From: Theology’s Impact on Translation: KJV to NRSV Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2013
from the King James Version
to the New Revised Standard Version
Roland H. Worth, Jr.
Copyright © 2013 by author
Reproduction of this book for non-profit circulation by any electronic or print media means is hereby freely granted at no cost—provided the text is not altered in any manner.
If accompanied by additional, supplemental material—in agreement or disagreement—it must be clearly and visibly distinguishable from the original text.
Chapters in Book:
Preface and Introduction
Chapter 1: The Sectarian Fringe
Chapter 2: Roman Catholic Translations
Chapter 3: Popular Protestant Theology
in the Translations
Chapter 4: Calvinism in the Translations
Chapter 5: “Modernism” in the KJV, ERV, and ASV?
Chapter 6: “Modernism” in the RSV and NRSV New Testament?--Word Choices and Substitutions
Chapter 7: “Modernism” in the RSV and NRSV Old Testament: Treatment of Messianic Prophecy
Chapter 8: Feminism and the New Revised Standard Version: Justifications and Goals
Chapter 9: How the New Revised Standard Version Implemented Its Feminist Agenda
Chapter 10: Modern Speech, Simplified/Expanded, and Abridged Bibles
Chapter 11: Paraphrases
Chapter 12: Selected Issues in Bible Translation
1. Consistency in Wording Rendering
2. Following the Greek Word Order in Translation
3. The Use of Italics
4. Alternate Translations and Marginal Notes
6. Use of Articles: “A” or “The”?
7. The Underlying Greek Text Used for Translation
The manuscripts I have placed on line so
far represent revisions of materials that go back to the 1980s or 1990s or
early years of this new century. In few
cases do I have a record of exactly when the original versions were circulated. In this
case, however, the actual folder has survived where I kept notes of where and
when it went out. The first submission
Few changes have been made in this version of the work since the original treatment provided a large degree of detail in and of itself. It is my hope that this analysis will assist the reader as he or she ponders the impact that theology has had on how the Bible has been translated—especially as we examine where the impact has clearly been negative and misleading rather than constructive.
In every-day life when men and women believe has an impact upon what they say. Otherwise they would be hypocrites, self-condemned in the worst possible way.
It would be startling if this were not true in regard to theological convictions as well. The individual may not wear it like a bright badge on the shoulder but there will be cases where what is being discussed will concern a matter on which the person has deep and settled convictions. Whether he responds quietly or vehemently will depend upon the circumstances and the nature of the discussion. Reserved he may be; silent he can not be.
Taking this one final step, we can rightly anticipate at least a limited impact upon the wording finally adopted. How could it be otherwise unless the translator is to consciously repudiate his convictions. The deeper concern is of the danger that such theological “slanting” will occur in texts where the wording does not have that ambiguity.
[Page 2] The danger of such occurring is one of the major reasons why multi-translator renderings are nearly always more credible than single person efforts. By bringing together a number of individuals of different scholarly and religious backgrounds the danger of any substantial theological bias is minimized. However even here, if a particular theology represents the broad consensus there is always the possibility that occasionally it will “bend” a rendering without really noticing it. However, the very inclusion of differing theological traditions works to minimize the danger that this will ever be prevalent within any given broad-based major translation.
It is the premise of this volume that intentional or unintentional theological “tilting” has occurred—not just in whatever translation one may be particularly grieved with but as far back as the King James Version itself. One of the incredible attitudes often found among vocal conservative critics of modern translations is the assumption that the KJV is a (seemingly) totally reliable standard of comparison.
If the wording differs from the KJV, theological bias must be at work! As we will later examine in detail, the KJV itself was subjected to intense scrutiny concerning theological bias and at least some of the accusations seem clearly valid.
A second premise of this study has already been implied: that to assert bias is not the same as proving it. “The Revised Standard Version”—for example—“is a modernist translation. How can any faithful Christian dare use it?” Thus endeth the conversation. Case closed! Just a minute, now! How are you so sure of that? What is the basis of the denunciation?
