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

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2013

 

 

 

 

[Page 151]

 

 

 

Chapter 11:

Paraphrases

 

 

           

 

 

 

  1.  Defending Paraphrases As Inevitable

and Desirable

 

 

           

            A paraphrased Bible puts in the writer’s own words what he believes the Biblical writers meant, intended, and implied.  When in a particularly cynical mood, I’m inclined to define a paraphrase as, “What the apostle Paul would have said if he had been smart enough to think of it himself!”  Alternatively, “What the apostle Paul would have said if he had been as perceptive as the paraphraser.”  That, of course, is an exaggeration—but when faced by certain paraphrases that push the concept to its outer limits, it has far too high an element of validity.

            Any translation will resort to some paraphrase or, its “kissing cousin,” conceptual / dynamic equivalency.  For example, sometimes the reading of the original language will be unclear as to its intent.  Even more pressing are those cases where scholars face those Hebrew words whose meaning still remains obscure or whose use in the present context is clearly different from normal usage.  In such cases, translators have three options:

 

1.      Giving what they believe to be a literal rendering even though it doesn’t make much sense in this particular context.

2.      Introduce a new meaning based upon the usage of equivalent (or near such) in other Semitic languages.  (Not always possible and even where possible the probability of having done so accurately varies immensely from case to case.)

3.      Resort to a paraphrase of the thought or an English idiom whose point appears identical.   

 

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Even when the meaning is well established, a literal rendering could be inappropriate or unadvisable—or even incomprehensible.  The KJV New Testament regularly uses the expressions “bowels.”  Once (of Judas’ rotting body falling apart, Acts 1:18) it is used in the strict and proper meaning of the Greek word being translated.  As Vine’s Expository Dictionary notes, it is found “always in the plural, (and) properly denotes the physical organs of the intestines. . . .”  But all other New Testament usages require the substitution of words like “affections” (2 Corinthians 6:12) and “compassion” (Colossians 3:12) if we are to communicate in a meaningful way to the modern reader.

Even words that are normally and usually utilized in one way, may sometimes be used with an unexpected (though logical) slant.  Baptizo properly means to immerse, bury, submerge.  But wouldn’t the reader be totally confused if the ceremonial washing of hands by rigid Pharisees was rendered “immersion” (Luke 11:37-38)?  Also a related word (baptismos) is used of the ritual “washing” of household utensils (Mark 7:4).  Would a more literal “immersion” encourage understanding or confusion?  In both cases, the hands and utensils are completely covered by water—“immersed, buried, submerged”—and that explains the usage, one that literally translated doesn’t work so well in English.   

            Between “paraphrase” and “conceptual equivalency” there is sometimes such a fine line that they will be lumped together as variant descriptions of the same approach.  However, if a rendering truly represents the “conceptual equivalent” then there has been no interjection of the translator’s own theology.  In contrast, paraphrase (as commonly practiced) all too often feels free to cross that line and blend scripture and commentary into one seamless whole in its effort to assure that we “properly understand” the intent and not just the words of the passage.

            In those major translations where accuracy and faithfulness to the original are the major goals, writers may speak of the presence of “paraphrase,” but they mean the term in the sense of “non-literal rendering” rather than in the sense of biased and prejudicial slanting.  The interjection of the translators’ theology has been carefully kept in check.  Hence it is “paraphrase” in a truly neutral sense—a sense close to that of “conceptual equivalency.

            It is in this sense that “paraphrase” can be found in even the most consciously conservative Bible versions.  There is no better place to begin our study of the phenomena than with the partial list that Jack Lewis draws from the King James Version (N. 1):

 

In some cases the KJV does paraphrase, as all other translations do.  An example of paraphrase can be seen where David’s sons are said to be “rulers” (2 Samuel 8:18), though the term kohen is otherwise rendered “priest” as is recognized in the ASV margin to this verse.

Other cases of paraphrase include “God save the King” (1 Samuel 10:24; 2 Samuel 16:16; 1 Kings 1:25; 2 Kings 11:12), a phrase very natural to the British; however, the text says, “Let the King live” (cf.; 1 Kings 1:31).

