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Bible Versions

BIBLE, ENGLISH VERSIONS. Published trs. of the Holy Scriptures in the Eng. language.


Need for versions and new versions.

A. The ordinary reader cannot read the Scriptures in the original Heb. and Gr. Only a Biblereading Christian can be an effective Christian to the limit of his potential; only a Bible-reading church can be truly effective in service to God and in witnessing to the world. These considerations require the tr. of the Scriptures into all languages of the world, including Eng., and the progressive revision and improvement of trs.

B. The Eng. language continues to change. Since the earliest Bible trs. into Eng., the language has changed so much that the VSS of 600 years ago are barely intelligible to the ordinary reader today. The language is still changing, with new words and expressions coming into use and old ones becoming obsolete and, in time, unintelligible. If the Bible is to be understood and believed by present-day people it must be in a language which conveys a clear meaning to them. As long as Eng. continues to be a living language there will be a need for new and improved trs. of the Bible in Eng.

C. New MSS have been discovered, giving a truer text as a base for tr. Since the KJV was produced, there have been three great discoveries of previously unknown MSS which have greatly increased the available resources for reconstruction of a thoroughly accurate and trustworthy text of the Scriptures in the original languages, thus making possible more accurate and faithful VSS. These discoveries are:

(1) The Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph), discovered in 1844 in the monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai peninsula by Tischendorf. This Gr. MS of the NT, written in the 4th cent. and containing most of the NT, proved to be of immense value for establishing the genuine text of the NT. It is recognized as one of the three or four most important Gr. MSS of the NT. (2) The NT papyri, a series of fragments discovered in Egypt from 1895, while less important than the Aleph, has nevertheless proved of great value for scholarly study of the NT. (3) The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in caves near the Dead Sea beginning in 1947, have provided an almost complete MS of the Heb. text of Isaiah, another scroll of Isaiah somewhat less complete, and portions of almost every book of the OT. These MSS are hundreds of years older than the oldest previously known extant MSS of the OT in Heb. For the most part they have strongly confirmed the authenticity of the previously known Heb. text. At some points they have enabled scholars to determine a more accurate form of the text.

D. Biblical scholarship has progressively advanced, making greater accuracy possible. Present knowledge is built upon foundations laid in the past, and with the passing of time an increasing storehouse of knowledge is laid up. Scholars of the present day have at their disposal resources which were comparatively unknown two or three centuries ago. This is the case esp. along two lines: (1) Textual criticism as an exact and rigorous discipline has been largely a development of the last 100 years. This discipline undertakes to establish the genuine text of a book or document, as far as possible, by the use of scholarly procedures of great precision in determining which of existing variant readings is the authentic original and therefore correct one. This study has reached such a stage of precise accomplishment that for all practical purposes scholars have the correct original text of the Scriptures today. The small residue of readings about which uncertainty exists affects no basic doctrine of the Christian faith. When the KJV and prior translations were made, textual criticism was virtually non-existent or at best merely in its infancy. (2) Philology or the study of languages has made great advances during the last 300 years. Not only has great progress been made in the study of Heb. and Gr. as languages, but the study of cognate languages has added to the understanding of the Scriptures. This is esp. true of the study of classical Arab. which is cognate to Biblical Heb. and has often provided a key to the meaning of a Heb. word occurring only once in the OT. Other languages which have aided in understanding Biblical Heb. are Akkadian (Babylonian-Assyrian) and esp. Ugaritic (the extinct language of the Ras Shamra tablets). A wealth of knowledge is available from these and similar sources which was all but unknown 300 years ago.

E. The need for new VSS is not as great as is often supposed, and it is often exaggerated. The differences between the KJV and the most accurate modern VSS are comparatively slight. All the main teachings of the Bible are quite clear in the KJV or almost any other VS. Some modern VSS have been promoted with publicity suggesting that they will make the Bible a new book to the ordinary reader, with the result that people who formerly did not read the Bible will become avid Bible readers. This kind of thinking rests upon a mistaken assumption, namely, that it is the somewhat archaic Eng. and occasional obsolete word or expression in the KJV that keeps most modern people from the Bible, and that when these obstacles are removed, people will eagerly read and study the Scriptures. In fact, however, what keeps modern man from reading the Bible is human sinfulness and enmity against God (Rom 1:28; 1 Cor 2:14). Sinful man needs spiritual regeneration and enlightenment, not merely easy access to knowledge. It is not only that modern man is ignorant of the teachings of the Bible; it is rather that even when he knows what those teachings are, he is opposed to them because they pronounce judgment on his sin, and they are contrary to the modern man-centered world-view.

