Thursday, June 08, 2017

Bible Translation Discussion

I am teaching an online Survey of the NT class this summer. At the start of the class I require students to read an article I wrote titled “A Brief Guide to English Bible Translations” [Note: The article provides an overview of various translations and provides a list of translations approved for use in the class. To reduce costs, the class is an “open source” course, so I give the students freedom to make use of their choice of translation, as long as it is not a paraphrase.]. I then have them post to a discussion board a report on what translation they plan to use for the class.

Here is a summary of the preferences reported by students in the discussion board posts from the summer 2017 class (with 30 enrolled students):

Unclear or no reply

The overall preferred translation was the KJV. For KJV users, a common reason offered for use was that this was the version the person had grown up using in their church or family. Examples:

“I will use the KJV because that is the version that I grew up with and am most familiar with.”

“My grandfather believes that the only correct version is the KJV….”

The KJV “is what I grew up using.”

            The KJV is “what I’ve used since I was younger growing up in the church.”

One said, “I’ve grown up learning from this bible.”

Another said this was “my grandmother’s bible” and it might be a good idea “to start passing [it] down to new generations.”

Some noted a preference for the KJV based on its style:

One noted the KJV is “simple and easy to understand.”

Another noted she preferred the KJV because it is the “most poetic.”

While others specifically noted they preferred a modern translation over the KJV due to style:

One noted, “it can be a little daunting and makes for exhausting reading if it’s not in plain English.”
The second most preferred translation was the NIV. Several noted this was the version they owned or regularly used. Students said:

            The NIV is “the copy [I have] at home.”

            The NIV “is the copy I have received and read … most of my life.”

One student noted he had read little of the Bible but received a copy of the NIV “as a graduation present” from his family’s church.

Another said the NIV was the version “my parents got me for Christmas.”

Some noted a preference for the NIV based on style. Comments:

            “I find the NIV much easier to follow, obey, and understand.”

            “I appreciate the simplicity in which it is written.”

Preferences for other translations were scattered. One said she was using the ESV because this was the version she had, and another noted that a new pastor in the church had just switched church usage from the KJV to the ESV. The lone NRSV user noted this had been the version used in a previous religion class.


I find these responses to be typical of those that I have received from earlier offerings of this course. These responses show that despite the prevalence of modern translations, the KJV still maintains a significant grip as the traditional text for English speakers. BTW, most of the students are younger (under age 30). When many think of the English Bible, they still think of the KJV. Among modern translations, the NIV is clearly the most widely read and preferred. Other evangelical (NKJV, ESV, etc.) or mainline Protestant (NRSV) translations register only scattered acknowledgement.

These findings suggest that Mark Twain’s quip might be well applied to the KJV: “rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” For more on this, see my related 2014 blog post on this topic.



Alexander Thomson said...

Here is the Facebook content:-

For over thirty years, I have taken a keen interest in both general and Bible literacy, and also preferred Bible versions, in both the US and also the UK. According to the latest (final and audited) schedules of my latest review of Bible literacy and Bible versions in both the US and also the UK, some interesting but disturbing facts emerge.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) conducts the triennial P[rogramme for] I[nternational] S[tudent] A[ssessments] surveys to measure the literacy etc. of many countries and economic areas. The 2022 year scores are the latest available. The scores scores were : Average (of 81 countries/economic areas) 476; US 504, 9th in ranking; UK 494, 11th in ranking. The Executive Summary issued by PISA highlights the facts that, both before, and also as a consequence of, COVID-19, reading scores have dropped back to 2012 and 2009 levels. OECD also does periodic P[rogramme for] I[nternational] A[ssessment of] A[dult] C[ompetencies] assessments. The latest results released are for 2018 [the 2023 results are to be issued in late 2024]. Each of the US and the UK has one-third of its adult (16-65) population at the OECD average Level 2 Basic. The everyday-task reading age of the average adult is in the range of 11-14 years, though 15 might sometimes be used - to illustrate, blockbuster novels are written at reading age 12 Level, and daily newspapers are written in the range 9-11 years – though editorials are pitched in the range 11/12-14 years. In the US, 79% are functionally literate, and 21% are not; and the corresponding UK figures are 83% and 17%. This is against the economic fact that the US [GDP $25-$29 trillion] and the UK {GDP $3 trillion] are ranked first and sixth!
All this tells us that both the US an the UK are really operating at the level of only functional literacy, though the newspaper editorials example (and other evidence and experience) show that the average adult is capable of reading at two to four years above everyday level – if there is real interest in a matter and/or the matter is serious.
My review of the preferred Bibles of those, in the US and the UK, who express a preference for a particular version or translation, consistently (and over some years) shows that between [minimally] 70% and 80% of preferred Bibles are shared by only 4 versions or translations.
Here are the percentages for the latest year, 2023:-
VERSION 1 2 3 4
KJV 21 30 11 16
NKJV 18 14 15 29
“KJV” 39 44 26 45
ESV 22 22 32 32
TOP 3 61 66 58 77
NIV 16 07
NLT 15 12
TOP 4 76 78 74 84
What strikes one immediately is that, in order to encourage and improve Biblical literacy and understanding, we should be promoting (only or mainly) these 4 Bibles, paired or parallel – ie, KJV+NKJV and ESV + NIV/NLT/CSB. In fact, for serious students at least, why not print [in A4] all four chosen versions together? (I have ideas about the formats for pairing/parallel.)
The public sales figures [from ECPA - Evangelical Christian Publishers' Association ]for the NIV show that it is the most-sold Bible in the US, but it does not figure high in surveys of preferred Bibles. Many of the copies registered with ECPA as US sales are sent and read abroad. On the other hand, many KJV's are produced and distributed in the US but are not registered with ECPA. In the US, the NIV seems now to have lost out to both the NLT and the CSB; but is just holding its place in the UK. The NIV figures lead me to wonder about its future.
Alexander Thomson

Alexander Thomson said...


And to complete the picture for 2023 :-
US General Readers : NIV 07 + CSB 10 + NASB 03 = NRSV 02 + Others 02 = total 24
US Serious Readers : NIV 07 + CSB 04 + NASB 04 + NRSV 04 + Others 03 = total 22
UK General Readers : NLT 12 + CSB 06 + NASB 03 + NRSV 03 + Others 02 = total 26
UK Serious Readers : NLT 06 + CSB 03 + NASB 03 + NRSV 02 + Others 02 = total 16