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Building Unity Through Translational Diversity

For existing quizzers, coaches, and officials, perhaps the first and most important question that might be asked about Christian Bible Quizzing is: how exactly does multi-translational quizzing work?

An important question. But before tackling the how, let’s look at the why.

First, we will look at the history of translations in quizzing, so we can understand how we got where we are today. Second, we will examine the advantages—and indeed the necessity—of embracing a multi-translational approach to quizzing. Finally, we will get to the how: practically speaking, how can this work, and what does a competition which supports the use of multiple translations look like?

A Brief History of Translations in Quizzing

Most Bible quizzing programs today find their roots in the Youth for Christ (YFC) quiz program of the 1940s-1960s. The classic King James Version (KJV) was the translation of choice for this program.

During the 1960s, denominations began to start their own quiz programs, and YFC quizzing began to wane. Even in this earlier era when the KJV was still popular, denominations had differing preferences, such as the New American Standard or even looser paraphrases such as The Living Bible and Good News for Modern Man.1

The emergence of the New International Version (NIV) in 1978 took the evangelical world by storm. The later NIV revision in 1984 became the popular choice of most quiz programs for decades – other than those who stuck with the tried-and-true KJV.

A new revision to the NIV in 2011 seems to have further expanded the range of translations in use. Old quiz questions and resources became unusable, and different churches held different opinions about the revision's translation choices. This caused many quiz programs to revisit the translation question.

In addition to the KJV and NIV, currently used translations include at least the New King James Version (IFCA); the Berean Study Bible (World Bible Quiz); the English Standard Version (Bible Quiz Fellowship); the Christian Standard Bible (Bible Bowl); and the New Living Translation (Assemblies of God).

Furthermore, even within any single quiz program there exist different preferences. For example, after 2 years of testing out the ESV, the Christian & Missionary Alliance quiz program took a vote on whether to continue with the ESV. The vote was split down the middle between NIV and ESV, with international leadership breaking the tie in favor of the NIV.

While it is regrettable that translational preferences have made it hard for the various quiz programs to collaborate, we must remember that the proliferation of English translations is a great blessing, not a curse. As St. Augustine said, and the translators of the King James Bible included in their Translator’s Preface: “variety of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures.”2

We are blessed to have many translations to get at the sense of the original Greek and Hebrew text, but the wide variation in translation preference has become a chief obstacle to unity among various quiz programs—even between churches whose doctrinal convictions do not significantly differ. This is the state quizzing finds itself in today.

The Advantages of Overcoming the “Translation Barrier”

But do distinctions in translation preference have to be an obstacle to “quizzing unity”? Most quiz programs today are run by evangelical denominations or parachurch organizations which would all see each other as brothers and sisters in a common faith. The disagreements are over secondary doctrinal matters. All genuine Christians everywhere would support the idea of Scripture memorization, even if the interpretation of some of those Scriptures varies from quizzer to quizzer.

Yet, as important as it is for existing quiz programs to have a way to compete together, there is a yet more important need: growth. Quizzing is, in this author’s judgment, the most effective youth ministry yet devised when it comes to fostering a knowledge of, and love for, Scripture. Many youths in the church need what quizzing has to offer; we need to give it to them. If there is nothing else we succeed at doing in this life... if we can get more of God’s Word heard and memorized by more people, it is still a life well-lived.

So why is a multi-translational approach an essential step in not just unifying, but growing quizzing? Here are three reasons to consider:

1. A Multi-translational approach enables recruitment of entire denominational traditions with no quizzing history

Even though YFC was a broadly evangelical movement from which many denominational quiz programs find their origin, not all evangelical traditions ended up with quiz programs of their own. Generally speaking, it seems that more liturgical traditions (for example, confessional Lutherans and Presbyterians) missed the boat. These are rich, faithful traditions with many churches, among whom one could find many interested in quizzing. They use a variety of translations and tend to favor ones more literal than the NIV – the ESV, the NASB, the NKJV. In most cases there is not a nearby quiz program which uses one of these preferred translations. This is just one example, but the point is thatby enabling everyone to compete together regardless of their preferred translation, we are further empowered to extend quizzing to Christian communities which don’t have it yet.

2. A Multi-translational approach ensures compatibility with existing Christian institutions

Quizzing relies on the existence and support of other Christian institutions for its health and growth. Most current quiz teams consist of attenders of the same local church, for example. But while churches are strong institutions, there exist other Christian institutions which are a natural fit for sponsoring a quiz program – private schools, homeschool co-ops, camps, and scouting organizations, to name only a few. These organizations already have established procedures and specific preferences, and quizzing is an easier step for them if they can customize it to their own preferences. Having a preferred translation is an especially common feature among private/homeschool organizations, which are perhaps currently the greatest untapped resource for quizzing growth.

