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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Bible Translations: Denominational Influences

While translation philosophy and textual philosophy are important factors in considering the purchase of an English Bible, another consideration is the denominational influences of the translators. To simplify the thought, a translation by a few translators of a single denomination is more likely to be doctrinally slanted than one by many translators of a wide range of denominations and theological positions.

This is especially true in any Dynamic Equivalence or Paraphrase translation, which leave the greatest room for modifications, but can also be true in a word-for-word translation, because some Greek and Hebrew words can have multiple English equivalents (though almost always those variants are in the same semantic domain).

While it would take much more room and time than you are willing to read to demonstrate how these denominational influences can affect the reading (though the first example in Translation Philosophy between the dynamic equivalence and paraphrase Bibles is a good example), I think it is useful to demonstrate the wide variety of translators and denominations used by some translations.

Note: Many translations will note not only the translators, but the “translation team”, which will include the “Advisory council” and “translation reviewers”. However, in the end, the translators, not advisors or reviewers, make the decision on what the words will be. The publisher’s own words are generally used to describe the translators’ affiliations.

King James Version: 47 (plus 7 for the Apocryphal books) for 54 – All Anglican…but as it was the only English-Speaking Church of the period this would not be an example of a denomination as we know it. There were significant dissenters in the Anglican Church, most notably the Puritans, whose theology was known by the translators. Conservative, evangelical.

New King James: 119 (includes all categories)– Trans-national, trans-denominational. Conservative, evangelical.

NASB: 54 – Trans-denominational, conservative.

ESV: 14 (over 100 total) - International and represents many denominations, shares a commitment to historic evangelical orthodoxy, and to the authority and sufficiency of the inerrant Scriptures. Includes J.I. Packer, Robert & William H. Mounce and Wayne Grudem.

NIV: 15 – International, trans-denominational. The National Association of Evangelicals, which includes most moderate-to-conservative denominations (not the Southern Baptists, though) represents the general denominational beliefs of these translators and associates.

Holman CSB: 13 (90 total) – Conservative & Evangelical. Has many SBC translators, but lacks the big SBC names.

NRSV: 30 - “has received the widest acclaim and broadest support from academics and church leaders of any modern English translation. It is the only Bible translation that is as widely ecumenical”. The NCCUSA is the denominational representative of this translation. They are, by any standards, “liberal”, including the PCUSA, ECUSA, UCC, and UMC.

Good News Translation/TEV: 7 – Denominational/ theological influences? Well, here are the words of one of the lead translators: “Only willful ignorance or intellectual dishonesty can account for the claim that the Bible is inerrant and infallible.... No truth-loving, God-respecting, Christ-honoring believer should be guilty of such heresy... No one seriously claims that all the words of the Bible are the very words of God. If someone does so it is only because that person is not willing thoroughly to explore its implications ... Even words spoken by Jesus in Aramaic in the thirties of the first century and preserved in writing in Greek 35 to 50 years later do not necessarily wield compelling or authentic authority over us today.” You make the call.

The Message: 1 – PCUSA. You can’t get much more slanted in any direction than one translator!

A truly “trans-denominational” translation is, well, absent. The KJV, being produced before denominationalism became prevalent, is the closest one can get. If you are concerned about denominational influences, it would be worthwhile to get more than one type to compare.


  • "King James Version...Conservative, evangelical."

    That's somewhat disingenuous. The term "evangelical" has shifted its meaning hugely since the time the KJV was written. Almost all of the core doctrines of evangelicalism have been formulated since that time. (Notice that I'm not talking about the core concerns of evangelicalism - those have been a constant. But the ways in which those concerns are understood and worked out are different now.)

    Unless you were meaning that this translation is beloved of conservative evangelicals, which is doubtless true. But to suggest that its translaters were what we would now call "conservative evangelical" is to misrepresent the facts. Almost all of the relevant theological disputes that define evangelicalism today took place long after the KJV.

    "A truly “trans-denominational” translation is, well, absent. The KJV, being produced before denominationalism became prevalent, is the closest one can get."

    I don't think that your own evidence backs up that statement. The figures you quote surely suggest that the NKJV or NASB would be the best to use. Not only do they match your theological preferences but they have exactly the wide range you desire, and use modern language to boot. Which (all other things being equal) should be a huge plus point!

    The KJV was also assuredly not "produced before denominationalism became prevalent". Indeed, its production was an affirmation of one of the biggest denominational splits in the Church's history - the Protestant Reformation. The purpose of the KJV was to serve the (then still newly Protestant) Church of England.

    You're also a little unfair to The Message. Eugene Peterson would (I am sure) be troubled if this version was used as the sole resource for serious study. That isn't the point! As a first step in reading the Bible, and as a source of new insight for those of already acquainted with it, it's excellent.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 7/05/2006 05:44:00 PM  

  • John,
    There were really only two English denominations - Catholic and Anglican. Since the Catholics opposed putting the written Word in the hands of the common man, I think it safe to say that the KJV was as close to free of the denominationalism we have today as we can get. I don't consider the Catholic Church a denomination. Also, I'm not even sure I would call the Anglican Church of 1611 "Protestant", as they arose less out of the Reformation and more out of royal decree. Lastly, "The purpose of the KJV was to serve the (then still newly Protestant) Church of England" is true, but partial and misleading. The translators stated the purpose was to glorify God and build up the church, and as the Bibles were not to be kept out of the hand of the Catholics, I think it's safe to say that the translators themselves had the intention of benefiting ALL through their work - just as I assume every translator today does.

    I pulled "conservative, evangelical" from publisher notes. Liberal denominations tend to eschew the KJV. Liberal seminaries do more than eschew it - they slander it. No, the translators probably did not consoder themselves conservative and evangelical, but they held tightly to Scripture and tradition and were not in a culture that advanced liberal secular humanism - so I think it's a lot more safe to call them conservative than not!

    I've already identified The Message as less than ideal for serious study in "Translation Philosophy Analysis". No need to imply that this post has anything to do with that!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 7/06/2006 11:34:00 AM  

  • Hammer,
    "I'm not even sure I would call the Anglican Church of 1611 "Protestant", as they arose less out of the Reformation and more out of royal decree."

    It was definitely Protestant (although not Calvinist or Reformed). Don't forget, this was not long after the era when people were burned to death for being Catholic or Protestant. It wasn't just about royal authority (to anyone except Henry VIII, who was long dead by this point). Elizabeth I and James I were staunch Protestants. They were even responsible for one of the main formularies of Protestant theology, the CofE Prayer Book.

    "The translators stated the purpose was to glorify God and build up the church"

    Oh, absolutely. But, as you say, Catholics didn't read the Bible, so the KJV was a clear distinction between Protestant and Catholic.

    Anyhow, thanks for this series (now that I see it's over). It's been an interesting read.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 7/07/2006 05:00:00 AM  

  • I'm glad you enjoyed it, John. Thanks for the comments!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 7/07/2006 08:40:00 AM  

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