From:  Theology’s Impact on Translation:  KJV to NRSV            Return to Home         

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2013

 

 

 

[Page 135]

 

 

Chapter 10:

Modern Speech, Simplified/Expanded,

and Abridged Bibles

 

 

           

 

 

 

  1.  Modern Speech Translations

 

 

           

            Hebert Dennett has summed up well the nature of “modern speech translations” (N. 1):

 

Translators of the New Testament into current English adopt a policy the very opposite of those who translate literally.  They try to imagine a present-day reporter recording the substance of the New Testament first-hand for his readers, or alternatively, that the authors of the New Testament were writing in modern English.

 

            That such a work, responsibly executed, can provide a useful secondary text is readily granted.  If nothing else, it forces the reader to reconsider what the text is actually driving at, something that one may lose the sharp edge of after decades of reading it in a given translation:  one can become so used to the words that one loses some of the impact and application they were written to convey.  Modern speech translations can remind us of that original intent and, at the least, spur us to further thought when we return to our primary version.

There are at least three obvious problems envolved in all such efforts, no matter how conscientiously carried out, and which exclude them from becoming our primary reference text:

            First, there is the fact that there is ambiguity in places in the Greek text itself.  “Literal” minded translations preserve the ambiguity.  Modern speech translations “clear up” the problem—but at the excessive price of inserting an interpretation into the text as if it were assured fact.

[Page 136]                   Second, unless extraordinary caution is taken, it allows for the introduction of an undue amount of one’s personal theology.  Naturally every translator assumes that he or she does have the correct interpretation of the point being made by the various Biblical writers.  But what if he’s mistaken?  If he’s attempting to be more or less “literalistic” in the rendering, this counterbalances much or all of the bias.  But if he’s been given free reign to rewrite the Biblical text in “modern idiom,” then the major obstacle separating opinion and translation has been effectively removed.  It would require remarkable self-restraint not to blend the two together.

            Third, language is not static.  A “literal” minded translation is intentionally written in “timeless” prose.  It may, indeed, become “dated”—but only as decades and centuries go by.  Hence the process takes far longer because it avoids the consciously “modern” colloquialisms and phrases that are (more often than not) consigned to the verbal junkpile by the following generations. 

            Hence “modern speech” versions will normally sound more “contemporary” at publication, but the rapid passage of time will convert that strength into a pronounced weakness as the next generation—and especially the second or third—looks back with amusement at what is (to them) the oddly “quaint language.”  Where else are they to put it except on their least used, dustiest bookcase? 

            We readily concede that there is a matter of degree in all this.  However, it should be equally apparent that the more colloquial a translation is, the quicker it must “age.”  Hence modern speech efforts normally hold up far better when they emphasize the “modern” part of their goal rather than using it as an excuse for colloquialism.  The first translation we examine provides an example of such a successful effort.

           

What can be regarded as the first twentieth century modern speech version actually antedates the century, in part, by a few years.  The Twentieth Century New Testament appeared in portions between 1898 and 1901, with a revised text of the completed work appearing in 1904.

            The identity of the translators was kept secret until some fifty years after initial publication.  The restraint is understandable when one discovers that none of them would be considered a “Greek scholar.”  Yet, ironically, the translation gained much praise as an example of this type of translation.  This would indicate that determination and care can sometimes produce as good or better a result than that accomplished by the “professionals!”  Moody Press thought sufficiently of the work to re-release it in a new edition in the early 1960s.

            Although speaking kindly of it, Dennett points out some of its weaknesses as well (N. 2).  The very effort to produce (then) contemporary “everyday English” has conspicuously dated it in such matters as the conversion of Biblical period money into the English (and not American) equivalents as they existed at the turn of the century.  Modernizing creates inaccuracy; leaving the text as it reads, creates incomprehensibility.  Perhaps the most effective solution is that which I have found in only one translation:  converting the currency into “time worked equivalents.”

The Twentieth Century avoids “grace,” often substituting “love.”  This, of course, is inaccurate, inadequate, and misleading. 

Bruce (N. 3) notes that the translators were “of a radical outlook in social and religious matters.  Hence this odd substitution of “love” for “grace” may reflect their [Page 137]  reservations about the connotations the term commonly carried with it.  On the other hand, it could be a misguided effort to translate “religious” language into “regular” or “secular” English.

           

            Perhaps better known and more likely to be utilized today—including by the author of this current work—is Richard F. Weymouth’s The New Testament in Modern Speech.  First published in 1902, this version has been revised a number of times.  The edition in my personal library is the fifth, which includes additional revisionary work provided by James A. Robertson.  The fifth edition first appeared in Britain in 1929 and was first printed in the United States in 1943.

