Is Jesus Red or Blue? The Politics of Bible Translations
Just as it is supposedly possible to tell someone's political party from their consumer preferences
, you can separate the Blue and Red Christians based on which translation of the Bible they use.
While Muslims believe the Qur'an
is the direct Word of God and must be read in the original Arabic, Christians don't insist on reading the multiple Greek and Hebrew antecedents to the Bible. Thus, one must choose which of the several dozen English translations
to use. Here are the major translations grouped geneologically with their political significance:
- KJV (King James Version) - Traditionalist. Perhaps the most poetic (although often less "accurate") translation, phrases from the KJV echo in our popular consciousness--from Handel's Messiah to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream". Christians of all sorts like the KJV and the various attempts to update it, but some fundamentalists believe that only KJV should be used and that it is actually "more accurate" than the original Hebrew/Greek!
- ASV (American Standard Version) - Jehovah's Witness. Based on KJV, this is the old granddady of all of the following translations, but only Jehovah's witnesses still use it.
- RSV (Revised Standard Version) - Mildly liberal. An update to ASV which had a few features that, among other things, got it into trouble with Sen. Joseph McCarthy! Declining in popularity--most folks who would have used this now use NRSV/NIV/etc.
- NASB (New American Standard Bible) - Most literal. Of all mainstream English translations, this is the one truest to the original languages, although this sometimes detracts from its clarity/poetry/theology.
- NRSV (New Revised Standard Version)- Liberal/academic. Updates RSV with Dead Sea Scroll material, eliminates "thee/thou", and (controversially) includes "gender-neutral" language. There are several scholarly versions used academically (particularly in secular contexts, such as in university "great works" courses).
- ESV (English Standard Version) - Conservative. A recent (2001) revision of RSV, like the NRSV, except without the gender-neutral language and other perceived liberalisms. Less literal than NASB but more literal than NIV.
- NIV (New International Version) - Mainstream conservative. One of the most popular English translations, used in many Protestant American churches. Somewhat less literal than other versions, since it translates idea-for-idea vice word-for-word (a practice known as "dynamic equivalence")
- TNIV (Today's New International Version) - More liberal. An update to the NIV that includes "gender neutral" language and other such liberalisms.
- NEB (New English Bible)/REB (Revised English Bible) - Mainstream/More Liberal British. Both are commonly used by the Church of England and others in Britain; REB is a gender-inclusive, revised version of NEB.
- CEV (Contemporary English Version) - Simplified. Paraphrases the Bible into simpler language like you'd hear on TV.
- GNB (Good News Bible) - Straightforward. Paraphrase designed originally for non-native English speakers.
- NLT (New Living Translation) - Paraphrased. Updated version of the once-popular paraphrase The Living Bible.
Catholic Bibles are different not only in that they get a fancy imprimatur
but they also include the deuterocanonical books
More Bible translation blog fun: an interesting discussion
about what translation has to do with dog urination.