Translation and Tribalism

Yesterday, on Twitter, I came across an old link to a fascinating post about Bible translation and decided that it would make a great subject for today’s blog post. Then, I discovered that I’d already written about it a number of years ago. Never one to waste an opportunity; here is a repost from 2014.


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?

Now go and read the whole article.

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.

One thought on “Translation and Tribalism

  1. I was intrigued by the term “complementarian conservative evangelical” and I wondered if it might apply to me. However, a Google search reveals that throughout the whole web, the term is largely only used in this article, and reprints of it. If it’s far from a widely used label, I wonder about the usefulness of using it.

Comments are closed.