Home > Commentary, Deaf Ministry > Moving Towards a Church Bible

Moving Towards a Church Bible

I have suggested to our church’s Ministry Team that we needed to consider possibly selecting one Bible translation for our church to use. We would encourage our members to purchase this translation, Sunday School and discipleship classes would use it, and the pastoral staff would commit to preaching from this translation. This would reduce the amount of time we are spending explaining the differences in translations, because our members use a variety of translations.

For example, I tend to use the English Standard Version (ESV) to study and prepare, while preaching from the Contemporary English Version (CEV). When putting together Scripture for my sermon outlines (which are printed and handed out), I have tended to cross-read a mixture of the ESV and CEV, which to me has allowed me to be accurate while rendering the passage readable. Our senior pastor tends to use the New American Standard Bible. He has recently begun to move towards the New Century Version (NCV). However, many of our church members use the New International Version, New International Reader’s Version (NIRV), New Living Translation, or Today’s New International Version. There is even a King James Version Only-ist among our members.

Given that most of our members have low-level reading grades (about elementary or middle school for most), you can understand the need for us to select a readable translation to use across the board. When someone pops up their hand to say they don’t understand what a verse says, or that their Bible version says something else, that is valuable discipleship time wasted just to explain the difference.

Our senior pastor suggested that we immediately begin a discipleship series on Bible translations for the next month. We will be explaining the differences between various translations as well as how to pick a translation to use. We might examine several translations individually. Ultimately we want to come to a decision as a church on which translation to use. This will allow us to be deliberate about which Bibles we purchase for our pews and to give away.

So far, what are our candidates? We have the NIRV, the NCV, and the CEV. All are eminently readable at a low reading grade (they avoid words like “eminently” 😉 ), our Deaf have little difficulty understanding these versions, and they carry a good degree of accuracy. The problem with each, however, is that in some places they sacrifice the meaning of the Greek and Hebrew in favor of making a verse readable. It changes (whether intentionally or unintentionally) the meaning of a verse in order to make the verse understandable to a low-level reader. And if we try to spend time explaining this we run the risk of confusing our members.

Pastor Tim (our senior pastor) is partial to the NCV and before this suggestion was encouraging our members to use it. I went out and purchased my own copy of the NCV for study and comparison, and I found it to be more accurate and usable than the CEV. Which is funny to me, because the CEV is more “preachable.” I don’t yet own an NIRV, so I cannot yet make any comparisons.

It has just occurred to me as I write this that many of you are looking at me weird. A “preachable” Bible version? See, I have to preach in an entirely different language from the one read in the Bible. It is extremely difficult to preach the ESV in American Sign Language. I can do it, but I don’t think I do it very well. There are no signs for many of the concepts packed in “regular” ESV words. You can’t just sign words like predestination, justification, imputation, and so on. They have to be spelled out. That is what a version like the CEV tries to do, spell it out. For example, the average Deaf person is not going to understand the word justification, but if you simply say “made right with God,” how much easier is that to understand? Hey, I got signs for those words, so why not use that Bible? If you substitute the KJV and make your language that of postmodernism, you get a pretty good idea of what I mean.

What I will be doing over this next month is posting our lessons from the discipleship class. I taught a brief introductory yesterday in preparation for Pastor Tim to lead the main thrust of the class. Please pray for us as we develop these lessons and for our church as we prayerfully seek a good “church” Bible.

Categories: Commentary, Deaf Ministry
  1. April 30, 2007 at 10:40 am

    Stephen, I believe your contenders–the NIrV, NCV, and CEV–are very good choices for your context. There is an English Version for the Deaf, but it is not very mainstream, and I feel the other options would be better.

    Granted, my church is not deaf, but I think about these issues a lot, too–including what I teach from. Over the weekend, I polled my Sunday School class to see what they were using and if they even knew what I taught from. The results are here if you’re interested: Bible Translation Survey Results

  2. April 30, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    We have that English Version for the Deaf, in fact it is sitting next to me on my desk. However, we hate it. Some of our members feel it is so oversimplified that it is useless. They can’t make head or tails of it. I can’t preach from it (I’ve tried several times), I hate reading it, and one of our members actually told me that it made her feel like I was talking down to her. That’s an interesting reaction for a Bible written with the Deaf in mind.

    Oh, BTW I edited your comment so the link you gave me wasn’t running out of the box. 😛

  3. Steve D
    May 7, 2007 at 7:40 am

    Choosing a Bible translation is hard because the deaf congregation is so diversified that it usually has to be them that choose whatever fits their understanding. We have low educated people, advanced educated people, and people in between. It always seem to work best when our deaf see the verse first from whichever translation and then simplify it as visual as possible, maybe even a drama or a modern-day story to link it with. I have always used several versions to make people aware of the different words being used. Our deaf have been encouraged to choose the best possible Bible translation for their own personal understanding. i, myself, use a NIV but have several other translations for comparsions or context use for lessons or sermons.

    I agree with you Stephen that the English Version for the Deaf is too simple. I have one myself and only use it for comparsions with other translations.

    We have always felt that its best to let the people decide for themselves what they fits them when they read the Bible. Every congregation is different, I suppose.

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