3. A Multi-translational approach “future-proofs” quizzing by making it independent of the financial decisions of Christian publishing companies

Now that we live in an era where the production and printing of translations is relatively easy, and potentially quite profitable for Christian publishers, we must expect the number of English translations to only increase. Furthermore, existing translations may undergo revisions which engender disagreements among different groups of believers, as was the case with the 2011 revision of the NIV. While many who disliked the 2011 NIV were perfectly fine with the 1984 NIV, continuing to produce materials which used the 1984 version had potentially negative legal implications. Quiz programs have sometimes been forced to make hard decisions due to the choices of non-quizzing entities, and it is important for the long-term health of quizzing that we mitigate the effects of these entities on our mission.

How We’re Overcoming the Translation Barrier

The author is aware of only one other attempt to achieve a “multi-translational” quiz format – that of AWANA Bible Quizzing. In AWANA quizzing, questions are based on the AWANA curriculum, and include doctrinal and topical questions. Quote questions exist, but only the reference is provided, and quizzers answer in their preferred translation.

This approach to multi-translational quizzing works with a format that focuses on doctrinal/topical questions, but most quiz formats today derive their questions verbatim from the material. How can we achieve this type of quizzing while still supporting multiple translations? A mix of new technology and innovation in the rules makes this possible.

1. Technology

The structures of “Second Age” quizzing competitions (a term used to describe the period of denomination-based program development that began in 1960) were made at a time when personal computers and Internet connectivity were not in use. Paper materials were used exclusively. With these limitations, multi-translational quizzing would have been very complex to officiate, and likely very slow. Can you imagine the quizmaster thumbing through 6 different translations over the course of a quiz? Or, alternatively, the question writer having to print the answers for every question from every different translation?

The “Third Age” ruleset (“Third Age” is a term used to describe the current overhaul of quizzing as will be kicked off at the International Open Championships in 2023 and embodied in the Christian Bible Quizzing, or CBQ, program) is designed from the ground up with current technological capabilities in mind. There are no leftover restrictions from the paper-only world we once lived in. For example, a quizmaster can select the quizzer who buzzed in first, and immediately have in front of them the query’s verse and entire context from that specific quizzer’s preferred translation. It is seamless, quick, and easy to teach to new officials.

Another practical hurdle to multi-translational quizzing is question writing, which already takes a tremendous amount of time when dealing with just one translation. But with technological development, query “writing” is done automatically, and automatically adjusts based on the translations represented at any given meet. Another positive outcome of this is that it is simple and straightforward to add new translations to the mix as new ones get published and as participants request to use them.

2. Rules

The rule structure also needs to have significant changes to accommodate a multi-translational approach. Here are, summarized, a few of the most significant rule changes:

Frequently Asked Questions

Any translation at all! As long as it exists on the Internet, it can be included. However, paraphrases such as The Message are not compatible. Due to the quizzers needing to recognize the same concepts as they are phrased across translations, paraphrases would not be a good fit, as they change the concepts too much.

Competitions will include queries from every single translation memorized by the quizzers registered for the meet. The number of queries per translation will be roughly equivalent in each quiz. The order of translations will be randomly decided for each quiz, and then they will be asked in repeated predictable order. For example, if NIV, KJV, and ESV are all represented at a meet, a quiz might have queries 1 and 4 on the KJV, queries 2 and 5 on the NIV, queries 3 and 6 on the ESV, and so on until the end of the quiz.

If a query is being asked from a different translation, the quizzer will need to make the change in their head and recognize where the query is coming from, then proceed to give a reply in the translation they are familiar with. In most cases, a quizzer should be able to do this even with zero prior knowledge of the other translation.

It could be risky! It depends on the query type, the translation in question, the preparation level of the opponents, etc. The scoring structure is intended to encourage quizzers to try for most if not all questions, no matter the quizzer's skill level or familiarity with the translation. Sometimes, a risky buzz will be the right play. The speed at which a quizzer chooses to buzz in is a complex choice, and at higher levels of competition all sorts of clever strategies will surely be developed.

There may be a quiz in a meet where all quizzers use the same translation, but the rules dictate that the queries will still come from all translations represented at the quiz meet. This scenario would have its own unique set of strategic implications, which the most competitive of quizzers and coaches are sure to have a fun time working out!

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