Bible Translations Survey

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bookslover

Puritan Board Doctor
Here's a current list (posted just a couple of days ago) of the best-selling translations. The list was compiled by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, and appears at www.disrn.com.

1. NIV

2. KJV

3. NLT

4. ESV

5. NKJV

6. CSB

7. Reina Valera (Spanish translation)

8. NIrV

9. The Message

10. NASB

A couple of points: (1) it's interesting that, after 19 years of relentless marketing and innumerable versions, the ESV can never seem to break into the top 3, as good as the translation is. It always seems to hover around 4 or 5; (2) the NASB continues its sink into oblivion; (3) it's startling to see that the NIV and the KJV (two very different translations) occupy the two top spots. Does that indicate a split in the Christian mindset about translations, I wonder? And, if you add in #3, that makes it a little stranger yet.

Opinions?
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Sophomore
I would say these are more reflective of distinct Christian demographics than a mindset about translation per se.
 

W.C. Dean

Puritan Board Sophomore
I agree with Andrew. Family, oldschool Bible belt Baptist/community: KJV

Non-denomination/credobaptist megachurches: NIV/NLT

NKJV and ESV are found in academia and more intellectually focused churches, from what I've seen.
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
I think if you did this survey based on sales to Calvinist Christians, the order may be:
1. KJV?

2. ESV

3. NKJV

4. CSB

5. Reina Valera (Spanish translation)

6. NASB

This is a bit of guesswork but theology makes a difference.
 

W.C. Dean

Puritan Board Sophomore
I think if you did this survey based on sales to Calvinist Christians, the order may be:
1. KJV?

2. ESV

3. NKJV

4. CSB

5. Reina Valera (Spanish translation)

6. NASB

This is a bit of guesswork but theology makes a difference.

I think if you included everyone who has in some way labelled themselves Calvinist or Reformed I think ESV would be higher than KJV. If you narrowed to subscription to WCF or similar confession KJV might edge it out.
 

Wretched Man

Puritan Board Freshman
I think if you included everyone who has in some way labelled themselves Calvinist or Reformed I think ESV would be higher than KJV. If you narrowed to subscription to WCF or similar confession KJV might edge it out.
There was a poll on here a few months ago in which KJV did slightly edge out the ESV (a little to my surprise...).
 

B.L.

Puritan Board Sophomore
(1) it's interesting that, after 19 years of relentless marketing and innumerable versions, the ESV can never seem to break into the top 3, as good as the translation is. It always seems to hover around 4 or 5.

I was thinking about this the other day actually. Crossway has really done an amazing job trying to get this translation into people's hands and yet its always ranked just outside the top tier somewhere near the middle. The ESV is my wife's translation preference and while I've never been particularly fond of it one of the curriculum sets I use with my children is keyed to it and lately I've been reading it more often. I enjoy it, but it probably ranks #3 or #4 on my personal list.

(2) the NASB continues its sink into oblivion

I wonder if the upcoming revised edition will inject a little life into the NASB to move it ahead of The Message, which in my opinion shouldn't even be on the list. I know the upcoming 2020 edition is concerning to many, but perhaps it will generate short-term sales if nothing else out of curiousity. I think the combination of readability, poor marketing, the super-saturation of newer translations to come out, and a name ("New American") that limits its appeal has kept the NASB as a perennial bottom dweller.

(3) it's startling to see that the NIV and the KJV (two very different translations) occupy the two top spots. Does that indicate a split in the Christian mindset about translations, I wonder? And, if you add in #3, that makes it a little stranger yet.

I'm not surprised to see the NIV and KJV occupy the top two spots. I think its been that way for a very long time. However, the NLT ranked in the top tier does surprise me. I'm really not sure what the appeal is. Though I don't know of a single person who reads the NLT as their primary, I've heard it is popular among non-denominational churches and church plants that are trying to reach the 'unchurched'.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
the NLT ranked in the top tier does surprise me. I'm really not sure what the appeal is.

Believe it or not, I’m actually impressed most of the time by the NLT. When learning Hebrew in seminary, we would often compare translations as an exercise to cap off a passage on which we had been doing somewhat rigorous exegetical work. Translations like the NLT and The Message often caught nuance in the text (correctly) that more formal translations, by virtue of their philosophy, did not.

While I obviously wouldn’t say the NLT should be used for deep study (pastors should be in the Greek and Hebrew, anyway), it’s not a bad translation. The team behind it are extremely competent biblical scholars.
 

B.L.

Puritan Board Sophomore
Believe it or not, I’m actually impressed most of the time by the NLT. When learning Hebrew in seminary, we would often compare translations as an exercise to cap off a passage on which we had been doing somewhat rigorous exegetical work. Translations like the NLT and The Message often caught nuance in the text (correctly) that more formal translations, by virtue of their philosophy, did not.

While I obviously wouldn’t say the NLT should be used for deep study (pastors should be in the Greek and Hebrew, anyway), it’s not a bad translation. The team behind it are extremely competent biblical scholars.

