New Discoveries and New Bible Translations in 20th Century by Philip Wesley Comfort
All the passages below are taken from the book, “The Origin of the Bible,” edited by Philip Wesley Comfort and published in 1992.
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY: NEW DISCOVERIES AND NEW TRANSLATIONS
The nineteenth century was a fruitful era for the Greek New Testament and subsequent English translations; it was also a century in which Hebrew studies were greatly advanced. The twentieth century has also been fruitful—especially for textual studies. Those living in the twentieth century have witnessed the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (see “Texts and Manuscripts of the Old Testament” in section 4), the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, the Chester Beatty Papyri, and the Bodmer Papyri (see “Texts and Manuscripts of the New Testament” in section 4). These amazing discoveries, providing scholars with hundreds of ancient manuscripts, have greatly enhanced the effort to recover the original wording of the Old and New Testaments. At the same time, other archaeological discoveries have validated the historical accuracy of the Bible and helped Bible scholars understand the meaning of certain ancient words. For example, the Greek word parousia (usually translated “coming”) was found in many ancient documents dated around the time of Christ; very often the word indicated the visitation of royalty. When this word was used in the New Testament concerning Christ’s second coming, the readers would think of his coming as being the visitation of a king. In Koine Greek, the expression entos humon (literally, “inside of you”) often meant “within reach.” Thus, Jesus’ statement in Luke 17:21 could mean “The kingdom is within reach.”
As earlier and better manuscripts of the Bible have emerged, scholars have been engaged in updating the Bible texts. Old Testament scholars have still used the Masoretic Text but have noted significant differences found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The current edition used by Old Testament scholars is called Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. New Testament scholars, for the most part, have come to rely upon an edition of the Greek New Testament known as the Nestle-Aland text. Eberhard Nestle used the best editions of the Greek New Testament produced in the nineteenth century to compile a text that represented the majority consensus. The work of making new editions was carried on by his son for several years and is now under the care of Kurt Aland. The latest edition (the 27th) of Nestle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graece appeared in 1993, with a corrected edition in 1998. The same Greek text appears in another popular volume published by the United Bible Societies, called the Greek New Testament (fourth revised edition 1993).
EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY TRANSLATIONS IN THE LANGUAGE OF THE PEOPLE
The thousands and thousands of papyri that were discovered in Egypt around the turn of the century displayed a form of Greek called Koine Greek. Koine (meaning “common”) Greek was everyman’s Greek; it was the common language of almost everybody living in the Graeco-Roman world from the second century B.C. to the third century A.D. In other words, it was the “lingua franca” of the Mediterranean world. Every educated person back then could speak, read, and write in Greek just like every educated person in modern times can speak a little English, read some English, and perhaps write in English. Koine Greek was not literary Greek (i.e., the kind of Greek written by the Greek poets and tragedians); it was the kind of Greek used in personal letters, legal documents, and other nonliterary texts.
New Testament scholars began to discover that most of the New Testament was written in Koine Greek—the language of the people. As a result, there was a strong prompting to translate the New Testament into the language of the people. Various translators chose to divorce themselves from the traditional Elizabethan English as found in the King James Version (and even in the English Revised Version and American Standard Version) and produce fresh renderings in the common idiom.
The Twentieth Century New Testament
The first of these new translations was The Twentieth Century New Testament (1902). The preface to a new edition of this translation provides an excellent description of the work:
The Twentieth Century New Testament is a smooth-flowing, accurate, easy-to-read translation that captivates its readers from start to finish. Born out of a desire to make the Bible readable and understandable, it is the product of the labors of a committee of twenty men and women who worked together over many years to construct, we believe under divine surveillance, this beautifully simple rendition of the Word of God. (Preface to the new edition  published by Moody Press)
The New Testament in Modern Speech
A year after the publication of The Twentieth Century New Testament, Richard Weymouth published The New Testament in Modern Speech (1903). Weymouth, who had received the first Doctor of Literature degree from the University of London, was headmaster of a private school in London. During his life, he spent time producing an edition of the Greek text (published in 1862) that was more accurate than the Textus Receptus, and then he labored to produce an English translation of this Greek text (called The Resultant Greek Testament) in a modern speech version. His translation was very well received; it has gone through several editions and many printings.
