Another new Bible translation hits the bookstores next month. Yes, I know what you’re thinking; do we really need another translation? Personally, while I love the variety of options available and feel they bring much clarity and understanding, I would say there are dangers in over-saturating — or more accurately over-fragmenting — the market.
The MEV is the latest arrival. It stands for Modern English Version, but that name must somewhat frustrate the creators, who wish all the KJV-related names — NKJV, KJV21, etc — weren’t already taken; as this is the market they are going after. They describe it as “the most modern of the KJV.” What does that even mean?
There’s nothing wrong with seeking to present a new translation to people who have been stuck on a particular version for a long period. The CEB (Common English Bible) has been marketed to the same demographic that currently uses the NRSV. I have no problem with that. But the people stuck on the KJV are really, really stuck. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Anyway, amid the hype was six consecutive pages in the September, 2014 issue of Christian Retailing magazine, a book industry trade publication. The first two were really an advertisement, and the next four pages were an attempt to convince bookstore owners and managers to buy in, both literally and figuratively, to the MEV.
I should say here that Christian Retailing is owned by the same company producing the MEV, Strang Publishing. This conflict-of-interest is rather old news however, as the company’s books, most published under the Charisma House banner, always get inordinate space in the trade magazine. I suppose any of us would do the same.
Still, the four page article contains a number of assumptions that lead to a type of flawed logic as to where the MEV fits in and how retailers can expect it to perform in term of sales.
The MEV is a direct successor to the KJV
The marketing strategy here is clearly to target conservative Evangelicals and convince them it’s time for a change, so you can’t read much about the MEV without encountering the words “King James Version” in the advertising. The home page refers to the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) as producing it, but that group’s website clearly indicates their association is with the NIV. The MEV landing page also says that the group used the KJV as its base manuscript. Does that mean it was not translated directly from original languages? If that’s the case, this is really no different a situation than Ken Taylor restating passages from the American Standard Version to read to his kids at night, and thereby creating The Living Bible which was roundly dismissed by many Evangelicals as a ‘paraphrase’ a term used derisively with no direct equivalent in linguistics. (If you restate something written to make it understood by another group, you are in effect translating.)
One writer took it this far:
This fall, the torch of the KJV tradition will be passed to a new version of the Bible: the Modern English Version (MEV).
Obviously, it makes sense to him.
First, I would argue that each and every English translation since 1611 (or if you prefer, 1789) is a successor to the KJV.
Second, I think that, in the past 400 years, if anyone deserves the credit for having worked within the KJV tradition, that would belong to The Voice Bible. Think about it:
- high respect for the KJV translation process (see The Story of The Voice, Thomas Nelson)
- similar use of poets, playwriters and songwriters (i.e. stylists) working alongside theologians
- use of italics to represent short phrases added to the text to bring about clarity of meaning
Appeal to the popularity of the KJV
Three times the article refers to an American Bible Society study that states that 34% of “church leaders” favor the KJV. Church leaders over age 60? Church leaders in rural churches in the deep south? (I am setting aside discussion of the references to “America” in the article; the publishers apparently had no vision for this reaching outside the 50 States.)
This also begs the question, if the KJV is that popular then what hope does anyone have in breaking into that market? Or to put it another way, if the KJV is adequately serving the needs of over a third of U.S. church leaders, for a 400-year-old publication, it’s doing really, really well. So why bother?
The enemy we face
Several times the article talked about the decline in morals, church attendance, etc., and the increase of skepticism. This is a common approach used mostly by televangelists. We identify a common enemy and then we stress the need to do something. If we can only get this particular Bible into the hands of the unsaved and unchurched, then we can reverse the trend toward agnosticism and atheism, right?
In a way, this is a form of checkbook evangelism. Social decay is all around us, therefore we need to print more Bibles. Wait; no, we need to print new Bibles. And maybe you personally don’t need this, but obviously you need to support what’s happening.
Recognition of the challenge faced in introducing the translation
The article stressed to booksellers that this isn’t a commodity that can simply be put on a shelf and expected to perform. It derided the “point and shoot” mentality that has taken over Bible departments, where if you want a particular version, you’re simply told, ‘Aisle three, left side, bottom shelf.’
The publishers are clearly looking for more engagement with customers on the part of the bookstore staff on the front lines. The industry term for this is hand-selling. It means basically, ‘This is going to take some extra effort on your part to get this product noticed and understood.’
But this comes at a time when stores face mammoth challenges to stay afloat. The trend is toward self-serve, and favors products which outline their purpose and features in the blurb on the back. Furthermore, I would argue that Charisma Media is asking retailers to do what every single book, Bible and music publisher would like to see. They all want their products to get more attention.
Show me the money
As you can expect, the article much hypes the MEV’s potential, but at the end of the day, I’m not sure much is gained. For example:
I really can’t judge the motivation of the creators of this project, but I do know it’s a matter of pride among Christian publishing conglomerates to have a Bible in their stable of products. Tyndale has the NLT, NavPress has The Message, Baker Books has God’s Word, Crossway has the ESV, Broadman has the HCSB, and HarperCollins Christian Publishing has the NIV, NKJV, NCV and The Voice.
A reader comment at one article looked at this less in terms of publishing companies and more in terms of denominations:
…Now, after reading who is behind this particular translation I’m a little concerned. Are we getting to the point where every domination will now have their very own bible translation such as, HCSB for Baptists and now MEV for the Assemblies of God?
Either way, I guess that’s what you do.
Now we wait to see if the marketing works out the way Strang/Charisma is hoping. Time will tell.