Thinking Out Loud

March 25, 2014

Be Wary of Surveys, Studies, Statistics

cartoonkjv

Last week a number of Christian websites, blogs and media outlets ran with a story about a research study at the — deep breath — the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis; with the primary takeaway that the King James Version of the Bible is the most-read in the United States and therefore most-popular English Bible translation.

My reaction when I read this, summarized at Christianity Today, was “What have these people been smoking?” Alas, the study was based in Indianapolis, not Colorado or Washington.

As someone who has devoted a lifetime to various aspects of Christian publishing, these results are so completely counter-intuitive. I guess all those Gideon Bibles in the drawer underneath the motel telephone are getting used after all. Maybe now the King James Only movement can stop campaigning and say, “We rest our case.”

But the study has to do with what version the survey group claimed to be reading. In a library, the book most-read might be the dictionary. Among our aforementioned motel guests, it might be a telephone directory. If they survey dentists’ offices, it might be nondescript magazines from 2007. None of these things turn up on the bestseller lists because nobody is interested in what people use for reference, people want to know what items in print are of significant interest that they cause people to part with their money to obtain them.

Personally, I think time spent follows money spent. I think the sales data, which in most parts of the English-speaking world still supports the New International Version as the top English translation, is of greater interest. I also have a hard time believing that the majority of searches at BibleGateway.com have KJV set as their default.

Has the KJV greatly influenced English and North American culture? Absolutely. We celebrated that in 2011, recognizing the 400th anniversary of the translation that has outlasted most others in the past two millennia. It’s often quoted and my own online searches often revert to KJV because that’s how I memorized the verses as a child.

But it’s time to move on. Studies like this one — all 44 pages of it — only confuse the central issues.

Furthermore, the study is biased in several places. On the topic of where respondents find help and clarification in their Bible understanding, choices are clergy, commentaries, study groups, electronic media and the internet. I’m sorry, but my go-to resource if a passage is muddy is to use other translations. As one person taught me a long time ago, “Let the translators do the work for you.” That’s also the point behind parallel Bible editions and sites like BibleGateway, BibleHub, Biblios, etc.

I also know from decades of anecdotal experiences with teaching people about Bible translations that many people simply don’t know the names of any of them, and if asked, will answer “King James” or worse, “Saint James” because that’s the only answer they can give. Furthermore, the study has been widely criticized for not allowing the New King James Version (NKJV) as an option. The surveyors also showed a rather glaring ignorance for their subject matter by referring to The Living Bible (sic) instead of the New Living Translation (NLT), the version that is currently number one in the bookstore market where I reside.

…But then, here’s the thing. Just days after publishing a news story on the study, the same website, Christianity Today, released Three Ways to Recognize Bad Stats. Ed Stetzer suggested:

1. Be Wary of Statistics in Promotions
2. Be Wary of Stats that Cannot be Verified
3. Be Wary of Stats that do not Line up with Reality

It is the third category in which I place the Bible reading study. I would also like to propose a couple of friendly amendments to Stetzer’s article:

4. Be Wary of Stats Backed by an Agenda

Too many studies, surveys and statistical compilations are presented by people or groups who have predetermined the outcome they wish to see.

5. Be Wary of Stats Designed to Invoke Fear

There are two reasons why people do this. Some rally the troops by suggesting there is a common enemy we face in order to galvanize support for a particular ministry that can stem the tide and reverse the situation. Sadly, some Christian research firms do this in order to sell survey data. If it bleeds it leads. This is best seen in the tension between Barna Research’s David Kinnaman and sociologist Bradley Wright, the latter titling one of his books, The Sky is Not Falling.

I should also say that I don’t fault Christianity Today for the confusion, especially since they write me a weekly paycheck for the Wednesday Link Lists. In the former case, they are simply reporting the study, and writer Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra possibly plays her hand by saying, in the 4th paragraph, “The numbers are surprising;” and then links to a 2011 CT story by — wait for it — Ed Stetzer reporting on the NIV’s dominance. In the latter case, Stetzer is simply being pastoral, warning the CT-readership flock that they can’t believe everything they read.

 

Note to KJV-Only trolls: This is not the blog you’re looking for. Comments will be deleted.