            A great appeal of this translation lies in the fact that “it is among the most careful in dealing with tenses of the verb, the article, and particularly with synonyms” (N. 4).

Although there is a more precise accuracy in regard to such matters—which pleases many conservative readers—there are other aspects of the translation that must be considered as decidedly negative in nature.  Primarily this concerns the impact of Weymouth’s personal theology. 

He was evaluated a religious “liberal” by his contemporaries and his views on the future life and the state of the dead antagonized religious conservatives.  These opinions of his—and, later, those of his editor—were clearly expressed in footnotes in the early editions.  (These controversial notes were removed from later revisions.)  However, his editor’s revisions of the text were such as to make the doctrinal intrusions even more pronounced (N. 5).

F. F. Bruce suggests (N. 6) that for all of Weymouth’s acknowledged credentials as a Greek scholar, that he did not understand “the Semitic idiom” used by the New Testament writers.  Hence, for example, we find “eternal life” replaced with “the life of the ages” (a rather odd phrase under the best of circumstances).  In later editions, “eternal life” was restored to the text.

 

Dr. James Moffatt’s The New Testament—A New Translation first appeared in 1913.  His The Old Testament—A New Translation appeared eleven years later, in 1924.  Although still well known, his New Testament was extraordinarily popular in the first decades after its appearance.  More than seventy reprints occurred between the two World Wars alone!  In many religious circles of that period, when one heard the words “New Translation,” Moffatt’s was normally in mind.

Moffatt was quite candid about his Modernism.  He explicitly rejected any belief in either “verbal inspiration” or its conceptual equivalents.  When this antagonistic frame of mind is combined with the built-in difficulties of any modern speech translation, it is hardly surprising that renderings are found that are unusually offensive to those whose views of inspiration are more conservative.

John 1:1 provides a good example of Moffatt’s willingness to “bend” the text to minimize the supernatural element:  “The Logos existed in the very beginning / the Logos was with God, / The Logos was divine.”  Goodspeed is only a shade more restrained in his work:  “In the beginning the Word existed, the Word was with God, and the Word was divine.”

Certainly Jesus was “divine,” but that language could be taken in a far more limited manner than the point being made in John 1:1, which is much stronger:  that He [Page 138]  was fully Deity (“God”).  Hence Moffatt and Goodspeed exhibit how a translator may be technically within the limits of accuracy while diluting—if not quite entirely removing?—the clear thrust and intent of the text.                                          

            The traditional reading of 1 Timothy 5:23 is along this line (NIV):  “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.”  In Moffatt this becomes, “Give up being a total abstainer” etc., which sounds like a not-so-subtle cut at the popular Prohibition movement of his day.

            In 1 Peter 3:19—the perplexing text about Christ preaching in the spirit to the spirits in prison—the interpretive problem is resolved by the bold insertion of a solitary additional word to replace the “he” under discussion:  “It was in the Spirit that Enoch also went and preached to the imprisoned spirits. . . .”  (Goodspeed also makes the same alteration.)

            In a footnote, Moffatt claims that this “preaching” is discussed in the Book of (First) Enroch.  The initial problem he faces is that any reader who takes the time to actually read First Enoch will discover that this assertion is untrue:  First Enoch quite clearly presents him as if preaching while in the flesh to the fallen angels; in contrast the preaching done in 1 Peter 3 is “in the Spirit.”

            Furthermore (and more important) is the fact that there is absolutely NO manuscript evidence for inserting “Enoch” into the verse.  William Bowyer (1772) was the first to theorize that the name of Enoch had somehow dropped out.  A number of others have since embraced this view.  But none of them has ever been able to present manuscript evidence to substantiate their assertion that it was ever in the text.

            This brings us to a related controversy.  Although many—not all—religious evangelicals and conservatives are uneasy about “critical” Greek texts, Moffatt used one of the most objectionable, that of Hermann von Soden.  Van Soden freely introduced new readings based solely upon conjecture and these are utilized in Moffatt’s translation.  When a coherent reading is already present, conjectural reconstruction becomes an abhorrent imposition upon the text.  But when an individual adopts the attitude toward inspiration that Moffatt did, it is not particularly surprising that he found the use of such arbitrary rewritings quite acceptable.

