Bibliotheca Sacra 150 (October-December 1993): 397-414

Copyright 1993 Dallas Theological Seminary; cited with permission.

 

 

 

 

ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS OF

THE BIBLE, TODAY AND

TOMORROW*

 

 

Bruce M. Metzger

 

 

The rapid multiplication of English translations of the

Scriptures throughout the second half of the 20th century might

well prompt more than one bewildered reader to rephrase the

Preacher's melancholy observation so as to read, "Of the making

of many translations of the Bible there is no end!" (Eccles. 12:12).

During the past 40 years (to go no farther than that), beginning

with the publication in 1952 of the Revised Standard Version until

the publication in 1990 of the New Revised Standard Version, 27

renderings in English of the entire Bible were issued, as well as

28 additional renderings of the New Testament.

Such a proliferation provokes a number of questions. Why

were so many versions produced? Is there really a need for such a

variety of translations? Is it not uneconomical of time and hu-

man resources to undertake what, in many cases, are largely du-

plicated efforts? What is the best Bible? Before such questions can

be answered, it is necessary to survey, however briefly, the mak-

ing of several of the English versions that are widely used today.

Because of the limitation of space, consideration will be given to

the following, in chronological order: the Revised Standard Ver-

sion (1952), the Jerusalem Bible (1966), the New American Bible

(1970), the New English Bible (1970), the Good News Bible (1976),

and the New International Version (1978). Several of these have

subsequently appeared in revised form.

 

Bruce M. Metzger is Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, Emeri-

tus, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey.

 

* This is article four in the four-part series, "Translating the Bible: An Ongoing

Task," delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas The-

ological Seminary, February 4-7, 1992.



398 BIBLIOETHECA SACRA / October-December 1993

 

THE REVISED STANDARD VERSION (1952)1

 

Steps to produce a suitable revision of the excessively literal-

istic American Standard Version of 1901 were undertaken in

1928 when the copyright of that version was acquired by the Inter-

national Council of Religious Education. In the same year the

Standard Bible Committee was appointed, with an original mem-

bership of 15 scholars, to have charge of the text of the American

Standard Version, and to make further revision of the text should

that be deemed necessary.

For two years the committee wrestled with the question of

whether a revision should be undertaken, and if so, what should

be its nature and extent. Finally, after revisions of representative

chapters of the Bible had been made and discussed, a majority of

the committee decided that there should be a thorough revision of

the American Standard Version, which would stay as close to the

King James tradition as it could in the light of present knowledge

of the Greek text and its meaning on the one hand, and present

usage of English on the other.

In 1930 the nation was undergoing a serious economic de-

pression, and it was not until 1936 that funds could be secured and

the work of revision could begin in earnest. The contract was ne-

gotiated with Thomas Nelson and Sons, publishers of the Ameri-

can Standard Version, to finance the work of revision by advance

royalties, in return for which the Nelsons were granted the exclu-

sive right to publish the Revised Standard Version for a period of

10 years. Thereafter it was to be opened to other publishers under

specific conditions.

With the financial undergirding thus provided, it was possi-

ble to schedule regular sessions of both the Old Testament and

New Testament Sections. Expenses for travel, lodging, and

meals were provided for the members. No stipends or honoraria,

however, were given to RSV Committee members, who con-

tributed their time and expertise for the good of the cause.

After serious work had begun a hope was expressed that coop-

eration of British scholars might be obtained, thus making the

version an international translation. The war years of 1939-

1945, however, made such collaboration impossible. In the sum-

mer of 1946, after the war was over, an effort was made to secure at

least a token of international collaboration in the work on the Old

 

1 See Members of the Revision Committee, Luther A. Weigle, Chairman, An In-

troduction to the Revised Standard Version of the New Testament (Chicago: In-

ternational Council of Religious Education, 1946), and idem, Introduction to the

Revised Standard Version of the Old Testament (New York: Nelson, 1952).



English Translations of the Bible, Today and Tomorrow 399

 

Testament, the RSV New Testament having been published in

February 1946. Such partial collaboration was not to be forthcom-

ing, for in that same year delegates of several Protestant

churches in Great Britain decided that work should begin on a

wholly new translation, one that made no attempt to stand within

the tradition of the 1611 King James Bible. The outcome of this ef-

fort was the New English Bible, published in 1970.

Meanwhile, work continued on the RSV Old Testament. After

81 separate meetings, totaling 450 days of work, the complete Bible

was published September 30, 1952, the Feast day, appropriately

enough, of St. Jerome. The new version was launched with an

unprecedented publicity campaign. On the evening of the day of

publication, in the United States, in Canada, and in many other

places, 3,418 community observances were held with over one and

a half million persons attending.

The fanfare, however, did not protect the new version from

adverse criticism. Unfounded and malicious accusations were

brought against several members of the committee, alleging that

they were either Communists or Communist sympathizers-alle-

gations that, at the insistence of Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wis-

consin, were eventually printed in the official United States Air

Force Training Manual! Finally, after a thorough investigation

conducted by nonpartisan authorities, this entirely unsupported

charge was rebutted as "venomous nonsense" on the floor of the

House of Representatives in Washington and the edition of the

manual in question was withdrawn.2

Meanwhile a pastor of a church in Rocky Mount, North Car-

olina, publicly burned with a blow-torch a copy of what he termed

"a heretical, communist-inspired Bible." The ashes were put in a

tin box and sent to Luther Weigle, dean of Yale Divinity School,

who had served as convener of the Standard Bible Committee.

