Thursday, February 11, 2016

‘How to Choose a Translation’ (Online Course Review)

Holy Bible by Freaktography (Flickr)
For the average Christian who hasn’t the time, money, desire, or prerequisite learning to pursue a formal education in biblical studies or theology, there is an array of websites offering introductory courses on a variety of subjects. They vary considerably in price as well as in the quality of their content, often depending on the credentials of the developers or lack thereof. I have tried out courses on a number of platforms, but usually got bored before finishing them. For a while was the exception, but now I can add to the list. offers a few courses, including Old Testament and New Testament surveys and classes on Biblical Hebrew and Greek. Recently, it announced a free one-unit course titled How to Choose a Translation, covering some basic information about textual criticism, approaches to Bible translation, and the history of Bibles in English. I decided to try out, my first time using that platform.

The course begins with a 15-minute lecture by author J. Scott Duvall, Professor of New Testament at Ouachita Baptist University, followed by some reading material that covers the video content with some additional detail. A Cerego application offers a flash-card like game to test your memory on key facts from the lesson. Short essay questions allow you to think deeper about the ideas presented. (Your responses are even saved and available for reference in the My Grades section after you’ve completed the course, although no comments on them are provided.) Wrapping the course up is a 10-question multiple-choice assessment. The whole thing can be completed easily in a couple of hours.

Since Zondervan is known for publishing the New International Version (NIV) and the New King James Version (NKJV), you might be concerned about the course’s bias. That turned out not to be an issue. I thought the content was balanced, not designed to push the student into buying any particular translation. (I don’t feel as though my English Standard Version (ESV) was being slighted in the least.) This also carried over in how the short essay questions were worded. They tended to ask the student’s opinion about things rather than assuming he or she actually holds particular views, such as the Bible being divinely inspired. This makes the course a bit more accessible for members of different churches as well as nonbelievers. It also shows the careful thought put into designing the course, as leading questions are definitely a mark of sloppiness.

If I were to name the course’s downside, it would be the fact that its content was wholly basic, more than it needed to be. For example, there’s no discussion about the content differences among manuscript text-types, something which is often a big concern for Bible shoppers. It would’ve also been helpful to have examples of the translation approaches at work, so that their differences are made obvious to the student. However, despite these imperfections, I still think the course is worth a look-over, especially considering the price. The short answer questions made me think more deeply about how I view translations, something which I think can be a real benefit for any student, regardless of prior familiarity with the topic.