[Page 153]                   The phrase “God forbid” (1 Samuel 14:45 etc.) and “would God” (Numbers 11:29) add the word “God” to the text.  “Give up the ghost” (Genesis 25:8; Jeremiah 15:9; etc.) paraphrases a verb which simply means “to expire.”

“Tithes after three years” (Amos 4:4) paraphrases a text that has “three days.”  “Every cow at that which is before her” (Amos 4:3) paraphrases an obscure sentence, but in doing so fails to give a clear meaning. 

In Psalm 8:5 elohim is paraphrased “angels” in the interest of monotheism, but in Psalm 138(137):1 elohim is correctly rendered “gods.”

“They covenanted with him (Judas) for thirty pieces of silver” (Matthew 26:15) would more literally be “they paid him.” 

They “cast the same in his teeth” (Matthew 27:44) is a paraphrase meaning “reviled him.” 

The phrase “exceeding fair” (Acts 7:20) in 16:11 carried a literal marginal reading “fair to God.”  

 

            In the late 1980s a few came to the conclusion that the New American Standard Bible—heretofore praised as a bedrock of “literal” translation—should be dismissed as a paraphrase, though an exceedingly accurate one.  The claim did not gain wide following.

            However there is a difference between avoiding this extreme a re-evaluation and denying that there is any paraphrase or conceptual equivalency in the NASB.  Lewis provides a short list of some passages he would place in this category (N. 2):

 

The NASB is relatively—though not entirely—free from paraphrasing tendencies.  “And by the seventh day God completed His work” (Genesis 2:2) is paraphrased to avoid the idea of action on the seventh day.  “Seared . . . as with a branding iron” (1 Timothy 4:2) enlarges the text without use of italics.  “Poured out as a drink offering” (2 Timothy 4:6) supplies the paraphasis “as a drink offering.”  “Keep house” (1 Timothy 5:14) would be more literal as “manage their households.”  

           

            As noted in the previous chapter, we are dealing with paraphrase within the context of a straightforward translation of what was actually being said.  In contrast, what we refer to as a “paraphrased Bible” refers to volumes where the element of paraphrase is consciously dominant.  It is the author’s intent to recast the text into the image of what he believes to have been the original intent by freely adding and substituting wording that brings out the alleged underlying meaning.  Of course, if he has misunderstood the underlying purpose, the paraphrase quickly distorts the real meaning of the passage.

            Defenders of paraphrases as if they were real translations sometimes attempt to eliminate the difference between “translation” and “paraphrase.”  They become alternative names for the same result.  A good example of this approach is found in a review of the Living Bible by Dr. Marv Mayers of Wheaton College (N. 3).

            Dr. Mayers attacks the KJV on the grounds that (from moderate to extreme degrees) it is unusable by most contemporary readers.  Its seventeenth century English now has to be “translated” into “real,” i.e., contemporary prose.  All that has much truth to it. 

 

[Page 154]

Aside:  It should be remembered, though, that a surprising number still find the KJV quite congenial.  Perhaps, in part, it has become like the Latin Mass; once it was removed many Catholics felt cut off from their spiritual heritage even though the words—in translation—were the same.  Are there, perhaps, many who feel spiritually adrift without the “standard” of the KJV to hold on to as the test of orthodoxy?

 

            To whatever degree a person may feel the KJV inadequate for twenty-first century usage, a variety of reliable alternatives are readily available.  A mere paraphrase is certainly not required to accomplish that goal.

            Dr. Mayers goes so far as to claim for the Living Bible a status that its own publishers did not assert at its issuance, that it is an actual translation:  “Though Tyndale House terms their latest version of the Bible a ‘paraphrase,’ it is in reality a vulgate translation in the specific dialect of a language or subculture.”  That doesn’t mean we are wrong in preferring something else:  “It simply says every subculture needs its own translation.”

            I must confess to a great deal of perplexity at what constitutes this alleged “subculture.”  What kind of group is this that can only be profited by a paraphrased rewriting of the Scriptures rather than by the Scriptures themselves?  Isn’t this a kind of Protestantized version of the old “Roman” assertion that “the people can’t understand the Bible without the guidance of the church” (but substituting “paraphrase” for church)?