The New Testament: a New Translation
Another new and fresh translation to appear in the early years of this century was one written by James Moffatt, a brilliant Scottish scholar. In 1913 he published his first edition of The New Testament: A New Translation. This was actually his second translation of the New Testament; his first was done in 1901, called The Historical New Testament. In his New Translation Moffatt’s goal was “to translate the New Testament exactly as one would render any piece of contemporary Hellenistic prose.” His work displays brilliance and marked independence from other versions; unfortunately it was based on Hermann von Soden’s Greek New Testament, which, as all scholars now know, is quite defective.
The Complete Bible: an American Translation
The earliest American modern speech translation was produced by Edgar J. Goodspeed, a professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago. He had criticized The Twentieth Century New Testament, Weymouth’s version, and Moffatt’s translation. As a consequence, he was challenged by some other scholars to do better. He took up the challenge and in 1923 published The New Testament: An American Translation. When he made this translation he said that he wanted to give his “version something of the force and freshness that reside in the original Greek.” He said, “I wanted my translation to make on the reader something of the impression the New Testament must have made on its earliest readers, and to invite the continuous reading of the whole book at a time” (New Chapters in New Testament Study, 113). His translation was a success. An Old Testament translation followed, produced by J. M. Powis Smith and three other scholars. The Complete Bible: An American Translation was published in 1935.
THE REVISED STANDARD VERSION
The English Revised Version and the American Standard Version had gained a reputation of being accurate study texts but very “wooden” in their construction. The translators who worked on the Revised Versions attempted to translate words consistently from the original language regardless of their context and sometimes even followed the word order of the Greek. This created a very unidiomatic version. This called for a new revision.
The demand for revision was strengthened by the fact that several important biblical manuscripts had been discovered in the 1930s and 1940s—namely, the Dead Sea Scrolls for the Old Testament and the Chester Beatty Papyri for the New Testament. It was felt that the fresh evidence displayed in these documents should be reflected in a revision. The revision showed some textual changes in the book of Isaiah due to the Isaiah scroll and several changes in the Pauline Epistles due to the Chester Beatty Papyrus P46. There were other significant revisions. The story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:52-8:11) was not included in the text but in the margin because none of the early manuscripts contain this story, and the ending to Mark (16:9-20) was not included in the text because it is not found in the two earliest manuscripts, Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus.
The organization that held the copyright to the American Standard Version, called the international Council of Religious Education, authorized a new revision in 1937. The New Testament translators generally followed the seventeenth edition of the Nestle Text (1941), while the Old Testament translators followed the Masoretic Text. Both groups, however, adopted readings from other ancient sources when they were considered to be more accurate. The New Testament was published in 1946, and the entire Bible with the Old Testament, in 1952.
The principles of the revision were specified in the preface to the Revised Standard Version:
The Revised Standard Version is not a new translation in the language of today. It is not a paraphrase which aims at striking idioms. It is a revision which seeks to preserve all that is best in the English Bible as it as been known and used throughout the years.
This revision was well received by many Protestant churches and soon became their “standard” text. The Revised Standard Version was later published with the Apocrypha of the Old Testament (1957), in a Catholic Edition (1965), and in what is called the Common Bible, which includes the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Apocrypha, and the deuterocanonical books, with international endorsements by Protestants, Greek Orthodox, and Roman Catholics. Evangelical and fundamental Christians, however, did not receive the Revised Standard Version very well—primarily because of one verse, Isaiah 7:14, which reads, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” Evangelicals and fundamentalists contend that the text should read “virgin,” not “young woman.” As a result, the Revised Standard Version was panned, if not banned, by many evangelical and fundamental Christians.
