British and American Bible version differences

Until a few months ago I thought that the replacement of “rooster” by the good old English word for this bird, as used in KJV, was the only difference, apart from trivial matters of spelling, between American and British (or Anglicised) editions of modern Bible translations. Then I discovered a difference in TNIV related to “empathize”, which I consider to be an error. Since then I have discovered a few more differences. Here is a catalogue of what I have found so far (mostly from the gospels because these are the books I have been working on recently), giving just one example for each wording change. I have included KJV and REB which are both British translations with no American editions.

“Rooster” / “Cock”: Matthew 26:34

KJV: “this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice”
RSV and RSV-UK: “this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times”
NIV and TNIV: “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times”
NIV-UK and TNIV-UK: “this very night, before the cock crows, you will disown me three times”
REB: “tonight before the cock crows you will disown me three times”
CEV: “before a rooster crows tonight, you will say three times that you don’t know me”
CEV-UK: “before a cock crows tonight, you will say three times that you don’t know me”

“Empathize” / “Feel sympathy”: Hebrews 4:15

KJV: “cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities”
RSV, NIV, REB: “unable to sympathize with our weaknesses”
RSV-UK and NIV-UK: “unable to sympathise with our weaknesses”
TNIV: “unable to empathize with our weaknesses”
TNIV-UK “unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses”
CEV, CEV-UK “understands every weakness of ours”

Note that REB uses an “American” spelling which is also considered a valid alternative here in Britain.

“Grain” / “Corn”, “Heads” / “Ears”: Matthew 12:1

KJV: “through the corn … began to pluck the ears of corn”
RSV: “through the grainfields … began to pluck heads of grain”
RSV-UK: “through the grainfields … began to pluck ears of grain”
NIV and TNIV: “through the grainfields … began to pick some heads of grain”
NIV-UK and TNIV-UK: “through the cornfields … began to pick some ears of corn”
REB: “through the cornfields … began to pluck some ears of corn
CEV and CEV-UK: “through some wheat fields … began picking and eating grains of wheat”

Note that in Britain “corn” is not maize but a generic word for grain.

“Spit” / “Spat”: John 9:6

KJV, RSV, RSV-UK, NIV-UK, TNIV-UK, REB, CEV-UK: “he spat on the ground”
NIV, TNIV, CEV: “he spit on the ground”

“He spit” would be an error in British English.

“In your midst” / “Among you”: 1 Corinthians 3:16
(example added 17th April, see the first comment)

NIV and NIV-UK: “God’s Spirit lives in you”
TNIV: “God’s Spirit dwells in your midst”
TNIV-UK: “God’s Spirit dwells among you”

TNIV-UK did well to remove “midst”, which sounds like an archaism in British English. It would have done better to make this change more consistently. But I don’t understand the change from NIV’s normal “live” to TNIV’s archaic sounding “dwell”.

And here is a change which should have been made, for “broil” is not used in modern British English, but mostly has not been:

“Broiled” / “Baked”: Luke 24:42

KJV, RSV, RSV-UK, NIV, NIV-UK, TNIV, TNIV-UK, CEV: “a piece of broiled fish”
REB: “a piece of fish they had cooked”
CEV-UK: “a piece of baked fish”

Actually I think it should be “a piece of grilled fish”. “Grill” is the best British equivalent to US “broil”, both meaning “cook by direct radiant heat”.

I have also discovered that there are quite a number of other differences between the different editions of CEV, which is the only version for which I have electronic copies which I can compare. (Added note, 17th April: some of these are differences between the presumably US 1995 edition of CEV found at Bible Gateway and the “Global Standard” edition which I have received as part of a software package; comments below edited accordingly.) For example:

Matthew 1:20:

CEV-Global: “the Lord appeared to him in a dream”
CEV-US and CEV-UK: “the Lord came to him in a dream”

So this is not in fact a US-UK difference.

Matthew 3:5:

CEV-Global and CEV-US: “the Jordan River Valley”
CEV-UK: “the River Jordan Valley”

Matthew 4:5:

CEV-Global: “the devil took Jesus into the holy city to the highest part of the temple”
CEV-US: “the devil took Jesus to the holy city and had him stand on the highest part of the temple”
CEV-UK: “the devil took Jesus to the holy city and made him stand on the highest part of the temple”

The only US-UK difference is “had him stand” / “made him stand”. Both are good British English but the latter is probably better style, and suggests compulsion rather than request.

Matthew 4:23:

CEV-Global: “teaching in their synagogues”
CEV-US and CEV-UK: “teaching in the Jewish meeting places”

Again not a US-UK difference, but it beats me why “synagogues” is acceptable in a “Global Standard” version but not in the US or UK versions.

Acts 17:5 (example added 17th April, contributed by Lingamish)

CEV-Global: “some troublemakers who hung around the marketplace”
CEV-US: “some worthless bums who hung around the marketplace”
CEV-UK: “some worthless louts who hung around the market place”

I understand why US “bums” became UK “louts”, but not why “marketplace” has been divided in two, nor why the “Global Standard” version has gone for the higher register “troublemakers” with a subtly different meaning.