F. The importance of the Bible requires the best possible contemporary VS for the times. As the Bible is the message of God addressed to man, it should be made available in the best possible VS, which will most faithfully reproduce in Eng. the thought of the original, and which will be most easily grasped by the present-day reader. Providing the best possible Eng. VS will not of itself induce Christian faith, but it will remove one of the semantic obstacles to faith and thus clear the way for the Holy Spirit’s work of producing repentance, faith and commitment.

Principles of Bible translation.

A. The starting point is a correct original text. There are many MSS of the Scriptures in Heb. and Gr., and there are often slight variations between MSS. In the case of the Gr. NT, there are thousands of MSS of all or part of the NT, and of these no two are exactly alike. Obviously some errors have been committed in the process of copying MSS before the invention of printing. To weed these errors out is the task of textual criticism, which seeks to restore insofar as possible the genuine text of the lost original documents (called autographs). No tr. can be better than the text from which it is made. No matter how great the learning and skill of the trs., and no matter how carefully they work, they cannot turn out a product better than the Heb. or Gr. text they are tr. It is possible to make a poor tr. of a good text, and it is also possible to make a good tr. of a poor text. In the latter case the “good” tr. will faithfully reproduce the errors which may exist in the corrupt original text. In the case of the KJV of the NT, it is a good tr. of a rather poor text, a text vastly inferior to what is available to scholars of the present day. Manuscript discoveries since the KJV tr’s. worked, and textual criticism in the hands of competent scholars, have given a text of the Gr. NT greatly superior to the best that was available in 1611.

B. Fidelity to the meaning of the original text is important. Bible VSS vary in their degree of fidelity to the original text. Lack of fidelity or a low degree of fidelity may arise from: (1) Lack of philological and/or theological learning. This, however, is seldom the case at the present day except in certain “one man” trs. (2) Excessive zeal for modernizing the language of the Bible may lead to a low degree of fidelity to the original. Such zeal may lead tr’s. to take liberties which they should not take with statements of the original. (3) Theological bias has sometimes affected the work of trs. improperly. Complete objectivity is impossible in any scholarly work, and it is inevitable that a tr’s. personal faith, theological convictions, basic assumptions and world view will affect his work as a tr. Hence, it is not surprising that VSS made by theological liberals have at some points reflected their theological viewpoint. If a given word can be legitimately tr. in either of two different ways, and one of these is in harmony with the language and teachings of Scripture elsewhere, while the other introduces a contradiction or conflict into the English VS of the Bible, the tr. who is committed to the plenary inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible and its internal consistency as an organic whole will choose the tr. which is compatible with these principles; the tr. who does not accept these principles may choose the rendering which is most compatible with the modern world view, even though it involves a contradiction of other Scripture statements.

C. Skill in the use of Eng. is needed. Much depends on the ability of the tr., his facility in using the Eng. language in such a way as to combine accuracy and fidelity with lucidity and forcefulness in the use of modern diction and idiom. A danger exists of going to an extreme in one direction or another. (1) Excessive literality should be avoided. A close literal tr., rather than being the most faithful, may actually be misleading to the modern reader. To tr. Matthew 20:2, “And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard” (KJV), is certainly literal, but may mislead modern readers into supposing that these men were paid almost nothing for their work. The tr. must strive to use language that will accurately convey the precise thought of the original to the reader. And, of course, the too literal tr., even when faithful to the thought of the original, may be clumsy and unnatural Eng. (2) Excessive freedom also should be avoided. Excessive freedom is a danger, of course, in paraphrases and “expanded trs.” These may or may not be helpful, depending on the learning and skill of the trs. and their restraint and self-discipline in their work. Excessive freedom in tr. often tends to substitute general or inclusive ideas for particular or specific ones of the Bible, e.g., tr. “presbyter” or “deacon” as “church officer.” The greatest danger involved in excessive freedom, however, is that modern ideas which are really foreign to the Scriptures may be introduced into the tr. Excessive freedom in tr. gives an entrance to all kinds of theological bias and thus militates against fidelity. (3) A wise middle ground should be sought. The ideal tr. will be neither too literal nor too free. Just where the line will be drawn between literality and freedom will depend on the purpose for which the tr. is intended. No universally applicable rule of thumb can govern in a matter of this kind. To produce a tr. which is neither too literal nor too free, the tr. must be not only learned and skillful, but also wise. The truly great and good trs. are products not only of scholarship but of real wisdom, and they will stand the test of time when those of less merit lapse into oblivion.

