The universal church is divided between denominational lines. A sign of this division is that we differ in the translation we prefer to read in our pews and pulpit. For example, in evangelical churches, the NIV generally reigns supreme. In “Word of Life-type” of pentecostal-charismatic churches, the NKJV is widely used in study. In mainline churches, e.g., Episcopal/Anglican, Presbyterian-USA, ELCA-Lutheran, the weekly staple of lectionary readings are usually taken from the NRSV/RSV. In the Roman Catholic Church, the NAB is the officially approved translation. In conservative evangelical churches where the bible is studied in-depth, the NASB is king. In ultra conservative churches, the KJV is considered the only “true” word of God. Forgive me for making these broad generalizations but my purpose behind making these generalizations is to show that there is a relationship between denominations and bible translations. No matter how hard we may try to deny this, there is, at least, an ounce of truth in this.
This was first made most plain and visible to me when I first began to attend seminary. In my seminary, a Lutheran seminary, the NRSV was the only translation I had ever heard read from during chapel services. Believe it or not, the NIV is almost seen as a foreign translation, even a despised one by some Lutherans with liberal tendencies. This was rather disappointing for me when I started seminary. However, I am sure that this same bias also exists in conservative evangelical seminaries. I am almost certain that the NRSV or NAB would never be read in a conservative evangelical or pentecostal seminary/bible college. Many evangelicals have never even heard of the NRSV. The NAB and Jerusalem Bible are also rarely or never read from in evangelical or mainline churches. In conservative evangelical churches, where I have attended most of my life as a young person, the NIV, NLT, NASB, and NKJV were usually the translation of choice. I had never heard of the NRSV or NAB until I started to cross over the great denominational divide to visit some of my mainline and Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. You could imagine the cataclysmic shock I experienced when this naive conservative-charismatic evangelical attended a Lutheran seminary.
So what am I saying? Is there a point to all this? I’m not sure, but one thing I do know is that we, as Christians, are divided along denominational lines and it tends to affect the bible translation we prefer to read from. Our personal theologies and worldviews determine how we translate our bibles, which in turn, also affects the translation we prefer. No matter how hard we may try to deny this, it is true. If we do not see this, we really have our heads stuck in the sand. Our preference in bible translation is proof that we are divided and separated by our personal theologies and worldviews. No, I am not an ecumenist who thinks that we should all be the same and believe in the exact same ideology and theology. And no, I am definitely not an advocate of a one-world church. I admit that I also have a preference of translation, ideology and theology. But what I do advocate is that we ought to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ from different denominations. Behind the different theologies and worldviews, the true universal church may be bigger than what we first thought it was. (logos: Lutheran, Alliance, Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentecostal, Mennonite)