Does anyone know of any more examples? If so, please post them in comments here.

10 thoughts on “British and American Bible version differences

  1. Peter Kirk says:

    This post is less than an hour old, and I have already found another example, while commenting on Suzanne’s posting on “In your midst”.

    In 1 Corinthians 3:16 the American TNIV has “in your midst” but the British edition has “among you”. This is a good change because “midst” is clearly archaic in British English, but perhaps less so in American. But in Luke 17:21 both editions have “in your midst”. Indeed 1 Corinthians 3:16 is the only one of the 26 occurrences of “midst” in the American TNIV which has been removed in the British edition. So the revisers seem to have a consistency problem.

    But see my comments on Suzanne’s posting about whether “in your midst” is really intended to mean the same as “among you”.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    These are interesting stylistic points, Peter. Obviously someone, in editing the TNIV, felt that “midst” didn’t sound quite right.

  3. DavidR says:

    Peter wrote, regarding “empathize”: ‘Note that REB uses an “American” spelling which is also considered a valid alternative here in Britain.

    I doubt this is the case,* although many would share this perception. The “-ize” spelling is Oxonian, not “American”! Take a look here , for example.

    [* I mean, I doubt that the OUP-influenced editors of the REB would regard -ize spellings as American!]

    (A picayune comment, I realize! 🙂 Interesting observations overall.

  4. Peter Kirk says:

    Thank you, DavidR. Actually what I was trying to say is exactly what you say. But it is interesting that the people who Anglicised RSV and NIV considered it necessary to change “-ize” to “-ise”, although the British editors of REB (with a possible eye to an additional US market without adaptation) went for “-ize”.

  5. Peter Kirk says:

    I have added to this post two examples, the one mentioned in my first comment and one pointed out to me by Lingamish. I have also added some comments about different editions of CEV, which were confusing me.

  6. Miguel says:

    Thanks a lot for making this comparison list. I have been looking all over the Internet to find differences between the TNIV and TNIV-UK, and this is the only place where I’ve found anything! Have you found any other differences in your reading?

  7. Peter Kirk says:

    Miguel, thanks for asking. I haven’t found anything else, but I haven’t been looking very hard.

    Did you anywhere on your searches find an electronic copy of TNIV-UK? That would make it easy to find the differences.

  8. Alister says:

    Sometimes it might be hard to know if you’re just looking at differences in revisions over time rather than US/UK differences.

    My wife bought a CEV recently which is an edition first published by Bible Society New Zealand in 2012. It says the text is copyright American Bible Society 1991, 1995, but “this edition incorporates non-American English usage”.

    In some places this version matches your “US” version, in others your “UK” or “Global Standard” versions, or none of them. The choices do seem appropriate for NZ – kiwis probably know that a “cock” is a rooster, but “rooster” is certainly the word we would use. “Broiled” would seem very obscure, and “He spit” would be an error here too. But Acts 17:5 has “worthless loafers”, which seems like the worst rendering of all – perhaps it is the first attempt at translating the US version to seem less crass for an international audience.

    Since 1995 is the newest copyright date, I figure the ABS produced a version of the text for Commonwealth countries in 1995, and this is it. But maybe I’m wrong – maybe this is a version that has been produced more recently, perhaps even by BSNZ?

    I am confused generally about the CEV versions. I think I’ve seen a date of 1997 for the UK version and 2006 for a “second edition” (US? More than one version? Who knows…), as well as a mention of one or two internationalised editions published in 2005 which supposedly included emergency corrections that couldn’t wait until 2006. How do these relate to my version, or your “Global Standard” version? How many different versions are there?
    Why does it mention the “second edition” at https://cev.bible/resources/, but the more readily discoverable page there on quotation permissions only cites copyright dates up to the mid 90s? Is the ABS perhaps still publishing a “first edition” as well as a second? Are the differences all minor like those discussed here, or does the “second edition” address some of what Michael Marlowe describes as numerous “translation errors”? Is there any way to know without getting a bunch of CEV copies and working through them to compare the different versions? Maybe one criteria for a Better Bible is that you can easily look at the differences between revisions, like you can with an open source project like the WEB!

    I’m not sure whether this is any less difficult with other translations like the NIV – it may be partly because the CEV doesn’t generally receive much attention, which is a shame, because it seems to be the best translation for the less literate and arguably the general population. Other translations aimed at children or populations with limited English – NIRV (questionable whether it is any better than original NIV), ICB, ERV etc – tend to become very cumbersome in places. Maybe it just takes more work when you’re trying to limit the vocabulary that much. I do like what MissionAssist have done with grammar and sentence structure in their EasyEnglish Bible, and it would be nice to see that revised, allowing a larger vocabulary – people can always learn new words if you provide footnotes or even in-line explanations.

    Off topic, but there is also an obvious benefit to open licensing when you look at the dozens of attempts to modernize the KJV – why do all these people keep starting from scratch? How often does the MEV differ from the NKJV purely to avoid copyright infringement, or is this not a real problem? When the next major attempt comes along in a couple of decades, how different will they need to be from NKJV and MEV and all the more obscure versions to avoid copyright infringement?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s