            While we are discussing Moffatt’s version, it would be appropriate to note that he provides a fine example of the difference between a one person effort and a group translation, between an avowedly “modern speech” version and one that intentionally sets out to provide a more strict rendering of the text.  As already noted, Moffatt produced a modern speech rendition of both Testaments.  Later he also served on the RSV translating committee.  And something happened during his work on that translation that is relevant in our current context (N. 7):

 

Dr. Luther A. Weigle, chairman of the reviewers, tells how a proposed rendering was turned down in committee one day.  The man who had proposed it turned to Moffatt and said:  “Do you know where I got that phrase which you just now rejected?”  “No,” said Moffatt.  “In Moffatt’s translation of the New Testament!” said the other.  “Well,” said Moffatt, “that phrase was right for my translation, but it will not do for this.”

 

[Page 139]

            In other words, a one-man or modern speech translation is free to take liberties that a group, “traditional” project can not.  And for that very reason the reader should be extra-cautious in the use of such narrow-based efforts.

           

Moffatt was British and he primarily had his fellow countrymen in mind when selecting the kind of modern English he chose.  In contrast, Edgar Goodspeed’s The New Testament—An American Translation (first published in 1923) attempted to carry out in “American English” what Moffatt had attempted in the British variant of the language.

We have already observed how he tampered with John 1:1 and then emended 1 Peter 3:19 without having an iota of manuscript evidence to support the alteration.  Some other failures of this version also deserve at least brief discussion.

There is the question of his insertion of one particular interpretation of the nature of tongue speaking into the Biblical text.  He presents it as mere “ecstatic speaking” (1 Corinthians 13:8).  He repeatedly interjects this interpretation:  “anyone who speaks ecstatically” (14:4); “the one who speaks ecstatically” (14:5); he refers to those who “pray ecstatically” (14:14).

Goodspeed’s New Testament contains of the most humorously absurd modern speech renderings ever made and thereby reveals how extremely misleading such translations can become unless carried out exceedingly carefully:

 

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a member of the court of Candace, queen of Ethiopia, her chief treasurer, who had come up to Jerusalem to worship, and was on his way home.  He was sitting in his car, reading the prophet Isaiah.  Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go and stand by that car (Acts 8:28-29).

  

            The natural reaction is to wonder what brand of car it was:  a Ford?  A Toyota?  A Honda?  The word “car” may contain the same idea as “chariot,” but it is utterly misleading to the unlearned reader.  And an object of potential ridicule from the well-versed.

           

            Although most treatments of Bible translations would classify the New English Bible (NEB) among the “mainstream” efforts, that would be because of the large number of scholars involved, the ecclesiastical backing provided it, and the wide usage in certain religious circles, primarily British.  In spite of these impressive “credentials,” the translation suffers from faults that would make more appropriate a discussion of it within the present context.  Locating it here also will exhibit how, though the faults of “modern speech” one person translations may be drastically reduced or even eliminated by being placed in the hands of a committee, it is never an absolute guarantee.

            The New English Bible suffers from three inadequacies that deserve special attention.

 

            1.  It freely utilizes conjectural rewording of the Biblical text.

            Can one do this if one believes--in any serious sense--in the Divine authorship of the Scriptures and His providential hand behind its preservation to our age?  Hence the willingness to take this approach to translation reveals the underlying theological convictions of the translating group.  (Or at least those they tacitly agreed to embrace for [Page 140]  the sake of their joint work even if certain members may have had significant reservations about the methodology.)

            Lewis comments (N. 8):

 

The NEB represents the freest handling of the text of the Old Testment of any major English version yet to appear.  The passages judged by the translators to need conjectural emendations are usually, but not always cited in the footnotes and are considerably more numerous that those in the RSV. . . .  A case of special interest is that of Psalms 40:7(8) where a phrase found in the Hebrew is relegated to the margin as an addition.  The phrase is quoted as Scripture in Hebrews 10:7.      

           

            Not only are there undocumented replacements for the attested Biblical reading (N. 9),

 

At numerous places (affecting 136 verses according to one count) the text of books, especially those of Job, Psalms, Isaiah, and Zechariah, have been rearranged by the transposing of phrases, verses, and series of verses to give what the translators judged to be a better sense than does the Masoretic text.

           

            At least footnotes are provided to call attention to the rearrangements and the traditional verse numbering is retained even though it results in the verses being placed out of their normal numerical order.

            The NEB freely utilizes proposed new meanings for various Hebrew words.  This was done on the basis of the study of how similar words were used in Semitic languages related to Hebrew.  However, the translation leaves the reader high and dry by not pointing out where the redefined words have been utilized.  This is true even in cases where the alteration is purely conjectural and far from well established. 

 

            2.  It is guilty of substituting commentary for translation.

            One instance that particularly stands out is found in Acts 20:7:  “On the Saturday night, in our assembly for the breaking of bread, Paul, who, was to leave the next day, addressed them. . . .”  It is assumed that in this context that “first day of the week” means Saturday night.  But that represents a commentator’s judgment, not translation.  It could just as easily refer to Sunday night.

