Questions, Insights, & Responses

shared from and with users

#8 - MBE's polling regarding use of Bible versions, & most popular versions today

by Robert Nguyen Cramer

This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.


Question/insight #8: "In your discussion on the differences between the KJV and modern translations you indicate that MBE [Mary Baker Eddy] sent two workers to find out which translations were most popular in other Boston churches. Can you share with me the source of this information?" (1/25/98)

Response #8: This is information that came from the Archives of The Mother Church. Over a number of years the former Archivist and now the Church History Department have been very helpful in researching questions I have had. All of the church history information in the webpage to which you refer ( has been carefully obtained or confirmed via visits with, conversations with, or documents from the current Church History Department and its predecessor, the Church Archives. Some information has been additionally corroborated by the Longyear Foundation, the American Bible Society (ABS), National Council of Churches (NCC), national Sunday School organizations, and other equally reputable and recognizable sources.

You also asked, "Is there any research available showing which are the most widely used translations in other denominations today?"

I expect that various organizations do on-going research as to which versions are most widely used today. My own answer to this question is straight from the hip, without any systematic, comprehensive research on this particular question, though I admittedly frequently ask Christian acquaintances, "What Bible versions are read from the pulpit of your church and which one do you study?" and for several months I have had a note to myself to informally call the churches in my own community to inquire what versions they use. I hope to find the occasion to do that very soon.

The ABS or NCC (both in NYC) would be the first places I would check for authoritative nation-wide answers. There are certain to be considerable local and regional differences in any survey results, reflecting regional denominational and theological alignments. Browsing the Internet might also give some answers. Large Christian distributors or seminaries might be another source of info. You might also get some idea from the bookshelf space in your local Borders or Barnes & Nobles, or check with their information desks. I would welcome your letting me know what you find.

My general observation is that the NIV is the #1 version in the US, in terms of bookstore sales. (After initially writing this observation, I received confirmation of its its accuracy by calling several Borders and Barnes & Nobles in different parts of the US. According to the estimate of one Borders person who stocks the religious books section, the NIV is a 3-to-1 favorite over the KJV. The KJV, NKJV, and NRSV, seem to be numbers #2, #3, and #4, with the respective order depending upon the region. The NAB, NASV, TEV, CEV, and NJB (New Jerusalem Bible) are in there, too, but generally not as as much as the NIV, KJV, NKJV, and NRSV.

According to acquaintances of mine, the NIV is used heavily by Baptists, some other conservative churches, some mainline denominations, and non-denominational churches. The KJV and NASV are also used by some Baptists and other conservative denominations. The NRSV is used by many of the more mainline churches, including Methodist and Presbyterian. Roman Catholics primarily use the NJB and the NAB. The TEV and CEV are more frequently used for reading or as a second Bible version rather than for research, though the TEV stands on particularly solid scholarly grounds. (The TEV's English phrasing corresponds very closely to equivalent phrasing in the original Hebrew, Aramaic {Daniel 2-7 and much of Ezra 4-7}, and Greek texts. The CEV is intended for those with limited vocabularies, and displays decidedly fundamentalist theological bias, as does the NIV.)

Some fundamentalist churches are extremely KJV-only and completely reject/forbid even the reading of anything but the KJV. (The King James Only Controversy by James R. White, published in 1995 by Bethany House Publishers, ISBN# 1-55661-575-2, has an excellent account of this. White's book was even endorced by Bruce Metzger, who is a prominent member of the UBS's Greek New Testament Committee, chair of the NRSV translation committee, and internationally recognized authority on biblical texts and translation.) The NKJV is really only the KJV with updated language. It still has all of the textual errors found in the KJV, because it uses the same Hebrew and Greek texts used by the KJV translators, because they believe them to be the "received texts" and uniquely authoritative.

The fact is that many Bibles are sold directly by churches, as well as by Christian bookstores, by the American Bible Society, by the International Bible Society, and other organizations, so completely accurate figures will be hard to obtain.

Again, my answer to your second question as to which English translations are most used in other denominations today is not authoritative and is not based upon a certifiable statistical sampling. It's just based upon my general feel of today's scripture reading landscape, upon a few conversations, and upon a few bookstore visits and phone calls.

I hope this is helpful. When I finally get around to doing my previously planned calls to the local churches, I will most likely put the results up on a page on the BibleTexts website, together with more authoritative information on national trends. I welcome hearing back from you what you find as well.

P.S. I wrote what is above last night. I just talked with a researcher at the American Bible Society, and I was referred to a 1996 Publisher's Weekly report that gave the statistics as follows:

Another document reported the following:


Copyright 1996-2002 Robert Nguyen Cramer