Americans who make Bible reading a part of their everyday life prefer word-for-word translations of the original Greek and Hebrew over thought-for-thought translations, according to a new study released by LifeWay Research.
In the study using 2,000 Bible readers, people were asked whether they prefer “word-for-word translations, where the original words are translated as exactly as possible” or “thought-for-thought translations, where the translators attempt to reproduce the intent of the original thought rather than translating the exact words.”
Sixty-one percent chose word-for-word, according to Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
Bible readers in the study participated with the help of a demographically representative online panel. To qualify for the study they had to read the Bible in a typical month either by themselves or as part of a family activity and not merely in a church or corporate group setting.
“They definitely wanted a translation to stay close to the original text and the actual words used in the text,” LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer told The Christian Post. “People want readability and they want word-for-word translation which is a difficult thing to combine.
“I don’t think there are really a lot of bad translations. I think what people are trying to figure out is what’s the best translation for where they are (spiritually),” Stetzer added.
In regards to accuracy, respondents were asked, “In general, what is more important to you in a Bible: total accuracy to the original words, or easy readability?” Three out of four people (75 percent) chose total accuracy, with 43 percent saying accuracy is much more important and 32 percent saying it is somewhat more important.
Fourteen percent said easy readability is somewhat more important, and eight percent said it is much more important. Three percent said they are not sure.
“It is interesting to note that Bible sales do not necessarily follow these preferences,” said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research. “Those reading the Bible each month represent only a portion of all Bible purchasers."
“Bible readers can share their preferences for different translation principles but may not be aware of which characteristics are present in specific translations – even the ones that they own,” McConnell said. “Without specific instruction most readers will not notice when a translation moves away from a literal or word-for-word translation.”
The study showed that people have varying opinions about the style of language they prefer in a Bible translation for personal reading. They include:
- 68 percent want language to be simpler to understand while seven percent want it to be more difficult to understand.
- 81 percent say it should be more enjoyable to read while four percent prefer it to be more of a chore to read.
- 27 percent favor contemporary language while 46 percent want traditional language.
- 36 percent want more modern language while 37 percent favor more old-fashioned language.
- 19 percent feel understanding the language should require a higher level of education while 49 percent say it should not require a higher level of education.
- 63 percent believe it should be simple for anyone to understand while 14 percent say the language should be meant more for people who have a lot of experience with the Bible.
- 40 percent prefer more formal language while 26 percent say should be more informal.
- 22 percent want language more for casual reading while 44 percent say it should be designed more for in-depth study.
“In the same way drivers want big, powerful, fuel-efficient vehicles, Bible readers want word-for-word translations that are easy to understand,” McConnell said. “As translators try to cross the globe and two millennia, fully accomplishing both is not always possible.”
The LifeWay Research survey also asked about translation of God’s name. Though many Bible versions translate God’s name in the Old Testament as “the LORD,” other versions use what is believed to be the original pronunciation, “Yahweh.”
Nearly eight in 10 Bible readers (79 percent) prefer the traditional translation “the LORD” over the original pronunciation “Yahweh.” That includes 51 percent who strongly prefer “the LORD” and 27 percent who somewhat prefer it. Seven percent somewhat prefer “Yahweh” while six percent strongly prefer it. Eight percent are not sure which they favor.
A large majority of Bible readers do not prefer gender-inclusive translation approaches. A full 82 percent prefer a literal translation of masculine words that describe people in general rather than a more inclusive translation like “humankind” or “person.”
The complete study can be found at lifewayresearch.com.