            It strikes me as either an insult to the readers’ intelligence, an insult to the capacity of the renderer to provide a reliable translation (in distinction from a paraphrase, where he can provide a reliable text!), or an insult to the inspiration of the Bible writers who wrote so woefully inadequately that their message simply can’t be communicated without being abandoned and thoroughly rewritten by those without any of the supernatural guidance that the original writers enjoyed.     

            If “every subculture needs its own translation,” who are we to rebuke the New World translation’s “creativity”?  Isn’t it a mere “translation for a specific subculture” (the Jehovah Witnesses), whose message can’t be adequately communicated through any other version?

            Mayers places heavy stress on the need for “impact translation.”  In other words, the English needs to make the same impact on us as it did on the original readers.  Fine.  But when one feels free to rewrite the text to do so and more-or-less “literalism” is freely abandoned for our reconstruction of the intent of the text, aren’t we in extreme danger of receiving “the impact” of the paraphraser’s theology rather than that of the actual Bible writer?

            As an auxiliary aid to study, such volumes can certainly serve a useful function.  But when they are exalted to the status of an authoritative translation, their limitations are being unwisely ignored.  Nor is Mayers the only person to exalt paraphrases above their true value.  So popular is the Living Bible that even a concordance is available.  Doesn’t that imply an authoritativeness for the compiler’s opinion that should be granted only to efforts that attempt to translate into meaningful English what is really being said?

 

 

 

[Page 155]

 

  1.  Survey of the Paraphrase Tradition

 

           

            Paraphrases are nothing new.  Erasmus’ Annotations in the Reformation era were paraphrases of various Biblical books.  He once remarked that the “annotations” required only modest effort and won him widespread praise and acclaim.  In contrast, his efforts to establish a reliable and accurate Greek text for the New Testament earned him little remuneration beyond bitter denunciation.  Ironically, often from the same people who approved his paraphrases!

            Although English speaking writers have normally stressed translation rather than paraphrase, paraphrases have been undertaken in the past, though not coming into widespread popularity till after the middle of the twentieth century.  An earlier example came from George Barker Stevens (1854-1906), who was a teacher of New Testament and systematic theology at Yale Divinity School as the twentieth century dawned.  He produced ten volumes devoted to theology and exegesis during a fifteen year period.  In 1898 he published The Epistles of Paul in Modern English:  A Paraphrase.  It has been sufficiently well esteemed to have been reprinted as recently as 1980 (N. 4), before our recent reprint-on-demand technology became available. 

            In Stevens’ mind a translation, by its very nature, must be very “literal.”  There are liberties that it simply can not rightfully take but which would be extremely useful to the reader in his effort to understand the original intent of the Bible writers (“Preface,” page vi):

 

It has seemed to me that a paraphrase, or thought-translation, which purposely disregards the form, and expresses in idiomatic English the substance of the apostle’s thought, would greatly aid the understanding of our popular versions by presenting the meaning in a fresh setting, by disentangling, in some instances, the idea from its figurative form, by expressing the implied thought of many passages, and by concentrating attention upon the main drift of the argument.  It is believed that such a version will be adopted for use in schools in which Bible study is a part of the curriculum, and, especially, for use in Sunday School classes which have occasion to study this portion of the New Testament.   

 

            Although initially defending his paraphrase as an aid to serious Bible study, note that he swiftly changes horses and recommends it as a replacement for real translations in such situations as Sunday School classes.  In light of this over hundred year old analysis, perhaps it shouldn’t come as so much a surprise that the Living Bible became commonly used as the definitive text rather than parallel reading.

            Readers of my generation are likely to be acquainted with at least two modern paraphrases, the Living Bible and that of Phillips.  We will also mention a less-well-known efforts—that of F. F. Bruce—because of the rightful prominence of its author.

            As the dominant paraphrase from the 1970s to the new century, can there be any doubt that the title belongs to the Living Bible?  Originally published in segments, each containing several books of the Bible, all the individual efforts were ultimately united [Page 156]  together in a single volume.  Although already enjoying considerable sales, its public endorsement and circulation by Billy Graham pushed it into the realm of mass popularity.  In the late Eighties when the Christian Broadcasting Network of Pat Robertson was selecting a version of the Bible to “push,” they selected the Living Bible and released it under the title The Book.

