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Bible translations abound but the Word remains the same

By Ronald E. Keener

Tyndale House Publishing has up to 30 percent of its business in the production and distribution of Bibles, in addition to its fiction and nonfiction books. The NLT Study Bible is now available after some nine years in its writing and researching. President Mark Taylor was asked by Church Executive about the newest study bible and about the many Bible translations on the market.

Why are there so many bible translations? What is the strategy of a publisher like Tyndale to do so many translations and formats?

There are a number of factors that drive the creation of English Bible translations. The most basic motive for developing a new translation is the concern that a large audience is not adequately served by existing translations. There are numerous translations available, but as time passes, older texts become more difficult to understand. In some cases, translations that use difficult technical language fail to communicate meaning to normal readers. As a result, revisions and new translations are made to ensure that people will be able to read God’s word for themselves.

Any other considerations for a Bible translation?

Other factors may involve the desire to preserve aspects of language or structure from the original Greek and Hebrew texts that other translations don’t preserve. Sometimes a denomination or scholars with a particular theological perspective might drive the creation of translation that they consider trustworthy.

But wouldn’t a single translation better advance the faith?

Some people wish we could have just one English translation so all Christians would have a common text to talk about. But since we have so many translations in English, there’s not much point wishing for this. It would be wiser to be thankful for the many excellent English Bible translations available to us, all with different strengths. By comparing multiple translations on any passage, we can get a window into many different facets of form and meaning that exist in the originals. No single translation can reflect all such facets in their entirety.

How is the NLT Study Bible an improvement? What niche does it fill?

The NLT Study Bible sets a new standard for clarity of explanation, faithfulness to the original text of Scripture, theological even-handedness, and focus on the message of the Bible text in its original historical context. Most study Bibles fall short in one or more of these dimensions. The NLT Study Bible is designed to meet the Bible study needs of the majority of contemporary readers and provide a complete biblical education in one volume. The feedback we have received to date is that we have exceeded the public’s expectations in fulfilling these goals.

Do I understand correctly that there had been an NLT translation for years, and the new part has been adding the study notes to that translation?

An edition of the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, has been available since 1996. Since many readers have struggled to understand the Bible, the goal was to produce a Bible text in natural English that conveyed the content of the original language texts with accuracy and clarity. The first edition was published in 1996 and many formats of this text were typeset.

The NLT quickly became a popular translation, and the translation committee decided that an additional investment in scholarly review could improve it, so a further process of refinement was undertaken. The resulting second edition was completed in 2004 and was again typeset in many different formats. Beginning in 2000, Tyndale House began the process of creating the content for the NLT Study Bible. The goal was to create features that would communicate the historical, geographical, and literary background for the Scriptures. These study features have been placed alongside the NLT text in the NLT Study Bible in order to deepen the understanding of any Bible reader. The NLT Study Bible is now the flagship for a whole armada of NLT Bibles.

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What gives longevity to a bible translation? Does a translation in anyway follow the cultural and social context of a nation?

The more contemporary and colloquial the language of a Bible translation, the more quickly it will become dated. Dynamic paraphrases (e.g., The Living Bible, The Message) will be the first to face this reality. The NLT, though contemporary, uses standard (instead of colloquial) English, which should give it a much longer life. The culture for which a translation is written should never change the message of a translation, though it is likely to affect the language that is used to convey that message.

The message of the original texts should not change. But the language used to convey that message must change to some degree from generation to generation in order to convey that message accurately. One example of this relates to gender-related language. In times past, masculine pronouns were used in common English to refer to humanity generally, including both males and females. Thus, masculine pronouns and nouns could be used inclusively with the expectation that readers would understand that both men and women were included. However, contemporary school texts and news writing tend to be more particular about gender terms, using masculine for masculine, feminine for feminine and general terms when both are to be included.

This changes the expectations of readers when they come to the Bible text. When contemporary readers hear the apostle Paul address the believers as “brothers,” the readers might assume he is addressing a group of men only. In many cases, however, Paul was clearly addressing both men and women, so in such cases the NLT renders this underlying Greek as “brothers and sisters” to ensure that the proper meaning is conveyed in English. Thus, the message of a contemporary translation doesn’t change. However, at times the way we convey the message needs to be altered due to the changing limitations of our readers’ use of language.

What is the company doing to appeal to young people in the design and distribution of Bibles?

Tyndale has always been a pioneer when it comes to making the Bible accessible to a younger audience. The Way, first published in 1972, was the first Bible that had photographs of people and was specifically targeted at a younger audience. That heartbeat has continued in the Bibles we produce today and the partners we find to help ensure that we are putting out the highest possible quality. In the past year Tyndale launched a new teen Bible, LIVE, in cooperation with Group Publishing. It is specifically designed to get teens to engage with the Scriptures, to participate, not just look for facts. We also create new covers which will appeal to teens, and we work to understand where teen culture is and where it’s going.

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ClearlyU Bible lets kids choose  their own Bible design

Zonderkidz, the children’s division of Zondervan, has announced the brand new ClearlyU Bible for kids. This new compact Bible with a fun and durable see-through cover material encourages kids ages 9-12 to express their faith and personality with their choice of cover inserts. Each compact Bible includes four inserts.

The ClearlyU Bible features the full text of the bestselling NIV translation and comes in clear, green and pink sparkle covers. Kids can also visit ClearlyUBible.com to print out additional inserts or to download a template and create their own unique design.

“Today’s product trends are all about personalization, so we’re taking that same idea to get kids excited about God’s word with the NIV ClearlyU Bibles,” says Alicia Mey, vice president of marketing for Zonderkidz. “Kids will be able to add photos, stickers, and their own designs in their favorite colors to the see-through covers.”

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