That box, with its contents, is in the Bible Committee's collection

of books and archives, a reminder that, though in previous cen-

turies Bible translators were sometimes burned, today it happily

is only a copy of the translation that meets such a fate.

In 1971 the second edition of the RSV New Testament was is-

sued. This incorporated a number of changes that reflect the

Greek text as adopted for the third edition of the United Bible So-

cieties' Greek New Testament, which serves throughout the world

as a standard text for translations and revisions made by

Protestants and Roman Catholics alike. Among such changes

 

2 The Congressional Record, vol. 106, Part 3 (February 25, 1960), 3505-07; Part 5

(March 29, 1960), 6872-74; and Part 6 (April 19, 1960), 8247-84.



400 BIBLIOETHECA SACRA / October-December 1993

 

was the transfer of the ending of the Gospel according to Mark

and the pericope de adultera (John 7:53-8:12) from the RSV foot-

notes into the text, though the passages continue to be separated

from the context by a blank space to show that they were not part of

the original text.

Soon afterward a significant step was taken by scholars of the

Catholic Biblical Association of Great Britain. Under the leader-

ship of Dom Bernard Orchard, O.S.B., and Reginald C. Fuller, a

proposal was made to divide the books of the Apocrypha into two

sections, those books the Catholic Church regards as deutero-

canonical and those that are not so regarded. In an edition issued

by Collins Press of Glasgow in 1973, these two sections were bound

separately between the Old and New Testaments. The volume

therefore had four sections: the 39 books of the Old Testament, the

12 deuterocanonical books or parts of books, the First and Second

Books of Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh (three books that are

part of the traditional Apocrypha but are not included among the

deuterocanonical books); and the 27 books of the New Testament.

No Catholic notes were included, since this Bible was to be

"common," for use by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike.

It should be noted that in such an arrangement Roman

Catholics made a significant departure from the accepted practice

through the long history of their church. The separation of the

deuterocanonical books from their places throughout the Old

Testament is essentially an accommodation to the Protestant ar-

rangement of the books of the Bible.

In May 1973 a specially bound copy of the Collins RSV "Com-

mon" Bible was presented to Pope Paul VI. In a private audience

granted to a small group, comprising the Greek Orthodox Arch-

bishop Athenagoras of London, Lady Priscilla Collins, Sir

William Collins, Herbert G. May, and the present writer, the

Pope accepted the copy as a significant step in furthering ecu-

menical relations among the churches.

Worthy as the "Common" Bible is, however, it fails to live up

to its name, for it lacks the full canon of books recognized as au-

thoritative by Eastern Orthodox Churches. The Greek, Russian,

Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Armenian, and other Eastern

churches accept not only the traditional deuterocanonical books

received by the Roman Catholic Church, but also the Third Book of

Maccabees. Furthermore in Greek Bibles Psalm 151 stands at the

close of the Psalter, and the Fourth Book of Maccabees is printed

as an appendix to the Old Testament. Since these texts were lack-

ing in the "Common" Bible presented to Pope Paul, on that occa-

sion Archbishop Athenagoras expressed to the present writer the



English Translations of the Bible, Today and Tomorrow 401

 

hope that steps might be taken to produce a truly ecumenical edi-

tion of the Holy Scriptures.

In 1972 a subcommittee of the RSV Bible Committee had al-

ready been commissioned to prepare a translation of 3 and 4 Mac-

cabees and Psalm 151. In 1975 the translation of the three addi-

tional texts was made available to the five publishers licensed to

issue the RSV Bible. The Oxford University Press took steps im-

mediately to produce an expanded form of The New Oxford Anno-

tated Bible, with the Apocrypha, the edition of the RSV that had ear-

lier received the imprimatur of Cardinal Cushing of Boston.

This expanded edition was published by the Oxford Univer-

sity Press on May 19, 1977. A special prepublication copy was pre-

sented by the present writer to His All Holiness Dimitrios I, the

Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and titular head of the

several Orthodox churches. In accepting the gift, the Ecumenical

Patriarch expressed satisfaction at the availability of an edition

of the sacred Scriptures that English readers belonging to all

branches of the Christian church could use.

Thus the story of the making of the Revised Standard Version

of the Bible with the expanded Apocrypha is an account of the tri-

umph of ecumenical concern over more limited sectarian inter-

ests. At last (and for the first time since the Reformation) one

edition of the Bible had received the blessing of leaders of Protes-

tant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox churches alike.

 

THE JERUSALEM BIBLE (1966)

 

The name, The Jerusalem Bible, indicates something of the

origin of this edition. Beginning in 1948 a group of French Do-

minicans and others at the Ecole Biblique de Jerusalem produced

a series of commentaries, each containing one or more books of

the Bible translated into the vernacular, with introductions of

moderate length and with copious notes. In 1956, two years after

the completion of the series (which ran to 43 fascicles), a one-vol-

ume edition was issued, in which the notes were greatly com-

pressed and the introductions sharply abbreviated. This compen-

dious edition, entitled La Sainte Bible traduite en francais sous la

direction de l'Ecole Biblique de Jerusalem, contains, therefore,

the quintessence of a great amount of solid and responsible schol-

arship contributed by about 40 collaborators. The English edition

was prepared under the direction of Alexander Jones of Christ's

College, Liverpool; it embodies the introductions and notes of the

one-volume French edition. The translation of the scriptural text

of most of the books was made from the original languages, and,

in the case of a few books where the initial draft was made from



402 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 993

 

the French, it was later "compared word for word with the Hebrew

or Aramaic by the General Editor and amended where necessary

to ensure complete conformity with the ancient text" (p. v). It was

perhaps inevitable that the names of the original scholars who

produced the Bible de Jerusalem have been replaced by the names

of the nearly 30 British collaborators in the work of translation

and literary revision.