 

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July 3, 2013

Wednesday Link List

lynx 3Today we kick off a new chapter; the link list moves to its new home at Leadership Journal’s Out of Ur website, a ministry of Christianity Today. I’ve been reading Out of Ur since long before I started blogging, so this is a real honor. Here’s a link direct to today’s Wednesday Link List. Please be sure to click through. (They didn’t take the List Lynx pictured at right however, at least not so far…) Also remember it’s just the Wednesday list that’s moving; we’ll be back here tomorrow with the content you’ve come to loathe love here at Thinking Out Loud!

UPDATE: In November, 2013, we updated the July WLL posts here to restore the links. (The first month never had them at all here in any form.) I might periodically go back and update older ones just so we have a record here of the original sources.

January 10, 2013

The Ooops! Bible

Ever tried to find a pen and piece of scrap paper and then gave up and simply typed a personal message into the middle of an online project you were working on? That’s not a good idea if the project was Bible translation and you forgot to remove the message. The blog Parchment and Pen fills us in:

Proverbs 2:16 reads “To deliver you from the adulteress, from the sexually loose woman who speaks flattering words.” In the first printing of the New English Translation, there is a footnote at the end of this verse with a 1-800 number. The translator was writing the notes for this verse on his computer when he got a call and, not finding a pen, typed the call-back number in these notes. He forgot to delete them.

Ooops! (My spell checker prefers only two ohs, but to me it was a fairly big ooops.)

Click the link above for eight more, some of which you may know already. Of course this list pales in comparison to the mistakes people have made while reading the Bible aloud. Know any good stories?

On the other hand, Google the topic of “errors in Bibles” and things get a little less humorous. A cursory reading of an article like this one looks interesting, but very quickly the author uses his academic standing to deny the virgin birth.

Then I stumbled on this article, which seems to prefer the idea that Jesus was trying to maintain an existing form of Judiasm over the idea that he came to usher in something new.

Continue down that path and you end up at all the articles dealing with mis-translation, contradictions and the inerrancy debate. But some of the articles are a study in contradiction themselves, like this one.

For many Jews and Christians, religion dictates that the words of the Bible in the original Hebrew are divine, unaltered and unalterable.

For Orthodox Jews, the accuracy is considered so inviolable that if a synagogue’s Torah scroll is found to have a minute error in a single letter, the entire scroll is unusable.

But then it says,

But the ongoing work of the academic detectives of the Bible Project, as their undertaking is known, shows that this text at the root of Judaism, Christianity and Islam was somewhat fluid for long periods of its history, and that its transmission through the ages was messier and more human than most of us imagine.

Some people thrive on reading articles of this nature, and some people are already starting to glaze over. And each of us varies in our degree to which we consider the text sacrosanct. So we’d sooner allow a 1-800 number, or a grocery list to creep into the text than for anyone to suggest that the core text has been or should be altered, or that it means anything other than what we’ve always understood.

Unless of course, we’re looking for an opt-out, a free pass, which would allow us to do our own thing.

August 12, 2012

Because Some Bible Verses Are More Important Than Others

Filed under: bible — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:30 am

Or are they? Nearly a year in, I expected a bigger reaction to The People’s Bible, a new NIV Bible format that places the verses in a font sized based on the volume of traffic for that verse at BibleGateway.com. After all, we place some verses in red if they were spoken by Jesus; soul-winner Bibles come with “Romans Road” type passages already underlined; Key Word Study Bibles only provide the Strong’s Greek or Hebrew index number for selected words3218 in a sentence; so why not highlight popular verses in bigger type?

Do you think this has merit, or is this Bible destined to remain a bit of a fringe product?

February 14, 2011

Fantasy Bible Translation Critique

In some ways, this picks up where we left off yesterday…

You’ve been away overseas for several months.  When you return home your closest friend is talking about a hot new Bible translation which was published while you were absent.  You’re not familiar with it, nor its publisher.

Your friend hands it to you saying, “Check out a favorite verse or section and see what you think.”

So where do you turn?  Name up to three verses or passages or chapters — from either the first testament or the second testament —  that you would want to examine first:

  1. .
  2. .
  3. .