Ah—your preacher told you. I’m sure he’s a fine man but has he ever been wrong. Ah—so he has. I kind of thought that might be the case. I’ve done a goodly amount of preaching in my younger and healthier days and I’ve been wrong a few times myself! Since even most dedicated minister is subject to human error, how then can you be sure the condemnation is valid? What would your reputation be if people listened only to your worst enemies.
In short, a negative judgment may be well deserved—but we need to know the evidence behind it before we assert it as an unblemished fact. And unless we have some kind of naïve conviction that the KJV enjoyed some kind of monopoly on translator brilliance, the mere fact of dissidence from that four century old (1611) translation is far from adequate.
Our third premise is that evidence must be of such a nature that the average person can understand it. Learned dissertations had been—and doubtlessly will continue to be—rolled out as to how modern translations compare with the Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) text that lies behind our English Bible. For most readers that is “water over their head.”
Because of their own lack of knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, they are dependent upon what others have to say. It does not take a whole lot of experience to recognize that just as patriotism can be the final refuge of the political scoundrel, “the Greek” can be the final hiding place of the religious zealot who has no way to proving his assertions from the widely accepted modern English versions.
The situation becomes further complicated because many who have only a smattering of either language innocently (I hope) inflate the degree of capacity that they really have: a smattering of either language and they are self-assured [Page 3] “authorities” on the matter. The old adage about knowledge puffing up is even more so if the knowledge is of the Greek and Hebrew.
The mere casual student suddenly takes on the image of a profound scholar—merely because he can pronounce the words and knows how to look them up in a lexicon lacking reference numbers from Strong’s concordance. Doubtless we exaggerate, but are we not speaking here of a quite real phenomena that springs out of honest hearts but unbalanced by a realistic self-appraisal?
Because of this danger, we have minimized the appeal to the original languages, though we have retained it in a secondary role. We have proceeded on the assumption that to whatever greater or lesser degree that translations reflect bias, that they tend to reflect different biases and attitudes from one to another. Or, if you will, they fall into “clusters” that share the same set of biases. (“Bias” does double duty in English: usually with a negative connotation of unjustified preference but another is benign, as manifesting clear preference for one thing or another with no value judgment necessarily attached.)
For example, the New King James would normally be looked upon as an example of a conservatively orientated / traditionalist translation dedicated to preserving as much as the KJV rendering as possible. (Consult the footnotes carefully and you will note that it candidly footnotes the many times it deviates from either the Majority Text or the Critical Text in order to preserve the reading found in the original King James.)
The New International would be viewed as coming from a somewhat similar background of conservative “bias” but with a tilt toward revising the text in line with more modern speech patterns. Released in the 1970s, its intended successor Today’s New International Version appeared in the early years of the new century and was praised by conservatives for greater literalism in a significant number of places, but horrified a major segment of the same group by its gender neutral language when the language in the original is clearly not gender neutral. (It should be noted that the New King James made major gender neutral insertions itself but not when the underlying text used “male” language and not when it undermined the “natural sounding” flow of the text in translation.)
The American Standard Version (1901 and the more recent New American Standard Version predominant image is that of a stricter literalism—“word for word” translation—than most others.
The Revised Standard Version has been haunted from its birth with the accusation of liberal/modernist bias. Though that has not hindered its use by a significant number of religious conservatives, it gutted the chance of it ever becoming a “major competitor” for wide scale usage in comparison with the NKJV, NASB, and NIV.
The New Revised Standard Version has grafted onto the older version a full scale degenderization of the English version, considering the usage of the original languages as irrelevant to the most appropriate approach to translating the text. This inevitably raises the issue of “text tampering” that has always left the RSV under a cloud of suspicion among many conservatives.
