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Chapter 16

Profitable Prophets


Few persons give consideration to the fact that Bible translations are big business. To produce a popular version will assure the publisher a handsome return. In his booklet Profit-Dealers! Make Big Profits Selling the New International Version, p. 5, Pastor George Burnside reports the observation of a man associated with a Christian Book Center:

A short time ago, a well-known Bible Institute teacher visited our Book Room, the Christian Supply Centre, which handles only KJV Bibles. In the course of conversation concerning the effectiveness of Christian Book Stores in the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, he made this remark: "Most Book Rooms are no longer a ministry for the Lord, but a commercial business." With this we agree.

There is probably no group of people doing more to promote compromise, the ecumenical and charismatic movements, new evangelicalism, and corrupt Bibles than the so-called Christian Book Stores of our day.

If this conclusion is correct, we have reached a sorry state in Christianity. Surely the Word of God, which is of priceless value, should not become a matter of mere commercialism. God help those who would so treat this sacred book. We have often wondered why new, "improved" versions of modern versions are appearing with such rapidity. We have the Revised English Bible, the New Jerusalem Bible, the New Revised Standard Version, and others published within two or three decades of the original. There cannot be any grounds for a further proliferation of versions on the basis that the language has dramatically altered in that period. But it is possible that economic considerations may have played a part in the desire to bring out yet another version, simply because many faithful souls collect Bible versions almost as a philatelist collects postage stamps.

In 1978 The Wall Street Journal commented on the financial gains from the New International Version of Scripture. Their editor headlined the article: "Zondervan, Blessed with Bible Contract, Lifts Profit Forecast." Its sub-heading stated: "Church Leadersí Endorsement Aids Sale of New Version: Initial Press Run Sold Out." Church leaders should give careful consideration to the propriety of their endorsement of various versions. Do such versions clarify truth or do they simply fill coffers? Pastor Burnside has remarked upon Billy Grahamís penchant for eulogizing new translations as they appear. Certainly his approval provides a great boost for sales.

The New International Version has been endorsed by well-known evangelicals like Dr. John R.W. Stott of Inter-Varsity fame and by Dr. Billy Graham. Dr. Graham said,

I believe this will be one of the most serviceable versions available, eminently suited to be read in the churches. It preserves, in a sense, a certain historic familiarity, but couches Godís message in contemporary and easily understood terms.

The same Dr. Graham endorsed the RSV, one of the most liberal of all versions, in these words:

The RSV will express itself in a language that the English-speaking world uses today. These scholars have probably given us the most perfect translation in the English. While there may be room for disagreement in certain ares of translation, yet this new version should supplement the KJV and make Bible reading a habit throughout America.

Dr. Graham also promoted The Living Bible:

In this book I read the age-abiding truths of the Scriptures with renewed interest and inspiration as though coming to me directly from God.

Is Billy Graham referring to 1 Samuel 20:30 in the Living Bible? "Saul boiled with rage. You ____!"1 Or does he refer to John 9:34 as coming directly from God? "You illegitimate ___, you."? 1

It is important to study the report in The Wall Street Journal, for it does indicate the extent to which commercial considerations are a focus of the production of such a version. The statement was made in the early days of The New International Version. Since then this version has achieved the dubious distinction of being the first English-language version of Scripture to outsell the King James Version in any year since the latter was produced. It can only be assumed that profits have risen as a consequence.

Grand Rapids, Mich.óZondervan Corp. believes it has struck a new vein of gold in the ancient and well-mined lode: the Bible. Accordingly, it told analysts here, it raised its already-gleaming sales and earnings forecasts.

Zondervan, a publisher of religious books and music, has been blessed with a 30-year exclusive contract to publish the New International Version of the Bible, translated and edited by the New York International Bible Society. After the version was endorsed by a number of church leaders, the initial press run of 1.2 million copies sold out before the book went on sale Oct. 27, the company said.

Thus, Zondervan raised its earnings prediction 10 cents a share, to $1.85, and its sales prediction $3 million, to $41 million, for the year. In 1977, the concern earned $1.5 million, or $1.41 a share, on sales of $32.7 million.

"Bibles are always a much-wanted item at Christmas," commented Peter Kladder Jr., president. Noting that a second printing will bring the total of New International Version Bibles in print at year-end to 1.6 million, he said he isnít sure stores will be able to meet customer demand.

The executive prophesied that sales of the Bible will rise in 1979 and 1980, then remain on a "high plateau" because "the sales pattern for a well-accepted version of the Bible tends to continue years longer than other best-selling books." The Wall Street Journal, November 16, 1978

Well may we consider whether these new versions are written to uplift the Word of the Law and the Prophets or whether they are seen more in terms of popularity and profits.

1 These words are so foul that we felt it proper that they be omitted from the quotations as undoubtedly it would offend any right-thinking person. <BACK>

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