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Part X: Chronology and Modern English Versions

 

Chronology of Major English Translations of the Bible

The English Bible in Manuscript (translated from Latin)

c. 650 Monk Caedmon puts verses to Bible books
c. 735 Translation of the Gospels by historian Bede
871-899 Translation of Psalms and 10 Commandments by King Alfred the Great
955-1020 Translation of various Bible books by Aelfric
c. 1325 Psalms translated into metrical verse by William Shoreham and Richard Rolle
1380-1382 John Wycliffe and Lollards make first translation of the entire Bible into English
1388 Revision of Wycliffe’s Bible by John Purvey
1455

*** Invention of the printing press; Gutenberg prints Latin Bible ***

The English Bible in Print (translated from original Greek and Hebrew)

1525 William Tyndale’s New Testament- the first translation of the New Testament from Greek into English
1535 Coverdale Bible- completes Tyndale’s work on the Old Testament
1537 Matthew Bible- Edited by John Rogers; relied heavily on Tyndale’s work
1538 Great Bible- also called the Chain Bible; the first English Bible authorized for public use; based on Tyndale and Matthew Bibles
1560 Geneva Bible- by William Whittingham and several others; very popular translation; the Bible of Shakespeare and the American Puritans
1568 Bishop’s Bible- revised version of the Great Bible
1582 Rheims New Testament- Catholic translation based on the Latin Vulgate
1607-11 King James Version- the "Authorized Version" translated by a team of 50 scholars relying heavily on the Greek Textus Receptus and consulting previous English versions- the Tyndale and Geneva in particular; known as one of the greatest works of English literature
1881-1885 English Revised Version- the first major translation since the King James made by 50 scholars revising the King James based on a greater number of Greek manuscripts
1901 American Standard Version- revision of English Revised Version by American scholars in more readable American English
1952 Revised Standard Version- revision of American Standard by an international committee
1973 New International Version- a best-selling dynamic equivalent translation; controversial among scholars and Christian leaders giving rise to the "King James Only" controversy
1982 New King James Version- modern revision of the original King James, keeping sentence structure and prose but updating the English, especially the pronouns "thee," "thou," etc.
1989 New Revised Standard Version- revision of Revised Standard made by an ecumenical committee of scholars

 

Which are the most popular English translations today?

According to the Christian Booksellers Association, which tracks sales of Bibles throughout the United States, the best-selling English versions throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s have been the King James, the New International, and the New King James versions.

 

Which is the best translation to use?

First, one must understand three theories of Biblical translation:

Literal- these translations seek to keep the sentence structure and emphasis of the original languages, but at times this makes the English more awkward.   They also leave matters of interpretation entirely up to the reader, such as translating the Greek "sarkos" literally as "flesh," as in passages such as Romans chapter 8.  The King James, New King James, and New American Standard are examples.

Dynamic Equivalent- with these, the translators take a little more liberty and venture into the gray area between translation and interpretation.  For instance, they may translate "sarkos" as "sin nature" in Romans because that is widely accepted that this was Paul's meaning in using the word in certain contexts.  In general, Dynamic Equivalent translations make better use of the English language and are more readable and more easily understood.  The New International and New English are examples.

Free- some popular "translations" intended to be Dynamic Equivalent border on not being translations at all and could be put in a third category by themselves.  These pay very little attention to the original languages in an attempt to be very readable in English, almost re-writing the Biblical accounts.  The Amplified Bible, which Dr. Thorpe (below) includes with the Dynamic Equivalent translations but ranks the lowest of the group, attempts to give every possible definition of the original words, often confusing the original intent and meaning of the Scripture passages.  Another example of a free translation is the Living Bible.

At times, these different approaches to translation, as well as the specific exegetical choices of the translators, make a significant difference in a Scripture's rendering in English.  Consider I Cor. 7:36:

KJV: "If a man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin..."

NKJV: "But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin..."

NASB: "If a man think that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter..."

NIV: "If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to..."

NEB: "If a man has a partner in celibacy and feels that he is not behaving properly towards her..."

Note that the KJV and NKJV make no attempt to define what Paul meant by "virgin," while the other translations try to define his intent, arriving at different conclusions.  This is one reason it is essential for anyone studying the Bible to use more than one good English translation, esp. if the person is not familiar with the Hebrew and Greek languages.

 

Modern English Translations- a Scholar’s Perspective

A Biblical scholar has ranked the modern English translations based upon the quality of translation, English vocabulary, and English syntax (taken from Handbook for Basic Biblical Exegesis by R. Samuel Thorpe; used by permission). Dr. Thorpe considers the ASV and NKJV to be the best literal translations, and the NEB and NIV the best dynamic equivalent translations.

Literal Translations

  1. American Standard Version of 1901 (ASV)
  2. The New King James Version (NKJV)
  3. King James Version (KJV)
  4. The Revised Standard Version (RSV)
  5. The New American Standard Version (NASV)
  6. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Dynamic Equivalent Translations

  1. The New English Bible (NEB)
  2. The New International Version (NIV)
  3. The Jerusalem Bible (JB)
  4. The New American Bible (NAB)
  5. Good News Bible (GNB)
  6. The Amplified Bible (Ampl)

 

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The Bible Preserved and Passed Down: Are we out of balance today?

The early Church was slightly out of balance regarding the preservation of the text of God’s Word because they were focused on evangelism and spreading the Gospel message. If we are out of balance today, it is not for such an admirable reason. Today, the Hebrew and Greek texts are much improved because of the findings of archaeologists (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls) and the work of Biblical scholars. But what about the English translations, and the Bible of the average Christian today?

In the United States and Great Britain, major publishing companies come out with new English "translations" every year in efforts to capture "market share" of English Bible sales. Has the Church allowed industry to compromise the integrity of the English Bible?  Do the publishing companies, in creating the modern proliferation of English translations we see today, have the purpose of creating better English translations with the interests of the everyday Christian in mind? Or are their motives purely financial? It seems that many Christians are confused by the overwhelming number of translations, and often the best-selling Bibles are not the same ones scholars attest to as being the most accurate. This is a highly debated issue, and it has contributed to the "King James Only" controversy.

It is important for the Church to address these issues, for God has given us the responsibility to both preserve the integrity of His Word and to share it with all of the nations of the world.

 

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