Bettering Bibles

One of my greatest joys in life is being able to make suggestions for improving Bible versions. I feel joy because improvements in Bible translations mean that those who use Bibles can understand them with greater accuracy, which is the most important translation factor. But improved translations will also have greater impact as their wordings come closer to how good quality English is written today. For me, the Bible is not only an important piece of sacred literature, but it is also the most important message that God wants us to understand so that we can experience the kind of life he wants us to enjoy. And that kind of life brings joy.

I enjoy working with English Bible translation teams and helping them make improvements to their translations which they are happy with, and which result in their translation becoming more accurate, natural, or clear. As longtime readers of this blog may remember, I am currently reviewing a new translation, the ISV, and to a lesser extent, the TNIV, which is a more mature translation, having been through several decades of revisions already. In this post I want to mention some of wordings which I have flagged for the ISV team and changes which they have made.

I am making this post to encourage more Bible users to help translation teams improve their translations. Believe it or not, most translation teams recognize that there is room for improvement in their translations. If we approach a translation team humbly and graciously, and are willing to make suggestions which fit within their translation principles, we will often find them open to our suggestions for improvements.

Let’s look at a few examples from the ISV translation of the Gospel of Mark to see wording issues which I have flagged and resultant changes.

Mark 2:2-3

2 So many crowds

wl-2/7/07: It should be either “So many people” or “Such a large crowd.”

had gathered that there wasn’t any room left for them, even in front of the door. Jesus was speaking the word

wl-2/7/07: I’m not keen on uppercasing “word” but I think there needs to be some additional clue what “word” this is. One solution would be to say “Jesus was preaching God’s word to them …” Also, I don’t think it is proper English to say “speaking the word,” but I may be wrong.

to them 3 when some people came and brought him a paralyzed man being carried by four men.

Here is the revised text after the ISV team considered my suggestions:

2 Such a large crowd gathered that there wasn’t room for them, even in front of the door. Jesus[1] was speaking his message to them 3 when some people[2] came and brought him a paralyzed man being carried by four men

[1] 2:2 Lit. He

[2] 2:3 Lit. they

Notice that suggestion of “such a large crowd” was accepted. This is an increase in accuracy.

They considered my second suggestion and revised “the word” to “his message”. That is better English.

Mark 2:12

12 So the man[1] got up, immediately picked up his cot, and went out before all of them.

Wl-2/7/07: “before all of them” is ambiguous (maybe only we linguists care; it gives us something to work on!). I don’t know how many readers would stumble on the ambiguity, but if you think it should be tweaked, consider “went out in front of all of them” or “went out as they all watched him.”

[1] 2:12 Lit. he

The ISV team chose my first suggestion, as you can see in this revision:

12So the man[1] got up, immediately picked up his mat, and went out in front of all of them.

[1] 2:12 Lit. he

In Mark 3:4 the ISV text had a collocational clash (words which do not properly fit together in English), which commonly occurs when a biblical language text is followed so closely that some English rules are missed:

4 Then he asked them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do evil on Sabbath days,[1] to save a life or to kill it?”

wl-2/7/07: I don’t think we can “kill life” in English. We can destroy life. We can kill a person.

[1] 3:4 Lit. on the Sabbaths

The ISV team agreed and revised to:

4 Then he asked them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do evil on Sabbath days,[1] to save a life or to destroy it?”

[1] 3:4 Lit. on the Sabbaths

In Mark 3:5 the original text had some stylistic issues:

5 Jesus[1] looked around at them with anger,

wl-2/7/07: or, “angrily.”

because he was deeply hurt because of their hardness of heart.

wl-2/7/07: “because … because” is awkward. Consider something like “because he was deeply hurt that their hearts were hard.”

[1] 3:5 Lit. He

The ISV team chose to retain their wording “with anger”. But they revised their second clause which had the awkward repetition of “because”:

5 Jesus[1] looked around at them in anger, deeply hurt because of their hard hearts.

[1] 3:5 Lit. He

This is enough for now. As you can see, some (actually many) changes needed are not profound. Occasionally, for a translation which is not yet published, alert reviewers can spot omitted or repeated words, missing periods, or similar problems. Translation teams appreciate finding out about such glitches before their translation is published. Yes, the better financially endowed teams hire proofreaders whose job it is to look for missing punctuation, misspelled words, etc. But almost every new translation, and even some which have been on the market for a few years, has some wordings which can be improved.

One need not be a biblical scholar to spot wordings which can be improved. Probably the most important quality to have is a keen eye connected to a brain that can objectively evaluate whether a wording sounds like good quality English or not. We will never gain total consensus on what the best wording is for many Bible passages. A number of different wordings are often possible, even good quality ones.

As the header to this blog states, this blog exists for the purpose of encouraging us to think about how specific Bible versions can be improved in specific Bible passages. I encourage those of you who enjoy good quality English and can spot problems, whether minor ones having to do with punctuation or more major ones having to do with English syntax or lexicography, to report your suggestions to translation teams. Some teams provide an Internet form or email address where you can make suggestions for improvement. Check out the individual version sections in the margin of this blog for ways to report suggestions. If you cannot find a way to report a suggestion to a team, email me (my email address is found in my blog profile) and I can forward your comment to a translation team.

We who speak English are, as I often like to point out, a rich people for having so many English versions. They meet a variety of needs and reading tastes. But any Bible version can be improved. And improvements will help any Bible translation be more effective. And more effective Bibles are, well, you know the line by now, … better Bibles!

5 thoughts on “Bettering Bibles

  1. John says:


    you have quite a gift for what you are doing, and it speaks well of ISV that they take your comments seriously and act on many of them.

    Your work will serve to bless many, I’m sure.

    Thank you.

    John Hobbins

  2. John Radcliffe says:

    Wayne, for the ISV of Mark 2:12 (“and went out before all of them”) you commented:

    “went out before all of them” is ambiguous … consider “went out in front of all of them” or “went out as they all watched him”

    Now, if I understand you correctly, the alternatives you see here are that Mark meant either (1) “the man went out first, and then everyone else followed”, or (2) “the man went out, and everyone else saw him go”. However (for me at least) the revised rendering (“and went out in front of all of them”) retains the ambiguity. I think that Mark meant (2) (“in full view of them all”, as NIV and TNIV put it), but neither of the ISV renderings communicates that meaning unambiguously.

  3. exegete77 says:


    Re: Mark 2:12, perhaps the ambiguity needs to be there based on the ambiguity of the original.

    Overall, I think you have highlighted (and demonstrated in practice) the subtlety of wordings, and how slight nuances of wordings can change the understanding of the text. I don’t mean reading into the text, rather clarifying what the translators wanted to communicate in the first place, but didn’t achieve their goal. It takes time and many readings of a text to catch that. You have encouraged us to continue in this endeavor.

    Thank you and well done.

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