            The Living Bible was candid enough (in at least in some editions) to tell us on its very cover what it was:  a paraphrase.  Therefore any individual who used it as if it were a translation—citing it as determinative in deciding religious questions, as authoritative in deciding religious controversies--was using it in a manner contradictory to the paraphrase nature of the book itself.

      

Aside:  Ninety Greek and Hebrew scholars worked on its revision / replacement, which appeared in 1996 under the different title of New Living Translation.  Is the insertion of “Translation” in the title a conscious effort to distance itself from its roots in an open paraphrase or an effort to “upgrade” its own paraphrase to something far more serious?  Those suspicious of the latter will point to heavy reliance on the preceding work; those defending it are likely to note that when the Second Edition appeared, significant tampering down of this element had been made--though not enough to satisfy opponents.  Our remarks solely concern the paraphrase that inspired it. 

 

            The prominent religious conservative scholar F. F. Bruce brought out his own paraphrase of part of the New Testament: The Letters of Paul:  An Expanded Paraphrase (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965).  Bruce included what all paraphrases could benefit by, but seldom contain:  along with his paraphrase he also printed a real translation, in this case the English Revised Version.  This way the reader can quickly compare translation and paraphrase to determine the accuracy of the paraphrase.

            Finally, there was J. B. Phillips’ The New Testament in Modern English.  Issued in individual collections of several New Testament books, the smaller volumes were brought together and revised into one volume in 1961.  Phillips undertook this project because, as an active British minister, he discovered that his audience simply did not understand what the Scriptures meant when they were read from the King James Version.

            To list Phillips as a paraphrase rather than as a modern speech effort may seem odd to some.  There is divided sentiment upon the subject among scholars, with a pronounced inclination toward the judgment we have just expressed, however.

            The writer on English Bible translations in Zondervan’s Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible makes this categorization:  “This is a paraphrase rather than a translation.  Many have found it very acceptable, and beyond question it represents the New Testament in a form that the modern reader can grasp easily” (N. 5).

            C. S. Lewis praised Phillips’ work quite highly, so it is of more than passing interest to note how he described the rendering of the Colossian letter when he first saw it:  “Thank you a hundred times.  I thought I knew Colossians pretty well but your paraphrase makes it far more significant; it was like seeing a familiar picture after it has been cleaned . . .” (N. 6).

[Page 157]                   F. F. Bruce refers to this divided opinion:  “Some would call Dr. Phillip’s work a paraphrase rather than a translation.”  He doesn’t commit himself one way or another:  “Such terms call for definition, and it is not too easy to determine where translation ends and paraphrase begins . . .” (N. 7).    

            I take that to mean that Phillips is so closely straddling the borderline between the two approaches that it is impossible to be certain which label most rightly applies.  And if it’s that “close a call,” it seems quite justified to discuss it under our current heading.

            Herbert Dennett’s study of Bible translations comes to essentially the same mixed conclusion as Bruce, in the process providing further evidence for considering it among twentieth century paraphrases (N. 8):

 

`           The remarkable success of this one-man version of the New Testament is largely due to the fact that the translator deliberately uses vivid and idiomatic language familiar to the common people.  So this is a highly colloquial version, in places even bordering on the slang.  It uses paraphrase freely to bring out the point of many a passage.

 

           

 

 

 

 

 

  1.  Faults and Virtues of

J. B. Phillips’

The New Testament in Modern English

 

           

            Since we have just been discussing the classification of Phillips’ version of the New Testament, it would be appropriate to begin with his effort in evaluating the lapses that so easily occur in contemporary paraphrases.

            Something of the frame of mind behind his work can be deduced from the individual predecessor volumes that appeared before the publication of the complete New Testament.  Phillips played extremely fast and loose with the text in a way that would normally horrify religious conservatives.  On the matter of unjustified omissions, Herbert Dennett writes (N. 9):

 

There are certain omissions in the original editions of Phillip’s version which those familiar with the older translation will note at once.  Major ones are the genealogies in Mathew 1 and Luke 3.  A minor one is the phrase “lifting up holy hands” in 1 Timothy 2:8.  The danger of this policy is that readers coming fresh to the Scriptures will be unaware of the existence of such passages at all.  The genealogies, however, now appear in the one-volume edition of the New Testament.

