Sunday, October 03, 2010

Bible Translations, Profits and Politics

Why are there so many English Bible translations? What politics and profit-motives are driving the Bible-publishing market? Here's an interesting piece from Christianity Today which discusses these issues in relation to a brand new translation making its way to bookstores soon, Common English Bible (CEB):
With the Common English Bible (CEB) officially entering a crowded translation market tomorrow, five mainline publishing houses producing the new version hope initial New Testament sales are a harbinger of the reception of the finished product.

After giving away 20,000 copies this summer, total distribution to sales channels is expected to surpass 100,000 this fall. Paul Franklyn, associate publisher for the CEB and the United Methodist Church's Abingdon House, calls the Bible's readability—forged through widespread use of translation team reading groups—a primary distinctive.

"We brought extensive field testing to bear on the process before it went to editors," Franklyn said. "That's starting to pay off."

The question is whether the public is ready for another translation when no one seems sure how many exist. The American Bible Society says there are 32 translations on the North American market, while Christian Book Distributors offers over 50. offers 23 English versions. In his research for a book on translations, Phoenix Seminary professor Paul Wegner identified nearly 100 English versions by 1950. He estimates there are twice as many now, although only a handful controls a dominant share of the market.

"We've probably reached the saturation point," Wegner said. "It may be doing more damage than good. It's gotten to the point that people are making money." In other words, profit may be prompting more translations than readability concerns demand.
Read the rest here.


Diakonos said...

I was one of those who received the free New Testament several weeks ago. IMHO this extremely dynamic equivalence translation makes the Good News Bible (Today's English Version)look like a tame and traditional version. I found the CEB to be a candidate for the "dumbed down inclusive language" category of Bibles. And what bothers me the most is its choice of "the Human One" in place of "Son of Man". Yes...I know Son of Man can mean the human one or mortal, etc....but sounds SO bad on grammatical grounds alone. Not to mention Son of Man is an ancient Christian tradition and title for Jesus.

Sister Mary Agnes said...

As a woman I find inclusive language offensive and insulting. It is as if women are not expected to be intelligent enough to understand that "he" and "man" are universal pronouns in some contexts, and not just masculine pronouns . . . or that women don't have the maturity to accept the fact that Jesus came to earth as--umm--a man. Yet women are often the ones to push for inclusive language. I just don't get it.

Thanks for your comment Diakonos, giving us a taste of what this new translation is like!

Anonymous said...

There is an excellent explanation for The Human One translation choice on the Common English Bible blog (written by the associate publisher):
Although some readers may not find it a comfortable choice, it helps to understand the reasoning. Also, some thoughtful posts on this blog about the gender/pronoun choices. The CEB strives for accuracy in translation not inclusive language. And although many believe in the Bible glut, I do think the Common English Bible stands out as a fresh, readable translation, particularly for a new generation of readers who many not have any familiarity with translations of old. The CEB website is worth checking out:

Clare Krishan said...

A translation that articulates events for a new reader of a local* copy while conserving the comprehension of the prior reader (of the more distant* version copied from) in formulating his or her minds eye the true meaning of the events is accurate but may not be precise. the sorrow of humankind is that our intellects are clouded by self-centeredness, and without grace we aren't able to surrender our internal thoughts and desires to formation by another. CEB's fault lies in the lie that eloquence of composition rests alone in familiarity in the local sense, confirming we humans in our self-absorbed navel-gazing. To communicate authentically the content of an author's heart to the heart of his beloved, a translator must be cogniscant of much more than the usage of certain words, but the intentions behind conceiving the thought in the phrases as chosen. Let's consider Spanish, the honorific Son of Man-- el Hijo del Hombre -- is still conceiving the same intention (a self-certain-hood signifying a unique Titleholder with generative powers of new life to human personhood) and uses capital letters to draw attention to a symmetry of formal parts. pivoting on the key relationship between them. The mystery hidden within these three elements isn't spoken of directly - humans are born of women, right? New souls are born of Christ how? Via his power, grace poured forth in the sanctifying sacraments, conserved and articulated in purest form in his spouse, Mother Church.

* geographically-speaking or in time

The "human one" rudely skips revealing the Mystery foreseen from Eternity that providentally leads back to eternity, that's why its a bad translation not because its trendy and profitable. For more on symmetry and Mystery, read up on semitic rhetoric and the Knot of Solomon here:

Teresa said...

I second what Sister Mary Agnes said. I am sick of these "feminists" calling for "equality" when in actuality they are calling for special treatment. Of course man is referring to both men and women.

Steve Finnell said...

you are invited to follow my blog

Alex Benziger.G said...

Today many more persons to make money one way or other using the name that is Jesus Christ.
In this case also Jesus Christ is a victim.
Alas Jesus Christ

JesseA said...

Well as Catholics let's not forget all the controversy with the revised-inclusive NAB for liturgical use. I sometimes still cringe at the NAB footnotes since the CCD class I teach uses Our Sunday Visitors "Prove It Catholic Teen Bible" (NAB) although the Amy Welborn explanatory inserts are very useful. The St. Mary's Press Catholic Youth Bible's unhelpful notations explaining how the bible is "sexist" among other things still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Note to JP the Great University student entrepreneurs: inexpensive youth bibles for parish programs.

kkollwitz said...

The main problem with Bible translations is that in the current state of ecclesial anarchy, I could make my own translation, and have it say whatever I wanted it to. Then if I could get a publisher, and sell the thing, it'd be a "Bible."

Not unlike the method for setting up one's own church, I suppose.