English Translations of the Bible, Today and Tomorrow -- By: Bruce M. Metzger

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 150:600 (Oct 1993)
Article: English Translations of the Bible, Today and Tomorrow
Author: Bruce M. Metzger


English Translations of the Bible, Today and Tomorrow

Bruce M. Metzger

[Bruce M. Metzger is Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, Emeritus, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey.]

[This is article four in the four-part series, “Translating the Bible: An Ongoing Task,” delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, February 4–7, 1992.]

The rapid multiplication of English translations of the Scriptures throughout the second half of the 20th century might well prompt more than one bewildered reader to rephrase the Preacher’s melancholy observation so as to read, “Of the making of many translations of the Bible there is no end!” (Eccl 12:12). During the past 40 years (to go no farther than that), beginning with the publication in 1952 of the Revised Standard Version until the publication in 1990 of the New Revised Standard Version, 27 renderings in English of the entire Bible were issued, as well as 28 additional renderings of the New Testament.

Such a proliferation provokes a number of questions. Why were so many versions produced? Is there really a need for such a variety of translations? Is it not uneconomical of time and human resources to undertake what, in many cases, are largely duplicated efforts? What is the best Bible? Before such questions can be answered, it is necessary to survey, however briefly, the making of several of the English versions that are widely used today. Because of the limitation of space, consideration will be given to the following, in chronological order: the Revised Standard Version (1952), the Jerusalem Bible (1966), the New American Bible (1970), the New English Bible (1970), the Good News Bible (1976), and the New International Version (1978). Several of these have subsequently appeared in revised form.

The Revised Standard Version (1952)1

Steps to produce a suitable revision of the excessively literalistic American Standard Version of 1901 were undertaken in 1928 when the copyright of that version was acquired by the International Council of Religious Education. In the same year the Standard Bible Committee was appointed, with an original membership of 15 scholars, to have charge of the text of the American Standard Version, and to make further revision of the text should that be deemed necessary.

For two years the committee wrestled with the question of whether a revision should be undertaken, and if so, what should be its nature and extent. Finally, after revisions of representative chapters of the Bible had been made...

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