 

[Page 158]

            In these predecessor efforts, Phillips went to the other extreme as well:  he freely added lengthy text to the sermons in the book of Acts.  These additions were borrowed from other parts of the New Testament.  This policy of arbitrary additions to the text was reversed, however, in the subsequent one volume edition of the entire New Testament.

            Question:  Is a man who feels it is proper to so (casually?) tamper with the sacred text likely to produce a truly reliable paraphrase?  Will he feel deserved guilt in “modifying” the text so it does full justice to his own theology—and therefore be less likely to do so?  The fact that the worst cases were corrected when the independent entries were brought together in one volume argues for at least a partial “enlightenment” of Phillips as to his duties as a responsible paraphraser.

            There are other on-going problems as well.  One scholar points out that Phillips’ efforts to be contemporary result in word substitutions that don’t do justice to the Biblical originals.  He suggests two in particular:  “It manifests a tendency to broaden specific scriptural concepts to more general ones which are not always Biblical—e.g., the use of ‘agreement’ instead of ‘covenant,’ ‘acquitted’ instead of ‘justified’ ” (N. 10).

           

Colloquialisms and Slang

 

            The presence of such expressions “updates” the “feel” of a translation—but only until the expressions become outdated.  In other words they easily impose a “shelf life” on works that might otherwise have a much longer usage.  But he who lives by the sword of contemporary speech also dies by it.

            Luke 14:10:  “Come on, my dear fellow, we have a much better seat than this for you.”  Living Bible:  “Friend, we have a better place than this for you!”  Versus the more literalistic NASB:  “Friend, move up higher.”

            Acts 19:15:  “Who on earth are you?” asks the Phillips.  In contrast the Living Bible and NASB concur in, “Who are you?”

            Matthew 27:40:  Hi, you who pull down the temple.”  It sounds like some little child greeting his or her playmate.  “Hi” indeed!

            Romans 6:2:  What a ghastly thought!”  Versus the Living Bible’s “Of course not!” and the NASB’s literalistic, “May it never be!”

            Romans 16:9:  Stachys my beloved” in the NASB becomes “dear old Stachys” in Phillips and “beloved Stachys” in the Living Bible.

            1 Peter 5:3:  “You should aim not at being ‘little tin gods’ but as examples of Christian living” has Phillips.  The Living Bible speaks of “Don’t be tyrants, but lead them by your good example.”  The NASB reads:  “Nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.”

 

            Finally, let us examine three specific renderings in more detail.   

 

 

1.  Ephesians 5:22

 

[Page 159]

            In the NASB this reads:  “Wives, be subject to your own husbands as to the Lord.”  In Phillips this is transformed into:  “You wives must learn to adapt yourselves to your husband as you submit yourselves to the Lord.”  Although “adaptation” is surely involved, that is not the goal but (one of?) the means to accomplish the goal; by “adapting” her wishes to those of her husband she “submits” herself to her spouse.  Every club, organization, and company has a “head” and those who are part of it are expected to yield their preferences to that person.  Paul asserts that in marriage, it is the husband who plays that leadership role.

               The Living Bible is markedly better in this text:  “You wives must submit to your husbands’ leadership in the same way you submit to the Lord.”  Bruce has it:  “This submissiveness should be shown by the wives of their husbands; it is a duty they owe to the Lord.”

            Just as Phillips confuses means with results in Ephesians 5:22, he does the same with Peter’s similar teaching on the subject:  “In the same spirit you married women should adapt yourselves to your husbands” (1 Peter 3:1).

 

 

2.  Romans 16:16

 

            The NASB has it:  “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” the norm for social greetings in that day and age.  In Phillips this is transformed into:  “Give one another a hearty handshake all around for my sake.”  The Living Bible concurs in the change:  “Shake hands warmly with each other.”

            This may be (and is) an equivalent custom, but the expression of the implied love and affection is so differently expressed how can this “equivalency” do it justice?  Not to mention rip the reference out of its historical context?  A person not knowing the customs of the first century and not being acquainted with the full significance of these being paraphrases rather than translations is likely to obtain a seriously warped understanding of that society.

            Hence “handshake” is far too specific.  A broader non-specific reference to greeting one another is required if one is to eliminate both anachronism and the specific form the greeting took in the first century.  Bruce chooses this path in his paraphrase:  “Give your own greetings to one another too, with the affectionate salutation that marks you as brothers and sisters in God’s family.”