            Furthermore, if Hebrew usage is under consideration—Luke being a Gentile makes one hesitate—then Saturday night would still be the “first day of the week,” our Sunday.  But we would count it as a different day of the week, Saturday, the Sabbath, the seventh day.  The reason is that we begin our “days” at different points on the clock—sunset versus midnight.  Hence for it to make sense to modern readers, and lest misidentification result, “first day of the week” would still be needed.

            Another disturbing commentarial interjection is repeatedly found in various passages discussing tongue speaking.  It is assumed that they weren’t real languages—one can’t help the suspicion that the consensus was that it couldn’t be by its very nature.  Be that correct or not, what can not be challenged is that we repeatedly read of such things as “ecstatic utterance” (1 Corinthians 12:10; 14:13) and of “tongues of ecstasy” (13:8).

[Page 141]                   This substitution of commentarial opinion for translation also affects the books of Acts.  There we read of “tongues of ecstasy” (Acts 19:6) and of “speaking in tongues of ecstasy” (Acts 10:46).  Yet, oddly, the same Greek word for tongues is used in Acts 2 and is there rendered without the interpretive adjustment.  Perhaps the translators desire for us to believe that Acts two represents a different phenomena from that described in the remainder of the book and in First Corinthians.  Or, perhaps, they recognized that their preferred option would be ludicrous since in Acts 2 it is clear that the listeners in Acts 2 understood the “tongues.”

            Whatever one believes the true nature of Biblical “tongues” to have been, the place to argue the point is in commentaries, doctrinal essays, and polemic literature rather than interjecting it into a Bible translation.

 

            3.  It engages in the multi-extremes of excess paraphrase, “literary-isms,” and colloquialism.  It strikes this observer that there is a strange tension between yielding to these seemingly inconsistent approaches, but that does not stop it from happening.

            Although most of the examples of paraphrase that Lewis cites (N. 10) involve only a word or two, cumulatively the number is quite impressive.  The “prize” is surely taken “in Job 9:34 (where) eight words in Hebrew become twenty in English” (N. 11).

            In the category of “literary-isms” belong such unexpected renderings as these:

 

·        “The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet and bedizened with gold and jewels and pearls” (Revelation 17:4).

·        “From Paul . . . to God’s people at Ephesus, believers incorporated in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:1).  (Why does my mind conjure up the image of a nameplate on whatever was their usual meeting place, boldly proclaiming, “Jesus, Inc.”?)

·        “Be rooted in him; be consolidated in the faith you were taught” (Colossians 2:7).

·        “They forbid marriage and inculcate abstinence from certain foods  (1 Timothy 4:3). 

·        “The Son who is the effulgence of God’s splendour” (Hebrews 1:3).

·        “What are they all but ministrant spirits” (Hebrews 1:14).  

 

            People may speak that way at Cambridge and Oxford, but methinks that even for native British speakers such terminology is a tad pretentious!

            Yet the NEB is also capable of stumbling into a surprising amount of excessive colloquialism.  For example:  “This touched them on the raw” (Acts 5:33).  “I sponged on no one” (2 Corinthians 11:9).

 

            The Revised English Bible is designed as the successor and replacement for the New English Bible.  As such, it is not overly surprising that it suffers from the same basic faults.

            For example, a major problem remains with commentary replacing translation.  The commentarial substitution of “first day of the week” with “Saturday night” remains firmly embedded in the text.  Similarly, the interpretation of speaking in tongues with [Page 142]  ecstatic” allusions is still common, though to a lesser degree.  “Tongues of ecstasy” remains the reading in 1 Corinthians 13:8, Acts 10:46, and Acts 19:6.  However, the “ecstatic” has been removed in 1 Corinthians 12:10 and 14:13.

            The translator’s introduction to the Old Testament concedes that it continues to engage in expansion and contraction of the text:

 

Where no exact equivalent exists for the original Hebrew, a somewhat expanded translation has been provided; on the other hand some abbreviation has been made when the Hebrew text seemed unduly repetitive by the normal standards of writing in English (p. xvii).  

 

            A definite improvement is its trend away from the “literary-isms” that so easily made the NEB sound odd to the American reader.  NEB’s “bedizened” is changed to the less literary “decked out” in Revelation 17:4.  “Inculcate abstinence from certain foods” is rendered the more easily understood, “insist on abstinence from foods” (1 Timothy 4:3).  “Effulgence of God’s splendor” becomes “the radiance of God’s very being” (Hebrews 1:3).  “Ministrant spirits” becomes “ministering spirits” (1 Timothy 1:14).  “Be consolidated in the faith” is changed to “grow strong in the faith.”

