Three types of Bible translation readers

Posted: 23rd June 2008 by ElShaddai Edwards in Uncategorized

In this past year of blogging about Bible translations and reading about how other people respond to various issues, I’m starting to become convinced that there are three basic types of Bible translation readers*:

  1. The traditionalist. This reader craves what “sounds right” to their ears. They are accustomed to specific renderings and expect to hear or see those when the Bible is read. Other translations aren’t “wrong” because they’re inaccurate, but because they don’t feel or sound correct.
  2. The contrarian. This reader purposely seeks non-traditional translations as a way of self counter-expression against mass opinion. They revel in finding new ways of stating scripture and are open to textual emendation and conjectural readings if they allow a new experience with respect to the Bible.
  3. The skeptic. Translations are read with a mindset of constant validation against the reader’s understanding of scholarly critical issues, whether they be linguistic, historical, narrative, literary, etc. Translations are rarely perceived as “correct” because it is too easy to nitpick a specific textual choice here or there.

I’m curious to know which of these characterizations you identify with and what translation you primarily like to use. I tend to be a contrarian with a dash of skeptic, which explains my attraction to the REB and HCSB.

* For the purposes of this post, children and ESL/ESOL/EFL readers are not included.

  1. Dave says:

    I wonder if maybe a 4th category would be appropriate for people like me.

    I don’t have a strong need for traditional renderings, or a strong sense of skeptical or contrarian leanings. I just prefer an “accurate*” translation based on the latest scholarly Biblical textual research, regardless of how it lines up with traditional phrasings or how it lines up with what I think it should say in light of various scholarly critical issues.

    *Now I guess the hard part would be to pin down what I think is accurate, but that would be a whole other discussion.

  2. I don’t think I fit into any one. Although I am a traditionalist when it comes to theological terminology, a contrarian because I don’t need a Bible that “sounds right”, is in Biblish or is high sounding. I’m not sure I’m knowledgeable enough to be much of a skeptic.

    I want a Bible that is in language that I would use (as opposed to shall, fear not etc.) but is also on the literal side (no CEV for me), isn’t afraid to break with tradition where warranted but not just for the sake of breaking with tradition (I feel NRSV does a bit of the latter) and retains the literary styles.

    I also like single column, non-study Bible, hardcover, cross references in a narrow single column with some room for notes. I’m not sure what category that puts me in. Probably the category of–I’ll never really be satisfied.
    Jeff, child of God but I posted anyway

  3. @Dave: I hear what you’re saying, but for the purposes of this post, I would say that if you’re comparing the accuracy of a given translation against “the latest scholarly Biblical textual research”, that would make you a skeptic, at least by these definitions.

  4. Jeff wrote:

    I also like single column, non-study Bible, hardcover, cross references in a narrow single column with some room for notes. I’m not sure what category that puts me in.

    Whatever it is, I’m a “me too!”

  5. tc robinson says:

    I’ll be somewhat of a contrarian with a dash of skeptic. Clever post, El.

  6. Bryan says:

    Can I be all three?

    I’m a traditionalist in one sense- not in what “sounds right,” but in the sense that so many scholars before me have agreed and they a lot more than I do!

    Although, I’m a contrarian at times- e.g. John 3.16. The times that I’m a contrarian usually have to do with the fact that sometimes I’m-

    A skeptic. if sound scholarship gives us a better way of translation, we should go with it.

  7. Doug Chaplin says:

    I don’t think I have strong preferences here, although I probably tend to contrarian with a dash of both of the other two. For me as for many English Anglicans, a formative experience was our previous lectionary (1980-2000) which used RSV, NEB, JB and TEV, and varied them according to some “expert’s” view of what the best translation was for that particular passage. It left many people far less tied down to any one perspective.

  8. Damian says:

    I’d have to say I’m a generous dose of all three.

    For the most part I choose my translations as a contratrian would, to find alternative interpretations of scripture.

    But I read them sceptically in that I do rely on an understanding of critical issues.

    And this scepticism seems to happen most when I find something that doesn’t “sound or feel right”, which you call traditional.

    However, I’m nitpicking ;). If I had to pick one, I’d call sceptic.

  9. rogermugs says:

    i’m a traditionalist… maybe someday i’ll mature.

  10. I don’t know… these days I often find myself craving a simple mind uncluttered by contrarian or skeptical musings.

  11. Andrew says:

    I don’t exactly like the label ‘skeptic’, though by your definition that’s probably the best category I’d fit in, if I had to choose one. Thing is that I enjoy traditional language, but I don’t see it as necessary in all circumstances, nor for that matter always preferable. Given that I’ve studied textual criticism in school, I like to consider such issues in Bible translations. That said, though, my preference is to accept the usual interpretation unless there’s a very good reason to do otherwise.

  12. This is intriguing, ElShaddai, since I just switched back to the NKJV. I’m gonna have to contemplate this, and figure out why I’m so comfortable with it all of a sudden. Hmmm, I may have to write another blog post.

  13. Kevin Sam says:

    ElShaddai, yes I can see you being contrarian because of your love for the REB. This is an interesting way to categorize bible translation readers. If I have to put myself in one category, I’d have to say I’d be a “skeptic”. I never thought of myself as a skeptic before. I’ve always thought of myself as being mostly a positive person.

    Gary, you have to keep writing more posts.

  14. @Kevin – Thanks for chiming in! Keep in mind that a “skeptic” is not necessarily negative; it’s just that they’re constantly weighing and comparing the merits of what they read against what they know, rather than accepting a translation blindly.

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  16. Ruben Mitchell says:

    Has anyone considered that this list might be incomplete? All three seem pretty negative to me. Could there be more positive categories of Bible translation readers? Just thinking out loud for now.
    Ruben, an ESL teacher based in Asia

  17. Ruben,

    Thanks for the comments – my post was born out of some frustration with discussions about the “translation wars”, and without that context, I agree that the list could be read as “negative”. I apologize if this has given offense and welcome any thoughts you have on “more positive categories”!

    EE