The Bible: Tribes and Instructions

Three blog posts on the Bible that you may well want to read. Who reads what? How should you read it? and What on Earth?!

This morning, I’d like to point you in the direction of some recent, thought-provoking blog posts about the Bible. They deal with important issue and a couple of them have controversial bullet point lists to get their ideas over.

Scott McKnight has written a fascinating piece on the way that English language translations have been adopted by different groupings or tribes.

The Bible you carry is a political act. By “Bible” I mean the Translation of the Bible you carry is a political act. Because the Bible you carry is a political act the rhetoric about other translations is more politics than it is reality. The reality is that the major Bible translations in use today are all good, and beyond good, translations. There is no longer a “best” translation but instead a basket full of exceptional translations.

The world in which we live, however, has turned the Bible you carry into politics.

He then goes on to list some of the different tribes that use various translations.

The NIV 2011 is the Bible of conservative evangelicals.
The NLT is the Bible of conservative evangelicals.
The TNIV is the Bible of egalitarian evangelicals.
The ESV is the Bible of complementarian conservative evangelicals.

I’m not sure that this sort of list holds true in the UK, where Bible choice is less of a divisive issue than it is in the US, but if you take it as a generalisation, there is certainly some truth in it.

Just a couple of thoughts:

  • There are places in the world where carrying a Bible is truly a political act; one for which you may well risk your life. There are governments who would have no hesitation to punish anyone who had the temerity to be found owning or reading a Bible. Equally, there are places which would allow you to have a Bible, but only in the majority or national language, not in your own mother tongue. All of this puts our ‘Bible wars’ into some sort of perspective.
  • Meanwhile, as we argue about which English translation is the best, there are millions of people who don’t have access to a single word of Scripture in their own language. Isn’t it about time we stopped being so introspective and got with God’s program?

Meanwhile, over at they have started a blog series on how to read the Bible. The first post starts with the wonderful quote:

#1. The Bible is not a diet book, a dating manual, nor a set of bullets in a PowerPoint brief “from the Lord.”

The point is that we need to read the Bible as it was inspired, not as a list of ideas to solve contemporary issues. I’ve returned to this theme fairly frequently at kouyanet. However, what sets this blog post apart is the list of real books which treat the Bible as something that it very much isn’t.

The Bible Cure for Cancer
What Does the Bible Say about… The Ultimate A to Z Resource to Contemporary Topics One Would Not Expect to Find in the Bible
The Biblical Connection to the Stars and Stripes: A Nation’s Godly Principles Embodied in Its Flag
Get the Skinny on Prosperity: Biblical Principles That Work for Everyone
Seven Secrets of Bible-Made Millionaires
Weather and the Bible: 100 Questions and Answers

I won’t be adding any of these to my ‘to read’ pile.

The last post I want to mention is a gracious review by Mark Ward of what looks to be a completely bonkers book. If you have ever been impressed by the King James Only movement, you need to read what Mark has to say.


This post is more than a year old. It is quite possible that any links to other websites, pictures or media content will no longer be valid. Things change on the web and it is impossible for us to keep up to date with everything.

8 replies on “The Bible: Tribes and Instructions”

… carrying a Bible is truly a political act; one for which you may well risk your life… All of this puts our ‘Bible wars’ into some sort of perspective.
BIG AMEN. Thanks for saying it out loud, Eddie.

It’s been a while since I’ve been so excited about a post by Scot McKnight, but he really nailed it there.

The politics of Bible translation is a sad case of colonizing the Bible for one’s agenda. There is lots of stone throwing about translations as if one is wildly superior to the others, but often that is about tribes and not the translation.
Each group has its Bible, has its translation, and you declare your allegiance to your tribe by carrying and citing the Bible of your tribe. Show your cards by exposing the Bible you use and you will be telling us which tribe is yours.

Wow. That is so true. And I think it’s true, sort of ironically, precisely because God doesn’t call everyone to be a Greek or Hebrew scholar—so they’re stuck trusting someone else to tell them what translation to use. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad. I think it’s part of God’s plan—Christ gave teachers to his church, Eph 4. But I do think those gifted teachers themselves (many of whom don’t have the Greek and Hebrew chops either) need to come to recognize the truth in Scot’s post and end Bible translation tribalism.

If I have one cavil it’s that the common translation continuum diagram (like this one on the site of a truly brilliant and humble friend of mine) really is saying something of value. I am totally with Scot in wanting to urge Christians to drop the politics and take advantage of the embarrassment of riches we have in major English Bible translations, but I would still want them to know something about the dynamic to formal continuum so they can make the best use of their translations. If they’ve never studied another language, that continuum may be useless. But if they have even a minimal understanding of Spanish, say, I think it’s useful to explain to them why the NASB or ESV or KJV may tend toward more difficult renderings and the NIV and NLT to smoother ones. Some simpler believers, too, are indeed troubled by the apparent disagreements among translations. And a recognition that some translations feel free to be a bit more interpretive is helpful.

Also, my own pastor engages in extremely careful (and engaging!) exposition. I do think that the NIV would not fit his preaching philosophy as well as the NASB. He would have to disagree with the translation too often; it would get awkward. I, however, preach to a group of poor readers every week, so I use the NIrV. And I identify with the ESV tribe, so that’s what I use personally. =) In other words, Bible translations should be seen as fantastic tools with slightly differing best-use-case scenarios.

Thanks for the link, btw. =)

I don’t know if I was excited or depressed by Scot’s post. The whole Bible tribalism thing really gets me down, but he approached it from a fascinating angle.

You are more than welcome for the link. Yours is one of my favourite blogs, but you don’t often overlap with my rather niche approach here, so I rarely end up knicking stuff from you!

Regarding the books that ‘treat the Bible as something that it very much isn’t’, I recognize the last one on the list. ‘Weather and the Bible’ was a book designed to teach children about weather from a Biblical perspective, rather than the evolutionary/happened by chance perspective most secular books provide. I totally agree that we need to treat the Bible as the inspired word of God and not a ‘list of ideas’, but when young children are seeking Biblical answers for the world around them, we need to provide those answers in a format they can understand. (While still encouraging consistent Bible reading, of course!)

designed to teach children about weather from a Biblical perspective, rather than the evolutionary/happened by chance perspective

To create a distinct opposition between a ‘Biblical’ perspective and an ‘evolutionary’ one and to equate ‘evolutionary’ and ‘happened by chance’ doesn’t really do justice to a complex issue over which Christians hold differing views.

Putting aside differing views on creation/evolution, I felt uncomfortable with the way books were being judged purely by their titles, and on that basis being treated as books that ‘treat the Bible as something it isn’t’, both in your post and the original article. If you haven’t read any of them, how do you know they are no good? I think we need to be careful when we ridicule or dismiss books without having read them, especially as this could put people off reading books which might be helpful to them.

That’s a fair point, Phil. But probably better aimed at the original author of the quote, rather than me. I don’t think it devalues his post, however.

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