The resulting volume is an impressive piece of bookmaking.

About twice as thick as the French edition, it measures 6 1/2 by 9

1/2 inches and weighs five pounds. The scriptural text is printed

in one column per page, with generous margins (especially when

poetry is involved) and with running heads indicating the

contents of sections and paragraphs. The commentary at the foot

of the page, however, is set in a type size that is almost painfully

small.

So much by the way of describing the background and produc-

tion of The Jerusalem Bible; something should be said now about

the scholarship reflected in both translation and comments. Let it

be said at the outset that during the past generation the differences

between the results of Protestant and Roman Catholic biblical

scholarship have been reduced almost to the vanishing point, and

a great expanse of common ground now exists in matters pertain-

ing to discussion of date, authorship, literary composition, and

similar matters of biblical studies.

The wording of The Jerusalem Bible has a contemporary

ring about it. The archaic forms of the second person pronouns

("thee," "thy," etc.) are dispensed with. The editor acknowledges

that the decision, reached after some hesitation, to represent the

divine name by "Yahweh" will probably seem to many readers to

be unacceptable, but "those who may care to use this translation of

the Psalms can substitute the traditional `the Lord"' (p. vi). Isaiah

7:14 is rendered, "The maiden is with child and will soon give

birth to a son," to which the following comment is attached: "The

Greek version reads `the virgin,' being more explicit than the

Hebr. which uses almah, meaning either a young girl or a young,

recently married woman." In the annunciation (Luke 1:28) the

words of the angel Gabriel to Mary are rendered, "Rejoice, so

highly favored! The Lord is with you," with the added comment,

"The translation `Rejoice' may be preferred to `Hail' and re-

garded as containing a messianic reference, cf. Zc 9:9; `so highly

favored,' i.e. as to become the mother of the Messiah." The New

Testament references to the a]delfoi< of Jesus are rendered in a

straightforward manner, "the brothers of Jesus," with the added

comment, "Not Mary's children but near relations, cousins per-



English Translations of the Bible, Today and Tomorrow 403

 

haps, which both Hebr. and Aramaic style `brothers,' cf. Gn 13:8;

14:16; 29:15; Lv 10:4; I Ch 23:22 f."

Occasionally the translators have ventured to paraphrase,

sometimes not altogether happily. Thus 1 Corinthians 7:1-2 is

rendered, "Now for the questions about which you wrote. Yes, it is

a good thing for a man not to touch a woman; but since sex is al-

ways a danger, let each man have his own wife and each woman

her own husband." Here the opening of verse 2 is given an unfor-

tunate twist ("but since sex is always a danger"); literally the

Greek reads, "but because of fornications," which probably

means, "but because there is so much immorality." This was

certainly true in Corinth.

Since in various passages the manuscripts of the Bible differ

from one another, translators must make choices between vari-

ant readings. In the textual criticism of the New Testament, The

Jerusalem Bible usually reflects current judgments widely held

among Protestant and most Roman Catholic scholars. Thus the

ending of Mark's Gospel (16:9-20), which is lacking in the earli-

est witnesses, is declared to be probably non-Marcan, and the

pericope de adultera (John 7:53-8:12) is recognized as not being

part of the original Fourth Gospel, for "it is omitted by the oldest

witnesses (MSS, versions, Fathers) and found elsewhere in oth-

ers; moreover, its style is that of the Synoptics and the author was

possibly Luke. Nevertheless, the passage was accepted in the

canon and there are no grounds for regarding it as unhistorical."

The comment on John 5:3b-4 states that "the best witnesses omit

`waiting for the water to move' and the whole of v. 4."

In these three cases the passage is retained in the text; in 1

John 5:7b-8, however, the spurious passage is given only in the

comments, where it is recognized that the reference to the Trinity

is a gloss that crept into inferior manuscripts of the Latin Vul-

gate. In these cases The Jerusalem Bible is in the mainstream of

textual scholarship. On the other hand the text-critical judgment

expressed at John 1:13, though previously advocated by a few

scholars, is scarcely correct. Here the translators abandoned the

evidence of all Greek manuscripts and, on the basis of several

Old Latin and Syriac manuscripts, with limited patristic support,

they adopted the singular number, "who was born," thus making

the Fourth Gospel testify to the virgin birth of Christ.

 

THE NEW AMERICAN BIBLE (1970)

 

In 1944 the Bishops' Committee of the Confraternity of Chris-

tian Doctrine invited a group of Catholic biblical scholars to un-



404 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1993

 

dertake the first Roman Catholic translation of the Scriptures in

America to be made from the original languages. The committee

inherited the work that had been begun in the preceding decade,

when many of the same group of scholars began translating the

Bible from the Latin Vulgate (the New Testament of this version

had been published in 1941).