 

 

3.  John 1:1

                       

            In the New American Standard we find it translated:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  As one reads on into the chapter, one discovers that the “Word” was Christ and that John is expressing the eternalness of the Lord.  A person may be rightly puzzled by why the term “Word” was selected to describe Christ--perhaps because He acts as the Communicating Word who reveals what God wishes and demands?—but the general intent of the verse and context remains clear in spite of this.

[Page 160]                   In contrast, when one turns to Phillips one is greeted with greater obscurity rather than the enlightenment that is the purpose of paraphrase:  “At the beginning God expressed Himself.  That personal expression, that word, was with God, and was God, and he existed with God from the beginning.” 

            “Expressed himself”?  No disrespect intended, but doesn’t that sound like He was giving an oration in public speaking class?  The Living Bible has it:  “Before anything else existed, there was Christ with God.  He has always been alive and is himself God.”  You solve the problem of “the Word” by removing it.  I suppose that’s one way of doing it, but it sure doesn’t help in understanding the passage.  

 

 

Good Readings

 

            With our stress on its failures, it should not be overlooked that Phillips contains decent and even praiseworthy paraphrases as well.  The reason for this is easily stated:  It is impossible to `compose a complete Biblical paraphrase without crossing path’s with the reader’s own exegesis.  Yet these very areas of agreement are produced by its ongoing fault, blending together interpretation with translation.  Such matters should be left for post-translation discussion.

            1 Corinthians 13:9 is so-so but verse 10 sums it up well:  “For our knowledge is always incomplete and our prophecy is always incomplete, and when the complete comes, that is the end of the incomplete.”  “Complete” rather than the KJV’s “perfect” eliminates the popular opinion that Christ is under consideration.  Valid as the exegesis is, what business does it have being placed in the text itself as if it were what was being directly said?

            The paraphrase of Matthew 5:17-18 brings out the point of those verses extremely well:  “You must not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to complete them.  Indeed, I assure you that, while Heaven and earth last, the Law will not lose a single dot or comma until its purpose is complete.”     

 

 

 

 

 

  1.  Additional Analysis of

Kenneth N. Taylor’s

“Simplified” / Paraphrase Version,

The Living Bible

 

           

            Kenneth Taylor—the man responsible for this paraphrase—candidly acknowledged that he did not have scholarly proficiency in either the Greek or Hebrew original languages.  Obviously this created a major difficulty.  It is claimed that he was [Page 161]  able to obtain skilled outside assistance, but some reviewers have been suspicious as to how extensive the help actually was. 

            In light of his limitations he wisely selected the then much-respected American Standard Version as his baseline text to work from.  Whatever strong virtues the ASV has, it does not have the greatest “word flow” that enhances readability.  Its usage was already in decline both due to this and the introduction of its official successor, the RSV.  One thing the ASV was never denounced for was playing “fast and loose with the text,” however, so he selected one of the better alternatives to avoid immediate rejection.

            Lewis, however, points out his even this strength is markedly diluted (N. 11):  Although Taylor uses the ASV, he freely departs from it whenever he chooses.  Sometimes in its place he blends in a paraphrase from a textual reading found in the Textus Receptus; sometimes he paraphrases a reading preferred by post-ASV textual scholars.  In short, he seemingly utilizes whatever base text he prefers, whenever he prefers.     

            His paraphrase unquestionably yields to theological “axe-grinding” in several areas.  Even if the doctrines are accepted as true on the basis of sound exegesis, he has still unjustifiably inserted them directly and explicitly into the text. 

           

 

 

A.  Explicit Support of Original Sin

/ Total Depravity

 

 

Psalms 51:5

 

            The Living Bible renders this verse:  “But I was born a sinner, yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.”  Although we have basically acquitted the NIV of Calvinist excess in regard to the New Testament rendering “sinful nature,” in its translation of this text the doctrine is explicit:  “Surely I have been a sinner from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me,” i.e., a sinner while still in the womb.

            What the text actually asserts is (NASB):  “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.”  Verse 4 is talking about David being a sinner; verse 5 stresses that his mother (and surely his father) were also sinners.  Not always the same sins, but committers of sin nonetheless.  Alternately, a person could take the text as an example of extreme hyperbole:  an individual’s entire life span is so characterized by sin that it is as if it began even before birth.  The Living Bible and NIV opt for one particular interpretation of the text, the one that Calvinists prefer. 

