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Bible Translations and Reading Levels   Leave a comment

Above:  An Old Family Bible

Image Source = David Ball

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Family-bible.jpg)

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I admit it:  I have a well-developed English vocabulary and a deep love for the language.  Skillful turns of English delight me.  So it follows that I like translations of the Bible which do not assume that I operate on the reading level of an Elementary School student.  I should (and do) have a more advanced vocabulary, for I am a native English speaker, an adult, and a college graduate.

I have looked up estimates of reading levels for various Bible translations online.  The results follow:

  1. Authorized (King James) Version–12th Grade
  2. Revised Standard Version–12th Grade
  3. New American Standard Bible–11th Grade
  4. New Revised Standard Version–10th Grade
  5. Jerusalem Bible–10th Grade
  6. New Jerusalem Bible–10th Grade
  7. Revised English Bible–10th Grade
  8. New American  Bible–9th Grade
  9. Good News Version/Today’s English Version–8th Grade
  10. Today’s New International Version–8th Grade
  11. Holman Christian Standard Bible–7th to 9th Grades
  12. New King James Version–7th to 9th Grades
  13. New International Version–7th to 8th Grades
  14. English Standard Version–7th to 8th Grades or 10th Grade
  15. Common English Bible–7th Grade
  16. New Living Translation–6th Grade
  17. GOD’S WORD–5th Grade
  18. Living Bible–4th Grade
  19. The Message–3rd to 5th Grades
  20. New Century Version–3rd Grade
  21. New International Reader’s Version–3rd Grade

Counting from 1989 and excluding revised versions (as in the cases of the New American Bible, the New American Standard Bible, and the New International Version) of translations published prior to 1989, I notice a pattern:  Those eleven translations from the above list divide almost evenly at the line separating Sixth Grade from Seventh Grade.  Six fall above it while five fall below it.  This pattern troubles me (although it could be worse), for it reflects an unfortunate decline in the quality of language education in the United States.  I have recognized this decline in the writing of college freshmen and sophomores.

The Bible is an anthology of texts which contain many subtleties.  A text’s meaning depends on various factors, including textual context (what precedes and succeeds it), historical context, and cultural context (which might not be explicit in the text itself).  And, when one examines a given passage, one might uncover possible shades of meaning.  A passage could mean A or B or C.  The proper communication of these subtleties cannot occur within the confines of a Third-Grade  vocabulary.

As for me, I prefer to read translations on the Tenth-Grade reading level and higher.  I have the vocabulary, so I use it.  Frequently I pull the New Revised Standard Version (which I hear almost all the time in my Episcopal parish) and the Revised English Bible off a shelf, but my main two choices–the ones I keep on my desk–are The New Jerusalem Bible (Roman Catholic) and TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (Jewish), both complete in 1985.  (My copy of TANAKH is The Jewish Study Bible from 2003, so it contains the text of the 1999 second edition of that translation.)  I estimate TANAKH to occupy at least a Tenth-Grade reading level, for I have noticed some impressive vocabulary choices.  Both translations are modern English, lacking Elizabethan, archaic language.  And both break with the familiar King James phrases, so I read a new, graceful take on texts.  At the other end of the spectrum is The Message.  It is a stylistic disgrace, ruining the majestic prologue to the Gospel of John by having Jesus move into the neighborhood.  Instead of the word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, it moves into the neighborhood.  That is too casual a rendering.  One can have both modern English and majesty of translation.

My prescription for dealing with an inadequate vocabulary is to consult a dictionary and a thesaurus as often as necessary in private.  If necessary, one should pursue other vocabulary-building strategies.  One should correct one’s vocabulary shortcomings, not read children’s Bibles as an adult for a long time.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 31, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VISITATION OF MARY TO ELIZABETH

Liberation from Television   1 comment

Above:  Library Books

Image Source = Joe Crawford

I have, for the last few years, lived happily without television.  My local cable television company keeps sending me mail in vain attempts to persuade me to purchase what they offer.  And the corporation from which I buy DSL service tells me that I am such a good customer that I qualify for a low price on a package which includes television service.  I say “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Once, many moons ago, I liked very much to watch great amounts of television.  Television shows and commercial jingles from the late 1970s to the early 2000s fill my memory banks.  Yet, as time wore on, approaching the present day, I wanted to watch increasingly less television.  Much of what networks offered was vacuous.  There were videos, of course, and they were more interesting.  Or I might prefer to listen to the radio, read a book, or take a walk.  Nevertheless, I could not, for a long time, imagine living without television service.

Now I think differently.  When I want to watch something (which is less often that was true even a year ago), I can use a DVD player or go to a variety of websites.  I watched one network series last year, and NBC cancelled it.  All I had to do to  watch new episodes was wait less than one day from the initial broadcast time then visit Hulu.  I have, in fact, replaced most of the time I would otherwise spend of the passive activity of watching something on a screen with other activities, such as reading, writing, researching, and listening to BBC World Service and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio online.  Melting into symphonies has become a more frequent hobby, and blogging is an inherently creative activity.

I do, from time to time, watch television–just not at my place.  Such times can prove entertaining and informative, but I still have no regrets about not having cable television service.  I do not want to return to my old television ways, for the sound of television has become mostly annoying, especially when I do not choose the programming.

I invite you, O reader, if you have not done so already, to liberate yourself from television.  Discover what more active and productive things you might do with much of your valuable time.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 6, 2011 COMMON ERA

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A Related Post:

http://taylorfamilypoems.wordpress.com/2011/12/23/noise-pollution/

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Adapted from this post:

http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/liberation-from-television/

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Posted April 18, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Faith and Television

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