the King James to Modern Translations
Dr. Herbert Samworth
of the English Bible in the years after the printing of the King
James Version differs greatly from what occurred previously. These
years lack the drama of translators, printers and merchants who
hazarded their lives and fortunes to give the Scriptures to the
English people in their vernacular language. Although this period
may be void of the dramatic impact of the preceding years and flows
in a more tranquil stream, an understanding of its history is important.
distinguishing feature of this period is that William Tyndale and
his helpers had access to only one printed Greek text of the New
Testament from which to translate. This was the text edited by Erasmus
and printed by Johannes Froben during the second decade of the sixteenth
century. This Greek text, which later became known as the Textus
Receptus, remained the standard text of the New Testament until
a critical edition, edited by Bishop Brooke F. Westcott and Dr.
F. J. A. Hort, was published in 1881.
reason our study of the English Bible must trace two interrelated
developments: the history and transmission of the Greek text from
the time of Erasmus until the present day; and the various modern
English translations which use the Westcott and Hort New Testament
as their textual base. We will start by giving a brief history of
the transmission of the Greek text from its earliest printed editions
to the present.
when Johannes Froben requested Erasmus to edit the Greek New Testament
for publication, there is reason to believe that Erasmus thought
a large number of manuscripts would be available for comparison.
However, he had access to only five, the oldest of which dated from
the tenth century. The work was hastily done and Erasmus himself
admitted that it was "precipitously edited." In addition
to the Novum Instrumentum printed in 1516, Erasmus edited
and corrected four other editions of this Greek text in 1519, 1522,
1527, and 1535 respectively.
death of Erasmus, others continued the work, and editions of the
Greek New Testament in the same textual tradition, although with
corrections and use of other manuscripts, were printed successively
at Paris and Geneva by Robert Stephanus (Estienne) and others, and
finally at Leiden by the Elzevir brothers. In the introduction to
the second Elzevir edition, the editors claimed that the reader
now possessed "the text which is now received by all and in
which we give nothing changed or corrupted." It was from this
publishers blurb that the phrase Textus Receptus, as
applied to the Greek text of the New Testament, originated.
of this Greek text was challenged by scholars. The paucity of Erasmus
manuscripts, their late dates and the fact that he did not have
any manuscript evidence for the last six verses of the Book of the
Revelation cast doubt on its accuracy. Because Erasmus was permitted
to choose the readings he considered the most accurate from the
manuscripts available to him, others believed that they should have
the same liberty if manuscripts were located which contained better
attested readings than the ones Erasmus printed.
indeed what occurred. Widespread interest in the Bible, an intensification
of the study of Greek, and advances in related disciplines such
as textual criticism led to the incorporation, in later centuries,
of a number of readings from manuscripts that were unavailable when
the Textus Receptus was printed. Especially important was
the discovery of uncial manuscripts, some of which were dated as
early as the middle of the fourth century A.D. (e. g., the Codex
Sinaiticus). In many places these manuscripts contained readings
that differed from those in the Textus Receptus. Manuscripts
written in a cursive or minuscule script were also recovered during
this time. As a result, the amount of manuscript evidence for the
Greek New Testament increased dramatically, and editors of the Greek
New Testament sought to include these readings in subsequent editions
of the Greek New Testament in order to produce the most accurate
factor that contributed to the reliability and accuracy of the Greek
text was advancement in the art of textual criticism itself. While
this important subject can be complicated, its basic aim is quite
straightforward. It is important to remember that the original manuscripts
of the biblical books, technically called the autographa,
have not survived, and the copies made from these original documents
contain readings, called variants, that do not always agree with
one another. The goal of textual criticism is to formulate and apply
rules that enable an editor to select the variant reading to achieve
the most accurate text.
of the application of these rules of textual criticism may aid us
in understanding what an editor does. For example, one of the rules
of textual criticism is that a shorter reading is preferable to
a longer reading. The reason for this rule is that a scribe would
tend to add words for clarification or explanation rather than deleting
them. Another rule of textual criticism is that a more difficult
reading is to be preferred to a less difficult one. A scribe would
be tempted to add words of explanation that would enable the reader
to understand the meaning of a difficult text rather than leaving
such a reading unexplained. These are just two of the many rules
of textual criticism, and it is important to note that these canons
must be applied with discernment and not in a slavish manner.
the above explanation is greatly simplified, this is basically what
occurred in the years following the printing of the Textus Receptus
edition of the Greek New Testament. The number of available Greek
manuscripts containing additional variant readings increased, and
the art of textual criticism was advanced and refined.