Anglo-Saxon and Middle English VSS.

The Scriptures in Anglo-Saxon.

Anglo-Saxon, a member of the W Germanic group of the Indo-European family of languages, was the true parent of Eng., even though so different from modern Eng. as to be unintelligible today without special study. This language in its several dialects was the speech of the people of England when Christianity reached them in the 6th cent. The Old British Church, dating from Rom. times, was made up of people of the Celtic race and used the Scriptures in Lat. This church was largely eliminated or driven into the mountains of Wales by the invasions of Germanic tribes from the continent. When Christianity reached the Eng., as distinguished from the earlier British, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes were pagans with a religion similar to that of the Germans and Scandinavians. As Eng. became Christianized, there was need for the Bible in their common language, even though the Lat. Bible remained dominant throughout the Middle Ages. About a.d. 675 Caedmon composed and sang paraphrases of passages of the Bible in Anglo-Saxon. His production, however, was not really a tr. of the Bible, but a song based on Biblical narratives. This served for a time as a sort of makeshift Bible for the Eng. people.

Some VSS of the Psalms and gospels appeared in Old Eng. or Anglo-Saxon times. A bishop named Aldhelm is credited with tr. the Psalter about a.d. 700. Bede, a learned monk, tr. portions of the NT into Anglo-Saxon or Old Eng. King Alfred (a.d. 871-901) provided for the tr. into the common language of the Ten Commandments and portions of Exodus and Acts. He is said also to have made a new tr. of some of the Psalms.

Interlinear trs. into Old Eng. appear in some Lat. MSS, dating from the 9th and 10th centuries. From the same period come the Wessex Gospels in Old Eng. About the end of the 10th cent. an abbot named Aelfric tr. portions of the OT from Genesis through Judges. The Wessex Gospels and Aelfric’s trs. are not completely unintelligible to the modern reader, though it is impossible to follow them closely without a special study of their language. It should be realized that these Anglo-Saxon or Old Eng. trs. of portions of Scripture were never the sole or main Bible of the church. Latin was the basic Scripture and was used almost exclusively by the clergy, while the vernacular portions had an appeal to the ordinary Christian who was ignorant of Lat.

The Scriptures in Middle English prior to Wycliffe.

The Norman conquest of England (a.d. 1066) marked the end of the production of Scripture trs. into Eng. for some three centuries during which time Norman French largely supplanted Eng. among educated people, and Lat., of course, continued to be used by the clergy. In the 14th cent. Eng. trs. of the Scriptures began to appear again, the form of the language being what is now called Middle English. These included two trs. of the Psalms and one of several of the NT epistles. Somewhat later came the Book of Acts and part of Matthew. A modern reader who is familiar with the Bible can follow these VSS with a high degree of comprehension of the meaning. Often it is only the spelling that impresses one as strange.

The Wycliffite VSS.

John Wycliffe was born about a.d. 1330 and died in 1384. He was a learned theological scholar of Oxford. A strong believer in the Bible as the Word of God addressed to every man, he felt the need of providing the Scriptures in a form that the ordinary person could use. Interested in both religious and political reform in England, Wycliffe had powerful enemies who finally were able to bring him to trial for heresy. In the ecclesiastical trial which followed, Wycliffe’s doctrines were condemned as heretical, and he was forced to retire from public life. He spent the remaining year and a half of his life in retirement.

Wycliffe himself was not a tr. of the Bible, as far as is known. However, he promoted Bible tr., and two complete VSS of the Bible were produced as a part of his movement. These were handwritten as printing had not yet been invented. The first Wycliffite VS appeared soon after 1380, and the second one some years later, after Wycliffe’s death. Both were tr. from the Lat. VS known as the Vul.

