Thinking Out Loud

April 20, 2013

New Calvinists Must Support the Brand at all Costs

There are many different nuances of meaning to the term propaganda, but one has to do with “what a group or organizations says about itself.”  While self-promotion is not a crime, there are times when there is simply no need for it, and one of those is in the area of Bible translation.  By all means do all marketing necessary to introduce your version. This is a subject that will deeply affect a high percentage of Christ-followers, so tell your story.

I love the book How to Choose a Bible Translation for all Its Worth by Mark Strauss and Gordon Fee. Yes, it’s published by Zondervan, but it is full of raw transparency as the translators wrestle over difficult decisions in making the original text understood by English speakers today. Recently I reviewed The Story of The Voice, a translation so remarkably different that the backstory is a delight to read, especially to see how much this new generation of translators revered, of all translations, the KJV.

Why Our Church Switched to the ESVBut you have to be careful if you are both publisher and beneficiary, and if your translation has already been in the market for many years, one also might question why a propagandist title like Why Our Church Switched to the ESV by Kevin DeYoung needs to be written at all.  But to question that is to not appreciate the need the New Reformers have to be seen defending the brand at all costs, and the ESV is definitely the default Bible translation brand for the New Reformed. 

I wrote about their brand loyalty here several months ago; and for the lesser lights in the movement, spiritual brownie points are earned by constantly re-blogging and re-Tweeting the writing of those more recognizable; many of whom themselves are constantly copy-and-pasting the writings of those higher up the Reformed hierarchy.

In reviewing DeYoung’s answer to the ‘Why” question, Derek Ouellette finds some inconsistencies in deYoung’s translation standards.  DeYoung also points out that his church switched to ESV from the NIV, and limits the book to a comparison of the two, at the expense of all other possible options. So by design, a book like this is going to have an anti-NIV orientation. Ouellette notes,

Anybody moderately versed in the Bible can hold two translations up and compare selected verses to show why one is better than another. The average reader will not have a counter-comparision book on hand which is why she or he should read a book like this with caution.

Choosing a BibleMy comment would simply be that this is not the first time around for Crossway to publish a book of this nature.  Leland Ryken’s 2005 book Choosing a Bible — same publisher, same price, same 32 pages — was similarly biased.  The publisher blurb states:

Leland Ryken introduces readers to the central issues in this debate and presents several reasons why essentially literal–word-for-word– translations are superior to dynamic equivalent– thought-for-thought–translation. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to recognize the need for a quality Bible translation.

Yes, and you don’t need to be a theologian to know propaganda when you see it, do you? The “dynamic equivalent” translation in view here is, nine times out of ten, going to be the NIV.

I realize that Why Our Church Switched… isn’t exactly a new release, but Derek Ouellette’s look at it reminded me that people need to be discerning about what motivates people to publish this and other similar things.  A good Bible translation will rise and fall on its own merits, and doesn’t need an apologetic serveral years down the road.

A verse that comes to mind here is Proverbs 27:2, and just to show there’s no hard feelings, I’ll quote it in the ESV:

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
    a stranger, and not your own lips.



  1. I have several (many) Bible translations on my bedside bookshelf. I have actually read each one through. The lowest on the list is the NIV for it’s decision to remove scriptures. I go to a church where a NIV is tucked under every chair and flashed on the overhead. Sometimes I almost gasp at the contrast between what is found in the KJV or te NKJV. I am not dedicated to one translation as a conviction, but I am not a convert to the soft-peddling NIV.

    Comment by yokedwithhim — April 20, 2013 @ 9:39 am

  2. Even more than translations, I’m surprised by some of the commentary inserted into the Bible, and the clear bias towards one brand of theology or another. But in the end, personal theology and beliefs cannot be detached from the translators as they attempt to transfer the Bible – it’s words and meanings – from it’s original language to our own. The best we can do is be well versed in a good number of credible translations, know and understand the differences, and let the Holy Spirit reveal to us the rest.

    Comment by J. Randall Stewart — April 21, 2013 @ 10:06 pm

    • You raise a good point here. Ideally, translators need to stick to “what does the text say” and leave everything else to footnotes. But it is very difficult not to bring doctrinal bias into a translation project. The two books I mentioned (Mark Krause & Gordon Fee, and The Story of the Voice) deal with how they agonize over these types of issues.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — April 21, 2013 @ 10:13 pm

  3. Actually, one of the best books on translation — even if you’re not concerned with the issue the title references — is The King James Only Controversy by James R. White. If the KJV thing is a non-issue to you, it still is an excellent primer on the subject using, so to speak, a case study. The book was recently reissued in a revised edition.

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — April 21, 2013 @ 10:14 pm

  4. I have over 20 different translations on my bookshelf, most of these are older, some are newer. I do have the ESV. Honestly, I don’t see the need for any new translation. The ESV is extremly similar to the NASB and the ASB.

    There is only one reason a publisher would start something new: to have a new product to sell to the church. Period. If you don’t believe that, then just examine how many issue related bibles there are out there: The Teen Bible, The Women’s Bible, the Student Bible, the Jesus Calling devotional Bible, The American Patriot Pocket Bible, The Everyday Matters Bible for Women, The Family Life and Marriage Bible, The Doctors Bible (Really?) The Marines Bible, The Apologetic Study Bible, The Emergency Medical Services Bible, The Airmen’s Bible, The Coast Guardsmen Bible, The Policeman’s Bible, The Firefighters Bible, The Sailor’s bible. Seriously, these are all real bibles that are being sold.

    There is nothing new in any of these new translations. Read the NIV, NKJV, and NASB together and you will get the gist of what is being said in any text.

    Comment by Jim — April 22, 2013 @ 3:46 pm

    • Yes, it is said it really ‘establishes’ a publishing company once they have a Bible brand in the catalog.

      And you’re right, the NASB, ESV, and HCSB are all very similar.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — April 22, 2013 @ 3:50 pm

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