Your opinion of the NLT is consistent with what I have heard from others. I received a beautiful edition of the NLT as an anniversary present a few years ago when Schuyler first released the Caxton. As a Bible collector of sorts it sits proudly on my desk along with my other Bibles. I didn't mean to imply the NLT is a bad translation. I'm just surprised by it ranking so highly and wonder what demographic in the church prefers it.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
Your opinion of the NLT is consistent with what I have heard from others. I received a beautiful edition of the NLT as an anniversary present a few years ago when Schuyler first released the Caxton. As a Bible collector of sorts it sits proudly on my desk along with my other Bibles. I didn't mean to imply the NLT is a bad translation. I'm just surprised by it ranking so highly and wonder what demographic in the church prefers it.

I understand. I didn't think you were saying anything negative. I just said what I said because the NLT often gets needlessly trashed on places like PB. I just wanted to clear the air. :)

When we're looking at these statistics, as with most, we are not seeing the whole picture. Although translations like the ESV have been very heavily marketed, we have to consider that there are many, many Bibles out there that are being bought that publishers like Crossway probably wouldn't countenance. Back when Lifeway had physical stores, I can't tell you how many "specialty" Bibles they had. They often had their own aisle! Soldiers' Bibles, construction workers' Bibles, single mothers' Bibles, and many more, all of which were in translations like the NLT and even KJV (due to there being no copyright on the text here in the States). It seems that even the likes of Crossway, with their pretty website, fancy iPhone apps, and goatskin Bibles, cannot compete with a thousand gimmick Bibles.
 

W.C. Dean

Puritan Board Sophomore
My sister is the only person I know who uses the NLT and she is 25 and attended (until she had to move for the military) what I would consider the most stereotypical millenial church ever. I also am not surprised to see NIV and KJV so high. NIV is all I remember growing up, everyone we knew had a NIV. At least, that's what I thought. Countless traditional churches with congregants past their 60s keep those KJV numbers up.
 

Jake

Puritan Board Senior
My favorite translations for everyday reading are the NIV and the KJV, so there's that. I usually grab a NASB or NKJV for study though. I'm probably one of the few that likes both the NIV and the KJV, but I think they both do well with the English language, albeit from different time periods.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Some observations (based partly on comments I've heard through the years from various publishers, who have never shared their Bible-sales data with me but occasionally say things that might have a bearing on all this):

My main point is that we shouldn't be thinking that the sales data reflects the informed decisions of individual, scholarly-minded believers who have examined the merits of the various translations and carefully chosen the translation they prefer. Rather:

1. Bulk sales are often a big factor in the success of any Christian book, and I suspect this is doubly true in the case of Bibles. Churches, parachurch ministries, chaplaincies, and the Gideons (who are still heavily KJV) all by tons of Bibles in bulk. And mainline churches, broadly evangelical churches, Black-heritage churches, and fundamentalist churches are all more commonplace than Reformed-minded churches. Many, many Bibles set around in pews, classrooms, chapels, hotel rooms, and hospital rooms where they don't actually get opened and read very often. I suspect that if we could measure how often the various translations are actually read, ESV, CSB, and NASB would all move up.

2. Many individual Bible purchasers know very little about the translations they have to choose from. This means that, often, they don't pick based on translation at all. Rather, they pick a Bible based on something they do know about: the recipient. They are a mother, and they see there's a Bible aimed at mothers, so they choose that one. Or they are giving the Bible to a soldier, and they see there's a Bible aimed at soldiers, so they choose that one. Specialty Bibles like these make up a good chunk of overall Bible sales, and publishers who have resisted this trend will have lower sales numbers. For example, ESV-publisher Crossway markets Bibles based on theological/pastoral approaches, like the Gospel Transformation Bible, but has mostly resisted a heavy emphasis on specialty Bibles for soldiers, businessmen, teenaged girls, etc. (They have delved somewhat into the market-share-boosting world of student Bibles, but compared to some other publishers they have otherwise steered pretty clear of specialty Bibles, for reasons based on conviction.)

3. When it comes to Bibles, tradition matters. So if an individual Bible purchaser does choose based on translation, they often pick something they've heard of or seen at church, or something they grew up with, etc. This helps the KJV (and by extension the NKJV), the NIV, and the Reina Valera. Each of these sports a known name that has been dearly loved by a particular generation or generations of believers. Again, many consumers do not buy a Bible by asking themselves what is the best translation but rather by asking what's familiar, what's traditional, what's a comforting memory from childhood, what once spoke to them in youth group, etc. Even the NLT, as a distant relative of the Living Bible, which briefly spoke to a generation, probably gets some boost from this. The ESV likely gets very little.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
I think if you did this survey based on sales to Calvinist Christians, the order may be:
1. KJV?

2. ESV

3. NKJV

4. CSB

5. Reina Valera (Spanish translation)

6. NASB

This is a bit of guesswork but theology makes a difference.

Among Calvinist-minded authors and bloggers in the US today, it seems pretty clear to me that NIV and ESV are the leading choices. Nothing else comes very close. If I'm working with an author, there's at least a 90% chance that their preferred translation will be either ESV or NIV. My experience may be a bit skewed against the CSB, as I've never worked with Lifeway/Holman.