How should we evaluate negative charges against translation? For example, take the Modernism charge against the RSV. A simple rule of thumb should help [Page 4] here and in many other cases: If one finds virtually identical translation of context passages as the normal situation among more conservative versions, then one can safely come to the conclusion that the RSV can not be guilty of a theological agenda in such cases.
Although we will utilize that technique of comparative translations for certain matters, in other cases we will rest content with textual analysis without such comparisons because it seems unneeded and because the weakness in such cases can be clearly brought out without this more prolonged approach.
By taking approaches such as this, we will attempt to put in “layman’s terms” as much of the discussion as we possibly can. Also this approach allows the reader to easily confirm for himself the validity of assertions that are made. If he does not personally have the translations at home, a nearby library certainly will have many of them and the remainder are likely available either via interlibrary loan or, thanks to the development of the internet, via that electronic source. This approach provides a means the reader by him or herself can test future translations.
Although our main stress is on the impact of theological conviction on English translation, we will make at least passing comment on several other areas related to translation because they are of ongoing interest to the more pronounced conservative.
In a discussion of “theological bias,” it would be appropriate to put front and center those of the author himself. I would not intentionally bend the facts any more than most of the translations we will discuss. However the “eyeglasses” I wear obviously shape some of my perception and comments. It could hardly be otherwise.
For over forty years as an adult I have been a serious student of the Biblical text. There were three or so years full time preaching and probably twenty-years more of various degrees of part time gospel labor. Unfortunately my heart no longer permits much of such: quadruple bypass, double bypass, a weakening of the heart, and old-fashioned old age have worked together their grim result. But I can still think and write and hopefully that will be of benefit to many.
My religious convictions are of a very conservative religious nature. Depending upon whom I am trying to irritate, I can call myself a “conservative,” an “evangelical,” or even a “fundamentalist.” One seminarian I occasionally dated back in the 1970s missed hitting the ceiling of her car by two inches. I had always thought such extreme reactions were mythical, but her mind just could not process my “laid back” attitude with such a “rigid” religious belief system.
Be that as it may, all three terms suggest that I regard the Bible as a Divine revelation from God in which the final product came out exactly as God wanted it to. Therefore we have no right to play “games” with it to alter it or change it in the name of “translation.” It must faithfully reflect the original intent without alteration. Brew into your evaluation of me the fact that I am a non-Calvinist and a vigorous opponent of premillennialist theories and a believer in strict congregation autonomy free and independent of any overseeing religious structure.
Because of this background I am far more alert to a wider variety of theological impacts upon translation than would be many other writers. That does [Page 5] not, of course, prove that my theology is correct; it only indicates why the subject if of special interest to the author.
Of course is a text is actually “bent” in translation, that fact should be of interest to all honest religious folk, not just those whose doctrine or practice is offended. A doctrine may rightly be established by exegesis—using the text to reason out why it carries the “freight” of this doctrine or teaching or that rather than some alternative. But there is a profound difference between that and inserting the doctrine in the text. When that has happened, we are no longer dealing with legitimate translation or genuine translation controversies, but with the “bending” of the text to prove a point without having to go through the process of exegesis to do so.
At any given time from the American Civil War until the late 1950s, a serious student of the scriptures thought in terms of one or two dominant translations of the Bible. The King James Version was always one of them. The second choice was usually the American Standard Version, from 1902 into the late 1930s. The attempt to replace the ASV with the Revised Standard Version enjoyed great success in many circles, beginning with its first appearance in the late 1940s. Many vigorous religious conservatives regarded the RSV with great skepticism and clung to the ASV.
were other translations being made.
Even some good ones. But they were “pygmies”—enjoying only modest
usage and in no way making serious inroads among the bulk of Bible readers
beyond, if they were fortunate, finding a niche of Bible students who preferred
it as their second choice in versions.
The KJV remained the
But then came the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties, and it seemed as if everywhere one turned a major new translation was being announced. And if that weren’t confusing in its own right, the new version often had an “improved” rendition available in five or ten years, making the original investment now “outdated” for the reader. This translation and multiple edition of revised versions of the same work were fueled by several factors.
