American pastors name their favorite

version or translation of the Bible

(Original release date:  July 31, 2000)  A nationwide study conducted among a representative sample of over 500 Protestant church pastors asked ministers which one version or translation of the Bible they personally rely on most for their work.  The study, which was independently funded and conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research) of Phoenix, Arizona, found that the favorite translation of American pastors is the New International Version, commonly abbreviated as the NIV.  Thirty-four percent of all pastors chose this as the version they rely on most.

 

The NIV is followed by the traditional King James Version (KJV), which is favored by 24% of the pastors.  In third place is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) at 17%, followed by the New King James Version (NKJV) at 10%, and the New American Standard (NAS) at 9%.  No other version, including the New Living Translation, The Message, the Living Bible, the Contemporary English Version, the New Century Version, or the Amplified Bible, was named as the favorite by more than 2% of the respondents.

 

There is significant variation in the types of ministers who chose each version as the one they rely on most.  Among churches from denominations that are members of the National Council of Churches (which tends to represent mainline Protestant bodies such as the United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church USA, and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America among their members), the New Revised Standard Version is on top at 40%, while 24% prefer the NIV, and 11% rely on the King James Version.

 

The other major American ecumenical body is the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents many evangelical and charismatic denominations such as the Assemblies of God, Church of the Nazarene, and the Baptist General Conference.  Pastors from NAE-member denominations tend to prefer the NIV (49%), followed by the King James (24%), and the New King James Version (12%).

 

Of course, many churches are from denominations which are not members of either of those organizations.  Among all pastors who described their church as “evangelical,” the NIV is the clear leader at 47%, followed by the King James at 22%, and the New King James Version at 10%.  Among pastors who described their congregation as “mainline Protestant,” 51% favor the New Revised Standard Version, while 18% prefer the NIV, and just 8% rely most on the King James.

 

Pastors of Pentecostal and charismatic churches tend to rely heavily on the King James (45%), while significant proportions favor the NIV (21%) or the New King James Version (19%).

 

Interestingly, the version of the Bible pastors chose is related to their personal political stance.  Among self-described political liberals, 71% prefer the New Revised Standard Version for their work.  Among political moderates, the top choice is the NIV (43%).  Political conservatives are split equally between the NIV and the King James (35% each).

 

The pastor’s age has relatively little influence on the version of the Bible they prefer.  The average age of pastors who favor the King James Version is 51.  It is just slightly lower among those who prefer the NIV (average user age of 50), or the New Revised Standard Version, New King James Version, or New American Standard (each with an average user age of 48).

 

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, felt the study uncovered a couple of particularly noteworthy findings.  “First, the research exploded the myth held in some circles that older pastors cling to the traditional King James, while younger ministers prefer more contemporary versions,” Sellers said.  “Just under half of the ministers who prefer the NIV are 50 or older, and almost half of the pastors who rely on the King James are under the age of 50.  Their preference has far more to do with theology, worldview, and denominational background than with age.”

 

Sellers also noted that of all the new versions introduced in the last couple of decades, the only ones that have really caught on with ministers have been the NIV and to some extent the New King James.  “The New Revised Standard Version is very popular among mainline ministers, but it’s an update of the Revised Standard Version from the 1950s,” Sellers explained.  “Of all the truly new versions introduced recently, only the NIV and the New King James have made significant inroads among pastors as their favorite.  Most newer translations are favored by only one or two percent of the pastors.”

 

Sellers was also careful to point out that the study only asked pastors what Bible version they use most for their work.  It didn’t ask them what is the “official” Bible of their church or denomination, whether they own a copy of each version, or which version they recommend to people, for instance.  “It’s important to understand that these figures shouldn’t be expected to correspond with sales figures, as the two measurements are totally different,” he added.

 

Study Details:

The study was conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research), a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona.  Although Grey Matter Research has numerous clients, this study was funded and conducted independently by the company.  The sample of 518 Protestant ministers included only those who were actively pastoring churches.  The study’s total sample is accurate to within ±4.3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level with a 50% response distribution.  The study was conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors.  Respondents’ geography, church size, and denomination were carefully tracked to ensure accuracy.

The English Bible—a book which, if everything else in our language should

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Thomas Babington Macaulay, English Historian

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Bible versions relied on most by Protestant pastors for their work... 

 

Group

New International

King James

New Revised Standard

New King James

New American Standard

 

Other

All pastors

34%

24%

17%

10%

9%

6%

Northeast

41

14

24

11

5

5

Midwest

36

22

18

7

8

9

South

26

32

15

12

9

6

West

38

24

11

11

10

6

Evangelical theology

47

22

9

10

8

4

Mainline theology

18

8

51

3

7

13

Pentecostal/charismatic

21

45

3

19

6

6

National Council of Churches member

24

11

40

6

5

14

National Association of Evangelicals member

49

24

2

12

8

5

Political conservatives

35

35

2

13

11

4

Political moderates

43

9

24

10

6

8

Political liberals

7

8

71

0

3

11