THE NEW ENGLISH BIBLE
In the year that the New Testament of the Revised Standard Version was published (1946), the Church of Scotland proposed to other churches in Great Britain that it was time for a completely new translation of the Bible to be done. Those who initiated this work asked the translators to produce a fresh translation in modern idiom of the original languages; this was not to be a revision of any foregoing translation, nor was it to be a literal translation. The translators, under the direction of C. H. Dodd, were called upon to translate the meaning of the text into modern English. The preface to the New Testament (published in 1961), written by C. H. Dodd, explains this more fully:
The older translators, on the whole, considered that fidelity to the original demanded that they should reproduce, as far as possible, characteristic features of the language in which it was written, such as the syntactical order of words, the structure and division of sentences, and even such irregularities of grammar as were indeed natural enough to authors writing in the easy idiom of popular Hellenistic Greek, but less natural when turned into English. The present translators were enjoined to replace Greek constructions and idioms by those of contemporary English.
This meant a different theory and practice of translation, and one which laid a heavier burden on the translators. Fidelity in translation was not to mean keeping the general framework of the original intact while replacing Greek words by English words more or less equivalent…. Thus we have not felt obliged (as did the Revisers of 1881) to make an effort to render the same Greek word everywhere by the same English word. We have in this respect returned to the wholesome practice of King James’s men, who (as they expressly state in their preface) recognized no such obligation. We have conceived our task to be that of understanding the original as precisely as we could (using all available aids), and then saying again in our own native idiom what we believed the author to be saying in his.
The entire New English Bible was published in 1970; it was well received in Great Britain and in the United States (even though its idiom is extremely British) and was especially praised for its good literary style. The translators were very experimental, producing renderings never before printed in an English version and adopting certain readings from various Hebrew and Greek manuscripts never before adopted. As a result, The New English Bible was both highly praised for its ingenuity and severely criticized for its liberty.
THE GOOD NEWS BIBLE: TODAY’S ENGLISH VERSION
The New Testament in Today’s English Version, also known as
Good News for Modern Man, was published by the American Bible Society in 1966. The translation was originally done by Robert Bratcher, a research associate of the Translations Department of the American Bible Society, and then further refined by the American Bible Society. The translation, heavily promoted by several Bible societies and very affordable, sold more than 35 million copies within six years of the time of printing. The New Testament translation, based upon the first edition of the Greek New Testament (the United Bible Societies, 1966), is an idiomatic version in modern and simple English. The translation was greatly influenced by the linguistic theory of dynamic equivalence and was quite successful in providing English readers with a translation that, for the most part, accurately reflects the meaning of the original texts. This is explained in the preface to the New Testament:
This translation of the New Testament has been prepared by the American Bible Society for people who speak English as their mother tongue or as an acquired language. As a distinctly new translation, it does not conform to traditional vocabulary or style, but seeks to express the meaning of the Greek text in words and forms accepted as standard by people everywhere who employ English as a means of communication. Today’s English Version of the New Testament attempts to follow, in this century, the example set by the authors of the New Testament books, who, for the most part, wrote in the standard, or common, form of the Greek language used throughout the Roman Empire.
Because of the success of the New Testament, the American Bible Society was asked by other Bible societies to make an Old Testament translation following the same principles used in the New Testament. The entire Bible was published in 1976, and is known as the Good News Bible: Today’s English Version.
THE LIVING BIBLE
In 1962 Kenneth Taylor published a paraphrase of the New Testament Epistles in a volume called Living Letters. This new dynamic paraphrase, written in common vernacular, became well received and widely acclaimed—especially for its ability to communicate the message of God’s Word to the common man. In the beginning its circulation was greatly enhanced by the endorsement of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which did much to publicize the book and distributed thousands of free copies. Taylor continued to paraphrase other portions of the Bible and publish successive volumes: Living Prophecies(19G5), Living Gospels (1966), Living Psalms (1967), Living Lessons of Life and Love (1968), Living Books of Moses (1969), and Living History of Moses (1970). The entire Living Bible was published in 1971 (the Living New Testament was printed in 1966).
