Greenbelt Interfaith News
    World News

    November 1997

    Too Many Bibles, Good News Party Told in England
    By Peter Linford
    Church Net UK

    The editor of the Baptist Times, John Capon, on October 8 told the birthday party for the Good News Bible, that there were now too many translations of the Bible being produced and that it was time to call a halt. At least a dozen versions had appeared since the Good News Bible was published, he said, and this was far too many.

    Mr Capon was speaking at London's Planet Hollywood restaurant, where representatives of churches, evangelical groups and the publishing industry were gathered for the coming of age of the world's best-selling Bible.

    Published in full in 1976 the Good News Bible has established itself as the favoured translation of churches and schools alike, and 16% of homes are believed to possess a copy. However in the twenty-one years since its appearance many more translations have appeared and all of these new versions, according to Mr Capon, share the same failings of immemorability and deterioration of language. Society as a whole, he said, was suffering from an impoverishment of the language into sloppiness and thoughtlessness, and new Bible translations were reflecting this. Mr Capon did not exempt the Bible Society, co-hosts of today's event, from his words, referring to its recent publication of the Contemporary English Version. Its Into the Light edition, using the Contemporary English Version, earlier this year won the prestigious Crystal Mark award for clarity from the Plain English Campaign.

    Addressing the gathering Mr Capon said that he was not convinced that translators should keep producing Bibles at the present rate. "We are flooding the market and in danger of causing confusion," he said. "My plea to any involved in Bible translation and publishing would be this: can we try to make our new Bibles more memorable? Can we try to enrich the vocabulary and can we please have a sensible scaling down of this flood of versions? We don't need that number."

    Later, at a buffet reception, Mr Capon expanded on his theme. Speaking to Church Net UK he said that the proliferation of Bible translations meant that there was no longer a common translation, as had been the case in the days of the Authorised Version. It was no longer true that everyone could recognise phrases and stories. "All the Bibles that come out seem to be either identifying a particular sector of the market which others have missed, or they seem to come out simply because Bible publishing is good publishing," he said. "Enough is enough. Let's at least look at the situation."

    Revision of texts could achieve at least as much as complete new translations, he said, and he expressed the hope that when, in February, Bible translators gathered to discuss the inclusive language issue, they might discuss the wider issue of reducing the quantity of Bibles being issued, especially since the inclusive language question was in any case a red herring.

    It would be a marvellous idea, Mr Capon declared, if in the final year before the millennium, everyone who had more than one edition of the Bible got rid of their extraneous translations. He did not go so far as the original proponent of the idea, who suggested that the extra Bibles be burned, but was keen to see them given away.

    There was guarded support for John Capon's words among guests at the party. Robin Wood, director of the Home Evangelism movement, agreed that the proliferation of translations was causing confusion, but added that new editions were speaking to non-Christians in a useful way. "We probably need to call a halt at this stage," he agreed, "because there is confusion in the Church with so many versions being used, but the new versions have certainly helped with those outside the Church."

    Rev Steve Chalke, Vice-President of the Bible Society, said in an earlier address that the more translations there were the better. His colleague Brian Lincoln, Communications director for the Society, backed him up, saying that there would be advantages if only one Bible were used but that different churches had different needs. "Whenever new Bibles come out people say that we're trying to take something away from the King James," he said. "We're not. There's an audience for King James and it does a particular job. It's about different formats, not just about translations. We're no longer a Christian land and people are not used to reading the Bible, so texts like the Contemporary English Version are important in helping people to understand. They pick up on language which has a different meaning for Christians and for secular society."

    The Bible Society is currently engaged in a variety of efforts to make the Bible more popularly relevant. It believes that the unexpected interest in today's event was at least in part due to the Planet Hollywood venue. Earlier suggestions that the event be held at Lambeth Palace or on the House of Commons terrace were rejected in favour a location more meaningful to contemporary culture, although the ownership of the Planet Hollywood restaurant by Arnold Swarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, stars of some of the most violent films of the last two decades, caused disquiet in some circles.

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