            Perhaps because it is intended to walk in the modern speech tradition, colloquialism were less subject to removal.  “This touched them on the raw” remains in Acts 5:33.  Reference to a “flying visit” is found in the REB at 1 Corinthians 16:7 but will the expression be meaningful thirty years from now?  Some colloquialisms have been eliminated.  For example, “I sponged on no one” is altered to “never to be a burden to you” (2 Corinthians 11:9).

            Just as the New English Bible found difficulty in creating any major, lasting influence on the American side of the Atlantic, it seems unlikely that the Revised English Bible will be any more successful.

 

 

 

 

 

  1.  “Simplified” and “Expanded” Bibles

 

           

            These represent two very different methods of making the text more understandable to the reader who has a minimal background in Biblical study due to young age, English being the secondary language, or other factors.

            “Simplified” Bibles consciously set out to make the text far easier to understand than the Bible writers themselves made it.  Although such efforts are often marketed as “Children’s Bibles” or “Teenage Bibles,” this was a new merchandising wrinkle as of about the 1980s.  Originally such efforts were sold without any “age twist,” for the benefit of anyone and everyone who was having trouble understanding the Bible text.  This, in real world terms, usually meant anyone having difficulty with the King James Version.  Perhaps, at least in part, it has been the success of up-to-date translations that caused these efforts to become “age-targeted.”

 

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Simplified Translations

 

            Three major tools are utilized to produce these two types of Bible translations.

            1.  The breaking down of the long-drawn out sentences of the KJV into more “digestible” (i.e., smaller) segments.  Since virtually all modern translations take at least some steps toward sentence length reduction, the use of this particular tool is no longer as distinctive as it once was.  However the inherent goals involved predispose the versions toward a minimal sentence length rather than anything longer.

            2.  The replacement of Bible terms such as “sanctified” with simpler words.  This creates two potential dangers:  first off, are the substitutions reasonably accurate ones and, second of all (and closely related), do they alter or obliterate overtones and implications—the “theological heavy freight”—carried by the original terms?  These translations have been criticized on both scores.

            While preparing this analysis for internet publication, I stumbled across a Wikipedia article that provided this extremely illustrative example of what can happen to a text to make it fit into this style and it is relevant to both the points we have made so far.  In the King James Version 1 Timothy 3:16 we read, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”

            In Today’s International Reader’s Version—an offshoot of the New International Version—we find this simplification of the text, “There is no doubt that godliness is a great mystery.  Jesus appeared in a body.  The Holy Spirit proved that he was the Son of God.  He was seen by angels.  He was preached among the nations.  People in the world believed in him.  He was taken up to heaven in glory.” 

Doubtless well intended, but to this analyst at least, it sounds like someone has given the verse a tranquilizer to make it drag out endlessly what it has to say.  Furthermore, do the word changes do more to make the original more understandable or more to obscure its truth? 

            3.  A dramatic limitation of the number of words being used.  Yet this inevitably creates major difficulty in concisely translating the text while simultaneously rendering fairly and justly the original intent.  The very methodology becomes a stumblingblock to accuracy.

           

Dennett is specifically discussing C. Kingsley Williams’ The New Testament in Plain English (first published in 1952), but the principle can be applied to other “simplified” translations as well:  “As the vocabulary of the Greek New Testament runs to approximately 5,000 words, a version which uses less than half that number in English cannot have the fine precision of one using a normal vocabulary, though much can be done by substituting phrases for single Bible words” (N. 12).  (Williams’ Plain English uses a vocabulary of about 2,200 words.)

            The in-built problems of any word-restricted approach argues emphatically against their use, at least as one’s primary text.  Even as “children’s Bibles,” they only postpone the reality that the user at some point must finally face coming to terms with [Page 144]  distinctive Bible language such as “holiness,” “sanctification,” and “predestined.”  Avoiding the terminology at age 6 makes full sense; but at 12 or 15?

            As to Williams’ Plain English version in particular, Dennett (N. 13) points to several inadequate readings that deserve at least brief attention.  “My name is Troops” (Mark 5:9) isn’t an improvement on “Legion” as the possessed man’s self-description.  “Legion” carries the idea of a truly large number (think 5,000 , plus or minus); “Troops” is far more ambiguous as to size.

             A synagogue is, admittedly, a “Meeting House” (Mark 4:23), but that latter term conjures up more of an image of a rural evangelical or fundamentalist meeting place.  Furthermore the term hints nothing at all of its distinctive Jewish nature.  “Synagogue” does.

            Doubtless the Holy Spirit is, and should be counted as, a “Friend” (John 14:25), but equally certain is the fact that it’s not the point being made in the passage.