As for the KJV, I'm just not seeing it. I realize those readers do exist and are probably a larger group than might be suspected based on the preferred translation of today's popular Calvinist writers and authors. But outside of this board and a few smaller pockets at the edges of Calvinism, I seldom encounter them. This board is not representative of the larger world of Calvinist-minded believers.
 

JimmyH

Puritan Board Senior
For people really interested in English translations, and which might be more useful, 'How To Choose A Translation For All It's Worth', by Gordon Fee, and Mark L. Strauss is very informative. Another book that is very helpful is 'One Bible, Many Versions', by Dave Brunn. The latter by a missionary and Bible translator who shows the hands on difficulties in dealing with the receptor to target language.

Regarding the NLT, I find it to be an excellent adjunct to a 'literal' translation. It is largely written in the lingua franca of our time and place, and is very helpful to me in showing nuances that I may have missed in another translation.

In a question/answer session Bill Mounce, philologist, Greek expert/instructor graciously gave in the Facebook 'Everything Bibles' group he said, regarding the NLT, "I like the NLT when I want to see what some really good scholars think the Bible means. It’s strength is in the clarity of the biblical revelation. Its weakness is that you are not sure if the words are a reflection of the Greek/Hebrew or the interpretation of the translation committee. I think they almost always get the interpretation right, but it still is highly interpretive."

That a koine Greek expert such as William Mounce would use the NLT to 'see what some really good scholars think the Bible means,' testifies to its usefulness.
 

ReformedBrit

Puritan Board Freshman
Calling "The Message" a translation is surely stretching the truth to breaking point. Interesting to see where it ranks vs other legitimate translations, I suppose, but I'm surprised it was included.

On another note, I had no idea the NLT was so popular!
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
Calling "The Message" a translation is surely stretching the truth to breaking point.
My translation tolerance is pretty high, with the Mess being the most notable exception. I simply can't fathom how anyone can think it's fine after reading its incredibly crass and grating rending of The Lord's Prayer.

Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. Set the world right; Do what’s best—
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.
 

ReformedBrit

Puritan Board Freshman
My translation tolerance is pretty high, with the Mess being the most notable exception. I simply can't fathom how anyone can think it's fine after reading its incredibly crass and grating rending of The Lord's Prayer.

Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. Set the world right; Do what’s best—
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

Wow, that is horrific.

Some other important passages are rendered utterly meaningless, like Ps 22:1 (MES)

"God, God . . . my God!
Why did you dump me
miles from nowhere?"

It is honestly embarrassing, and at the very least borders on 3CV in many places.
 

W.C. Dean

Puritan Board Sophomore
My reference point for the sketchiness of the Message is Psalm 1.

How well God must like you - you don't hang out at Sin Saloon, you don't slink along Dead-End Road, you don't go to Smart-Mouth College.

Psalm 1:1???
 

ReformedBrit

Puritan Board Freshman
My reference point for the sketchiness of the Message is Psalm 1.

How well God must like you - you don't hang out at Sin Saloon, you don't slink along Dead-End Road, you don't go to Smart-Mouth College.

Psalm 1:1???

The end of that Psalm is equally egregious

"God charts the road you take.
The road they take is Skid Row."

Honestly...I don't know where to start on this. It is just abysmal.
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
I think if you included everyone who has in some way labelled themselves Calvinist or Reformed I think ESV would be higher than KJV.
Among Calvinist-minded authors and bloggers in the US today, it seems pretty clear to me that NIV and ESV are the leading choices. Nothing else comes very close. If I'm working with an author, there's at least a 90% chance that their preferred translation will be either ESV or NIV. My experience may be a bit skewed against the CSB, as I've never worked with Lifeway/Holman.
Just to clarify, my choice of words was deliberate. As well those who hold to a Reformed confession, there are other Calvinists who rate the ESV highly such as the 'new Calvinists', and those who have been influenced by MacArthur's ministry and the Masters seminary.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
My translation tolerance is pretty high, with the Mess being the most notable exception. I simply can't fathom how anyone can think it's fine after reading its incredibly crass and grating rending of The Lord's Prayer.

Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. Set the world right; Do what’s best—
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

:eek: :mad: Like yourself, my tolerance levels for translations is pretty high but this "translation" is wild.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
Wow, that is horrific.

Some other important passages are rendered utterly meaningless, like Ps 22:1 (MES)

"God, God . . . my God!
Why did you dump me
miles from nowhere?"

It is honestly embarrassing, and at the very least borders on 3CV in many places.

Matt, I am so glad that I recruited you to my NIV-only club when you were at All Saints'. ;)
 

JM

Puritan Board Doctor
I'm a KJV guy. Tried to switch to the NKJV and often peek at other translations but I just prefer the KJV. I'm not KJV only but do agree with Letis. I purchased a very nice NKJV and it is great to read from but I can't give up my KJV for anything.


Yours in the Lord,

jm
 
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