With a great burst of publicity, a new paraphrase of the Greek Scriptures has recently been published in Great Britain under the above title. It has been sponsored by the most influential Protestant churches in the country and has been received with a fairly general chorus of praise. Some things in it are good, some very good; but it is flat in style and many of its renderings are bad. This is neither surprising nor unexpected, for perfection in such an enterprise can at best only be approached, but never reached. What condemns this one is that perfection has not even been attempted.
For instance, kosmos means world, and is so translated in King James' Version (K.J.V.) in all but one of its many occurrences. The essential meaning of the word is system, orderly arrangement; and the exception, in 1. Peter 3:3, has to go back to this essential meaning to accord with its context and render it by adorning. The Concordant Version (C.V.) has the same notion, adornment, and the New English Bible (N.E.B.) rightly has the same. Strict concordance is here impossible. So far, so good. But the N.E.B. quite needlessly departs from concordance and orderliness elsewhere. Literally, 1. Cor. 1:28 reads: "and the ignoble of the world and those who are scorned" ; but the N.E.B. has "things low and contemptible," the word world being simply dropped out. But, presumably to make up the loss, the N.E.B. immediately afterwards (v. 29) has the words pride and presence, which are absent from the Greek.
Some may regard this as a curious example to choose, but it illustrates perfectly the points I want to make.
First: concordance, so far as it is practicable, is vital in a translation of the Greek Scriptures. Every scholar is aware that we can seldom find in two languages pairs of words that are exactly equivalent to one another. But English is a very elastic tongue; and if we try to turn the Greek into English as concordantly as possible, we will find that the contexts of a word such as kosmos will bend the word world into something reasonably close to the meaning of the Greek. The N.E.B. explicitly rejects this principle on the plea that if the translator "is free to exploit a wide range of English words covering a similar area of meaning and association he may hope to carry over the meaning of the sentence as a whole." Perhaps; but—how can he know this meaning unless he can think in the language he is translating as perfectly as in his own tongue? The "Introduction" of the N.E.B. defines its aim to be "saying again in our own native idiom what we believed the author to be saying in his." The operative word is "believed." A stream can, by itself, rise no higher than its Source. What Christians need is not what someone "believed" the Apostle Paul meant, but what he actually has said.
Second: the translator should say what the original says, no more and no less. It is an inexcusable mutilation of Paul's words to leave out "world," it is an inexcusable impertinence to add "pride" and "presence."
Third: the translator should regard his work only as a means to an end; and end is rightly what is quoted above: to say in his own native idiom what the writer was saying in his. This does, indeed, involve eventually making a paraphrase; but the translation should come first, as literal as possible, and should be constantly at hand for the paraphrase to be compared with it as needed.
I believe that a great mistake was made when the C.V. was first projected. It would have been far better to have done without the Notes and had two columns side by side, one a translation as completely literal as possible consistent with intelligibility and without regard for English idiom, the other a paraphrase of the translation into good lucid modern English. The whole thing would then unquestionably have been open to constant checking and correction.
The N.E.B. is a paraphrase, not a translation, and an unnecessarily free paraphrase at that; and, what is even worse, it provides in itself no means of any sort whereby the reader can check anything at all in it.
A good example is found in the eight occurrences of what K.J.V. called "publicans and sinners." The form is not quite identical in all, but the differences would be very slight in a translation and their effect in a paraphrase is negligible; yet the N.E.B. manages to render it in three quite different ways, thus (with a literal rendering in brackets):
This is not a great matter in itself; but just as a straw shows the way the wind is blowing, so these unnecessary variants show the way the translating panel regarded their task. Their "Introduction" displays their complacency; and in the face of this sample of the results obtained by them fully justifies their condemnation by anyone who reveres God's Holy Word and trembles before it. One bishop has banned their version for the time being "as it lacks rhythm and a sense of awe." And he is right! One need not suppose that the want of reverence is deliberate. The cause of it is quite simple: throughout the lifetime of even the oldest of us the clergy have been taught to treat God's Word with such carelessness and indifference to accuracy; so it is hardly surprising that many have come to take inaccuracy as a matter of course.
