Not many years ago, if you walked into a book store and asked for a Bible, you could be pretty sure of what to expect. The salesperson would hand you a copy of the Authorized or King James Version of 1611. Your only problem would be to decide which binding you preferred, the size of the print, the quality of the illustrations, and how much you wanted to spend. If you specified that you wanted a " Catholic Bible, " you would be handed a different book, one with the complicated sub-title of Rheims- Douai-Challoner Version (generally called Douai Version for short), which was translated in 1582 and revised in 1750 by Bishop Challoner for English-speaking Roman Catholics. If you asked for an " Orthodox Bible, " you would be answered with a blank stare.
Today the situation is changed radically. Now if you order a Bible you will be asked in return, " Which Bible? " And there on the shelf you may see anything from five or six to double that number of new versions lined up for your inspection. Should you request an " Orthodox Bible, " you might still receive the same blank stare, or, if the salesperson is a bit more knowledgeable, he might hand you a copy of a book called The Common Bible with the comment that it is approved by Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox. So you buy it, take it home and show it proudly to your priest, and then discover that he doesn't care for it at all but prefers some other version. The Common Bible, he may tell you (that is, if he doesn't like it), was " approved " by only one Greek Orthodox bishop residing in England, who was not too fluent in English in the first place and certainly had no right to speak in the name of the whole Church in the second place. The fact is that there is no one authorized Orthodox version of the Holy Scriptures in the English language. Nevertheless, there are several versions which have been widely used by Orthodox in the past and others that may come into favor in the future. Let us examine some of them.
For over three centuries, one English translation of the Scriptures dominated the field. That was the King James Version (KJV), which was officially authorized by King James of England in 1611, and so it is known, too, as the Authorized Version (AV). It had been translated by the finest scholars of the day into simple but majestic prose, and soon became " the " Bible of the English-speaking world. The only dissenting voice came from the Roman Catholic Church, which disapproved of it, not because it was a poor translation (which obviously it was not), but because it was printed without explanatory footnotes to explain the " correct " Roman Catholic interpretation. Also, the Church at that time had an official version of its own, which was St. Jerome's Latin version (the Vulgate) of the 4th century. Any new translation, therefore, had to be made from it alone, and not from original manuscripts in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. In other words, an English version had to be a translation from the Latin and not from original sources. The result was the Douai Version, which was begun by a group of English Catholic refugees living in France in 1582 and extensively revised by Bishop Challoner in 1749-50. Its literary impact, however, did not compare with that of the King James Version.
By the turn of this century, the deficiencies of the old translations had become painfully apparent. For one thing, the English language had undergone an extensive evolution over the past three centuries. Old words had dropped out of use; new terms had come into being. Worst of all, some words had so completely changed in their meanings that they were now misleading. For example, when St. Paul says, " We which are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep, " we misunderstand him completely unless we know that in 1611 " prevent " meant " precede " or " go before. " There are dozens of such cases.
Secondly, during the 19th and 20th centuries, exciting discoveries had been made by archaeologists. Ancient and valuable manuscripts in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and other ancient tongues had been discovered, manuscripts which were not known to the scholars of 1611. Their 20th century counterparts were itching to get started with a new version.
From 1881 until the end of World War 11, new versions and translations began to appear with increasing regularity. In England and America, committees of Biblical scholars set out to revise the King James Version or the Douai, and in both countries individuals like Moffatt, Goodspeed, Knox, Phillips, and others turned out completely new translations of all or parts of the Bible. Orthodox translations of parts of the Bible began to appear also: Dake's Four Gospels (1940), Bishop Fan Noli's complete New Testament (1961), and Moore's The Psalter (from the Septuagint Greek version rather than the Hebrew). All of these individual efforts were in the contemporary idiom, and some of them were very fine translations. But individual translations contain individual idiosyncrasies. The personalities and preferences of the translator shine through on every page. The public enjoyed these new versions but continued to regard the King James as the only " real " English Bible.