During the following years several portions of the transla-

tion appeared, each containing one or more biblical books of the

new rendering. The reissuing of these earlier materials permit-

ted the introduction of certain modifications. For example the

Book of Genesis, first published in 1952, was completely retrans-

lated and is now provided with new and expanded exegetical

notes that take into account the various sources or literary tradi-

tions. Finally, in 1970, a quarter of a century after work first be-

gan, the New American Bible was published. This work repre-

sents capable and dedicated scholarship and provides a render-

ing of the Scriptures in modern American idiom, along with brief

introductions to each biblical book as well as many literary and

theological annotations.

In the Old Testament the translators have departed more than

a few times from the Masoretic Hebrew text. According to infor-

mation in the preface, the Masoretic Hebrew text of 1 and 2

Samuel was in numerous instances corrected by the more ancient

Hebrew manuscripts from Cave 4 of Qumran. In the case of the

Psalms the basic text is not the Masoretic text but, as the preface

states, "one which the editors considered [to be] closer to the origi-

nal inspired form, namely, the Hebrew text underlying the new

Latin Psalter of the Church" (the reference is to the Liber Psalmo-

rum cum Canticis Breviarii Romani, 2d ed., 1945).

Here and there in the Old Testament and particularly in the

Minor Prophets the sequence of verses and sections of material

have been rearranged where scholars have reason to think that

the lines were accidentally disordered in the transmission of the

text. With regard to the Tetragrammaton, happily the translators

have used "LORD" rather than the utterly un-English "Yahweh."

As is true of most translations of the Bible prepared by a com-

mittee, the several books of the Scriptures are the work of different

translators. Therefore it is not surprising to find differences

among the books as to the technique of translating and the style or

"color" of the rendering. To some extent the reader of the New

American Bible is forewarned of such diversity by the statement

in the preface that "the editors did not commit themselves in the

synoptic gospels to rendering repeated words or phrases identi-

cally." Such freedom in rendering can be justified and is in ac-



English Translations of the Bible, Today and Tomorrow 405

 

cord with the policy adopted by the New English Bible as well as

several other modern speech renderings.

On the other hand it is difficult to justify the many apparently

arbitrary divergences in the rendering of several technical or

quasi-technical words and phrases. The word maka<rioi is trans-

lated "blest" in the Matthean and Lucan beatitudes, whereas in

the seven beatitudes of the Book of Revelation it is rendered

"happy." The expression h[ basilei<a tou? qeou? occurs 46 times in

Mark and Luke. Sixteen times it is rendered "the kingdom of

God," once "God's kingdom," once "kingdom of heaven"(!), and

the remaining instances "the reign of God." Within a single

chapter (Luke 18) and even in adjacent verses one finds the fol-

lowing disparate renderings (italicized here): "Let the little chil-

dren come to me. Do not shut them off. The reign of God belongs to

such as these" (v. 16). "Trust me when I tell you that whoever does

not accept the kingdom of God as a child will not enter into it" (v.

17). "It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a

rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven" (v. 25). "There is no

one who has left home or wife or brothers, parents or children, for

the sake of the kingdom of God" (v. 29).

A similar type of arbitrary divergence occurs in Matthew 3:2

and 4:17. In the former passage John the Baptist preached,

"Reform your lives! The reign of God is at hand," and in the lat-

ter Jesus preached, "Reform your lives! The kingdom of heaven

is at hand." In both cases the Greek has h[ basilei<a tw?n ou]ranw?n.

It is difficult to believe that the committee of translators (who are

technically trained scholars) would have been guilty of perpetrat-

ing such slipshod work. One may hazard the guess that, after the

scholars had finished their painstaking work, having utilized a

concordance and a harmony of the Gospels to make certain that

parallels are treated as parallels, the subcommittee on English

"style" made arbitrary alterations here and there, which, perhaps

because of the press of time in meeting the publisher's deadline,

were not submitted to the scholars for their approval.

With regard to fitness of language, the Book of Psalms gives

the impression that meticulous care was taken to provide a ren-

dering with a certain liturgical and literary timbre. In general

the language is dignified without being archaic, and expressions

are used that evoke a sense of grandeur and the numinous. Only

rarely have the translators nodded, as when, for example, in

Psalm 24:1 what is meaningful to the eye will almost certainly be

confusing to the ear: "The Loan's are the earth and its fullness."

In other parts of the Bible the reader is struck by a certain typ-

ically American quality of English idiom-plain, flat, and mat-



406 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1993

 

ter of fact. The long and involved Greek sentences in Ephesians

(e.g., one sentence extends from 1:3 to 1:14) and in other epistles

are properly broken into smaller units. At the same time one can

point out a number of rather uninspired, pedestrian renderings.

For example it is difficult to regard the following as idiomatic or

felicitous English: "Be on the lookout against the yeast of the

Pharisees and Sadduces" (Matt. 16:6); "For fear of disedifying

them [the kings of the world]" (17:27); "Buy ointment to smear on

your eyes" (Rev. 3:18).

The introductions and annotations to the books of the Bible

display a happy combination of information concerning sources,

authorship, date of composition or redaction, and outline of con-

tents, along with attention to the religious and theological dimen-

sions inherent in the material. The amount of theological inter-

pretation varies from book to book, but in general it is adequate.