(Aside:  If we are sinners before birth, and throughout life, on what basis should we assume that we stop being sinners even at death?  We have two stages of our existence “provable” as sinners.  Does this not argue for an inherent or perpetual continuum of nature that does not stop even in its third stage at death?  Assuming that the scriptures argue that we are sinners before birth, that is.)

 

 

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Romans 5:12

 

            The Living Bible would have this verse read:  “When Adam sinned, sin entered the entire human race.  His sin spread death throughout all the world so everything began to grow old and die, for all sinned.”  The NIV, in spite of its substituting commentary for translation in Psalms 51:5, declines to do that in this passage:  “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in that way death came to all men, because all sinned.”

            Phillips’ paraphrase/translation approaches it this way:  “This, then, is what has happened.  Sin made its entry into the world through one man, and through sin, death.  The entail of sin and death passed on to the whole human race, and no one could break it for no one was himself free from sin.”

            Bruce’s paraphrase handles the text:  “Now mark the comparison and contrast.  It was by one man that sin came into the world, and death entered by means of sin; death accordingly has spread to all mankind, because it was all mankind that sinned.”  The concluding words are intended to carry with it a mental gloss along the lines of, “all mankind sinned by virtue of Adam’s sin.”  We can conclude this by virtue of his note on the concluding words:  “That is all mankind sinned in Adam’s sin, because Adam, as his name implies, is the embodiment of all mankind.”

 

 

 

Ephesians 2:3

 

            The New International Version renders the last part of this verse:  “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”  This can easily carry the concept of sinners by learned nature, rather than by birth nature.  The Living Bible transforms it in the latter direction:  “We started out bad, being born with evil natures, and were under God’s anger just like everyone else.”  Just as it would be wrong to insert our interpretive gloss into the passage, it is also wrong for those of any other theology.

            Phillips has it:  “Being in fact under the wrath of God by nature like everyone else.”  Leaving elbow room for either inherited nature or learned nature.

            Bruce introduces an intriguing twist into the verse:  “We—even we Jews—were by our very nature subject to divine wrath, like the rest of mankind.”  To him, in this passage, it is seemingly an ethnic/group depravity that is under consideration:  Jews as a group are just as much under God’s legitimate wrath as Gentiles.  A different way of saying, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NKJV).

 

 

 

B.  In Support of Premillenialism

 

            Premillennialism is another Protestant theology, though not as widespread as Calvinism.  Although it has been denied that Kenneth Taylor can properly be called a premillennialist, this denial is hard to reconcile with some of his paraphrases.

[Page 163]                   On the one hand we have the kingdom presented as if already in existence:  “He . . . has brought us into the kingdom of his dear son” (Colossians 1:13).  However in 2 Timothy 4:1 his paraphrase asserts the very opposite:  “And so I solemnly urge you before God and before Christ Jesus—who will some day judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his kingdom.”  If that is not premillennialism, words have lost all their meaning.

            For comparison, Phillips renders it:  “By his appearance and his kingdom.”  Bruce can be ready either millennially or not:  “In view of His appearing and His kingdom.”

               In Revelation 7:14, Taylor capitalizes a period of severe distress as “the Great Tribulation;” the capitalization would surely be taken by many advocates of the theory as an endorsement of their doctrine on the subject.

            The Living Bible transforms a statement of how all Jews will be saved into a prediction that all Jews will be saved—a considerably different assertion and part of popular premillennialism:  “And then all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).  Phillips renders the text in favor of the theory as well:  Once this has happened, all Israel will be saved.”  In contrast, Bruce says it the way it was intended to be read:  By this means all Israel will enter into salvation.”  This way or not at all.

            Lewis points out several Old Testament texts where Taylor’s wording is angled to promote the doctrinal system (N. 12):  

 

“In the last days Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord will become the world’s greatest attraction” (Isaiah 2:2) is a distortion, as is, “For in those days the whole world will be ruled by the Lord from Jerusalem.  He will issue his laws and announce his decrees from there” (Micah 4:2; cf. 5:3).  The rendering of Ezekiel 37:28 is slanted in the same direction.  It is suggested that Hebrew is the pure speech with which the returning people will serve the Lord (Zechariah 3:8).           