First, there were many more truly qualified people who possessed the necessary academic and scholarly credentials to do a credible job of translation. Just as there being a huge growth in the number of living scientists fueled a vast increase in scientific research, the existence of a large and growing poor or quite qualified Greek and Hebrew scholars guaranteed that many new translation efforts would be launched.
Second, during the Sixties there was a massive popular backlash against the “old.” If it was “old” that did nothing—as before—to lift its prestige. Instead if it [Page 6] was “old” it was scorned as automatically out-dated by time. Suddenly we were “living in the modern world” and translations that previously had made perfectly good sense just “had” to be replaced.
Some of this reaction against the “old,” of course, was valid. Merely because it was “old” was no guarantee that a translation was “best.” Furthermore, continued breakthroughs in Hebrew and related languages made it possible to produce far more accurate translations of the Old Testament. Equivalent “breakthroughs” in regard to the New Testament were impossible because mastery of the minute details of the Greek text had been well established for a far longer period of time. Here claims of new discoveries had to be far more restrained.
However, the real power of the argument lay in the never-quite-hidden cultural prejudice that labeled as “inadequate” anything not produced by the current generation of scholars.
The production of major new translations undeniably seemed to feed upon each other as precedent to understand yet further such efforts. Perhaps it’s the pride: “If those scholars could do it that well, our group is just as smart and we can do it even better!”
We face what appears to be a perpetual, never-ending series of revisions. The fear of just such a situation developing was one of the major objections raised when the English Revised Version was in the talking stage over a century ago: “These objections are only three in number . . . . Thirdly, that it would encourage still further revisions, and that great changes in our Version, which we all agree to deprecate, would be brought about by successive revisions—in a word, that there would be no finality.” (N. 1)
The fear turned out to be premature by about eighty years—but now it is a sad reality. Nothing is “permanent” anymore and the newest “new” translation will be out next month! Or is it the month after?
How can there be any permanent and authoritative interpretation of the Biblical text if the wording itself is never permanent?
Indeed, as a result of translation-for-translation sake—at least what’s what it appears like to many not involved in the process—the broad consensus that once existed as to which are the preferred translations has been broken wide open. The Bible-reading public has been needlessly fragment into smaller and smaller groups.
A third factor fueling the explosive growth in the number of modern translations lay in their blatantly commercial aspects. Like any money-making enterprise, a Bible publisher seeks to turn a profit off his product. If he can sponsor a Bible translation “aimed at” a certain segment of the religious market and if he can successfully convince these people that it meets their supposed “special needs” in a way superior to other efforts—well the publisher has a good chance of having discovered a first class money machine. ‘
In our judgment, this last factor does much to explain a related phenomena—though, perhaps, we are too harsh in our judgment: the frequent revision of certain new translations. This also complicates comparing the various translations with each other: If the text we now have can be freely altered—for better or worse—in such a few short years, what we say now of a given translation may not even exist in that translation a decade from h now.
[Page 7] The Revised Standard Version was originally slatted for (presumably) minor revision every ten years. The theory was that additional insights into the Hebrew and Greek would occur over a period of time and that this policy would allow the new knowledge to be utilized without having to resort to the extremity of an entirely new translation. Also, criticisms that had once been dismissed, might gain such a wide acceptance that they would be accepted in the main text rather than consigned to a secondary footnote status.
We can sympathize with the reasoning, but are far from accepting it: one can easily grasp, say, a ten year “probationary period,” after which a “final, permanent” text is adopted. (Such is not without precedent: The Twentieth Century published its version in three years, ending in 1901, and brought out its definitive version in 1904.) Such a time gap would allow time for exhaustive criticism to be made and any obvious errors to be corrected.
But why such an obstinate refusal to every reach a final, definitive text. Why are we “ever seeking and never finding?” Have translation committees decided to become like federal bureaucracies—self-perpetuating machines that continue to exist even when their task has been successfully completed?