Using the American Standard Version as his working text, Taylor rephrased the Bible into modern speech—such that anyone, even a child, could understand the message of the original writers. In the preface to The Living Bible Taylor explains his view of paraphrasing:
To paraphrase is to say something in different words than the author used. It is a restatement of the author’s thoughts, using different words than he did. This book is a paraphrase of the Old and New Testaments. Its purpose is to say as exactly as possible what the writers of the Scriptures meant, and to say it simply, expanding where necessary for a clear understanding by the modern reader.
Even though many modern readers have greatly appreciated the fact that The Living Bible made God’s Word clear to them, Taylor’s paraphrase has been criticized for being too interpretive. But that is the nature of paraphrases—and the danger as well. Taylor was aware of this when he made the paraphrase. Again, the preface clarifies:
There are dangers in paraphrases, as well as values. For whenever the author’s exact words are not translated from the original languages, there is a possibility that the translator, however honest, may be giving the English reader something that the original writer did not mean to say.
The Living Bible has been very popular among English readers worldwide. More than 35 million copies have been sold by the publishing house Taylor specifically created to publish The Living Bible. The company is called Tyndale House Publishers—named after William Tyndale, the father of modern English translations of the Bible.
THE NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE
There are two modern translations that are both revisions of (or based on) the American Standard Version (1901): the Revised Standard Version (1952) and the New American Standard Bible (1971). The Lockman Foundation, a nonprofit Christian corporation committed to evangelism, promoted this revision of the American Standard Version because “the producers of this translation were imbued with the conviction that interest in the American Standard Version 1901 should be renewed and increased” (from the preface). Indeed, the American Standard Version was a monumental work of scholarship and a very accurate translation. However, its popularity was waning, and it was fast disappearing from the scene. Therefore, the Lockman Foundation organized a team of thirty-two scholars to prepare a new revision. These scholars, all committed to the inspiration of Scripture, strove to produce a literal translation of the Bible in the belief that such a translation “brings the contemporary reader as close as possible to the actual wording and grammatical structure of the original writers” (ibid.).
The translators of the New American Standard Bible were instructed by the Lockman Foundation “to adhere to the original languages of the Holy Scriptures as closely as possible and at the same time to obtain a fluent and readable style according to current English usage” (Sakae Kubo and Walter Specht, So Many Versions? 171). After the New American Standard Bible was published (1963 for the New Testament and 1971 for the entire Bible), it received a mixed response. Some critics applauded its literal accuracy, while others sharply criticized its language for hardly being contemporary or modern.
On the whole, the New American Standard Bible became respected as a good study Bible that accurately reflects the wording of the original languages yet is not a good translation for Bible reading. Furthermore, it must be said that this translation is now nearly thirty years behind in terms of textual fidelity—especially the New Testament, which, though it was originally supposed to follow the 23rd edition of the Nestle text, tends to follow the Textus Receptus.
THE NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (NIV)
The New International Version is a completely new rendering of the original languages done by an international group of more than a hundred scholars. These scholars worked many years and in several committees to produce an excellent thought-for-thought translation in contemporary English for private and public use. The New International Version is called “international” because it was prepared by distinguished scholars from English-speaking countries such as the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, and because “the translators sought to use vocabulary common to the major English-speaking nations of the world” (ibid., 191-192).
The translators of the New International Version sought to make a version that was midway between a literal rendering (as in the New American Standard Bible) and a free paraphrase (as in The Living Bible). Their goal was to convey in English the thought of the original writers. This is succinctly explained in the original preface to the New Testament:
Certain convictions and aims guided the translators. They are all committed to the full authority and complete trustworthiness of the Scriptures. Therefore, their first concern was the accuracy of the translation and its fidelity to the thought of the New Testament writers. While they weighed the significance of the lexical and grammatical details of the Greek text, they have striven for more than a word-for-word translation. Because thought patterns and syntax differ from language to language, faithful communication of the meaning of the writers of the New Testament demanded frequent modifications in sentence structure and constant regard for the contextual meanings of words.
Concern for clarity of style—that it should be idiomatic without being idiosyncratic, contemporary without being dated—also motivated the translators and their consultants. They have consistently aimed at simplicity of expression, with sensitive attention to the connotation and sound of the chosen word. At the same time, they endeavored to avoid a sameness of style in order to reflect the varied styles and moods of the New Testament writers.