Another kind of irritating addition to the Original is found at the beginning of Eph. 6 : 14 where, instead of "Stand, then," we are addressed thus: "Stand firm, I say." We can only wonder whether this tetchy interpolation of "I say" is not a deliberate attempt to make Paul seem bad-tempered and impatient, as it does also in the K.J.V. of Rom. 3:26. That sort of thing is not only an affront to the reader of the Scriptures but, what is infinitely worse, to God Whose Word they are.
What is usually rendered "this adulterous and sinful generation" (Mark 8:38) becomes in the N.E.B. "this wicked and godless age." In Rom. 6:19 "as slaves to righteousness for hallowing" (literally, "unto hallowing") becomes "to the service of righteousness, making for a holy life," and in v. 22 "you have your fruit for hallowing" becomes "your gains are such as make for holiness." The closing words of 1. Cor. 1:30, "besides righteousness and hallowing and deliverance" become "he is our righteousness; in him we are consecrated and set free." 1. Thess. 4:3, "For this is God's will—your hallowing" becomes "This is the will of God, that you should be holy." In v. 4 "to be acquiring it in hallowing and honour" becomes "to hallow and honour it"; and in v. 7, for no apparent reason, the order of the words is changed. In 2. Thess. 2:13 "in hallowing of spirit and belief of truth" becomes "in the Spirit that consecrates you, and in the truth that you believe"—in open and complete defiance of the original Greek. In 1. Tim. 2:15 "in faith and love and hallowing with sanity" becomes "in faith, love, and holiness, with a sober mind"—not an improvement. In Heb. 12:14 "and the hallowing apart from which no one shall see the Lord" is not improved, either, by being altered to "and a holy life, for without that no one will see the Lord." These learned men do not appear to have mastered the English distinction between shall and will. The same confusion occurs in Rev. 6:17. Lastly, 1. Peter 1:2 is much the worse for being altered from "in hallowing of spirit unto obedience, and sprinkling of Jesus Christ's blood" to "hallowed to his service by the Spirit, and consecrated with the sprinkled blood of Jesus Christ."
On contemplating these, it becomes apparent that in most of them there is a distinct diminution of the Original, as, indeed, there is bound to be when the creature tries to improve the Word of the Creator.
When we come to the word dikaiosunE, righteousness, this diminution becomes very evident. In its first occurrence, Matt. 3:15, "all righteousness"; the word is dropped altogether by the N.E.B. in favour of "all that God requires." In Matt. 5:6 "those who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness" is altered to "those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail." In 5:10 "on account of righteousness" is altered to "for the cause of right" and, even worse, in 5:20. "except your righteousness should be superabounding more than that of the scribes and Pharisees" becomes "unless you show yourselves far better men than the Pharisees and the doctors of the law." In Matt. 6:33 "its righteousness" becomes "his justice." The last occurrence in Matthew (21:32), "a way of righteousness" gives us yet another "elegant variation" (as Fowler's "Modern English Usage" so nicely calls it), namely, "the right way to live." Although most of the examples Fowler properly ridicules come together; this vice of. the second-rate writer, as he calls it, need not be so confined. Of the six occurrences in Matthew, three come quite close together, and no two of the six are rendered in anything like the same way. In fairness, it should be added that other places are not quite so bad in the N.E.B.; for of the five occurrences in Rom. 9:30, 31 three are rendered righteousness. Yet, even so, two are omitted.
What makes the treatment of this word by the N.E.B. so particularly bad is that dikaiosunE is appropriately rendered righteousness in everyone of its 92 occurrences in K.J.V., so it plainly covers about the same area of thought in the two languages. Perhaps the worst thing the panel has done with it is rendering it justice in some places. As I pointed out in our Vol. 14, pp. 7-16, all Greek words with the root -dik- are concerned with what is right rather than the idea of judgment or justice. "A judge can be most scrupulously just as a judge, while in his private life he might be anything but righteous or moral" (p. 8). After all, the matter is easily put to the test by simply substituting just for righteous and justice for righteousness throughout the Greek Scriptures. It will quickly be apparent that the substitution will not work. It is simply another diminution of God's Word.