At the end of the war there was a dramatic breakthrough. The Revised Standard Version (RSV) was published in 1946 (New Testament) and 1952 (Old Testament). The work of thirty-two distinguished scholars and backed by the National Council of Churches, it gave us what many considered to be a new " official " Bible, the long-awaited successor to the King James. Several large Protestant Churches did, indeed, adopt it as their official text, and with the publication of a new edition containing aprocryphal books which are found in Orthodox and Catholic Bibles but not in the King James, even Catholics and Orthodox gave it qualified approval. This is The Common Bible which we mentioned earlier. It is an expanded edition of the RSV of 1952.
But if the RSV had its supporters, it also met with vociferous detractors. Many conservative Bible-lovers denounced it in no uncertain terms. Someeven bought up copies and burned them publicly. To many, the King James was still " the " Bible, and any attempt to revise it was akin to blasphemy. More thoughtful critics pointed that corrections to the King James were made from such a variety of sources (Septuagint Greek, Aramaic Peshitta, and especially the newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls) that their selection and insertion reflected the individual taste of the particular translator rather than any logical plan.
But the real hornet's nest was stirred up by the RSV's use of the pronoun " thou. " Old English, a highly inflected language, had twelve different ways to say " you, " depending on its case, whether it was singular or plural or dual, or who was being addressed. Today only three of these words are left: you, yours, and your. Back in 1611, the language was going through a transition. Many of the old forms of " you " had already been dropped, but " thou " in its various forms (thou, thee, thy, thine, ye) was still used as a familiar form of address. The moreformal and polite form was " you. " In the centuries which followed, " thou " in all its varieties dropped out of use and was left only in the Bible and prayer books.
The translators of the RSV decided to retain theword " thou " for addressing the Deity, while using " you " to address mortals. This distinction is completely artificial and is not found in the original Greek or Hebrew. In 1611, " Our Father, who art in heaven, " was an informal way to address God. That, of course, is the way in which our Lord taught us to address our Heavenly Father. But by 1946, this same form of address had become the very opposite, a formal " churchly " way of speaking.
The problem then became, how should the disciples and others address Jesus, as " thou " (implying, according to the translators, His divinity) or as " you " (implying His humanity)? The RSV decided to use " you " for Jesus and " thou " for God. Since this implies that Jesus is not God, conservative Christians were understandably indignant.
Unfortunately, many Orthodox translators fell into the same trap. Basing themselves on the RSV, Orthodox translators of hymns and prayers, especially in the OCA, would address Jesus as " thou " and the Virgin Mary and the saints as " you, " together with the accompanying verb forms. This may be an improvement on the use of the words in the RSV, but the whole problem could be avoided simply by sticking to the modern English you.
In 1963-71, conservative American Protestants produced a new translation to counter the RSV, the New American Standard Bible (NASB). It retains the word " thou, " using it to address the Lord (not consistently, however; cf. Acts 1:6: " Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel? " ). It is a careful translation which sticks as closely as possible to the original Greek and Hebrew. The publishers claim that " the translators of the NASB kept the original word order wherever possible, believing that this was a means the writer used to accent and emphasize what he deemed most important. Words are often faithfully reproduced in the NASB, even to conjunctions such as " and " in the belief that these, too, helped to mirror the writers' style and manner of expression. These are often ignored in other translations. This emphasis on accuracy and loyalty to the original tests makes the NASB unique."
The NASB places such stress on accuracy that it attempts to reproduce even the nuances of Greek verbs, which are often entirely different from English. As a result, the English translation is generally wooden and heavy. We are told how the ancients said it; we are not told how that same idea could best be expressed in modern English. The NASB is a good Bible to use for study purposes, but it does not make easy reading.