The first Wycliffite VS is a literal rendering of the Lat. The identity of the tr(s). is unknown, but there is some evidence that a monk named Nicholas of Hereford did at least part of the work. The second Wycliffite VS was made by Wycliffe’s secretary, John Purvey, after Wycliffe’s death. Purvey started with the first Wycliffite VS and revised it completely, producing a Bible with much more natural and idiomatic Eng. than the earlier VS had. Purvey found that many existing MSS of the Lat. Vul. were corrupt, and he did considerable critical study in collected Vul. MSS in order to obtain as pure a Lat. text as possible as his starting point for revising the first Wycliffite VS. Purvey’s VS, although of necessity circulated only in MS form, had wide influence, not only immediately after Wycliffe’s time and among the membership of his movement, but among the general population of England down to the time when printing was invented and newer trs. began to be published.

Modern VSS prior to 1611.

The Tyndale VS, 1534.

William Tyndale was born about 1494. He studied at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Two things prepared the way for the publication of his monumental Eng. VS of the NT: (1) The invention of the art of printing, about a.d. 1450; (2) the publication of Erasmus’ ed. of the NT in the original Gr., a.d. 1516, with subsequent revisions. Although printing had been in existence for three quarters of a cent. before the publication of Tyndale’s VS, there were obstacles to the publication of a printed Eng. Bible which prevented the production of Purvey’s Wycliffite VS in printed form. Tyndale’s was therefore the first printed ed. of the Scriptures in Eng.

Tyndale was a student of both Gr. and Heb. He tr. the NT directly from Gr. into Eng., unlike previous VSS which had depended on the Lat. Vul. While still a young man Tyndale conceived the idea of making a new and better tr. of the Scriptures in Eng., an idea which increasingly became his life’s interest and passion. About 1523 he sought help and encouragement from the Bishop of London, but obtained none, and the next year he decided that it would be virtually impossible to do what he had in mind anywhere in England. He left England, never to return, in 1524, going to Germany. To escape interference he found it necessary to move from place to place several times. At one point he visited the Reformer Martin Luther at Wittenberg. In 1525 or 1526 copies of Tyndale’s first Eng. NT reached England. He published repeated edd. of his NT and also worked on the tr. of the OT. His OT tr. was based on the original Heb., the Lat. Vul. and earlier modern trs. More than 15,000 copies of the first six edd. of Tyndale’s NT were printed. Many copies were purchased by the Bishop of London with the intention of burning them. Tyndale used the money thus obtained to publish new edd. and larger printings.

In 1523 Tyndale was betrayed to his enemies while living in Belgium. He was imprisoned, tried for heresy and convicted, put to death by strangling (6 Oct. 1536), and his body burned. His last words were: “Lord open the king of England’s eyes.” Before his death an ed. of the whole Bible, based largely upon Tyndale’s work but without his name, was being circulated and read in England, openly, with the permission of the king, so Tyndale’s dying prayer was already being answered, though he was not aware of this at the time.

Tyndale’s VS is important not only because it was a pioneer effort in tr. the Scriptures directly from the original languages into Eng., but also because of the great influence it had upon later VSS. There is a fresh naturalness in Tyndale’s style, a simplicity and directness that mark the work as a truly great achievement in lit., apart from its epoch-making religious importance. A great deal of the beautiful Eng. style of the KJV goes back to the work of William Tyndale, so that one may rightly say that Tyndale’s work lives on in the Bibles of the present day.

The Coverdale VS, 1535.

Born about 1488, Miles Coverdale was a few years Tyndale’s senior. After being educated at Cambridge and becoming a priest, he developed a consuming passion for learning, esp. in the field of Biblical studies. He went to Germany in 1528. In 1535 his tr. of the Bible was printed, prob. in Germany. Though not officially endorsed by the Eng. government, it was not banned. In 1538-39 Coverdale worked in Paris supervising the printing of another Eng. VS, the Great Bible (published 1540). He died in 1569.

Unlike Tyndale, Coverdale did not attempt to tr. directly from Heb. and Gr. into Eng. He depended largely on the Lat. Vul., on Luther’s Ger. tr. and on Tyndale’s Eng. one. Coverdale’s was the first complete Eng. Bible to be printed. Bishop Westcott stated that Coverdale’s NT is a revision of Tyndale’s first ed., revised by means of Tyndale’s second and also by comparison with Luther’s Ger. VS. While not having the pioneering importance of Tyndale’s work, Coverdale’s Bible holds a noble place in the history of the Eng. Bible.

Matthew’s Bible, 1537.

