Friday, 15 January 2010

Dumbing down the Good Book

Concordia Publishing House executive Paul McCain tries to convince disgruntled Missouri Synod members that the ESV is easier to read than the NIV in a recent posting. This may indicate that at least some of the normally docile sheep are less than happy with the choice of the ESV (a revision of the old RSV that's been tarted up for the conservative market) for Concordia's new Study Bible.

The assumption behind the post seems to be that easy-to-read English bibles are good. So what if translators themselves sometimes have no idea what an expression, or even a whole passage means? Dumb that sucker down anyway, and while you're at it, make sure it's skewed to put our church's theology (whatever that might be) in the best light.

A link on the McCain blog caught my eye. The nice people at Zondervan (owned by Rupert Murdoch) have provided "reading levels" for various translations.

The Message 4.3
Good News 6.0
New Living 6.3
NAB (Catholic) 6.6
NIV 7.8
ESV 8.0
NKJV 8.0
NRSV 10.4
NASB 11.0
KJV 12.0

I'm not sure how McCain deduces from this that "The publishers of the New International Version have issued their own “readility” [sic] analysis, and the ESV beats the NIV here too!" McCain continues: "There is some misinformation on the web that places the ESV on a 10th grade reading level. That may be a case of misunderstanding or of someone trying to shore up the NIV’s market position, which has been badly damaged by their decision to use gender inclusive language and by competition with the ESV."

These guys hate inclusive language. Why? And why assume that bible readers in the vacuous category of "laity" are all as dumb as a brick? On the inclusive language issue, here are some wise words from translator Nicholas King:

"Throughout this translation we have adopted the policy of using inclusive language, that is to say, not speaking of 'man' or 'men' or 'the sons of men' when referring to all members of the human race. This has the undoubted benefit of making it clear that the particular text does not restrict itself to just one gender. It brings with it two difficulties, however. First, it obscures the fact that the society that produced these texts was a patriarchal one, that is to say it was run by the (male) head of the household, and that its texts are androcentric, that is to say, written from an exclusively male point of view. The second difficulty is that using inclusive language can sometimes make for very awkward English; but it is a price worth paying to avoid the appearance of excluding half the human race from God's sphere of attention."

As for the one-eyed pointscoring between the ESV and NIV, it has all the charm of Coke vs. Pepsi.


  1. This is interesting, since UCG has moved toward the NKJV in recent years -- and I've heard one minister preach against NIV as "too light," not to mention textually inaccurate.

    Maybe the middle of the road isn't so bad after all?!

  2. I remember hearing it preached from the pulpit that NIV was "a translation of man" too. This would have been in the late 80s, in a conservative WCG stronghold.

    Guess UCG hasn't changed much at all, in the grand scheme of things, then.

    At least the ESV (conservative or otherwise) isn't based wholly on Textus Receptus, the way KJV is. (Speaking of "textually inaccurate"....) Even NKJV has differences between the two manuscripts used, which are actual ancient manuscripts, unlike the Textus Receptus.

    In summary? Long live the NRSV!

  3. Would love to see a search box on Otagosh.


  4. SK, there's a built-in search box at the top in the blogger strip.