The Holy Bible may be the most banned book in the history of the world. That is to say, banned by Christians. I remember my fundamentalist education on “church history” it was often pointed out how the Bible was “placed on the Index” of books deemed forbidden to be read by Christians. The Reformation, we were told, restored the Scriptures to the ordinary lay Christian. Of course like all historical generalizations, there was more to the story.
The Bible was not banned by the Church. Certain vernacular translations of the Bible were banned. I discovered in that fact that many Christians are guilty of the same thing. My home church used to direct that the public reading of the scriptures use only the King James Version or American Standard Version translations of the Scriptures. The Revised Standard Version did not translate Isaiah 7:14 to the leader’s liking. The Living Bible was merely a paraphrase and not trustworthy. Fundamentalist churches kept whole books about Bible translations and “per-versions.” The Living Bible was even burned in some places and has made ALA’s list of banned books. Once the New International Version was published, a change was taking place among fundamentalist and evangelicals to have a Bible that was in the language they spoke. Still, there were many detractors over paraphrasing or even changing the word “man” to “humankind” as in the short-lived Today’s New International Version.
Many younger evangelicals today know that all English translations of the Bible have some paraphrasing being used. Scholars often note that the subjunctive mood is virtually ignored in modern English. Evangelical, moderate, and liberal scholars have disagreements on translation so nuanced that they can be ignored by the pulpit and the pews. Christians are often tempted to look on the disputes of the past as quaint. But, something very serious is happening.
Alternate translations were offered because of objections to some newer translations. The New King James Bible, and New American Standard Versions were meant to give some publishers exclusive rights to modern translations that would be used by fundamentalist churches. Copyright became the coveted standard for Bible translations. The last true standard translation in American English has been the New Revised Standard Version. One can ignore the apparent redundancy of the title. Christians of all stripes can appreciate the important contribution to our understanding of the Holy Bible it gives us. And yet, christian publishers do not wish to pay royalties when church school materials are being produced.
Here then is the new problem. Christian publishing houses are producing their own Bibles. Scholars are being paid essentially to rephrase translations for these companies to use for their Sunday School literature and other publications. The “Common English Bible” produced by my own denomination adds nothing to the comparative study of Bible translation and effectively produces a “United Methodist Bible” for use in UM literature. Without claiming we have an “official translation,” we put one in place in order to avoid paying royalties. LifeWay stores has effectively done the same thing with the misnamed English Standard Version for Baptists. Have these publishing companies turned the churches away from the desires of Wycliffe and Tyndale for their denominational markets?
Church leaders know the difficulties posed by “intellectual property rights” enforced by christian music publishing. Are we going to led down the same path over the Bible?