The New Testament of the New International Version was published in 1973, the entire Bible in 1978. This version has been phenomenally successful. Millions and millions of readers have adopted the New International Version as their “Bible.” Since 1987 it has outsold the King James Version, the best-seller for centuries—a remarkable indication of its popularity and acceptance in the Christian community. The New International Version, sponsored by the New York Bible Society (now the International Bible Society) and published by Zondervan Publishers, has become a standard version used for private reading and pulpit reading in many English-speaking countries.
TWO MODERN CATHOLIC TRANSLATIONS: THE JERUSALEM BIBLE AND THE NEW AMERICAN BIBLE
In 1943 Pope Plus XII issued the famous encyclical encouraging Roman Catholics to read and study the Scriptures. At the same time, the pope recommended that the Scriptures should be translated from the original languages. Previously, all Catholic translations were based on the Latin Vulgate. This includes Knox’s translation, which was begun in 1939 and published in 1944 (the New Testament) and in 1955 (the whole Bible).
The first complete Catholic Bible to be translated from the original languages is The Jerusalem Bible, published in England in 1966. The Jerusalem Bible is the English counterpart to a French translation entitled La Bible de Jerusalem. The French translation was “the culmination of decades of research and biblical scholarship” (from the preface to The Jerusalem Bible), published by the scholars of the Dominican Biblical School of Jerusalem. This Bible, which includes the Apocrypha and deuterocanonical books, contains many study helps—such as introductions to each book of the Bible, extensive notes on various passages, and maps. The study helps are an intricate part of the whole translation because it is the belief of Roman Catholic leadership that laypeople should be given interpretive helps in their reading of the sacred text. The study helps in The Jerusalem Bible were translated from the French, whereas the Bible text itself was translated from the original languages with the help of the French translation. The translation of the text produced under the editorship of Alexander Jones is considerably freer than other translations, such as the Revised Standard Version, because the translators sought to capture the meaning of the original writings in a “vigorous, contemporary literary style” (from the preface to The Jerusalem Bible).
The first American Catholic Bible to be translated from the original languages is The New American Bible (not to be confused with the New American Standard Bible). Although this translation was published in 1970, work had begun on this version several decades before. Prior to Pope Pius’s encyclical, an American translation of the New Testament based on the Latin Vulgate was published—known as the Confraternity Version. After the encylical, the Old Testament was translated from the Hebrew Masoretic Text and the New Testament redone, based on the twenty-fifth edition of the Greek Nestle-Aland text. The New American Bible has short introductions to each book of the Bible and very few marginal notes. Kubo and Specht provide a just description of the translation itself:
The translation itself is simple, clear, and straightforward and reads very smoothly. It is good American English, not as pungent and colorful as the NEB [New English Bible]. Its translations are not striking but neither are they clumsy. They seem to be more conservative in the sense that they tend not to stray from the original. That is not to say that this is a literal translation, but it is more faithful. (So Many Versions? 165)
In the twentieth century some very important Jewish translations of the Bible were published. The Jewish Publication Society created a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures called The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text, A New Translation (published in 1917). The preface to this translation explains its purpose:
It aims to combine the spirit of Jewish tradition with the results of biblical scholarship, ancient, medieval and modern. It gives to the Jewish world a translation of the Scriptures done by men imbued with the Jewish consciousness, while the non-Jewish world, it is hoped, will welcome a translation that presents many passages from the Jewish traditional point of view.
In 1955 the Jewish Publication Society appointed a new committee of seven eminent Jewish scholars to make a new Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. The translation called the New Jewish Version was published in 1962. A second, improved edition was published in 1973. This work is not a revision of The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text; it is a completely new translation in modern English. The translators attempted “to produce a version that would carry the same message to modern man as the original did to the world of ancient times” (Kubo and Specht, So Many Versions? 108).