But a once-a-decade revision is moderate compared to some other translations that have apparently regarded such a time frame as representing an unforgivably long period of delay. In the fifteen years between 1966 and 1981, Today’s English Bible (= Good News Bible) appeared in four distinctly editions. In the second edition alone 700 to 800 changes were made! (N. 2) They also pled responsiveness to reader criticism and scholarly opinion as the rationale for their alterations.
The New International Version unquestionably made substantial inroads into the evangelical Bible-buying market: Twenty percent of all Bibles sold in the late 1980s were NIVs. Yet it was originally scheduled to be revised every five years! (It didn’t work out that way in actual practice, however.)
Is scholarship that fickle and unreliable? Do the translators so doubt the reliability of their own work that they believe they need to revise their effort twice a decade, decades without end? Even every decade or so?
And if truly minor changes are all that are contemplated, why go to this trouble at all? Why not just be reconciled to the fact that any translations—no matter whether “corrected” once or fifty times—is bound to retain at least a few blemishes. So either the revisions are needless “striving after a gnat” or represents an incredible admission of scholarly skill. The ox has two horns, but either horn is quite adequate to rip apart any rationale for such needlessly frequent “revisions.”
Of course we could attribute a selfish motive to this: from the standpoint of career prospects, it assures additional entries in their list of scholarly accomplishments! And in the everlasting struggle of university faculty to “prove” their scholarly worth, this would be quite understandable. Perhaps I am being over generous—but I don’t think I am—I simply refuse to believe that many would yield to this particular temptation.
In contrast, however, such needless revision unquestionably does serve one interest above all others—that of the publisher. It won’t be put quite this crudely but the fact that the buying public appears to have leveled off or shrunk as the [Page 8] version reaches its selling potential, it’s time to reconsider the current “adequacy” of the translation.
Next come the translators and then the inevitable marketing concept: “Buy the most up-to-date edition of this renowned translation. X number of changes have been made in it to make it reflect the latest up-to-date scholarship!”
A born pump-primer if there ever was one. And, after all, who really suffers? Just the poor working man person who is hard pressed to keep one good copy of the Bible and who can’t easily afford a $80-$100-plus Bible replacement to “stay up” with the “newest edition!”
And if it seems too soon for this approach, well—isn’t it about time for an entirely different translation to be brought out, orientated to a particular religious philosophy, or age or gender group, or with some special “angle” to its work that will make it stand out from everything else that is currently available? The world is in “need” of our “holy” endeavor and our pockets surely need the cash!
Forgive my cynicism, but at times the reality of Bible publishing doesn’t seem much above this level.
The end result of these and other factors is that our world has an incredible number of Bible translations on the market. Some are excellent, some are atrocities, and some you wonder what motivated the effort—outside possibly delusion or personal vanity of the translator.
Others are something of a “mixed bag:” for the type of translation it claims to be, it may be quite good, but only as a secondary one against a version that pays full justice to the need for readability but within a context of not imposing upon the text what we wish it said—yet translating it both “literally” and with full recognition of the intended import of the wording within its original language and setting. It is a rough task when conscientiously carried out.
It is the purpose of this study to survey to survey a number of the translations currently available—some in great detail and some only in passing. We’ll even make a few excursions through translations that are so outrageous that only the most blind zealot would think of upholding them.
One conclusion I can guarantee here at the very beginning: We won’t find any perfect translation—not even the legendary and great King James Version. I have the highest respect for the KJV, but it has been permitted an incredible toleration on matters that would be used to vigorously tear asunder more recent efforts. I believe it only fair to apply the same tests to the KJV that we would any other translation. The results may be surprising to many readers.
N. 1 -- C. J. Ellicott. Consideration on the
Revision of the English Version of the New Testament.
N. 2 -- Jack Lewis. The English Bible: From KJV to NIV—A History and Evaluation.