The Christian Bible remains the most influential written work of Western Civilization, influencing language, government, economics, social groups, institutions, and culture. While many people own a Bible and some even read it on occasion, there are some things that you should know about the Bible that you might not have heard before.
(1) The writings of Christian Bible were originally composed in at least two different languages: Hebrew and Greek. Most of the books of the Jewish scripture making up the Christian Old Testament were composed in Hebrew, although some of the later writings (Daniel and Ezra, for example) may have been composed in Aramaic (a sort of “modernized” form of ancient Hebrew). The writings of the New Testament were originally written in Koine Greek, the common language of the Roman Empire during the time of Christ (also noteworthy are the claims of some scholars who argue that the Gospel According to Matthew was originally composed in Aramaic). Continue reading
Not too long ago, a report titled “The Bible in American Life” was released by the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis. Based on a nation-wide survey on Bible use and knowledge, this report found a number of things, some of the most interesting being:
— About 50% of Americans read “scripture” at any point during the last year; 48% of Americans read the Bible at some point last year
— 9% of American read their Bibles daily
— The King James Bible is the most popular English Bible translation by far
— The favorite passage among Bible readers is Psalm 23 followed by John 3:16
— Less than half of those reading the Bible sought help in understanding it
— 31% of those reading the Bible did so on the internet; 22% used devices of some sort
— Generally, Protestants read their Bibles more than Catholics, and (theologically) conservative Protestants more than liberal Protestants Continue reading
Having examined the translation histories and philosophies of the major KJV family translations, as well as noting their effectiveness, we now turn to a comparison of these versions in their translation of the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 (comments about each translations are included in brackets).
Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 27th Edition
19 πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος, 20 διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν· καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ μεθ’ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος.
19 “Therefore having gone, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit, 20 teaching them to guard all which I commanded to you; and behold I am with you all the days until the completion of the age.”
1611 King James Version
19 “Goe ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Sonne, and of the holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to obserue all things, whatsoeuer I haue commanded you: and loe, I am with you alway, euen vnto the end of the world. Amen.” [Comments] Aorist participle translated in simple present tense. Teaching aspects clearly emphasized as μαθητεύσατε is translated as teaching, as is διδάσκοντες. Rendering πάντα as “whatsoever” seems fairly archaic, as is the translating ἰδοὺ as “lo”. “Amen” and “even” have been added to last verse. Continue reading
1985 King James Version
Here we briefly note another KJV update from the 1980s, the 1985 King James Version, which retains the wording and order of the 1611 KJV while modernizing the spelling of that version. A favorite of many in the “KJV Only” camp, this translation is not so much a new version as it is the latest edition of the 1611 KJV.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Completed in 1989, the New Revised Standard Version has become one of the most popular translations for the academic study of the Bible. Intentionally created as both an ecumenical translation and an heir to the legacy and language of the KJV, the NRSV updated the language and grammar of the RSV, while seeking a more accurate and gender-neutral translation (“Introduction”, NRSV). Due in large part to its commitment to gender-neutral language, the NRSV was not well received by more conservative readers of the KJV legacy. Overall, the philosophy of the translation committee was “As literal as possible, as free as necessary,” and this version casts itself as a readable literal translation meant to be read aloud (“Introduction”, NRSV). As an ecumenical work, three major editions of the NRSV have appeared: the Common Edition (OT and NT), the Study Edition with Apocrypha and Dueterocanonical books, and the Catholic Edition with books ordered according to the Vulgate. The effectiveness of the NRSV as a translation builds upon the early successes of the KJV and the RSV, yielding an accessible and accurate translation.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The newest major member of the KJV family of translations is the English Standard Version, first published in 2001. Like the NRSV, the editors of the ESV sought to create an accurate and ecumenical translation that followed in the legacy of the KJV and RSV (“Preface”, ESV). Unlike the NRSV, however, the ESV took a more literal and traditional approach to the issue of pronoun gender, essentially making the ESV the more conservative alternative to the NRSV. The 1971 edition of the RSV was the starting point for this translation, with updated language and an influx of insights from textual criticism (“Introduction”, ESV). The stated purpose of this new translation was “to retain the depth of meaning and enduring language that have made their indelible mark on the English-speaking world” since the publication of the KJV (“Preface”, ESV). Overall, the overall tone of the ESV provides ready access to the historical patterns of the KJV family, as well as engaging the literal aspects of the Greek more fully than versions such as RSV.