MAJOR TRANSLATIONS OF THE 1980s AND 1990s
The New King James Version
The New King James Version, published in 1982, is a revision of the King James Version, which is itself a literal translation. As such, the New King James Version follows the historic precedent of the Authorized Version in maintaining a literal approach to translation. The revisers have called this method of translation, “complete equivalence.” This means that the revisers sought to provide a complete representation of all the information in the original text with respect to the history of usage and etymology of words in their contexts (see Preface, iv). Of course, achieving “complete equivalence” when translating from one language to another is an ideal that can never be completely achieved.
The most distinctive feature of the NKJV is its underlying original text. The revisers of the NKJV New Testament chose to use the Textus Receptus rather than modern critical editions, including the Majority Text and the Nestle-Aland text. By way of concession, they have footnoted any significant textual variation from the Majority Text and modern critical editions. The Majority Text, which is the text supported by the majority of all known New Testament manuscripts, hardly differs from the Textus Receptus; thus, there are few significant differences noted (as “M-text”). But there are well over a thousand differences footnoted regarding the NA26/UBS3 text (noted as “NU”). The reader, therefore, can note how many significant differences there are between the two texts.
Though exhibiting an antiquated text, the language of the NKJV is basically modern. All the Elizabethan English of the original King James Version has been replaced with contemporary American English. Though much of the sentence structure of the NKJV is still dated and stilted, contemporary readers who favor the spirit of the King James Version but can’t understand much of its archaic language will appreciate this revision.
The New Jerusalem Bible
The Jerusalem Bible had become widely used for liturgical purposes, for study, and for private reading. This success spurned a new revision, both of the Bible de Jerusalem in French and the Jerusalem Bible in English. This new edition “incorporated progress in scholarship over the two decades since the preparation of the first edition. The introductions and notes were often widely changed to take account of linguistic, archaeological and theological advances, and the text itself in some instances reflected new understanding of the originals”(from the Foreword). The New Jerusalem Bible (published in 1986) generally has been received as an excellent study text.
The translators of the Old Testament followed the Masoretic Text, except when this text presented problems—as stated in the preface: “Only when this text presents insuperable difficulties have emendations or the versions or other Hebrew manuscripts or the ancient versions (notably the LXX and Syriac) been used”(from the Foreword). The New Testament offers some interesting variations from many other modern versions because it displays an eclectic text—especially in the book of Acts, where many “Western” readings were adopted.
The Revised English Bible (REB)
The Revised English Bible (1989) is a revision of the New English Bible (NEB), which was published in 1971. Because the NEB gained such popularity in British churches and was being regularly used for public reading, several British churches decided there should be a revision of the NEB to keep the language current and the text up-to-date with modern biblical scholarship.
For the Old Testament, the revisers used the Masoretic Text as it appears in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (1967, 1977). They also made use of the Dead Sea Scrolls and a few other important versions, including the Septuagint. Nonetheless, the REB translators were very conservative in their departures from the MT, as is made evident by their position stated in the preface. Indeed, the position of the REB translators demonstrates a significant shift in their attitude towards the text, when compared with their predecessors:
It is probable that the Massoretic Text remained substantially unaltered from the second century A.D. to the present time, and this text is reproduced in all Hebrew Bibles. The New English Bible translators used the third edition of Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica…. Despite the care used in the copying of the Massoretic Text, it contains errors, in the correction of which there are witnesses to be heard. None of them is throughout superior to the Massoretic Text, but in particular places their evidence may preserve the correct reading.
The revisers of the New Testament used Nestle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graece (twenty-sixth edition, 1979) as their base text. This choice resulted in several textual changes from The New English Bible text, which followed a very eclectic text. The translators of the NEB adopted readings never before put into print by English translators. The scholars working on the REB adjusted many of these readings in the interest of providing a more balanced text. At the same time, they also made some significant textual changes. The most outstanding is what they did with the story of woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11). Reflecting the overwhelming evidence of the Greek manuscripts, this story is not included in the main body of John. Rather, it is printed as an appendix after the Gospel of John.