The Bible called Matthew’s Bible is believed to be the work of a man named John Rogers, who came into possession of some of Tyndale’s yet unpublished trs. of some of the OT books. Rogers, born in or about 1500, served for a period of years as a pastor in Germany. After returning to England he was burned alive in 1555. It is believed that the name “Thomas Matthew” which appears on the title page is a pseudonym intended to veil the identity of the real tr. and to prevent people from identifying the book with Tyndale and Tyndale’s disciples. Part of the OT is virtually identical with Tyndale’s VS, but part is a new tr. It is estimated that about two-thirds of Matthew’s Bible is the work of Tyndale. Matthew’s VS became the basis for the Bishops’ Bible, Great Bible and the KJV.

Taverner's Bible|Taverner’s Bible, 1539.

Richard Taverner was born about 1505. He studied at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. On one occasion he was jailed for reading Tyndale’s NT. He studied law and became a lawyer, while continuing his interest in the Eng. Bible. Taverner had a good knowledge of Gr. For a time he was imprisoned in the Tower of London because of his activity in Bible tr. and revision. Under Queen Elizabeth I, however, he was appointed to political office.

Taverner’s Bible was first published in London in 1539. This VS is a minor revision of Matthew’s Bible. Its influence was not great, though it did have a permanent effect in introducing some good Eng. words in place of terms of Lat. derivation.

The Great Bible, 1540.

Both Coverdale’s and Matthew’s VSS were being freely circulated and read in England, yet there existed a demand for a better VS, and esp. one without the marginal explanatory notes of Matthew’s VS, which were regarded as objectionable by some of the clergy as too strongly Protestant. Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII’s vicegerent in matters pertaining to the Church of England, encouraged the production of the Great Bible, which was printed in Paris. The printing was interrupted by the Roman Catholic Inquisition, but later resumed and completed in England. The term “Great” comes from the size of the volume, which was the largest of all Eng. Bibles yet published. It was published in 1540, with a preface by Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the title page bore the words, “This is the Bible appointed to be read in Churches.” It was really an “authorized” VS. Because of political changes in England this Bible had its ups and downs. At one time it was ordered placed in churches, at another time ordered removed, and then later again ordered placed. The last printing took place in 1569.

The Geneva Version, 1560.

Roman Catholic ascendancy and persecution in England under Mary (1553-58) made further Bible tr. and publication there virtually impossible. Several Eng. Protestant scholars fled to Switzerland for safety, and gathered at Geneva, the headquarters of the Reformed type of Protestantism and the residence of the Reformer John Calvin. William Whittingham had a revised NT published at Geneva in 1557. Soon after this, several scholars began work on a revision of the whole Bible, a labor on which they spent some two years. The outcome of this effort was the Geneva VS, published in 1560.

The Geneva VS was based mainly on the Great Bible in the OT and on Tyndale’s VS in the NT. It contained copious notes, most of which were scholarly explanations of difficult points in the text, such as historical and geographical references. Some of the notes were doctrinal and some hortatory. A few were objcted to by some Protestants as too Calvinistic. The Geneva VS soon became popular and widely read and its influence was great, more perhaps in the homes of the people than in the churches and among the clergy.

The Bishops’ Bible, 1568.

In 1566 Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, initiated the effort to produce a revision of the Bible by the bishops of the Church of England. They used the Great Bible as their basis for revision. The product is of uneven quality, the NT being much better, in general, than the OT. The Bishops’ Bible was used generally in churches until 1611. Printing of it ceased in 1602.

The Rheims-Douay Bible, 1582-1610.

After Elizabeth I became queen, many Roman Catholics left England, most of them going to France or Belgium. Among Eng. Catholic refugees at the University of Douay in northern France there came to be felt a need for an Eng. VS of the Bible approved by the authorities of the Roman Catholic Church. This resulted in the production of the Rheims-Douay Bible, of which the NT was published at Rheims in 1582 and the OT at Douay in 1610. This VS was made from the Lat. Vul., with occasional slight help from the Heb. and Gr. originals. The Eng. style and diction are poor in comparison with the contemporary Protestant VSS and esp. in comparison with the beautiful English of the KJV which appeared soon after the Rheims-Douay VS was completed. In 1749-50 it was published in revised form by Dr. Richard Challoner. There also have been further revisions since Challoner and on the basis of his work.

The King James Version, 1611.


