Modern Bible translations not OK?

It is rare for the BBC to have anything to say about modern Bible translations. So I was a little surprised to find the following, even highlighted in a side bar, in an interesting article on the history of the word “OK”:

Modern English translations of the Bible remain almost entirely OK-free.

Indeed even The Message doesn’t seem to use “OK”. I wonder if the BBC writer found any examples of “OK” in a Bible translation, or simply included “almost” to cover himself.

Could such a word have a place in a Bible translation? I would think it would work best in direct speech. Or should the word be considered too colloquial to be used anywhere?

26 thoughts on “Modern Bible translations not OK?

  1. Dannii says:

    To answer that we must first answer: what non-colloquial replacements for “ok” are there?

    Actually that should really be the second, after first asking what we’d want to translate as “ok” (and I’d agree that direct speech is the most likely place to use it.)

  2. Chris Miller says:

    I think The Message actually uses the longer form “okay”. I think it’s in there a few times…

    Personally, I’m not a huge fan of it. Although OK is been around for a while, it still seems too “slangy” for use in translation. Just my two cents…

  3. danakx says:

    Searched Bible Gateway and found The Message used “okay” three times, twice in the passage in Acts, where Peter is being (quite dramatically) assured that he can eat any food. He is told, “If God says it is okay, it is okay.”

    The other time is in 2 Samuel 18:23, where Joab says, “Okay, run”.

  4. Peter Kirk says:

    Chris, the search I tried at Bible Gateway is supposed to match all words beginning with “ok”, and gave no results. But by searching for “okay” I did get three results: 2 Samuel 18:23, Acts 10:15, 11:7. This difference in results appears to be a bug in Bible Gateway.

    The latter two results both use the word twice, in the sentence “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.” All three cases are in direct speech. But one might wonder whether an angel’s direct speech would be colloquial.

    Dannii, I think we can consider whether a word is appropriate for a Bible translation without having a specific place in mind. But now we have these three verses to consider. 2 Samuel 18:23 is the sort of place I would expect to see the word if I saw it anywhere. But is that appropriate?

  5. David Ker says:

    OK is possibly the best-known English word in the world and has a tradition dating back fifty years or more. Older references (in nGram) seem to either be misspellings of “of” or Danish or Norse transcriptions.

    OK seemed to surge in the 40s and 50s as “okay.” In the 60s it took off leading up to the 1973 book “I’m OK, you’re OK.”

    Though the writer of the BBC article mentions the common legend about how OK first appeared, I suspect that it really took of in WWII as some sort of military shorthand.

    There are a number of places in the New Testament in which speakers seem to give rather verbose responses, for example, in Matthew 8:7, Jesus says, “I will come and heal him.” It might work there for him to simply say, “OK.”

    In fact, Matt 5:37 gives a nice opportunity for a rhyme: “Let your answer be “OK or no way!”

    The LOLCat Bible uses “OK” 46 times and “k” 76.

  6. Peter Kirk says:

    David, we are talking about English translations, so LOLCat doesn’t count! But are you denying pre-1960 usage in English? There was certainly a 1946 book “O.K.–it’s a deal!”, and Google reports the following from a chemical journal in 1912:

    It is necessary to explain that where “Boiled OK” is used, it means the cement passed the test satisfactorily.

    See also this 1919 use of “OK” as verb! So I don’t think you can so quickly dismiss the research of Allan Metcalf who has written a book tracing the word back to 1839.

    I have reported the bug to Bible Gateway.

  7. David Ker says:

    Yeah, but look at that nGram curve. That’s a huge spike around 1940. It could simply show that at that point it passed into written English whereas before it was only considered proper in colloquial speech. “Otay” was used in the early 20’s in the Our Gang shows.

    “Cheezburgrz 4 teh kittehs wiff purr in hartz, theys can sees Ceiling Cat.”

    That’s not English?

  8. refe says:

    I would think that the only time it would be OK to use a ‘word’ (acronym?) such as OK would be if it were translating a similarly informal colloquialism in the original language that corresponded in meaning. Which seems pretty unlikely to me – but if anyone can show one to me I might be OK with it. OK?

  9. Peter Kirk says:

    David, I agree that “OK” was long considered colloquial, and indeed still is. It is now quite widely used in writing because writing is less formal these days. In particular the Google corpus of older English is I think from published books and journals, and publishing was tightly controlled in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Nowadays anyone can write a blog and get their writing searched by Google, and we bloggers can write as colloquially as we like.

    But it is interesting that in 1912 “OK”, presumably used as shorthand by a researcher, had to be explained.

  10. David Ker says:

    What you’ve hit on here is that there’s some kind of wall in our translations that certain colloquialisms aren’t allowed past. That like totally rocks, dude.

  11. JKG says:

    OED has OK five examples from 1839 (two from Boston, one from Salem, one from Philadephia, and one from N.Y.). There’s tons more listed up through to and beyond the 1900s. One of the most interesting, I think, is this one: “1894 C. H. W. DONOVAN With Wilson in Matabeland xi. 253 As our American friends would say, we were still ‘O.K.'” There’s also an entry for the 1895 Bulletin [of Sydney, Australia].

    Definitions listed are:

    “colloq. (orig. U.S.).
    A. adj.

    1. All correct, all right; satisfactory, good; well, in good health or order. In early use, occas. more intensively: outstanding, excellent. Now freq. in somewhat weakened sense: adequate, acceptable. OK by (someone): fine by (a person), acceptable to (a person). Chiefly predicative.