For example the comment on the final words of Luke 2:14 ("Glory

to God in high heaven, peace on earth to those on whom his favor

rests") is as follows: "An allusion to the mystery of divine elec-

tion that bestows the gift of faith upon people of divine choice. To

these, the messianic mission of Jesus also brings a special gift of

peace, the restored friendship between God and man."

The messianic interpretation of various Old Testament pas-

sages is suggested both by annotations and by section headings.

The lengthy annotation on Genesis 3:15 concludes with the state-

ment that "the passage can be understood as the first promise of a

Redeemer for fallen mankind. The woman's offspring then is

primarily Jesus Christ." At Genesis 49:10, which by a slight

change in the Hebrew text is translated, "while tribute is brought

to him [Judah]," one is told that "a somewhat different reading of

the Hebrew text would be `until he comes to whom it belongs.' This

last has been traditionally understood in a Messianic sense. In

any case, the passage foretells the supremacy of the tribe of Judah,

which found its fulfillment in the Davidic dynasty and ulti-

mately in the Messianic Son of David, Jesus Christ." Of Bal-

aam's prophecy that "a star shall advance from Jacob" (Num.

24:17) the reader learns that "many of the Fathers have under-

stood this as a Messianic prophecy, although it is not referred to

anywhere in the New Testament; in this sense the star is Christ

himself." Psalm 45 is described as a "Nuptual Ode for the Mes-

sianic King," and the annotation declares that "Catholic tradi-

tion, in keeping with the inspired interpretation given in He-

brews 1, 8f., has always understood this psalm as referring, at

least in a typical sense, to Christ and his bride, the Church."

Psalm 72 is given the heading, "The Kingdom of the Messiah."



English Translations of the Bible, Today and Tomorrow 407

 

Both Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and Psalm 22 are applied to the Passion of

Christ. The words, "the LORD begot me, the firstborn of his ways"

(Prov. 8:22), so hotly debated during the Arian controversies in

the early church, is furnished with an annotation that concludes

with the statement, "Here that plurality of divine Persons is fore-

shadowed which was afterward to be fully revealed when Wis-

dom in the Person of Jesus Christ became incarnate."

The controversial passage of Isaiah 7:14, which is translated,

"The virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name

him Immanuel," has, as one would expect, a lengthy annotation,

part of which may be quoted here:

The church has always followed St. Matthew in seeing the tran-

scendent fulfillment of this verse in Christ and his Virgin

Mother. The Prophet need not have known the full force latent

in his own words; and some Catholic writers have sought a prelim-

inary and partial fulfillment in the conception and birth of the fu-

ture King Hezekiah, whose mother, at the time Isaiah spoke,

would have been a young, unmarried woman (Hebrew, almah).

The Holy Spirit was preparing, however, for another Nativity

which alone could fulfill the divinely given terms of Immanuel's

mission, and in which the perpetual virginity of the Mother of

God was to fulfill also the words of this prophecy in the integral

sense intended by the divine Wisdom.

 

THE NEW ENGLISH BIBLE (1970)3

 

In May 1946 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

received an overture from the Presbytery of Stirling and Dun-

blane recommending that a translation of the Bible be made in

the language of the present day. After several months of negotiat-

ing with representatives of other major Protestant denominations

of Great Britain, as well as the University Presses of Oxford and

Cambridge, a Joint Committee was formed which entrusted the

actual work of translation to four panels of scholars, dealing re-

spectively with the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, the New Tes-

tament, and the literary revision of the whole. The convener of

the panel of Old Testament scholars was G. R. Driver of Oxford

University; the convener of the Apocrypha panel was G. D. Kil-

patrick, also of Oxford; and C. H. Dodd, professor emeritus of

Cambridge University, served as convener of the New Testament

panel and as general director of the entire project.

The procedure adopted for the work of the panels was as fol-

lows. Each book or group of books was assigned to an individual

 

3 See Geoffrey Hunt, comp., About the New English Bible (Oxford: Oxford Uni-

versity Press, 1970).



408 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1993

 

translator, who need not be a member of one of the four panels.

The first draft of the translation was circulated in typescript to

members of the appropriate panel, who worked through it individ-

ually and jointly in committee sessions along with the transla-

tor. When the draft had been thoroughly discussed and revised,

perhaps several times, it went to the literary panel for suggestions

on improving the English style. The final form of the version

was reached by agreement between the two panels.

The New English Bible is a totally fresh translation; it is not

a revision of earlier versions. The aim of the translators was to

cut loose from all previous renderings and to "render the Greek,

as we understood it, into the English of the present day, that is,

into the natural vocabulary, constructions, and rhythms of con-

temporary speech. We have sought to avoid archaism, jargon,

and all that is either stilted or slipshod."4 The result is a version

that is marked by a vigorous and colorful English style, tending

at places to be periphrastic with interpretive additions.

The following are examples of the insertion of words for

which there is no express warrant in the text (for convenience of

explanation the inserted words are italicized here; they are not

italicized in the NEB): "Those who sleep in death" (1 Thess. 4:13);

"in the province of Asia" (Rev. 1:4); "in his body of flesh and

blood" (Col. 1:22); "guardian angel" (Matt. 18:10; Acts 12:15);

"human body" (Rom. 12:4); "his life's blood" (Rev. 1:5); "tongues

of ecstasy" (1 Cor. 13:8). In other cases the literal rendering is

supplanted altogether by a periphrasis. Thus "scribes" becomes

"doctors of the law" (Mark 15:31, etc.), the parable of the talents is

now the parable of the bags of gold (Matthew 25:14-30); the word

traditionally translated "saints" is rendered "God's people" (Col.