 

 

 

 

C.  In Support of Salvation by Faith Alone

 

            In Romans 4:12 of the Living Bible we find:  “They can see from his example that it is not this ceremony that saves them, for Abraham found favor with God by faith alone, before he was circumcised.”  In contrast with this, Phillips is more restrained:  “Then, secondly, that he might be the circumcised father of all those who are not only circumcised, but are living by the same sort of faith which he himself had before he was circumcised.”

            Bruce paraphrases it:  “He is the spiritual father of circumcised persons as well—not simply on the ground of their circumcision but rather because they follow in the footsteps of that faith which our father Abraham exercised before even he was circumcised.”

            Although the expression “faith only” is not found in the Living Bible’s version of John 1:12, the doctrine clearly is:  “But to all who received him, he gave the right to become children of God.  All they needed to do was to trust him to save them.”  Phillips [Page 164]  moves the paraphrase in a sounder direction:  “These were the men who truly believed in him.”

            The vigorously contested question of the relationship between faith-produced baptism and salvation is resolved by the Living Bible in this manner in its presentation of 1 Peter 3:21:  “In baptism we show that we have been saved from death and doom. . . .”  Note that the baptism exhibits an already possessed salvation rather than being anything close to a prerequisite.

 

 

* * * * * *

 

            Our criticisms of the Living Bible could go on and on—one could virtually make a career out of accumulating its lapses.  We’ll skip the profanities included in this version.  1 Samuel 20:30 has been quoted by some critics, but in the edition I utilized it had been toned down.  The open cursing was retained in John 9:34, however.

            One final matter deserves at least passing consideration before we close this part of our study:  The Living Bible freely interjects popular sectarian terminology not found within the pages of sacred writ and even returns to some of the misleading wording found in the KJV (N. 13):

 

There is no relationship between the number of times a word or expression occurs in the Greek or Hebrew texts and the number of times that Taylor uses it.  For example, the word “Christian” appears three times in the New Testament, but is used many times (Galatians 1:1, 13, 22; 2:4; 3:3; 1 John 2:4, 5, 6; Jude 1; etc.) in Taylor’s paraphrase.

“Your church” and “our churches” are not in the New Testament at all, but are often used by Taylor.  The Law becomes “the Ten Commandments” (Galatians 3:17) or “the laws” (Galatians 3:19).  No distinction is made in the paraphrase between “hades,” the state of the dead (cf. Luke 26:23; Acts 2:27), and “hell,” the final place of punishment for the wicked; in the KJV both are “hell.”

 

            As a “translation,” the Living Bible is a failure because it isn’t a translation to begin with.  As a paraphrase, it is often an unreliable one, inserting far too much of the editor’s own personal views into the text.  Compared to this, either Bruce’s or Phillips would be better selections to use.  Provided we keep this vital fact in the forefront of our mind:  a paraphrase may be of value—just as a good commentary would be.  But neither is to be regarded as equivalent to authoritative scripture.

    

 

 

Notes

 

 

N. 1     --         Lewis, Ibid., pages 44-45.

 

N. 2     --         Ibid., pages 182-183.

 

[Page 165]       N. 3     --         Dr. Marv Meyers, in (no editor credited), What Bible Can You Trust?  Nashville, Tennessee:  Broadman Press, 1974.  Pages 81-83.

 

N. 4     --         The 1980 reprinting was utilized in this analysis.

 

N. 5     --         “Bible—English Versions,” Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible.  Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.  Volume 1, page 580.

 

N. 6     --         Quoted in E. R. Robertson, The New Translations of the Bible.  Naperville, Illinois:  Alec R. Allenson, Inc., 1959.  Page 103.

 

N. 7     --         Bruce, Ibid., page 223.

 

N. 8     --         Dennett, Ibid., page 54.

 

N. 9     --         Ibid., page 55.

 

N. 10   --         “Bible—English Versions,Ibid., page 580.

 

N. 11   --         Lewis, Ibid., pages 241-244.

 

N. 12   --         Ibid., page 258.

 

N. 13   --         Ibid., page 255.