James I became king of England in 1603. In 1604 he called the Hampton Court Conference, an effort to prepare the way for reconciliation between the religious parties existing in his kingdom. This conference failed to bring about any real reconciliation between the bishops and the Puritan party. It did however have the positive result of preparing the way for the production of the King James Version of the Bible. A resolution was passed calling for a tr. of the whole Bible from the original Heb. and Gr. into Eng., with no marginal notes or comments whatever, to be the sole Bible for use in the public worship services of the Church of England. Though not all the bishops were in favor of the new project, King James endorsed it, stating that none of the existing Eng. VSS was tr. well, and in his opinion the Geneva VS was the worst of them all! James called for a new VS to be prepared by the best scholars in Oxford and Cambridge universities, then reviewed by the bishops of the Church of England, and finally to be officially approved by the Privy Council and the king as the only Bible to be used in the Church of England.

Method of Production.

Forty-seven scholars were recruited for the work, and these were the most learned men of their time in England. The work of tr. took some two years. The Bishops’ Bible was used as a basis, but others, including Tyndale’s, Coverdale’s and the Geneva VS could be used as added helps.

Elements of strength and weakness.

The KJV trs. had at their disposal better Heb. and Gr. texts than previous trs., though the best they had were still much inferior to the critical texts available today. The final product was certainly the best Eng. Bible that had ever existed. The Eng. style is universally recognized as superb. Most noteworthy, however, is the remarkable fidelity of the KJV trs. to the truth of the Scriptures. Though working with a poor NT text, they produced a faithful and accurate tr. That the KJV even today holds its own as the leading Eng. Bible is a monument to their diligence and faithfulness.

Continuing popularity and influence.

Even after 350 years and numerous revisions and new trs., the KJV is still by far the most popular and widely circulated Eng. Bible. It has been precious to millions who have loved it for its simple, dignified, beautiful presentation of the Word of God. It seems unlikely that the KJV will be supplanted by another VS in the near future. It has abundantly proved itself pre-eminently the Bible of the English speaking world.

Important versions since the KJV.

Young’s Literal Translation, 1863.

This VS was produced by Robert Young, the compiler of the well-known Young’s Analytical Concordance. Young held that the only truly faithful tr. is a literal one. The first edition was published in Edinburgh in 1863.

The English Revised Version, 1881-1885.

The impulse to produce this VS came from within the Church of England, but scholars of several denominations participated in the work, including an American committee. The basis for revision was the KJV, which could be changed only by a two-thirds vote of the main committee.

The NT was published in 1881, and included an appendix with readings preferred by the American committee but not adopted by the British committee. The OT was issued in 1885, and the entire Bible in one volume in 1898.

This VS is a conservative, cautious revision of the KJV. It retained much, but not all, of the English style of the KJV. It has had considerable circulation but has never come near the KJV in sales or popular favor.

The American Standard Version, 1901.

The American Revision Committee that cooperated in producing the Eng. RV had promised to refrain from publishing an American ed. of the RV for 14 years. In 1901 the American RV or ASV came out, embodying those readings favored by the American committee. Among the important differences between the two are the use of “Jehovah” instead of “Lord” in the OT as the tr. of the Heb. יהוה, H3378, the use of “Holy Spirit” in place of “Holy Ghost” and the use of “love” instead of “charity” in 1 Corinthians 13.

Lacking something of the literary beauty of the KJV, the ASV VS excels it in accuracy, and is based on a superior Gr. text in the NT. It has been used widely as a Bible for study, but has never enjoyed the popularity of the KJV.

Weymouth’s Modern Speech NT, 1903.

Translated by R. F. Weymouth, a British Baptist layman, this VS has twice (1924, 1933) been revised by others since the tr’s. death. It is still of value today. It is a product of substantial scholarship and is marked by a reverent attitude toward the text of Scripture.

The Twentieth Century NT, 1904.

This VS was made by about twenty scholars of various denominations. The order of books varies from that of most Bibles, the gospel of Mark coming first. The tr. is very free.

The Jewish Version of 1917.

This contains the canonical books of the OT only, and in general is very similar to the KJV. The preface states that “...the christological interpretations in non-Jewish translations are out of place in a Jewish Bible...” (p. viii), and the trs. were at some pains to avoid “christological interpretations,” as is evident esp. in their rendering of Genesis 3:15 and Isaiah 9:5.

Moffatt’s New Translation, 1924, 1935.