1:2, etc.); "beloved" as a term of address becomes "dear friends"

(1 John 4:7, etc.); and the verb "it is written" (Rom. 12:19) becomes

"there is a text which reads." Instances of this kind of paraphrase

could be multiplied. Because of such freedom in rendering the

text the principal reviewer of the New Testament of the New En-

glish Bible in The (London) Times Literary Supplement (March

24, 1961, p. 178) concluded his review with the words, "If one's sole

concern is with what the New Testament writers mean, it [the new

version] is excellent. It is otherwise if one wants to find out what

the documents actually say."

With regard to the style of the New English Bible, one finds a

mixture. To give their rendering contemporary flavor the trans-

lators include an occasional colloquialism, such as, "They has-

 

4 Introduction to the NEB New Testament (1961), x.



English Translations of the Bible, Today and Tomorrow 409

 

ten hot-foot into crime" (Prov. 1:16), and, "This is more than we

can stomach" (John 6:60). On the other hand one notices also a

tendency to use pedantically precise words, as well as rare and

difficult ones. Examples include asphodel, batten, bustard, dis-

train, felloe, hoopoes, keen (as a verb), lapis lazuli, panniers,

reck, ruffed bustard, runnels of water, and stook. Even educated

readers need a dictionary for some of these.

 

THE GOOD NEWS BIBLE (1976)5

The New Testament of the Good News Bible was issued in

1966 by the American Bible Society under the title Good News for

Modern Man. The idea for such a rendering arose in the follow-

ing way. For a number of years the American Bible Society had

received requests from Africa and the Far East for a translation

specially designed for those who speak English as an acquired

language. Late in 1961 a secretary of a denominational Board of

Home Missions in America wrote the Society inquiring whether

there was available a rendering that would be suitable for use

among new literates and among foreign language groups in the

United States.

As a result of such requests the Bible Society decided that the

time had come to prepare a common language translation of the

scriptures in English. Robert G. Bratcher was invited to draw up

initial drafts of the books of the New Testament. These were sent

to translation consultants of the American Bible Society and to the

Translations Department of the British and Foreign Bible Soci-

ety. On the basis of comments and suggestions, Bratcher intro-

duced a variety of modifications in the rendering. After its publi-

cation on September 15, 1966, other comments and suggestions

from readers started coming in. On the basis of these, on October

1, 1967 a second edition was published, incorporating many

changes in both style and substance. As a result of its subsequent

use in many parts of the world, and of further comments received

since then, a third edition was issued in 1973. Meanwhile work

had already begun on the preparation of the Old Testament, and

with the assistance of several other scholars this was issued in

1976; the Apocryphal or deuterocanonical books appeared in 1979.

The Good News Bible is not a word-for-word translation. In-

stead it adopts the principles of what Eugene A. Nida of the Amer-

ican Bible Society calls "dynamic equivalence" or, more re-

 

5 See Eugene A. Nida, Good News for Everyone; How to Use the Good News Bible

(Waco, TX: Word Books, 1977).



410 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1993

cently, "functional equivalence." Customs not known today are

reworded; thus, "anointed my head with oil" (Ps. 23:5) becomes

"welcomed me as an honored guest." The rendering avoids slang

but uses colloquialisms of contemporary American speech, such

as, "She nagged him" (Judg. 14:17), and, "You smart aleck, you"

(1 Sam. 17:28).

The version has won wide acceptance because of its ready

intelligibility-even if there is some truth in the contention that it

has made clear some passages that are unclear in the original.

 

THE NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (1978)6

 

As mentioned earlier, when the Revised Standard Version

appeared in 1952, it received severe criticism from many who re-

garded themselves as conservative in theology and politics. Sub-

sequently several Bibles were published under conservative aus-

pices (e.g., the Amplified Bible in 1965, the Modern Language

Bible in 1969, and the New American Standard Version in 1971),

but none of them succeeded in becoming the standard Bible for

conservative Protestants.

The effort that finally culminated in producing such a ver-

sion began in the 1950s when committees were appointed by the

Synod of the Christian Reformed Church (in 1956) and by the Na-

tional Association of Evangelicals (in 1957) to study the feasibil-

ity of preparing a new translation. In 1961 the two committees met

together and merged as a joint committee. Over the next few

years additional scholars became interested and were added to

the committee, and in 1968 Edwin H. Palmer became the full-

time executive secretary of the project. Work began in 1968, and

the Gospel of John was published in 1969; in 1973 the New Testa-

ment was issued. Finally, after several Old Testament books ap-

peared separately, the entire Bible was finished in 1978.

The New International Version is so named because more

than one hundred translators from 34 religious groups, working

in 20 teams in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Aus-

tralia, and New Zealand, participated in the project. Each team

was composed of five persons: two cotranslators, two consultants,

and one English stylist. Each team's work went to an intermedi-

ate editorial committee (either of the Old Testament or the New

 

6 See Kenneth L. Barker, ed., The NIV: The Making of a Contemporary Transla-

tion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986); also issued as The Making of a Contempo-

rary Translation; New International Version (London: Hodder and Stoughton,

1987).



