Home > D. Religion: Received and Interpreted, I. Books > A User’s Guide to Bible Translations–A Book Review

A User’s Guide to Bible Translations–A Book Review


The Bible is one of the hardest books in the world to translate. In addition to all the usual considerations–accuracy, English style, the need for a new translation of the material–the translator must make decisions that have theological implications. And the text of the King James Version (1611) is so deeply fixed in the public mind that deviation from its wording is bound to raise eyebrows, even if only unconsciously. Finally, there is the Bible’s length, a consideration that would make even the most determined individual think twice before attempting a version.

That being as it is, the number of high-quality Bible translations available in English is remarkable. A sampling of the acronyms that greet the reader from bookstore shelves follows: the RV (Revised Version, 1885); ASV (American Standard Version, 1901); JBP (J.B. Phillips, 1958); JB (Jerusalem Bible, 1966); NIV (New International Version, 1978); NLT (New Living Translation, 1996; rev, 2004), and The Message (1993-2002).

Which version to choose? Readers seeking help with this question could do much worse than consult A User’s Guide to Bible Translations, by David Dewey.

Dewey is a Baptist minister in England and makes clear at the start that his book will be of most help to Christians who believe that the Bible is the living word of God. In A User’s Guide he gives a balanced overview of the issues involved in Biblical translation: 1) translation theory in general; 2) style; 3) gender inclusivity; and 4) form versus meaning driven translation. In the book’s second half, he offers an overview of the history of Bible translation into English that includes brief reviews of 31 (by RT’s count) different translations made since 1885. Clearly, AUG is a substantial resource for picking a version that will suit the needs of just about anyone buying a Bible, be that person just beginning to read the Bible or someone quite familiar with the text.

Dewey’s recommendation: buy more than one bible, a meaning-driven translation and a form-driven translation, and compare them to get a good idea of a passage’s meaning and beauty. RT couldn’t agree more.

In the book’s conclusion, Dewey offers two criticisms of the ongoing trends in Biblical translation: 1) the sheer number of high-quality versions tends to dilute the Bible’s authority and 2) the copyrighted status of bibles introduces elements of financial interest into the process.  To this, RT will add a further observation: that the explosion in the number of source manuscripts (thousands exist) and the discovery of non-canonical biblical texts (e.g., the Gospel of Peter) may end up requiring that canonical Bibles make some account of the alternatives. This might be the only way to finally arrive at a revised version of the KJV that truly lives up to the stature of the earliest translations and their authors.   RT

(and by the by, RT will be keeping his eye peeled for a copy of the New English Bible during his bookstore sojourns…it just sounds interesting…)

Photo: Text of Luke 11:2, Codex Sinaiticus; WikiCmns; Public Domain.


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  1. October 7, 2013 at 5:28 am

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