Monday, March 17, 2014

How We Got the Bible: Recent Translations of the English Bible

Chapter 17 of the book begins on an important note with Lightfoot stating the following:

No translation is ever final. Because translators are human beings, there will always be room for improvements of translations. No translator can transcend his own time. He can only work in light of the knowledge of his day, with materials available to him, and put his translation in words spoken by his generation.

He then identifies the weaknesses of the King James Version prior to presenting the revisions made to it and the development of other translations. These weaknesses are as follows:

1. Inadequate textual base. Many important manuscripts were not available to the translators of the King James; especially with the Greek text of the New Testament. The Vatican, the Sinaitic, and the Alexandrian Manuscripts, three of the most valuable authorities to the New Testament text, were not accessible to the translators.

2. Use of archaic words with obscure or misleading meanings. For example, the word “allege” was used for “prove,” “communicate” for “share,” “suffer” for “allow,” and “prevent” for “precede.” Additionally, grammar usage is different. “Which” being used for “who” is an example.

3. Errors of translation. During the seventeenth century Greek and Hebrew scholarship had only recently begun to be seriously studied in Western European universities. For this reason, some of the renderings of the King James were inaccurate. “Abstain from all appearance of evil” as opposed to the better rendering, “Abstain from every form of evil” is an example from 1 Thessalonians 5:22.

The English and American Revisions

Due to the weaknesses above and others, a motion to consider a revision to the King James was passed by the Convocation of the Province of Canterbury in February 1870. Two English committees (one for the New Testament and one for the Old Testament) were formed and then two American committees in the same structure were formed later. On May 17, 1881 the New Testament revision was released with the Old Testament revision coming four years later on May 19, 1885. This revision is known in America as the English Revised Version. Disagreements between the English and American committees over idiom and spelling resulted in the English Revised Version being released with an appendix indicating the American preferences and the American Standard Version being issued in 1901.

Lightfoot then focuses on the American Standard Version. He writes that it has a better textual base, more accurate translation renderings, and clears up many of the archaisms of the King James. However, it did not remove all of the archaisms and actually added some so that it, as Lightfoot puts it, “lost the “naturalness and beauty of English style” of the King James. However, both the English Revised and American Standard surpassed the King James.

The Revised Standard Version

A committee of scholars was appointed in 1929 to begin another revision, but due to the depression and World War II the first edition of the New Testament revision did not appear until February 11, 1946 and the complete Bible on September 30, 1952. The Revised Standard Version developed for three reasons:  1) the recognition of the flaws of the King James, 2) the inability of the English and American revisions to overcome these flaws, and 3) the discovery of new knowledge materials. The Revised Standard benefitted greatly from the work of Westcott and Hort and Biblical and secular papyri discoveries in that its renderings are more precise. However, there are still places in which its renderings are lacking. Additionally, the Revised Standard was more readable than prior translations.

The New Revised Standard Version

Work began on a revision to the Revised Standard Version in 1974. The goal of the committee was to improve the Revised Standard by 1) changing some of its paragraph structure and punctuation, 2) removing even more archaisms, 3) seeking greater accuracy and clarity, and 4) removing all masculine language when references to both men and women are made.  The New Revised Standard Version was published in 1990 and it preserved the qualities of the Revised Standard Version while at the same time removed words such as “thee” and “thou” and brought a more contemporary understanding. Lightfoot provides “their sinful desires alienate them from Christ” instead of “they grow wanton against Christ” and “manage their households” as opposed to “rule their households” in 1 Timothy 5 as examples. Once again, however, there are places in which this version does not have clear renderings.

Other Translations

Lightfoot also gives attention to the following translations:

1. The New English Bible. The New Testament publication of this translation coincided with the 350th anniversary of the King James Version. The Old Testament publication along with a revision to the New Testament was issued in 1970. This translation took the sense-for-sense translation approach and remained accurate in transmitting the Biblical message. However, there are instances in the New Testament where the word choice for the American reader is unfamiliar and frequently the notes within the Old Testament which indicate “probable reading” are not sufficiently “probable.”

2. The New American Standard Bible. This was a revision to the American Standard sponsored by the Lockman Foundation. The New Testament was published in 1963 and the Old Testament in 1971. The objective of the Lockman Foundation was to preserve the 1901 American Standard in contemporary form; however it is not a modern version of the American Standard Version. Much of the older language is taken out and there are other improvements yet it sought to be precise in the distinctions in tenses of verbs and often this is not applied correctly and consistently.

3. The New International Version. Published in 1973 (New Testament) and 1978 (Old Testament), this version has been widely accepted when compared with the more recent translations. Lightfoot writes that it is useful for many readers; however it is not the “standard par excellence” of recent translations. He states that it is accurate, yet often it lacks quality in style.

4. The Revised English Bible. This is a revision to the New English New Testament released in 1989. It took out many of the non-American expressions.

5. Other Translations. The New King James Version claims to be the first major revision to the King James. This is not true. The previously discussed English Revised Version of 1881-1885 was a substantial revision to the King James. This revision was followed by the American Standard, Revised Standard, and New Revised Standard making the question of the need for the New King James a serious one. The Good News Bible of 1976, with its utilization of simple vocabulary and short sentence structure is helpful for those who have reading difficulties, but it has weaknesses because of this approach. Finally, the Living Bible (1971) and The Message (New Testament, 1993) are paraphrases and not true translations. This approach is not necessarily bad, but often it does go far beyond the “limits of the Biblical text.”

Lighfoot ends the chapters with the following:

From the beginning of the twentieth century on, there has been a surge of new translations. All of them have their faults, but some of them are especially good and can be of great help to the Bible reader. Among these are the Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, and the New Revised Standard Version. Other recent translations, too, are of much value to varying degrees.

He then goes on to instruct that the Bible student carefully study and compare Scripture using various translations to decide which is most useful for him or her while at the same time recognizing the value of all the translations.

Stand firm in Christ,

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