Monday, September 1, 2008

Trends in Bible Translations

     It is no secret (for those who've seen my web site or this Blog) that I love to collect and read Bible versions. One thing I have enjoyed doing over the past 10 years is observing trends in Bible translations. As a Christian, some concern me deeply, since they affect the actual words of the Scriptures.

     I narrow my focus to English versions of the Bible. One general trend I'd like to focus on today is simply how many new versions are coming out each year. I began tracking the list in a spreadsheet somewhere around 1995. That soon proved to be too cumbersome and I moved to a database (Visual Foxpro). Once the data was stored I was soon able to develop graphs, categorize lists and suddenly the Bible Version Encyclopedia was born.

     To make graphs reasonable in size, I grouped dates by decades. Thus the decade from 1520 to 1529 shows just 1 new translation - William Tyndale's New Testament. The next several decades were not busy ones either (in terms of numbers). I also separate Old Testament, New Testaments and Full Bibles. The decade of 1860 to 1869 saw 1 Old Testament, 11 New Testament and 5 full Bibles.

     The numbers change if we include revisions of versions separately. For instance, the New Living Translation (1996) has a second edition from 2004 and was updated again in 2007. I call these revisions "sub-versions" meaning they are still the NLT, but are different texts.

So the 1900s and our current decade look like this:

1900 to 1909, 0 OT, 11 NT, 5 Bibles

          0 OT, 15 NT, 6 Bibles (counting sub-versions)

1910 to 1919, 2 OT, 5 NT, 4 Bibles

          2 OT, 7 NT, 6 Bibles (counting sub-versions)

1920 to 1929, 2 OT, 9 NT, 4 Bibles

          2 OT, 12 NT, 4 Bibles (counting sub-versions)

1930 to 1939, 0 OT, 10 NT, 3 Bibles

          0 OT, 13 NT, 6 Bibles (counting sub-versions)

1940 to 1949, 0 OT, 5 NT, 2 Bibles

          0 OT, 5 NT, 7 Bibles (counting sub-versions)

1950 to 1959, 1 OT, 11 NT, 4 Bibles

          1 OT, 12 NT, 4 Bibles (counting sub-versions)

1960 to 1969, 0 OT, 12 NT, 9 Bibles

          0 OT, 12 NT, 11 Bibles (counting sub-versions)

1970 to 1979, 2 OT, 9 NT, 13 Bibles

          2 OT, 11 NT, 18 Bibles (counting sub-versions)

1980 to 1989, 2 OT, 10 NT, 12 Bibles

          2 OT, 20 NT, 20 Bibles (counting sub-versions)

1990 to 1999, 3 OT, 29 NT, 22 Bibles

          3 OT, 35 NT, 33 Bibles (counting sub-versions)

2000 to 2009, 7 OT, 41 NT, 49 Bibles

          9 OT, 48 NT, 67 Bibles (counting sub-versions)

     Clearly, our modern age is seeing a great increase in the number of Bible versions being produced. Part of this is explained by use of computers: First, it is very easy to use a word processor's search/replace feature to make one of the "Updated..." versions, a "sacred name" version or one of several slang Bibles. Second, web "publishing" means nearly anyone can get a new version of the Bible into the public eye.

     To see several of the new Bibles that have been produced, visit the Bible Reader's Museum and click on "Links", then "Date Sorted" to see even more versions. My statistics only count full testaments and Bibles while the links list shows partial translations as well.

     Whether the increased number of versions is a blessing or a curse is a topic of great debate. But I look forward to doing more work in providing information that can be grist for the debate mill!

     To see the graphs of Testaments and Bibles produced by decades, please take a look at this PDF chart. The chart looks better printed out than it does on the screen unless you zoom in. Please do not use this chart or the data without permission.

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