Bishop Brooke F. Westcott and Dr. F. J. A. Hort published a revised
Greek New Testament incorporating the newly available textual evidence.
Their edition differed from the Textus Receptus Greek New
Testament in numerous places. While most of these changes were minor
in nature, several were significant. Prominent among them was a
question regarding the ending to the Gospel of Mark. They expressed
doubt about whether the last twelve verses of Mark 16 were part
of the original Gospel. They also believed that the pericope of
the woman taken in adultery, found in John 7:53 to 8:11, was not
part of the original text but was added later.
and Hort Greek New Testament replaced the Textus Receptus
as the standard text of the New Testament. Almost simultaneously
with the publication of their Greek New Testament was an English
translation called the British Revised Version, also printed
in 1881, which used the Westcott and Hort Greek text as its textual
base. The translation was done by a committee of scholars from Great
Britain and the United States. In a number of places the American
Committee disagreed with their British counterparts regarding their
choice of words, but promised not to publish their translations
for twenty years. In 1901 the American Standard Version was
published incorporating the differences that the American Committee
had with the British Revised Version.
late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries papyrus texts from the Greek
New Testament were discovered in Egypt, and their readings have
been incorporated in the editions of the Greek New Testament printed
in the latter part of the twentieth century. In 1947 the discovery
of Hebrew documents from the Qumran Community, located on the northwest
corner of the Dead Sea, added significantly to our knowledge of
the text of the Old Testament. In several places they diverge from
the Masoretic Text, the standard Hebrew text of the Old Testament.
Many of these readings have been included in the newer English translations
of the Old Testament and have clarified readings where the Masoretic
Text was unclear.
vast number of manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments are available
to us. Responsible scholarship evaluates and incorporates these
variant readings to establish the most accurate text of the Bible.
Although one may be of the opinion that we now possess a biblical
text that is close to the text of the early church, scholars today
still debate which variant readings are the better-attested ones.
It is one
thing to seek to establish the most accurate text of Scripture in
the original languages, but it is another to provide a faithful
and readable translation of that text in another language. This
work of translating the Scriptures into vernacular languages continues
today. In some areas of the world it provides people the Bible in
their native language for the first time. In other countries where
there is a heritage of Scripture in the vernacular language, such
as English, the effort to produce the most accurate translation
continues. This work of translation reflects changes of the original
text provided by new manuscript evidence, and changes in spoken
languages that occur over time.
of translating the Scriptures is one of great responsibility. The
translator is required to be faithful to the original text of Scripture,
known as the source language, and must communicate intelligibly
in the receptor language. The work of translation cannot be done
in a strictly literal manner. Accurate translation not only involves
the words themselves but must also take into account the differences
in the syntax and grammar of the respective languages.
two basic theories for translating a source language into a receptor
language. The first is what is called the formal or verbal
equivalence method. Here the translator chooses a word in the
receptor language that corresponds closest to the word in the source
language. When this word occurs in the original text, the translator
uses the corresponding word in the receptor language. This provides
a translation that is both accurate and literal. However, there
is another method of translation that is called functional
or dynamic equivalence. Here the translator seeks to determine
the cultural or contextual meaning of the word in the source language
and then translates it into the receptor language with this contextual
understanding in mind. This enables the reader to understand how
this word was used in its historical and cultural context.
will help to demonstrate the differences between these two methods.
We will use the word "blood" for our illustration. In
the Bible this word is frequently used in the context of sacrifices
offered to God as atonement for sins. For the sacrifice to be acceptable,
the blood of the victim must be shed, causing death. A translator
following the formal or verbal equivalence
method will use the word "blood" in the English language
where it occurs in the source language because it is formally or
verbally equivalent to that word. However, a translator using the
functional or dynamic equivalence method may
use the English word "death" because of its dynamic (i.e.,
cultural or historical) meaning in the source language.
method sometimes used is known as paraphrasing. This is not
a translation of individual words, but of concepts; idiomatic language
is used to communicate the intent of the original text. In this
method the emphasis is on the desire to communicate effectively
ideas or concepts in the receptor language rather than on the meanings
of individual words in the original text. Advocates of this method
have been charged with taking undue liberties with the text of the
Bible. Its use has been justified on the basis that it communicates
effectively to people who frequently find other translations of
the Scripture beyond their understanding.
the new readings (concerned more with the Greek New Testament than
with the Hebrew Old Testament), the twentieth century has seen a
veritable flood of translations. It is impossible within the confines
of this article to deal with them all. However, some of the more
important will be noted as illustrations.