The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
As the title clearly indicates, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is a revision of the Revised Standard Version(RSV). In due course, the time had come for yet another revision of the Authorized Version. In the preface to this revision, Bruce Metzger, chair of the revision committee, wrote:
The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible is an authorized revision of the Revised Standard Version, published in 1952, which was a revision of the American Standard Version, published in 1901, which, in turn, embodied earlier revisions of the King James Version, published in 1611.
The need for issuing a revision of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible arises from three circumstances: (a) the acquisition of still older Biblical manuscripts, (b) further investigation of linguistic features of the text, and (c) changes in preferred English usage (from the Preface, i).
Metzger’s three reasons for producing the New Revised Standard Version are essentially the same reasons behind all revisions of Bible translations. But the NRSV does present significant revision, especially with respect to the first and third of these issues: the acquisition of older Biblical manuscripts and changes in preferred English usage.
In the preface to the NRSV, the translators state that the discovery of additional Dead Sea Scrolls, not available to the RSV committee, significantly contributed to the revision. Thus, while using the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (1977; ed. sec. emendata, 1983) as their primary text, the Old Testament Committee departed from it when the evidence of the Qumran manuscripts or other early versions (in Greek, Old Latin, and Syriac) warranted departure.
The departure from the MT is most manifest in 1 and 2 Samuel. One look at 1 Samuel 1-2 is quite telling. As Scanlin says, “These chapters contain the account of the birth and early life of Samuel. The NRSV contains twenty-seven textual notes in these two chapters; the translation departs from the MT in all cases, with Qumran support for seventeen departures from the MT”(Scanlin, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Modern Translations of the Old Testament, 115-116). The NRSV, departing from the MT, adopts the longer text of the Old Greek in 1 Samuel 4:1; 13:15; 14:23-24; and 29:10. These and other examples reveal that the increase in the number of MT departures indicates that text-critical considerations have increased in recent years.
Of all the modern translations, the NRSV most closely follows the text of NA26/UBS3. No doubt, this is due to Bruce Metzger’s involvement in both editorial committees—a leading member of the NA26/UBS3 committee and the chair for the NRSV committee. As such, this translation reflects the most up-to-date textual studies for the New Testament. Many readings never before accepted in a Bible translation were included in the NRSV. For example, the NRSV adopts the reading “Jesus Barabbas” as the name of the rebel who was released by Pilate instead of Jesus of Nazareth (Matt. 27:16).
Perhaps the most notable feature of the NRSV is its attention to gender-inclusive language. While respecting the historicity of the ancient texts, the NRSV translators attempted to make this new revision more palpable to readers who prefer gender-inclusive language. They did this by avoiding unnecessarily masculine renderings wherever possible. For example, in the New Testament epistles, the believers are referred to with a word that is traditionally rendered “brothers” (adelphoi), yet it is clear that these epistles were addressed to all the believers—both male and female. Thus, the NRSV translators have used such phrases as “brothers and sisters” or “friends” (always with a footnote saying “Greek, brothers”) in order to represent the historical situation while remaining sensitive to modern readers.
Metzger and the other translators were careful, however, not to overemphasize the gender-inclusiveness principle. Some readers had been hoping for a more radical revision regarding gender-inclusiveness. Many of these readers were hoping that the revision would incorporate this principle with language about God changing such phrases such as “God our father” to “God our parent.” But the NRSV revisers, under the leadership of Metzger, decided against this approach, considering it an inaccurate reflection of the original text’s intended meaning.
Contemporary English Version (CEV)
Barclay Newman of the American Bible Society is the pioneer of a new translation for early youth. Working according to Eugene Nida’s model of functional equivalence, Newman, in cooperation with other members of the American Bible Society, produced fresh translations of New Testament books based on the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (third, corrected edition, 1983). These first appeared as individual books: A Book about Jesus (containing passages from the four Gospels), Luke Tells the Good News about Jesus, and Good News Travels Fast: The Acts of the Apostles. Then the complete New Testament was published in 1991. With the aid of other scholars, Barclay Newman completed the entire Bible in 1994.