When I wrote about Luke 23:45 in our October, 1960 issue, I never thought I should find the "eclipse" blunder in the latest presentation of the Greek Scriptures, the N.E.B. Yet in it we are told that "the sun was in eclipse"—an eclipse lasting for three hours and near the time of full moon! Either the members of the panel were wholly ignorant of elementary Astronomy or their attitude to the Sacred Scriptures (and to precise thought) was one of indifference amounting to cold contempt. For the task of translation, knowledge of Greek is not enough unless it is accurate knowledge plus intelligence; neither is an acquaintance with textual criticism that sets aside the overwhelming preponderance of ancient authorities in favour of a reading that makes palpable nonsense. The validity of this reading depends on the soundness of the case put forward by Hort; which, however, is unsupported by evidence apart from a set of alleged conflations in the Gospels. That these actually are conflations is by no means proved. Other evidence could be produced which might perhaps settle the issue; but as, so far, no competent scholar has undertaken the necessary research we do not know which way it would point. It would involve comparing all readings peculiar to T.R. with Scripture quotations by the Fathers of the first three centuries—a formidable task. (T.R. is the Greek text of K.J.V. with some corrections).
Until this controversy is finally settled, it is generally permissible to follow either type of text, T.R. or Hort's. Thus, in 1. Tim. 3:16 we may read: "And avowedly great is the secret of devoutness: God was manifested in flesh. . . ." or instead read: ". . . the secret of devoutness who was manifested in flesh. . ." What is not permissible is to fake the translation of the passage in order to make the "who" less awkward, as does the N.E.B., thus: "And great beyond question is the mystery of our religion: 'He who was manifested in the body. .'"
Almost as famous is the counterpart passage 2. Tim. 3:16, which is even worse served. Word for word, it opens: "Every scripture God-breathable and beneficial toward teaching toward exposure toward correction. .." In correct English this becomes: "Every Scripture is inspirable by God and beneficial for teaching, for exposure, for correction..." In the N.E.B. this is violently wrenched into: "Every inspired scripture has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, or for reformation of manners..." Similar constructions (Rom. 7:12; 1. Cor. 11:30; 2. Cor. 10:10: 1. Tim. 1:15; 2:3; 4:4, 9; Heb. 4:13) demonstrate the grammatical incorrectness of the N.E.B. here, quite apart from its additions to Paul's words.
To support a translation like "Every inspired scripture is also beneficial..." Alford cites Luke 1:36; Acts 26:26; 28:28; Rom. 8:29; Gal. 4:7 as "constructions more or less approximating to this"; but he does not make any reference to the eight cited above, which approximate more closely. Moreover, his view introduces an insuperable difficulty; for it implies that there are scriptures which are not inspired. Where are they? How are we to recognize them? I cannot help feeling that, here, he was tainted with his era's scepticism, nowadays hardened into open unbelief.
About 150 years ago a Mr. Bowdler set out to publish the works of Shakespeare with what he regarded as the nasty bits removed. There is nothing indelicate in the Greek Scriptures, but plenty that searches out the conscience and the heart of the sinner. The N.E.B. has ground down the point of the sword of the Spirit and turned the cutting edge, leaving what might well be called "the Bowdlerized Bible." The least we should be able to expect of every new attempt to translate the Sacred Scriptures is that is should be better than its predecessors. This one is not. Generally, it is immeasurably inferior to Rotherham's translation of A.D. 1878 and to the Concordant Version of our times. Yet it has some merits. One particularly pleasing one is the rendering of the Middle form apeluonto in Acts 28:25 by they began to disperse and the corresponding Passive apeluthEsan in Acts 15:33 by (they) were dismissed. Let us hope that the new revision of the C.V. will at least get this right.
R.B.W. Last updated 13.11.2005