If the NASB strives for accuracy above all, the Today's English Version (TEV) or, as it is perhaps better known, Good News Bible (GNB), published by the American Bible Society (1966-76), has an entirely different approach. Here the objective is not an accurate translation of words and sentence structure, but an accurate translation of the ideas expressed in the original. The publishers call this "the principle of dynamic equivalence in meaning. "2"The principle of dynamic equivalence, "explains Dr. Eugene Nida of the American Bible Society," implies that the quality of a translation is in proportion to the reader's unawareness that he is reading a translation at all . . . The translation should stimulate in the new reader essentially the same reaction to the text as the original author wished to produce in his first and immediate readers. "
He illustrates this with the opening lines of Psalm One. In the King James it reads, "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. "None of this, he says, is comprehensible to the modern reader."Counsel "may be confused with"council, " "stand in the way "means"get in the way; "sit in the seat of the scornful " means nothing at all. So the TEV renders this passage:
Happy are those who reject the advice of evil men,who do not follow the example of sinners or join those who have no use for God.
Any modern reader can understand this immediately. The poetry of the King James English may be gone, but the meaning is now crystal clear. This explains why the TEV has been such a phenomenal success. Over 50,000,000 copies have been distributed in ten years. It has other attractive features, too. Since it is published by a non-profit organization, the price is minimal: the New Testament for a dollar and a half, and the entire Bible complete with Apocrypha and Deutero-Canonical books (as used in the Orthodox Church) for about $4.50 - one half or one third the usual price for a Bible. There are imaginative line drawings which illustrate the text. Numerous helps are provided for the reader: a brief introduction to each book; a word list of difficult terms; a list of New Testament passages quoting the Old Testament, not in the usual Hebrew form but in the Septuagint Greek translation which has always been highly revered by the Orthodox; maps with an index; and a fairly complete index of people and subjects in the Bible. It would be hard to conceive a better introduction for the general reader to the delights or reading the Holy Scriptures. It is well named " Good News for Modern Man. "
Like any translation, it has its weaknesses. Some readers complain that it is too much like spoon feeding. They expect certain mysteries in the Word of God, and they want to be able to dig out these secrets for themselves. Old familiar theological terms are replaced by their dynamic equivalents. Thus, Antichrist becomes enemy of Christ, bishops are church leaders, deacons are church helpers, and so forth. Even repent usually becomes turn away from your sins. But when all is said and done, this version does meet the objectives which its publishers intended for it. Anyone who reads English can comprehend it. It does, indeed, carry good news for modern man.
An even freer version is the Living Bible Paraphrased (LB) of 1971. "To paraphrase, "explains the author, Kenneth N. Taylor,"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. "4 The LB makes no attempt to be accurate in all details. Instead, it is designed for"rapid reading. "The NASB seeks accuracy; the TEV wants"dynamic equivalence " of meaning; the LB attempts to recreate the mood of the original. Here is its version of the First Psalm which we have cited already in other versions:
Oh, the joys of those who do not follow evil men's advice, who do not hang around with sinners, scoffing at the things of God.
This appealing and almost slangy paraphrase has been a best seller. A special edition called The Way is aimed at the younger generation which might not bother with a more traditional translation.
Mention should be made of the Amplified Bible (AB) of 1958. "Its purpose is to reveal, together with the single-word English equivalent to each key Hebrew and Greek word, any other clarifying shades of meaning that may be concealed by the traditional word-for-word translation. "5 Instead of being designed for"rapid reading "like the Living Bible Paraphrased, it expects the very opposite - slow reading and study. Thus the opening verse from Genesis reads,"in the beginning God (prepared, formed, fashioned) and created the heavens and the earth. (Heb.11:3) " Wading through such a slow version is rewarding only to the specialist.
With so many specialized translations appearing on the market and with so many conservative Christians still bitterly opposed to the RSV, some American scholars decided to attempt a general version which would be useful for all purposes: modern yet retaining traditional theological terms, accurate yet in good colloquial English. One hundred translators working in teams which checked and rechecked each other's work produced the New International Version (N IV) of 1978. "With so many new translations presently available, "say the publishers,"there is a longing for one translation that will be accepted by all. Of course, no one can predict what will happen, but the NIV with its non-sectarian appeal and its extremely lengthy translation process could be the mature version that the public is waiting for. " 6
They could well be right. One enthusiastic reviewer, who calls it "the best translation of the Holy Scripture in modern times, "sums it up as"readable, reliable and reverent. I believe that it will receive churchwide acceptance. " Readable: the NIV is in modern international English (neither specifically British nor American), more colloquial than the RSV yet avoiding slang, avoiding the"you-thou "controversy by using the modern"you " only, and attractively printed using a single column (in the standard edition), paragraphs, verses for poetry, and columns for number lists and genealogies. Reliable: the NIV translators have benefitted from all the work which has been done before them, especially the RSV. Reverent: they have gone to great pains to keep their renderings within the Church tradition, especially in aligning New Testament quotations with their Old Testament originals.