The CEV aims to be both reliable to the original languages and readable for modern English-speakers. In producing this kind of translation, the translators were constantly asking two questions: (1) “What do the words mean?” and (2) “What is the most accurate and natural way to express this meaning in contemporary English?” Since many technical terms such as “salvation,” “grace,” and “righteousness” do not readily communicate to modern readers, the CEV translators have sought natural English equivalents such as “God saves you,” “God is kind to you,” and “God accepts you.” Sometimes translators cannot avoid using difficult terms in the text (such as “Pharisee,” “Day of Atonement,” and “circumcise”) because these words hold religious significance that cannot easily be conveyed in simpler terms. In order to help the reader with these words, the CEV defines such terms in a separate word list.
New Living Translation (NLT)
With over forty million copies in print, The Living Bible has been a very popular version of the Bible for more than thirty years. But various criticisms spurred the translator of The Living Bible, Kenneth Taylor, to produce a revision of his paraphrase. Under the sponsorship of Tyndale House Publishers, The Living Bible underwent a thorough revision. More than ninety evangelical scholars from various theological backgrounds and denominations worked for seven years to produce the New Living Translation (NLT). As a result, the NLT is a version that is exegetically accurate and idiomatically powerful.
The scholars carefully revised the text of The Living Bible according to the most reliable editions of the Hebrew and Greek texts. For the Old Testament, the revisers used the Masoretic Text as it appears in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia(1967, 1977). They also made use of the Dead Sea Scrolls and a few other important versions, including the Septuagint. The revisers of the New Testament used the text of NA27/UBS4 as their base text.
The translation method behind the NLT has been described as “dynamic equivalence” or “functional equivalence.” The goal of this kind of translation is to produce in English the closest natural equivalent of the message of the Hebrew and Greek texts both in meaning and in style. Such a translation should attempt to have the same impact upon modern readers as the original had upon its audience. To translate the Bible in this manner requires that the text be interpreted accurately and then rendered in understandable, current English. In doing this, the translators attempted to enter into the same thought pattern as the author and present the same idea, connotation, and effect in the receptor language. To guard against personal subjectivism and insure accuracy of message, the NLT was produced by a large group of scholars who were each well-studied in their particular area. To ensure that the translation would be extremely readable and understandable, a group of stylists adjusted the wording to make it clear and fluent.
A thought-for-thought translation created by a group of capable scholars has the potential to represent the intended meaning of the original text even more accurately than a word-for-word translation. This is illustrated by the various renderings of the Hebrew word hesed. This term cannot be adequately translated by any single English word because it can connote love, mercy, grace, kindness, faithfulness, and loyalty. The context—not the lexicon—must determine which English term is selected for translation.
The value of a thought-for-thought translation can be illustrated by comparing 1 Kings 2:10 in the King James Version, the New International Version, and the New Living Translation. “So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David” (KJV). “Then David rested with his fathers and was buried in the City of David” (NIV). “Then David died and was buried in the City of David” (NLT). Only the New Living Translation clearly translates the intended meaning of the Hebrew idiom “slept with his fathers” into contemporary English (from the introduction).
In a recent work, entitled The Journey from Texts to Translations, Wegner provides an excellent comparative study between the original Living Bible and the New Living Translation. He applauds the scholarship that went into the New Living Translation—both in terms of the caliber of scholars who worked on the revision and in terms of the translation methodology (dynamic equivalence) that was applied. Wegner’s estimation is that “the language of the New Living Translation is clear and intelligible; … its vastly improved accuracy over the The Living Bible can be credited to the fine team of translators”(390). [285-309]
Comfort, Philip. Essential Guide to Bible Versions, 2000.
Edwards, Brian. God’s Outlaw, 1981.
Kubo, Sakae, and Walter Specht. So Many Versions? rev. ed., 1983
Scanlin, Harold. Dead Sea Scrolls and Modern Translations of the Old Testament, 1993.
Skilton, J. H. “English Versions of the Bible” in the New Bible Dictionary, ed. j. D. Douglas, 1962.
Wegner, Paul. The Journey from Texts to Translations, 1999.