American Standard Version (Revised Version)
The Revised Version of the KJV was introduced in several stages, with the English Revised Version being completed in the 1885, and the American Standard Version first being published in 1901 (Bruce, 138). This translation sought to edit the KJV based on the textual work of Wescott and Hort, and efforts were made in the margins to note the differences between the Greek texts and English translations, from whence notes reading “Some ancient authorities read…” originate (Bruce, 137). The major differences between the KJV and ASV are spelling and aforementioned marginal notes, as well as an increased static translation style (Kubo, 41). Early reactions to the ASV were anything but positive, as early reviewers labeled the translation “servile” and “pedantic” (Burgon). It would seem that both the prose and the textual apparatus have been surpassed by both the 1611 KJV and more recent translations, making this perhaps the least effective major project in the KJV family.
Revised Standard Version (RSV)
The Revised Standard Version, completed in 1952, exists as a revision of the Revised Version. It was here that the first major steps were taken to update the English used in translation, moving toward smoother translations of infinitive constructions and genitive absolutes (Bruce, 187). Additionally, the translation committee sought to vary the translations of some Greek terms, moving away from the KJV and RV’s lack of synonyms (Kubo, 44-7). A common criticism this version is that, if the RV went too far in pressing a literal translation of the Greek, the RSV blurred some of the finer distinctions of the NT text (Bruce, 194). While occasionally being criticized as all new translations seem to be, a testament to the effectiveness of this translation, was its long used in academic circles, especially the popular Oxford Annotated edition (Bruce, 201-2). Indeed, it was so popular that two RSV Catholic editions have been published
New King James Version (NKJV)
Published in 1982, the New King James Version sought to find “complete equivalence,” that place between the static equivalence of the Revised Version and the dynamic equivalence of the Revised Standard Version, which “seeks to preserve all of the information in the text, while presenting it in good literary form” (Preface, NKJV). Ancient terminology having no modern counterparts, theological terms having long been part of the KJV tradition, and traditional renderings of names were retained in this version, and the translators opted for continued use of the Textus Receptus as their Greek exemplar, though noting major textual divergences such as Matthew 5:44; 17:21; 18:11; and 23:14. In many ways the NKJV seems to correct the over-dynamic translations of the RSV while remaining fairly close to that version. The effectiveness of this translation in the modern context remains difficult to gauge, as many renderings are nearly indistinguishable from those of the RSV, and the later NRSV and ESV.
Over the next week, Pursuing Veritas will take a look at one of the most influential “family trees” of English Bible translations, that of the King James Version. As one of the most influential editions of the Bible (ever, but especially in the English language family), the 1611 KJV has spawned countless translation “offspring”, editions and translations of the Biblical text that use the KJV as their starting point. While we cannot examine here every permutation of the KJV family, the translations being compared are as follows: the 1611 King James Version, the American Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version, the 1985 King James Version, the New King James Version, the New Revised Standard Version, and the English Standard Version. Over the next several days we will briefly examine the translation histories and philosophies behind each of these versions, consider the effectiveness of each translation, and then offer a brief comparison of each version’s translation of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20. As a result of this series, we argue that the New Revised Standard Version and English Standard Version are the most effective translations from the KJV family for the modern context.
1611 King James Version (Authorized Version)
The 1611 edition of the King James Version remains one of the most influential works of literature in the English speaking world over four hundred years after its first publication (Noll). One of King James’ principles of translation for the six teams of scholars who worked on the KJV was that traditional ecclesiastical terms and names such as “church” and “Elijah” be retained and that completion of sense unites be noted in distinct typeface (Brake, 188f; Bruce, 98). Notably, there was some confusion concerning the translation of Jesus’ name was in the 1611 edition, as several versions translated Ἰησους as “Judas” in Matthew 26:36 (Brake, 206). As a translation, the editors of the KJV were driven to present of the truths of scripture and to making the word of God understandable for English readers (Preface, “The Translators to the Reader”). While the stated purpose of the KJV included calls for a translation, “as constant as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek… ” (Bruce, 96), the final version was primarily based upon the 1602 Bishops Bible, and the translators drew upon the translations of Tyndale, Matthew, Coverdale, the Great Bible, and the Geneva Bible, as well as Greek, Latin, and German manuscripts for their translations (Brake, 190). In the 21st century, the 17th century KJV appears quite antiquated; indeed, it takes some level of skill to interpret the spelling conventions of the 1611 edition within the text. However, the cadence and prose of the KJV remains the default reading for many Christians today, and the impact of the 1611 KJV remains unparalleled in the English speaking world.