James Moffatt was an outstanding theological liberal, who frankly disclaimed belief in the verbal inspiration of Scripture. This viewpoint affected his work, esp. in certain crucial passages. Still, this is a work of solid scholarship and brilliant style and has been popular for many years.

The Smith-Goodspeed Version, 1931.

Edgar Goodspeed published his NT in 1923. The OT was tr. by H. M. Powis Smith and others (1927) and the whole Bible appeared in 1931. The sub-title is “An American Translation.” At some points the freedom of tr. verges on paraphrase.

The Charles B. Williams NT, 1937.

Subtitled, “A Translation in the Language of the People,” this VS by an American Baptist scholar must be carefully distinguished from that of the British scholar Charles K. Williams. That of Charles B. Williams is regarded by many as one of the best of the modern VSS of the NT.

Ronald Knox’s Catholic Version, 1944-50.

This VS by a British Roman Catholic scholar is a production of real merit. Though based on the Lat. Vul., the work shows thorough acquaintance with the Heb. and Gr. originals. The tr. is forceful and readable, and quite faithful to the original. Many Roman Catholic interpretations are found in the footnotes. Knox’s VS has been popular esp. among British Roman Catholics.

The Revised Standard Version, 1946-52.

This purports to be a revision of the KJV and the ERV and ASV of 1881-85 and 1901. It still retains something of the literary style of the KJV. Its renderings are dignified and free from vulgar, slangy or merely contemporary usages. The theological liberalism of many of the trs. certainly affected their work, esp. at certain crucial points such as Isaiah 7:14. Exception may be taken, also, to the rather free use of conjectural emendation (which is sometimes, but not always, indicated in footnotes). The RSV has proven very popular and is widely used, though it lags far behind the KJV in circulation and popularity. A Roman Catholic ed. of the RSV has recently appeared.

The Confraternity Version, 1948.

This is a Roman Catholic VS and is essentially a modern Eng. revision of the Rheims-Douay-Challoner VS. The OT is not completed in the new VS; most printings have several books of the OT in the new VS and the rest of the OT in the older VS. It is a scholarly production but suffers from the disadvantage of being a tr. of the Lat. Vul. rather than of the Heb. and Gr. originals. It contains the Apoc. and numerous footnotes, many of which are typically Roman Catholic in tendency.

The New World Translation, 1950-60.

Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, an agency of the International Bible Students Association, this is the Bible of the sect commonly known as Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is marred throughout by its very obvious bias in favor of the peculiar doctrines of the sect which produced it. Apart from this, it is of uneven quality, sometimes being stiffly literal and sometimes excessively colloquial.

The NT in Modern English, by J. B. Phillips, 1958.

This is a paraphrase rather than a tr. Many have found it very acceptable, and beyond question it presents the NT in a form that the modern reader can grasp easily. 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.” This VS will be of value chiefly as a sidelight used along with one or more of the less free “standard” VSS.

The Berkeley Version, 1959.

The NT of this VS was published in 1945, the entire Bible in 1959; published after further revision in 1971 under the title The Modern Language Bible. The theological orientation is evangelical and the Scriptures are treated throughout as the infallible Word of God. The Eng. is more modern than that of the RSV, but not excessively colloquial. This is perhaps the most faithful and satisfactory VS of the whole Bible in truly modern English. Among the numerous footnotes are many of real value in helping the reader to grasp the meaning of the text.

The New American Standard Bible.

The NT was published in 1960, the entire Bible in 1971. This is the American Standard Version of 1901 with the Eng. somewhat modernized. Certain renderings of the 1901 VS to which objection had been raised (e.g., 2 Tim 3:16) have been corrected. This VS has copious references in columns at the side of the pages. It has been criticized as being somewhat pedantic or arbitrary in the rendering of Gr. tenses. On the whole, however, it is an excellent production and will no doubt have wide influential use.

Wuest’s Expanded Translation of the NT, 1961.

This NT is similar to the Amplified VS. Essentially a paraphrase, it should be used as such, along with more literal VSS, not by itself alone.

The New English Bible:

The NT in Plain English (Charles Kingsley Williams), 1963.

This VS is an attempt to render the NT into Eng. with a very limited vocabulary, with only about half as many words as are in the Gr. NT. What a VS of this type gains in apparent simplicity is lost in real communication of truth. This VS may be of some use to readers for whom Eng. is a foreign language.

The NT in the Language of Today: An American Translation (William F. Beck).