English Translations of the Bible, Today and Tomorrow 411

 

Testament), then to the General Editorial Committee, and finally

to the 15-member Committee on Bible Translation.

Early in the development of plans for the project, financial

backing for the work was promised by the New York Bible Soci-

ety. It is understandable that the hourly wages for more than a

hundred translators, the cost of their transportation as well as ac-

commodation of room and board for the many months they met in

committee, the many incidental expenses for secretarial labor,

duplicating equipment, and other items eventually surpassed the

budget the New York Bible Society was able to provide. Another

source of revenue became available when the Zondervan Bible

Publishers, having contracted with the New York Bible Society to

be the sole commercial publisher in America for the new

translation, advanced funds to help defray the costs. Eventually,

according to James Powell, then president of the newly renamed

International Bible Society, the total editorial cost reached ap-

proximately eight million dollars.7

At the publication of the completed version the reception ac-

corded the new rendering was remarkable. Within the first year

of its appearance the publisher, Zondervan Publishing House of

Grand Rapids, had sold more than 1,200,000 copies. It is reason-

able to assume that in time this translation may replace the King

James Version as the Bible of conservative Protestants.

Five years after the publication of the New International Ver-

sion the translation committee reviewed its work on the basis of

criticisms that had been received. In the summer of 1983 the

translators made approximately 930 changes which they labeled

"limited revisions." In November 1985, 16 additional changes

were made, and in November 1986 nine more revisions were

added.8

The revisions are of different kinds. Some are revisions of

footnotes, sectional headings, punctuation, and verse division. A

large group of revisions substitute word equivalents, such as

changing "dumb" to "mute" in Matthew 9:33 and "house-tops" to

"roofs" in Luke 12:3. All in all, the revisions, though rather nu-

merous, do not reflect a major change in translation philosophy.

The New International Version is more colloquial than the

Revised Standard Version, less free than the New English Bible,

and more literary than the Good News Bible. Occasionally the

 

7 Burton L. Goddard, The NIV Story: The Inside Story of the New International

Version (New York: Vantage, 1989), 100.

8 For more information about these changes, see Robert P. Martin, Accuracy of

Translation and the New International Version (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth,

1989), 711-72.



412 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1993

 

translators have taken liberties with the text, sometimes by omit-

ting words and sometimes by adding words. In Matthew 5:2, for

example, contrary to all the Greek manuscripts, the NIV simply

omits the words "he [Jesus] opened his mouth" and provides no

English equivalent for the phrase. On the other hand, for what ap-

pears to be doctrinal reasons, the translators have inserted the

word "your" in Matthew 13:32 ("it [a mustard seed] is the smallest

of all your seeds") and the word "now" in 1 Peter 4:6 ("the gospel

was preached even to those who are now dead"), neither of which

is in the Greek text.

 

REVISION AFTER REVISION

 

Several of the versions mentioned above have undergone

further revision. Additional work by Dominican scholars in

Jerusalem resulted in the production of a heavily revised French

edition of La Sainte Bible (1973), which, in turn, was translated

into English by Henry Wansbrough and other monks at Ample-

forth Abbey in Yorkshire. Their work was published in 1985 with

the title The New Jerusalem Bible. Besides correcting defects of

the 1966 edition, attention was given to the reduction of mascu-

line-oriented language in passages that involve both men and

women. The translators state in the preface, "Considerable ef-

forts have been made, though not all costs, to soften or avoid the

inbuilt preference of the English language, a preference now

found offensive by some people, for the masculine; the word of the

Lord concerns women and men equally."

In 1978, only eight years after the publication of The New

American Bible, plans were drawn up for a thorough revision.

The preface to the revised edition of the New Testament (1986)

reads as follows.

 

Although the scriptures themselves are timeless, translations and

explanations of them quickly become dated in an era marked by

rapid cultural change to a degree never previously experienced.

The explosion of biblical studies that has taken place in our cen-

tury and the changing nature of our language itself require peri-

odic adjustments both in translations and in the accompanying

explanatory materials.

 

In the new edition a particular effort was made to increase

consistency of vocabulary. With regard to the Synoptic Gospels

where, as mentioned earlier, the first edition was lax, special

care was taken to reveal both the similarities and the differences

of the Greek. Furthermore where the meaning of the original is

inclusive of both sexes, the translation seeks "to reproduce such



English Translations of the Bible, Today and Tomorrow 413

 

inclusivity insofar as this is possible in normal English usage

without resort to inelegant circumlocations or neologisms that

would offend against the dignity of the language." In general the

generic use of "man" is avoided, though it is retained where the

committee could find no satisfactory equivalent.

Nineteen years after the publication of The New English

Bible a revision appeared under the title Revised English Bible

(1989).9 The changes in wording are in the direction of a more

conservative and less adventuresome rendering. For example,

in speaking of Achsah, instead of "she broke wind" (Josh. 15:18),

the rendering is, "she dismounted." Instead of "all men's knees

run with urine" (Ezek. 21:7), the text now reads "all knees will

turn to water." Paul's advice, "Have nothing to do with loose liv-

ers" (1 Cor. 5:9) now becomes, "Have nothing to do with those who

are sexually immoral." On the other hand no change was made

in Proverbs 14:29, "There is a rod in pickle for the arrogant," or

in Song of Solomon 1:7, "That I [the bride] may not be left picking

lice as I sit among my companions."

