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Is this the choice for readers of Bible translations?

September 29, 2011

Most American Bible readers prefer word-for-word translations of the original Greek and Hebrew over thought-for-thought translations, saying they value accuracy over readability, according to a new LifeWay Research study.

Imagine having to chose between accuracy and readability in a translation of Orhan Pamuk or Homer or Virgil. Well, that’s the either or choice in America, it seems, at least among those polled by the Southern Baptist publishing house. Here’s the report.

[update: Joel Hoffman has a post up in which he suspects the survey is not about translation or language really.. Is the survey more about the SBC beef with gender accuracy in the TNIV and then the NIV 2011? Lifeway is a Southern Baptist distributor of Bibles, told by a recent SBC resolution not to sell NIV 2011 bibles because they are gender inaccurate. This week at the largest SBC seminary there was another SBC conference to address gender and the Bible. Accuracy is in the Baptsit mind these days. The Lifeway survey just reflects that. Here is a link to a report on the SBC gender accuracy in bibles conference: ]

8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 29, 2011 9:13 pm

    There are many factors outside the ‘translation’ – one is the bias of the survey: “total accuracy to the original words, or easy readability?” Of course I want an easy to read inaccurate translation.

    Now – about word-for-word, maybe it still isn’t accurate! Maybe accuracy is a shibboleth. Word for word interlinears with all the enclitics and conjugations spelled out are of course unreadable by definition.

    What would I like? Well I’ve just been reading psalm 87 – so a little confusion is fine – as long as I can face it in the final accounting.

  2. September 30, 2011 11:44 am

    Imagine having to choose between accuracy and readability in a translation of Homer when you’re just going to read the Cliffs Notes anyway.

    I’m in a section of the American South where there are multiple Lifeways within 20 minutes of me. My general experience is that most church members are reading sections of the Bible and reverting to what their pastor told them that section said. (This experience comes partly from running a course at my church designed to fix that.) Translation is the first step – I’m not sure that American Evangelicalism, for all the translations it causes to come into being, has really figured out how to teach people how to read and understand the Bible. (Specifically, the tasks remain separate – people read the Bible but come to understanding by listening to the pastor or various experts.)

  3. September 30, 2011 12:22 pm

    Understanding is a hot button for me. Like the heresy of explanation, I am convinced that much understanding (including mine) is a way of keeping God in his place. I do all that I can to disarm and undermine understanding. It is dangerous work, but I am near enough to my end (psalm 39) that I can afford to take the risks. Funny – it is good to understand, but by that word we often mean ‘stand over’. What a tension we are living with! We seek understanding, but what is the plain and not parabolic speech that we must be open to? (John 16:29). Do we really ‘understand’ the judgement of ‘the prince of this world’?

  4. September 30, 2011 3:53 pm

    While I agree with you that understanding can be a way to keep God in a place that most definitely isn’t His and I also believe that theological knowledge finds its source in the apophatic I see understanding, correctly approached, as the cataphatic road that leads to those apophatic mysteries.

    Do I understand the judgment of the prince of this world? I see, perhaps only dimly, its rightness and necessity. Not from John, but from my own experience seeing how the world treats the helpless. But John sees that more clearly than I do and, having seen it, I find that John is answering the questions that I inevitably had.

  5. September 30, 2011 6:04 pm

    Understanding is a hot button for me.

    I appreciate this line of yours, Bob! Yes, the heresy of explanation is a problem isn’t it?

    Imagine having to choose between accuracy and readability in a translation of Homer when you’re just going to read the Cliffs Notes anyway.

    I love this line, Eric. Did you see this?

  6. September 30, 2011 8:30 pm

    I had not seen that translation! I suspect my compatriots all those years ago in high school might have read the Illiad if that had been the translation of choice.

  7. October 4, 2011 12:05 pm

    Repeated comment: “I think that there are serious questions about this survey. My main question is how a set of ‘2,000 Bible readers’ was assembled. Although a ‘demographically representative online panel’ is reported, I doubt it satisfied scientific standards; rather I suspect sampling error.”


  1. Accuracy versus Readability: another false choice in Bible translation « God Didn't Say That

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