To give one example, in Galatians 3:16 the Apostle Paul bases his entire argument on the fact that the "seed "of Abraham is singular, not plural."The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say, 'and to seeds,' meaning many people, but'and to his seed,' meaning one person, who is Christ. "However, when we turn back to the Old Testament verse which Paul was citing, we find in all of the modern translations the word"descendants "- plural! (Only the King James uses"seed "in both cases.) It seems that the Apostle was wrong! The NIV, however, renders the Old Testament word as"offspring, " which could be either singular or plural.
Sometimes the original Greek is ambiguous and several translations are possible. Conservative translators will stress the divinity of Christ; liberals will not. Thus Mark 15:39 reads:
The Koine Greek of the New Testament uses no punctuation. In the following passage (Romans 9:5) the difference lies in where the translator decides to insert a period:
By not inserting a period, the conservative translator identifies Christ with God. By inserting a period, the liberal separates the two. You might also want to compare such passages as John 1:3,4, John 1:9,1 Cor. 7:36, 1 Thess. 4:4, and 1 Tim., 3:2.
No translation is perfect. The N IV translators felt that the Greek term "flesh"(sarx) is sometimes unintelligible to modern readers and have given it various renderings. Some critics feel that they should have left it alone. The Greek psyche is sometimes given as "life"and sometimes as "soul,"even in the same sentence. But these are isolated examples in what is generally an excellent translation. The book is an "open Bible " with few footnotes or study helps. The reader is left to give his own interpretation of difficult passages.
Meanwhile, Roman Catholic translators have not been idle, either. At first, they were hampered by the rule that they must translate only from Jerome's Latin version. But in 1943, the papal encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu freed them from this restriction. The first important Catholic translation in English was the Jerusalem Bible (JB), which was published simultaneously in England and America in 1966. This hefty volume (it weighs five pounds) is so loaded with footnotes and study helps that it is really a Bible and commentary combined. These notes, in fact, are its best feature, and if the student is willing to read their small print and look up the many cross-references, he will be well rewarded. The translation, itself, however, is a very free one and not always reliable. "The translation of the New Testament especially seems much freer than it needs to be,"say some critics. "Many times this freedom does not enhance the meaning of the text, but more often it leads to a slight change in meaning. Sometimes words are omitted or added unnecessarily . . . (It) is not homogeneous throughout. The translation of Matthew does not seem as free as that of Mark. In fact, the translation seems to become freer as it goes along, being freest in the Epistles. The same is true of the Old Testament. Genesis does not seem as free as Exodus. On the whole, the translation is good, though not distinctive. " 8
In 1970, the several Protestant Churches of England got together and published a new "authorized " translation. This is the New English Bible (NEB). Itwas so eagerly awaited in England that the entire first edition sold out on the first day. It has not, however, been that popular in America, partly because of the many anglicanisms in its style, and partly because here it has no official status but must face stiff competition.
The NEB is not a revision of the KJV but a completely new translation. It is a free rendering, seeking "dynamic equivalence " in the British idiom. It is based not on any one Greek text but on several which are selected according to the preference of the translators. Its English idiom, however, like that of its fellowBritisher, the Jerusalem Bible, is generally more spicy and colorful than that found in the American versions. The NEB has a charm of its own.