Place your answer in the comments section. And please play along; unwarranted comments will be deleted.  Everyone is invited, from recent Bible readers to PhDs in Biblical Studies.

January 22, 2011

Psalm 119? Noooo! Not That One!

Today’s post is also last night’s post at my devotional blog, Christianity 201

I think it’s rather ironic that Psalm 119 has become associated with the weariness some people have with Bible reading. Its 176 verses are simply too much for some people, and yet, it is a Psalm that is all about having a love of God’s word.

In David’s time, the “scriptures” would refer primarily to the books of the law. Many people reading this feel about Leviticus the way they feel about Psalm 119; it epitomizes something that seems to just go on and on and on.

And yet, these books, Leviticus included, are what David says he loves. Every single verse of the Psalm talks about his love of God’s laws, statutes, commandments.

Is David the kind of guy who gets excited reading the complete federal income tax codes? Does he enjoy studying the Motor Vehicle Act? Would he actually read through the instruction manual that come with most consumer electronics?

I don’t think so. But I think he really sees the character of God expressed in the laws he gave. And he believes that they were written for his good.  You have to approach some sections of scripture — i.e. Leviticus — with that attitude or you won’t derive anything from your reading.

I say all that to tell a story.

This week we were in a Goodwill donation processing center in Toronto, a place where we are told merchandise is returned from various stores for final sale prior to being destroyed. These are the shoes no one wanted, the t-shirts that didn’t sell, and the books that were picked over.

Yes, books. And among those books were three New Testaments.

Now you need to know four things about me:

  • We’re not loaded with money; the 50-cents a copy they were asking for these was a bit of a stretch, especially after my wife had already selected some other items.
  • Our house is already full of books; we didn’t really need three more; there is truly no place to put them.
  • I didn’t have anyone in mind who I was going to give them to.
  • I sell Bibles for a living. I have a vested interested in  new books, not used books.

But I bought them.

They were in reasonable condition, and I couldn’t handle the idea of them being pulped for recycling into other books.

I could spiritualize this and say that it was because I have ‘such a great love for God’s word.’ I could say, ‘The Bible is so precious to me, I couldn’t bear to see one thrown out.’ I won’t do that here. It was simply my WWDD — What Would David Do? — moment.  A Psalm 119 moment.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your love of scripture, your love for God’s word?

And don’t for a minute let this Book of The Revelation be out of mind. Ponder and meditate on it day and night, making sure you practice everything written in it. Then you’ll get where you’re going; then you’ll succeed. ~ Joshua 1:8 (The Message)

November 23, 2010

Notations on Galatians — NIV 2011

Technology may not always be as labor-saving as it should be, but in this case, it definitely helps.   This is an extension of something I did last week at Christianity 201, and began with the discovery that in revising the NIV for the new release for March, 2011, some books of the Bible got changed more than others.   The second-most modified text was in III John. The most greatly updated text was Galatians.

The red text indicates 1984 text that was deleted, and the green text indicates the 2011 replacement version.   It’s not just whimsical to play Bible translator and ask yourself what might be behind the revisions you see here, it’s actually good Bible study.

Note:  Section headers, while part of the copyrighted texts of the respective versions are not considered part of Biblical text.   This comparison was done at textdiff.com … Care was taken to place the translations of each chapter in the correct order for comparison purposes, so yes, in the fruit of the spirit passage, “patience” is the current text and “forbearance” is the revision.    32.21% of the verses in Galatians saw some reconstruction.   Some additional verses had other word changes or punctuation changes… Text as accessed 22.11.10 at BibleGateway.com … For the sake of space, this comparison does not include the footnotes.

Chapters two through six continue after the break.

Chapter One

1 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers and sisters[a] with me,

To the churches in Galatia:

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
No Other Gospel
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you byto live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let himthem be eternally condemned!under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let himthem be eternally condemned!under God’s curse!

10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men,human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please men?people? If I were still trying to please men,people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Paul Called by God
11 I want you to know, brothers,brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up.of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from birth[a]my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I didmy immediate response was not to consult any man,human being. 17 nor did I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and laterArabia. Later I returned to Damascus.

18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter[b]Cephas[b] and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. 21 Later

21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me. (more…)

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