            The serpent lifted up in the wilderness (John 3:14) becomes “the snake in the wilds.”  The language suggests a snake running loose.  Hardly--it was made out of bronze and was mounted on a pole (Numbers 21:8-9).  “Wilds” probably intends to imply the wilderness where it occurred, but the language more naturally suggests what we just mentioned.

            Instead of the demons believing and trembling (James 2:19), “their hair stands on end.”  Doesn’t that language more naturally suggests being terrified into physical paralysis and not moving at all instead of being terrified into “shaking in their boots”—a colloquialism that would at least more appropriately reflect the image being presented?     

 

            The Bible in Basic English was first printed in 1941 by Cambridge University Press and has been issued multiple times since.  It works from an extremely limited vocabulary of 850 words labeled as “Basic English” (hence the translation name).  Because this was too drastic a limitation even by their standards, some 150 additional words are added.  Even with this addition, the volume still works with a vocabulary of less than half of Williams.

            In its defense, it should be noted that this translation was intended for those to whom English is a second language, rather than for those proficient in it.  Much the same result, of course, should be obtainable by a dual language version providing one column or page in the native language as well as one in English.

            Reviewers of the BBB stress how the extremely limited use of verbs leads to a “stilted” feeling in many of its renderings.  Dennett (N. 14) cites several specific examples.  For example, “Falling down on their feet, they gave him worship” (Matthew 2:11).  “One who had hate for him” is the reading in Matthew 13:25.  Then there is the admonition not to “put your jewels before pigs, for fear that they will be crushed underfoot by the pigs whose attack will then be made against you.”

 

            Although one will come across these and other “simplified” Bibles easily enough at large libraries or yard sales, one particular translation is so widespread that it is inescapable:  Today’s English Version, also known as The Good News Bible.  Prepared on behalf of the American Bible Society, it is targeted at those with only an elementary school reading level and vocabulary. 

[Page 145]                   The revised Second Edition came out in 1992 and emphasized the inclusion of “gender inclusive” language, a step that easily clashes with the goal of truly accurate translation but which is far easier to understand in paraphrases since they are already freely taking liberties—either good or bad—with what is actually said.  Our comments here are in regard to the first edition.  For the “gender inclusive” controversy, see our prolonged remarks on the New Revised Standard Version.     

            Officially the defenders of the TEV prefer to speak of the effort as a case of “dynamic equivalence” translation.  Less friendly individuals prefer the language of a paraphrase.  I classified it in the original version of this book as a simplified Bible and will leave it there for the reason that paraphrase always involves simplification if not outright substitution of Bible language and because “dynamic equivalence,” at its edges, easily flows into textual simplification as well.

            Lewis (N. 15) notes that the TEV/GNB uses paraphrase less than Phillips but more than the RSV and NIV.  He adds this important caution:  “Since its aim is not primarily for advanced study by the serious student of the Bible, the GNB regularly needs checking with more technical translations in the light of the original texts” (N. 16).

            In early printings, Romans 1:17 asserted that “it is through faith alone, from beginning to end.”  The fourth edition dropped the “alone” in this verse, but retained it in the translation of Romans 3:28.  In both cases distinctive Protestant dogma has been inserted into the text rather than leaving preachers to attempt to deduce it from the Biblically asserted importance of faith.

            One of the most glaring errors of the TEV/GNB is its free use of the word “Christian” where it does not occur in the original.  In contrast to the three places it is found in the Greek text (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16), the TEV/GNB adds it to Acts 16:1; Romans 12:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:6; and Hebrews 6:10.  Contrary to the Greek usage of the word, it is utilized as a textually unsupported adjective in a number of other cases:  1 Corinthians 7:12-16; 1 Corinthians 9:5; Galatians 6:6; Ephesians 6:1; Hebrews 3:1; Hebrews 6:1; Hebrews 13:1

            Like the New English Bible, it substitutes interpretation for translation by rendering first day of the week as “Saturday evening” in Acts 20:7.  (It does give “Sunday” as a marginal alternate reading, however.)  Instead of “redemption” the TEV/GNB prefers “set free” (in such places as Romans 3:24 and Ephesians 1:7).

            Lewis (N. 17) lists a number of colloquialisms.  “Let’s get out of here” (Exodus 14:25) sounds like nervous teenagers.  Arrogant teenagers is the tone of, “Where is your big talk now” (Judges 9:38) and “He got so sick and tired” (Judges 16:16).  Then there is, “You small aleck, you” (1 Samuel 17:28) and “That was an awful thing to do” (Jonah 1:10).
         The 2nd Edition retains these various objectionable readings.  It may make “good reading” or simply useful “parallel / secondary reading,” but to regard it as an authoritative text standing alone would seem an extremely unwise action.