The final version we must mention is the New American Bible (NAB), which since 1970 has been the official American Catholic Bible. It was three decades in the making, during which time it went through several drastic revisions. The many revisions, as might be expected, are the cause for its greatest weakness, a lack of an overall plan for the work as a whole. The left hand often does not know what the right hand is doing. No doubt future revisions will smooth out the many rough spots. Nevertheless, this a work of serious scholarship, and the NAB must be ranked among the better modern translations. It is more literal than the Jerusalem Bible but lesscolorful in its English. Likethe JB, it is loaded with footnotes, study helps, charts, and introductory articles.
It is unfair to compare the various modern translations because each of them has its own objective in view. These objectives are generally stated in the preface. The real question then becomes, what do you want your Bible for? What type of Bible do you think you need? The Revised Standard Version seeks to update the old King James Version. It is a revision, not a new translation. Once considered daring and innovative, it now seems somewhat stodgy and oldfashioned compared to the many versions which have followed. The New American Standard Bible wants to create as literal a translation as possible, even down to such details as word-order and the original Hebrew and Greek syntax. The Today's English Version ( "Good News Bible"), Jerusalem Bible, and New English Bible are completely new translations which seek "dynamic equivalence" with the original texts but not literal translation. The Living Bible, Paraphrased and Bishop Fan Noli's New Testament are paraphrases designed for "rapid reading,"not for study purposes. The New American Bible of the Catholics and the New International Version of the Protestants both aim high, seeking to become "the " definitive translation for our times, literary enough for use in public worship and colloquial enough to be understood by any Englishspeaker.
Dr. Lewis Foster, a qualified translatorand professor of New Testament, has attempted to rate the various versions on the basis of accuracy, clarity (is it easy to understand?), and beauty (how is it as literature?). His rating, which omits the NAB, is as follows:
|New American Standard Bible||Excellent||Good||Fair|
|King James Version||Good||Poor||Excellent|
|New International Version||Good||Excellent||Good|
|New English Bible||Fair||Good||Fair|
|Today's English Version||Fair||Good||Fair|
|Revised Standard Version||Poor||Good||Fair|
Kubo and Specht, who give a more exhaustive critique of all the modern translations, consider the following to be tops depending on what the reader wants:
|For private reading||Living Bible|
|For careful study||New American Standard Bible
|For public worship||Revised Standard Version
New International Version
|For readers with limited English||Good News Bible|
Finally, here are our own favorites:
|For Worship||New International Version|
|For Expository Sermons||Good News Bible|
|For study||New International Version
Good News Bible
New American Bible
New American Standard Bible
|For new light on
|Good News Bible
New English Bible
None of the above versions were written by or for the Orthodox. Yet we cannot help making a choice. Our services are saturated with the Bible. The Divine Liturgy alone has 98 quotations from the Old Testament and 114 from the New. The fixed portions of Matins and Vespers are almost entirely biblical. Our hymns and prayers are nearly always biblical paraphrases. It is vital that we settle for one English version so that the people can recognize familiar passages; learn them by heart, sing them, and not be confused by a variety of renderings.
It is sometimes asserted that since Orthodox Americans come from non-English-speaking backgrounds they are not tied down to any one English biblical tradition. But this is not quite true. "Prior to 1900, nearly all the basic services were available in English, plus manuals and instructional materials on the teachings of the Orthodox Church." 10 The use of English in our liturgical services is hardly a new phenomenon. Which English Bible or Bibles have our people been hearing all these years?
That which is most used liturgically is the King James Version. It has a long and honorable tradition in our Church in America. Professor Orloff used it for his translations at the end of the last century, and Isabel Hapgood's Service Book of 1906 and 1922 made it the "official" translation for a whole generation of American Orthodox. Unfortunately, both Orloff and Hapgood used a different version for the Psalms (that of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer), thereby giving us two translations in the same services. This was rectified in 1949 by the Service Book of the Antiochian Archdiocese, which replaced the Prayer Book psalms with those from the King James Version and made some other corrections. This beautiful translation, reproducing the stately prose of 1611, was the work of Fathers Upson and Nicholas. It is still in widespread use to this day, and has familiarized thousands of believers with the KJV.