Attention was also paid to the inherent bias of the English

language toward masculine nouns and pronouns. The transla-

tors state in their preface that in passages "of the Bible which evi-

dently apply to both genders ... the revisers have preferred more

inclusive gender reference where that has been possible without

compromising scholarly integrity or English style."

In 1974 the Policies Committee of the Revised Standard Ver-

sion, which is a standing committee of the National Council of

Churches, authorized and charged the Standard Bible Committee

to make necessary changes in the RSV in the following respects:

(1) paragraph structure and punctuation; (2) the elimination of

remaining archaisms, while retaining the flavor of the Tyndale-

King James tradition; (3) changes in the interest of accuracy,

clarity, and euphony; and (4) the elimination of masculine-ori-

ented language relating to people so far as this can be done with-

out distorting passages that reflect the historical situation of an-

cient patriarchal culture.10

Working in accord with these four mandates, the translators

followed the maxim, "As literal as possible, as free as neces-

sary." As a consequence the NRSV, published in 1990, remains es-

sentially a literal translation, expressed in reverent, dignified

 

9 See Roger Coleman, New Light and Truth: The Making of the Revised English

Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).

10 Bruce M. Metzger, Robert C. Denton, and Walter Harrelson, The Making of the

New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991).



414 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 1993

 

language. Paraphrastic renderings have been adopted only spar-

ingly, and then chiefly to compensate for a deficiency in the En-

glish language--the lack of a gender-inclusive pronoun in the

third person singular number.

The NRSV is the most ecumenical of all English versions of

the Bible. It contains not only the 66 books of the Protestant canon,

but also the books of the Apocrypha, books that were included in the

King James Version. To these apocryphal books, designated

deuterocanonical by Roman Catholics, are added three other texts

accepted by Eastern Orthodox churches, namely, 3 Maccabees, 4

Maccabees, and Psalm 151. The NRSV Bible is thus the only En-

glish Bible that contains all the books accepted as authoritative by

Christians of all major denominations in the world.

 

CONCLUSION

 

Obviously English translations of the Bible differ for a vari-

ety of reasons. Not only do translators understand differently the

meanings of various rare Hebrew and Greek words, but also the

theory of the translation process may vary from formal equiva-

lence to dynamic or functional equivalence. Furthermore the

level of English and the style of syntax have been adapted to the

reading public for which the revision is intended.

Throughout the last decade increasingly more attention has

been directed to the problem raised by the traditional use of "man"

and "men" where these words restrict or obscure the meaning of

the original text. Besides the steps taken in correcting such mat-

ters in the latest revisions of the Jerusalem Bible, the New Ameri-

can Bible, the New English Bible, and the Revised Standard Ver-

sion, the translators of several other modern English versions

have also begun to pay attention to such matters. In 1992 the Good

News Bible of the American Bible Society incorporated necessary

changes in the elimination of many masculine-biased render-

ings concerning humankind. It has also been reported that by

about 1995 the translation committee of the New International

Version will decide whether to eliminate masculine-biased lan-

guage pertaining to humankind. It also appears that Kenneth N.

Taylor, translator of The Living Bible, is at work on what he

calls The New Translation, of which the first section, entitled

The Letters of the New Testament, has now appeared (1990). Ac-

cording to the preface of this edition, one of the outstanding fea-

tures of The New Translation is "its correct translation of such

statements as `He who has the Son has life' so as to become

`Whoever has the Son has life.' Since God's grace is for men and



English Translations of the Bible, Today and Tomorrow 415

 

women alike, a valid translation must reflect this. It may be an

unimportant point for many readers, but to others, both in and out-

side the church, it is important and helpful."

In the future, no doubt other translations of the Bible will be

made into English, if for no other reason than the continuing

modification of English usage and style. There will also be ex-

perimental renderings of audiovisual projects (such as those now

being sponsored by the American Bible Society), with interactive

multimedia software. A pilot project, involving the account of the

Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20), is to be produced in modern

video format, along with a computer-video interactive Bible

learning resource.11

The question is often asked, Which is the best version of the

Bible to use? It is impossible to give a simple answer to this ques-

tion. It is rather like asking, Which is the best place to go for a va-

cation? The answer depends on what the individual wants. So too

with versions of the Scriptures; different translations are in-

tended for different purposes. For detailed and intensive study,

especially in preparation for teaching, a word-for-word transla-

tion would probably be best. In working with children and those

for whom English is a second language, a dynamic equivalence

translation probably would be preferable. In other contexts,-

whether personal devotions, family devotions, meditation, or ex-

tended reading-readers today have available a rich variety of

versions, and individuals can make their own judgments as to

the most useful version. But in the last analysis, whichever ver-

sion one prefers, the important thing is to read it and to respond to

its message. As Johannes Albrecht Bengel put it succinctly in the

preface to his 1734 edition of the Greek New Testament, "Te totum

applica ad textum: rem totam applica ad te" ("Apply yourself

wholly to the text: apply the whole matter to yourself').

 

11 See the several articles on "The Scriptures in Audio Visual Format" in the Bul-

letinn of the United Bible Societies, 160/161 (1991).

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Dallas Theological Seminary

3909 Swiss Ave.

Dallas, TX 75204

www.dts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: thildebrandt@gordon.edu