            `

Expanded Translations

            `

            The Amplified Bible is a prime example of this approach.  It attempts to draw out a fuller and more complete meaning of the text through the use of dashes, parentheses, and such like.  It also attempts to stress the alleged theological implications by the use of [Page 146]  square brackets.  This last type of interpolation is inherently commentary flying under a different label.  In some cases the commentary is unquestionably valid; but in other cases, it presents as if fact what can be found—if at all—only by exegesis.

            Mark 1:4 has been cited by skeptics as an example of the problems inherent in translations utilizing this approach:   

 

John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness (desert), preaching a baptism [obligating] repentance—[that is] a change of one’s mind for the better and heartily to amend one’s way with abhorrence of his past sins—in order to obtain forgiveness of and release from sins. 

 

            That provides a pretty good explanation of  what repentance is, but if one’s Biblical knowledge is still limited so one isn’t certain of it, wouldn’t a more appropriate place to look be a Bible dictionary.  A number of fine ones are available but the most obvious would be Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, which is now available even with Strong’s Concordance numbers attached.  Such sources are so easy to obtain that there is no need to act as if the definition need to be inserted into the text itself.

            This example also illustrates how one’s theology can bend the text by the means of interpretive interpolations:  we read of “baptism [obligating] repentance.”  As seen in other translations, it is a baptism of repentance:  Rather than being a baptism that reflects (at least the initiation of) one‘s repentance, this reading reverses the order:  it places baptism before the repentance. 

Someone defending infant baptism would find the AB useful on this point since in that denominational practice baptism comes years before the repentance.  Whatever the actual motive (probably just the sincere desire to be helpful), “the theological reflection” of the translation has clearly, though unintentionally, obscured what the verse teaches.  

           

            Kenneth Wuest is well known for his many books of New Testament “word studies”—ultimately combined together in three large volumes.  He also produced The New Testament—An Expanded Translation (originally published in sections; complete edition first appearing in 1961.)  He embraces the same concept of “expanding” the text as does the Amplified Bible—but leaves out all the markings indicating where the interjections have been made.  Hence if one is desirous of this approach to translation, the Amplified in clearly the translation of choice since it allows the reader to see where the interpretations and expansions are inserted.

            The positive side of Wuest’s effort lies in his attempt at precise and complete accuracy in regard to certain fine points overlooked by most translations.  F. F. Bruce (N. 18) notes that Wuest “does for all the parts of speech what Charles B. Williams does for the verb. . . .”  Even though complimenting the translation in this manner, Bruce makes clear that the “expansion” element can override the commitment to “exactness” (N. 19):

 

Sometimes, indeed, one may wonder whether some of the shades of meaning have not to be read into the Greek in order to be read out of it, as when the injunction which the A.V. renders “Husbands, love your wives” (Ephesians 5:25) appears in Wuest’s version as:  “The husbands, be loving your wives with a love self-sacrificial in its nature.

 

[Page 147]

            This example also provides a useful example of the danger always facing translations attempting to be extra-precise:  the tendency to produce what Dennett labels “a stiff and unnatural style of English.  Such a style would never be tolerated in good secular translations, the more because it is intermingled with periodic flights into near-slang” (N. 20).

 

 

 

 

 

  1.  Abridged Bibles

 

           

            The Cambridge Shorter Bible was published, appropriately enough, by Cambridge University in 1928.  Three compilers went through both Testaments (and Apocrypha), leaving out some entire books and editing down others.  In some cases the pruning is modest; in other cases it is ruthless:  Leviticus, for example, takes up only four printed pages by the time they are through.  Perhaps I am being unduly harsh here, but in a case this extreme, it is hard not to wonder whether the applicable term is “editing” or “censorship.”

            The Twelve Minor Prophets become—in effect—the Eight Minor Prophets since the other four have been purged from existence.  First and Second Chronicles don’t exist.  First Timothy, Titus, and Second and Third John are similarly consigned to the trashpile of history.

            Chapter and verse references are conspicuously absent, making it that much more difficult to determine exactly what specific verses and chapters have been deleted.

            The text followed is a mixture of the King James Version and English Revised Version.  Rather than substituting entire hunks of the ERV, the replacement normally takes the form of a sentence, a few words, or even a single word.  Regardless of where these substitutions are made, they are not marked for the benefit of the reader.  Again unmarked, a few that reject both the ERV and KJV are scattered throughout.  These are “chiefly for the sake of lucidity,” the preface asserts.