That same year, Bishop Fan Noli's Eastern Orthodox Prayer Book introduced the KJV into the Albanian Archdiocese. (Later, Bishop Noli began making new translations of his own.) In 1966, the Greek Archdiocese published The Divine Liturgy of Father Mastrantonis which used the KJV and, curiously enough, reverted to the Prayer Book psalms of Hapgood and Orloff. In 1969, Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kalistos Ware published the Festal Menaion in which the translators stated that after some initial hesitation they had decided to use the KJV. They did the same with their Lenten Triodion which followed a few years later. As late as 1973, the Orthodox Church in America published the Priest's Service Book in the King James idiom.
Next in popularity has been the RSV. It has been the basis of translations of the Orthodox Church in America since 1967 (with occasional modification to bring the RSV text into conformitywith the Septuagint, Ed). By now, the Liturgy, Matins, Vespers, and numerous special services and hymns have appeared and are in general use. Since the RSV is a revision and updating of the KJV, this switch to another Bible has caused no "cultural shock."However, the use of the RSV is not uniformly popular in the OCA. Some priests object to tongue-twisting words like "promisedst," and make their own modifications to modernize the language.
The Old Roman Catholic Douai Version has also found its way into Orthodox services. It was the text used by Father Nassar in his 1,000-page Divine Prayers and Services, which was published in 1938 and has been in extensive use ever since. It can also be seen in many popular prayer books such as the well known Slavonic-English version published by Svit in 1957.
Translations published by the Greek Archdiocese tend to be eclectic in their choice of an English Bible. The Holy Week and Easter Services, a handy volume which is used in many parishes besides Greek ones, employs three different biblical translations in one book: the NAB, the "Confraternity Version," and the Douai - all Roman Catholic translations, but differing considerably. An important translation and commentary called The Orthodox Liturgy by Father Nicon Patrinacos (1974) uses the RSV, NAB, and original translations of its own.
Even the Jerusalem Bible has now appeared in American Orthodox churches, thereby introducing a new and unfamiliar vocabulary. Recent publications of the Romanian Episcopate, Holy Liturgy, Matrimony, and Funeral Services, are based on the JB rendering. (The latter contains a serious error in the Gospel reading for Thursday. After the words, "Jesus said in reply, `Stop complaining to each other,' the text abruptly stops, leaving the listener wondering, "What kind of funeral message is this? Stop complaining to each other?"The priest should write in the sentence missing from the JB: "No one can come to me unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me, and I will raise him up at the last day.")
Finally, there have been Orthodox translators who so dislike all of the English Bibles, both ancient and modern, that they have made original translations of portions of the Scripture on their own. The psalms have been translated by Father Michael Gelsinger, Archimandrite Lazarus Moore, Bishop Fan Noli, and the monks at Jordanville and New Skete. All of these versions have their own merits and demerits. But the more new versions that appear, the harder it becomes for an Orthodox believer to keep them straight and learn any one of them by heart.
Are there too many Bibles? Indeed, there are! Our present liturgical chaos is due in no small measure to the fact that we still have no English Bible of our own. It is imperative that we adopt one even if it is not perfect (and no translation is) and use it as our liturgical base. We must also resolve the "thou-you" controversy and the theological misunderstandings which it involves, and decide once and for all whether we are to speak English of the 17th century or the 20th. Some of the newer translations, such as the NIV and NAB, claim to have done this successfully, and we should give them careful study.
Up until now, the majority of the Orthodox service books in English have followed the tradition of King James Version and on to its revision, the Revised Standard Version. Continuation in this same tradition would now lead us to the New International Version. A minority has preferred the Roman Catholic translations, from Douai to the transitory "Confraternity Version"and on to the New American Bible. A departure from either of these traditions to the more innovative renderings, such as the Jerusalem Bible, Today's English Version, or New English Bible, would take us onto unfamiliar territory and would be sure to raise controversy. We have much excellent material to choose from. We can use any or all of these Bibles for private study. But for public worship we need one and one only. Let us make our choice and build on it.