This modern Eng. VS by a Lutheran scholar is an excellent production. Faithful to the Scriptures, modern in language and style, free from vulgarity, it is a work of able scholarship and reverent faith. It may well prove to be of lasting importance.

The Amplified Bible, 1965.

The NT of this VS appeared in 1958; the OT later in two parts, and the entire Bible in 1965. By the use of parentheses and brackets it attempts to bring out more fully the meaning of important expressions. Such “amplification,” of course, opens the door to debatable interpretation. Often the “amplification” is merely superfluous; nothing is really added by inserting “changed” in parenthesis after “transformed” (Rom 12:2). A VS of this type should be used as a help, with a more conventional VS, not as an authority by itself.

The Letters of Paul: An Expanded Paraphrase (F. F. Bruce), 1965.

This VS gives the RV (Eng., 1881-1885) on the left-hand pages, and Professor Bruce’s “expanded paraphrase” the opposite right-hand pages. A work of substantial learning, it should help many readers to grasp more fully the thought of Paul’s epistles.

Today’s English Version (“Good News for Modern Man”; NT only; American Bible Society, 1966).

Inexpensively published for mass circulation, this VS has attained considerable popularity. In attempting to present the NT in very simple form, the richness of Biblical thought has sometimes been lost, e.g., the use of “put right” instead of “justify.” This VS may help many to become Bible readers, but they should not depend exclusively on it, nor stop with it, but go on to other VSS of the Bible.

The Jerusalem Bible, 1966.

This is a Roman Catholic VS first published in England. It began as a French VS produced by Catholic scholars in Jerusalem, hence the name “Jerusalem Bible.” It includes a commentary on the same pages as the text. Various viewpoints of negative Biblical criticism are incorporated in the notes.

The Living Bible, 1972.

This rather free paraphrase has become very popular and widely circulated. As in all “expanded translations” and paraphrases, debatable interpretation is sometimes introduced.

New International Version New Testament, 1973.

The NIV is the result of a transdenominational effort by 100 scholars, sponsored by the New York Bible Society International. Each book was developed by a separate team of experts, then submitted to three successive editorial committees. Since its editors represented many different denominations, the translation is free from narrow, sectarian bias. It is a balanced, scholarly, dedicated translation, aiming at the most exact, economical, and illuminating rendering of the original into English. Publication date for the complete Bible is 1978-1980.

How to choose a version to read and study.

Versions produced by trs. committed to historic Christianity should be chiefly used and relied upon. This is esp. true for the layman who does not know Heb. and Gr. and is not competent to pass judgment on technical questions. Those who need modern VSS of the Bible the most are often the least able to evaluate them critically. In view of this, VSS known to have been produced by men committed to a particular theological bias should be used with due caution. Expanded VSS and paraphrases should not replace conventional VSS, but rather should be used along with one or more of the latter.


H. Barker, English Bible Versions (1907); ISBE (1929), I, 469; P. Marion Simms, The Bible in America (1936); J. H. Skilton, “The Basic Text for the Latest Revision of the Roman Catholic New Testament in English,” WTJ, vi. (Nov. 1943), 1-18; “A Revision of a Revision,” WTJ, viii (Nov. 1945), 61-82; “A Roman Catholic Testament,” WTJ, ix (May 1947), 198-219; O. T. Allis, Revised Version or Revised Bible? (1953); TCERK (1955), I, 144-147; C. R. Thompson, The Bible in English, 1525-1611 (1958); G. S. Paine, The Learned Men (1959); M. F. Hills (ed.), The English Bible in America: A Bibliography of Editions of the Bible and the New Testament Published in America 1777-1957 (1961); C. Gulston, Our English Bible: No Greater Heritage (1961); F. F. Bruce, The English Bible: A History of Translations (1961); The Evangelical Foundation, Inc., Why So Many Bibles? (1961); J. H. Skilton, The Translation of the New Testament into English, 1881-1950: Studies in Language and Style (Univ. of Pa. Ph.D. Dissertation, 1961); available in Xerox #61-3556, University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Mich.; D. Coggan, The English Bible (1963); D. M. Beegle, God’s Word into English (1964); American Bible Society, A Ready-Reference History of the English Bible (1965); H. Dennett, A Guide to Modern Versions of the New Testament (1966); S. Fowler, “‘Good News’ is not Good News,” in Evangelical Action (Australia), Vol. 82, No. 3 (Sept. 1, 1967), 1-5.