            Does not the treatment of the Biblical text in such a drastic manner, of necessity, infer a theological evaluation of scripture that puts it on the same uninspired level as any other work that is submitted to editorial caprice?  Would—could—anyone holding to the Bible as God’s permanently authoritative revelation to the human species treat the text in this manner?

 

            The Dartmouth Bible is an abridgment of the King James.  It is not a new translation although once or twice I have seen it cited as such in comparisons of various renderings of a specific verse.  It is a quarter century closer to us in time (having been [Page 148]  first published in 1950) and reflects the judgement of American as opposed to the British scholars who worked on the Cambridge Shorter Bible.

            In addition to editing out half of the sacred text, it combines Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John into one consecutive account of Christ’s life.  Leviticus is reduced to twelve pages, only about half of which is actual text citation (the remainder being notes and commentary), First and Second Chronicles are summarized in a mere four pages (still “generous” treatment when compared to the Cambridge Shorter Bible).  Twelve Minor Prophets are still permitted to stay in existence in this abridgement.

            Extremely revealing (in an uncomplimentary sense) is the dust jacket “blurb” proclaiming the purpose of the work.  Pasted inside the cover of the copy I utilized in my research, it notes that the Dartmouth “reduces by half the entire King James Version.”  (Ironically, it still weighs in at over twelve hundred pages.)  The publisher’s blurb asserts:  “Its introductions, prefaces, and hundreds of explanatory notes provide an abundance of impartial information on the whole Bible and all its parts.”  The cynic can say, unfortunately with considerable justice, that they seemed to have room for everything—except the actual text of the scriptures.

            They are certainly to be commended, however, for informing the reader as to what chapters and verses are being cited, allowing the reader--unlike with the Cambridge Shorter Bible--to be quickly aware of what has been left out and to know where to go to find the remainder of the text if one wishes to do so.

 

            The Reader’s Digest Bible claims to be a condensation rather than an abridgement but, in either case, parts of the text are left out and what remains is a shorter version of what one began with.  Perhaps calling it an abridgement utilizing the tool of condensation would do it the most justice.  The publisher’s jacket blurb, however, insists that this is not the case:

 

Many people use the term condensation and abridgment as if they had the same meaning.  They do not.  Abridgment means reduction of length by elimination of entire sections of text and, in the case of the Bible, often of whole books as well.  Condensation achieves reduction principally through line-by-line diminution, as well as through deletion of selected blocks of text.  There are many abridgments of the Bible.  But the Reader’s Digest is unique in that it is the only true condensation of the Bible.               

 

            Although it contains “all” 66 books of the Bible, the “all” only really means that at least some fragment has been included.  They don’t go so far as to totally exclude any Bible book; perhaps that would be too crude for their targeted audience?  But when you reduce the text length by half, there is simply no human way that much can be left of some books.  Is a fragment all that much better than total omission except, perhaps, as a merchandising tool?

            Note how they slide in that (grudging?) admission that “selected blocks of text” have been removed—the very technique of abridgements, when they fervently deny having done!  Indeed, without at least the significant use of such, would even condensation have permitted them to reduce the length so much?
            Finally, there is no practical way to compare the Reader’s Digest Bible with [Page 149]  complete Bibles since chapter and verse notations are totally eliminated.  For a base text they shortened the Revised Standard Version.

 

 

 

Notes

 

 

N. 1     --         Herbert Dennett.  Graphic Guide to Modern Versions of the New Testament:  How to Understand and Use Them.  London:  Samuel Bagster & Sons, Ltd., 1965.

 

N. 2     --         Ibid., pages 43-44.

 

N. 3     --         F. F. Bruce, The English Bible, page 153.

 

N. 4     --         Dennett, Ibid., page 49.

 

N. 5     --         Ibid., page 49.

 

N. 6     --         F. F. Bruce, Ibid., pages 156-157.

 

N. 7     --         Ibid., pages 171-172.

 

N. 8     --         Jack Lewis, The English Bible, page 134.

 

N. 9     --         Ibid., pages 134-135.

 

N. 10   --         Ibid., pages 134-135.

 

N. 11   --         Ibid., page 153.

 

N. 12   --         Dennett, Ibid., page 69.

 

N. 13   --         Ibid., pages 69-70.

 

N. 14   --         Ibid., pages 71-72.

 

N. 15   --         Lewis, Ibid., page 263.

 

N. 16   --         Ibid., page 263.

 

N. 17   --         Ibid., page 278.

 

N. 18   --         Bruce, Ibid., pages 181-182.

 

[Page 150]      N. 19    --         Ibid., pages 182-183.

 

N. 20   --         Dennett, Ibid., pages 103-104.