James Version remains popular with a large number of people
although it is often criticized because of its archaic language
and its use of the Textus Receptus as its textual base, although
the term itself was not used until 1633. In an effort to blunt these
strictures, a revision called the New King James Bible has
been prepared. Its purpose is to maintain the traditional popularity
of the original King James Version while modifying the language
to reflect current English usage. The NKJB retains the Textus
Receptus as its textual base.
of a translation from the critical edition of the Greek New Testament
that follows the formal or verbal equivalence
method of translation is the New American Standard Bible,
a revision of the American Standard Version published in
1901. While receiving high marks for its fidelity to the Greek text
and accuracy of translation, it has been criticized for its heavy
and unwieldy English.
International Version is a translation that incorporates the
functional or dynamic equivalence method of
translation. The English of the NIV is more contemporary
and follows current usage. However, it has been subjected to criticism
because the translation departs from the formal equivalence
a committee, under the auspices of the International Council of
Religious Education, was organized to revise the American
Standard Version "in light of modern scholarship."
This revision, known as the Revised Standard Version
was printed in 1946 (New Testament), 1952 (Old Testament) with the
Apocryphal Books added in 1957. The RSV utilized a modified
verbal equivalence translation and retained much of
the English style of the King James Version.
the Revised Standard Version was updated to include advances
in its textual base, contemporary English, and the use of inclusive
language where this could be done without distorting passages "that
reflect the historical situation of ancient patriarchal culture
and society." Generally this version has been well received
in ecumenical circles for the inclusion of the Apocrypha and gender-neutral
language. It has been severely criticized by more conservative elements
for these same reasons and for perceived mistranslations of certain
words such as "young woman" for "virgin" in
a contemporary work undertaken by Eugene Peterson of Regent College
of Vancouver, British Columbia, is a paraphrase that seeks
to put the Scriptures into idiomatic English. Like the versions
listed above, it has received its share of both praise and criticism.
It has been lauded for its ability to communicate the concepts of
Scripture in racy English but it also has been censured for its
departure from the traditional norms of verbal translation.
In the 1960s
Kenneth Taylor paraphrased the Scriptures for his children to make
them "as meaningful as possible in modern English idiom from
a rigid evangelical position." This paraphrase
was published in 1971 as the Living Bible. While it was an
extremely successful publishing venture, it was vilified as distorting
the message of Scripture. Despite its weaknesses, it became very
popular among evangelicals in the United States.
a thorough revision of the Living Bible was published. A
team of some seventy biblical scholars, in contrast with the virtual
one person production of the Living Bible, was assembled
to do the work. The textual base of the translation was up-dated
and the language improved to be more readable and accurate. As a
result the New Living Translation is more of a dynamic
equivalence translation than a paraphrase. It is claimed
to be "the first adult-level Bible translated by evangelical
scholars using the dynamic equivalence method of translation."
are examples taken from the large number of translations and paraphrases
available today which demonstrate methods of translation but are
not what are called "special interest" Bibles. Special
interest Bibles are directed to individuals or groups who share
common concerns and interests. They usually use one of the popular
translations but emphasize certain passages or verses that highlight
the concerns that give the group its identity. For example, there
are Bibles that are edited for those recovering from addiction,
for those that are interested in a discipling ministry, etc. One
has but to look at a Bible catalogue from a major bookstore to note
the variety of these Bibles that are available.
come to mind as this article concludes. First, we should be thankful
that we have the Bible in our language. There are many who have
never seen a copy of the Scriptures in their native tongue. Second,
we must be thankful for those who have labored faithfully to provide
the Scriptures for us. Some, like John Wyclif and William Tyndale,
lived in more dramatic days and hazarded their lives to accomplish
this task. However, we must also be thankful for those who faithfully
worked in less stressful times and circumstances to insure that
a trustworthy translation of the Scriptures is available to us today.