, the version will be a “bold new translation designed to meet the needs of Christians as they work to build a strong and meaningful relationship with God through Jesus Christ.”

Although I think the use of the word “bold” is a bit brash, the New Testament (available in paperback and ecoleather since 2010) does seem to offer a rich structure and a clear, concise voice to God’s good news.  It has a single-column “readers” format, so it makes for easy reading in a favorite armchair.

I am interested to see how the CEB holds up to congregational worship, and it can’t be all that bad: One of the board members, Sharyn Dowd, is a noted New Testament scholar on staff at the First Baptist Church of Decatur.

The second translation coming out this year is a bit more controversial.  It is the “2011 edition” of the New International Version (NIV) published by Zondervan.  Unlike the Common English Bible, which is a new translation altogether, the NIV 2011 is a revision of the bestselling 1984 edition.

The NIV 2011 is already causing a stir because it utilizes “gender-neutral” language. This move on the part of the translators recalls the curse of the Today’s New International Version (TNIV), which came out in the late 1990s.  It, too, had gender-inclusive language and apparently flopped.  Many evangelicals and conservatives despised the tampering of God’s word, and they insured the TNIV’s death in 2009.

The same conflict is resurfacing now even though the NIV 2011 committee (according to their website) reconsidered and voted on each verse in which gender-inclusive language was used.  That, despite the fact that the new edition retains over 95% of the NIV’s original language.

At least one denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, practically banned the Bible.  Last month in Phoenix, messengers at the SBC general convention passed a resolution that warns fellow Baptists of the new translation and “respectfully requests” that Lifeway bookstores (the Baptist chain) avoid selling it altogether.

For others, there is the fear that Zondervan–the sole publisher of the NIV–will cease publication of the 1984 version once the 2011 edition hits bookshelves.  This spells the end of nearly three decades of one of the best selling Bibles in recent history, and it ironically insures the exclusive reign of the gender-inclusive enterprise.

Yet, a third hurdle for the ill-fated edition is the current phone-hacking news scandal by media conglomerates tied to Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp.  Fact is, Murdoch owns Zondervan, and the accusations can potentially tarnish the Zondervan brand for many a Christian.

My guess is that translations will continue to rise and fall with the times.  None will replace the beloved King James Version; none will be without its particular controversies.  My encouragement to you is simple and always the same: No matter what Bible you decide to use, read it and read it often.  That’s what counts in the end.

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

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