Image from Lifeway Research.
Has anyone ever told you, or offered to “agree to disagree” on the Bible with you? For me it has often come when people know my stance on critical issues, rather than after an in depth conversation on the Bible. It causes one to wonder, if when somebody says they believe in the Bible or the Bible is foundation of their faith, that really their ideologies are really the foundation of their faith.
A recent study by Lifeway, pointed out by The Biblical World, shows that what people say they want in a Bible and what they buy are nearly opposites. Particularly, people want an accurate word-for-word translation, yet they buy the NIV in droves. The NIV is a thought-for-thought translation, not a word-for-word translation, and has long been ignored by scholars of the Bible because of this.
So why this incongruity in the Bible market? Let me speculate my cynicism for a moment, since the market really should not behave in this way. First, most people who buy Bibles have no idea the differences from one translation to the next, let alone the enormous scholarly process that goes into determining which text ought to be translated. Therefore, these people do not make informed decisions in the market the way one would make when they buy more “important” things. In other words, either these people do not really care that much about the Bible, or they assume that the differences from one translation to the next are minimal.
Second, churches, denominations in particular, are often guided by the scholar/pastors in their ranks. If we can understand for a moment the financial, energy-sapping, and time-consuming demands that a Bible translation requires, we might have a better picture of why an institution might embark on such a task. But rarely do these institutions do so without an agenda, and for this reason, we can see correlating divides in denomination and Bible translation. For years, before the ESV, the conservative Bible translations were the KJV and the NIV. The ESV, out of Wheaton, IL, is considered a scholarly conservative translation, now used by many conservative denominations such as the PCA or the LCMS. More progressive denominations use the NRSV and others before it, like the RSV or the NAS. Of course, not every church follows this, but there’s a big enough trend for me to say this: denominations make careful decisions to choose which translation to use, translations which were often translated with certain issues in mind. Depending on how the translations handled the issues (gendered language, traditional theological terms, etc.), the denomination accepted or rejected it. According to the data, most people simply follow the translation their denomination agrees with.
Again we are back to the issues, the ideologies. Because of the market data, I am skeptical that most people even care about the Bible. Most people care about issues. And although, people may read the Bible and make decisions about issues, people rarely do so in a vacuum. Their political views, economic perspectives, and denominational affiliations carry great weight in their interpretations of certain texts… which makes you wonder, is there even any room for disagreeing discourses about the Bible? If that’s how it’s going to be, we are not agreeing to disagree, we are agreeing to agree with those who share the same views on important issues as we ourselves do.