As most Christians are well aware, new editions of the Bible are produced on a regular basis. Walk into any Christian home or institution and, upon examining their Bibles, you are likely to discover a variety of editions and translations. The King James Version, the New International Version, the English Standard Version, the New Living Translation, the Message, the New American Standard Bible, the New Revised Standard Version; these are but a few of the popular Bible choices for English reading American Christians. One of the newest editions of the Bible to catch American Christianity by storm has been The Voice Bible. Though surrounded by controversy, this new translation developed out of a specific vision for a contemporary translation of the Bible, a vision that is recounted in The Story of the Voice.
Simply put, The Story of the Voice does just what its title suggests—it tells the story behind the creation of The Voice Bible. This work represents the perspectives of a number of people, notably those of three major contributors to The Voice translation itself, Houston Baptist University Professor David B. Capes, Ecclesia Church Pastor Chris Seay, and Thomas Nelson Associate Publisher James F. Couch Jr. in The Story of the Voice, these authors outline the basic history and thinking behind the formation of The Voice Bible, covering the formative considerations for a Bible translation designed specifically for the 21st century context. In comparison to other more recent translations/paraphrases (think of the NET Bible, the New Living Translation, or Eugene Peterson’s The Message), The Voice team sought to create a modern translation that came as close as possible to a literal rendering of the original texts in a way that moved Bible translation back into the realm of living art that appealed to contemporary readers. Continue reading
Occasionally I will run into someone who holds and unusually “high” view of a certain translation of the Bible. The most notable (or notorious, depending on your position) are those people who subscribe to the “King James Only” position. But there are also people I have met who argue for the supremacy of the Revised Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, and the English Standard Version.
When reading any English Bible, we need to remember something very important: It’s a translation. And translation always involves interpretation. So not only are you reading Ephesians in a different language and linguistic context than the Apostle Paul wrote it in, but you are reading an interpretation of that passage by a certain set of Biblical scholars. Irrespective of what your views on the authority and inspiration of the Biblical text are, it seems unlikely that many people would subscribe to the view that the editors of the NET Bible are as inspired and authoritative as the Apostle Paul and Jesus Christ.
Additionally, throughout the history of English Bible translation there have been more than a few clearly uninspired moments, clear demonstrations that the humans editing and printing the Bibles that we read are, in fact, still humanly prone to error. Some of the most famous (or infamous) are below:
Matthew’s Bible (1537), A.K.A. “The Wife-Beaters’ Bible”
Proof that study notes and footnotes are not inspired: Notation on I Peter 3:7 reads, “And if she be not obedient and healpeful unto him, endevoureth to beat the fear of God into her head, that thereby she may be compelled to learn her duty and do it.”
Geneva Bible (Second Edition, 1562), A.K.A. “The Place-makers’ Bible”
Matthew 5:9 reads “Blessed are the placemakers: for they shall be called the children of God”. Homemakers everywhere loved this passage for years until it was fixed.
King James Version (1612), A.K.A. “The Printers’ Bible”
Psalm 119:161 reads “Printers have persecuted me without a cause” instead of “Princes.” Rarely mentioned by advocates of the “KJV Only” position.
King James Version (1631), A.K.A. “The Adulterers’ Bible” or “The Wicked Bible”
Exodus 20:14 (the Ten Commandments) reads, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” This version was recalled almost immediately, and only 11 copies are known to exist today.
King James Version (1716), A.K.A. “The Sinners Bible”
John 8:11, reads “Go and sin on more” rather than “Go and sin no more”.
New English Translation (2001), A.K.A. “The Prostitutes Bible”
Proverbs 2:16 reads, “To deliver you from the adulteress, from the sexually loose woman who speaks flattering words.” In the first printing of the New English Translation, there was a footnote at the end of this verse with a 1-800 number. The translator was writing the notes for this verse on his computer when he got a call and, unable to find a pen, he made note of the number on his computer. Unfortunately, he forgot to erase the number later.