John T. Willis

Friday, August 08, 2014

English Versions of the Bible

When I first began teaching at David Lipscomb College in 1956, the only English Versions available were the King James Version published in 1611 and the American Version published in 1901. The Revised Standard Version [RSV] was published in 1946-1952. Since then, numerous versions have been produced.

People in Churches of Christ are always VERY FEARFUL of changes. There was a period of time: in the 1950s-1970s, many people declared that THE ONLY RELIABLE English Translation of the Bible is the King James Version. All other versions are condemned and should be avoided at all cost. Obviously, those who took [take] this view know nothing at all about Hebrew and Greek, the REAL EVIDENCE of the ancient manuscripts and versions, and the history of the English [and other] language[s].

If one REALLY wants to learn about the history of all this, MANY good books and articles are available in English. Only two examples are:

Donald L. Brake, Sr., "Versions, English," The New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Volume 5, Nashville: Abingdon, 2009, pages 740-760. This contains excellent charts and explanations. This is easy reading, and very well informed.

Jack P. Lewis and Ernest S. Frerichs, "Versions, English," The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 6, New York: Doubleday, 1992, pages 816-838. This is easy reading, and very well informed.

The very best translation of the entire Bible in English now is The New Revised Standard Version [NRSV]. Other versions like the NIV are okay, but do not measure up to the accuracy of the NRSV. I personally like and use The Message, but I would NEVER defend a point on biblical truth. The Message is not intended to be a scholarly translation of the Bible.

A very few scholars have spent their lives in learning and understanding the ancient versions of the Bible, and to help us understand the Bible in English today. We are deeply indebted to these people for their devotion and commitment.

It is embarrassing when any church takes a position about the Bible without any foundation whatever. No one is in a position of criticizing modern English Versions like the RSV and the NRSV without knowing Hebrew and Greek over several decades. We need to REPENT about our fears, and to respect the hard work of those who were and are responsible for producing the Bible through the centuries.

One note is important. The English language, like all languages, constantly evolves. No one can doubt or prevent his reality. As the English language changes, it is inevitable that new English Versions of the Bible must be produced to be current about the message of God in the Bible.

Share YOUR fears and questions and shortcomings and successes and thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


  • I like to use the New Living Translation and the English Standard Version (which is very similar to the NRSV). Other versions have been helpful to me also, but those are my favorites.

    By Blogger Terry Laudett, at 6:14 PM  

  • 168Thanks for trying to have SOME sanity in this discussion - an impossible task. As one of your former students - I appreciate your work . . .Verner Ulrich

    By Blogger the verner, at 7:18 AM  

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