    2. Fashionable, modish; prestigious, high-class.

    3. Of a person: decent, trustworthy; congenial.

    4. Appropriate, suitable; permissible, allowed. Freq. with for.

    5. Of a person: comfortable, at ease, content, satisfied; reasonable, understanding. Usu. with about, with.

    B. int.

    1. Expressing assent, concession, or approval, esp. with regard to a previous statement or question: yes, all right.


    a. Appended as an interrogative to a clause, phrase, etc., in expectation of agreement or approval.

    b. Brit. —— rules OK!: asserting the pre-eminence of a specified person or thing. Also with plural concord —— rule OK!

    3. Introducing an utterance or as a conversational filler, typically without affirmative or concessive force, but rather as a means of drawing attention to what the speaker is about to say: well, so, right

    C. n.

    An indication of approval; an endorsement, authorization. Freq. in to give the OK (to).
    In early use chiefly with reference to the marking of a document, etc., with the letters ‘OK’.

    D. adv.

    Satisfactorily, acceptably.”

  12. Wayne Leman says:

    This is probably off topic, but I use “OK” a lot in my email exchanges. I notice that some of my email friends only type “okay”. I don’t think I ever have–it seems too, umm, formal to me. 🙂

    I agree with those who think that “OK” (or “okay”) would be OK (!) in an English translation in direct quotes of informal speech. Man comes to Jesus, “Lord, my daughter is dying. Would you please come heal her.”

    “OK, let’s go. (or, “Sure, let’s go.”)

  13. JKG says:

    “Now I’m just saying this is okay — it’s not a divine command.”
    —-1 Corinthians 7:6, Ann Nyland, Source New Testament

    “Imagine yourself in a darkened room, Isaiah instructed.

    Okay, said the nation….

    Isaiah was watching sweat and tears run down God’s face.

    Okay, said Isaiah, so I save the nation. What do you do?”
    —-‘The Book of Isaiah,’ Anne Carson

    “Now you’re so old you’re being reminded it takes a miracle to conceive. You’re not having the child, God is having the child! You’re a surrogate womb, okay?”
    —-‘The Story of Abraham and Sarah,’ Phillip Lopate (in Genesis As It Is Written: Contemporary Writers on Our First Stories, David Rosenberg, editor)

    “Next the Confuser takes him into Atlanta and stands him on the steeple of First Church and says to him, ‘Okay, let’s suppose you’re God’s Head Man; now, jump down from here, for the scripture says,…'”
    —-Matthew 4:5a, Clarence Jordan, Cotton Patch Version

    The Confuser then brought him into Atlanta, and put him on the steeple of the First Church, and said, ‘Okay, you’re God’s man. Now jump down from here, because you know the scripture says…'”
    —-Jesus’ Doings [Luke 4:9a], Clarence Jordan, Cotton Patch Version

    “Now we just said that for Abraham loyalty was considered as time. When, then, was it credited to him? After he was baptized or before he was baptized*? It was not as a baptized man but as an unbaptized one. And he accepted the symbol of baptism as an OK on the “time”; he got for loyalty before his baptism. Thus he became the daddy of all those whose loyalty before they were baptized was credited to them as “time”; and, the daddy of baptism to those who not only are baptized but who also copy the loyalty of our father Abraham while he was still unchurched.”
    —-The Letter to the Christians in Washington [Romans] 4:9-12, Clarence Jordan, Cotton Patch Version

    (*Jordan’s footnote on “baptized” in the above verse: In the Greek the word here means “circumcision.” For the Jew it was the initiatory rite into the household of faith. Since it was the mark of membership in Judaism, its nearest modern counterpart for white Christians is “church membership,” or perhaps “baptism” into a white, segregated church.)

  14. JKG says:

    Peter, I’m afraid that was my omission. OED does have the verb:

    “OK, v
    trans. To endorse, esp. by marking with the letters ‘OK’; to approve, agree to, sanction, or pass. Freq. in pa. pple.”

    And the first use noted is:

    “1882 Testimony Sessinghaus vs. Frost (U.S. House, 47th Congr., 1st Sess.) Misc. Doc. No. 27. iii. 2705, I‥O.K.’d a great many myself‥. We went to a house, we found the parties were living there, and O.K.’d the cards.”

  15. Dannii says:

    Can I say that, contra Wayne, “OK” seems far more formal than “okay” to me!

    Actually… hmm. I think I would only ever use “OK” as a noun, whereas I’d use “okay” in other situations such as as an adjective or an interjection. That might be a better description of my idiolect that saying it’s based on formality.

  16. Peter Kirk says:

    As a more specific suggestion, how about using “OK” (adjective, verb, noun) where traditional translations have “righteous”, “justify”, “justification” etc? In some cases we might have to add “with/from God” for clarity. So Romans 3:21ff (modified TNIV) might look like:

    But now apart from the law God’s OK has been made known … (22) This OK is given through faith … (24) and all are OK’ed freely by his grace … (26) he did it to demonstrate his OK at the present time, so as to be OK and the one who OK’s those who have faith in Jesus.

    If you don’t like this, is it for linguistic or theological reasons? Note that it does a better job than most translations of preserving the links between the various Greek dikaio- words. But I accept that OK doesn’t work well as a description of God being dikaios in v.26.

  17. JKG says:

    for linguistic or theological reasons? Note that it does a better job than most translations of preserving the links between the various Greek dikaio- words.

    Seems that GOD’S WORD® Translation attempts the very same thing, not with “OK” in the verses you mention here, but with “approval.” The job of preserving the inter-textuality is important, and GW does well with that.

    For philogical reasons, it’s a bit strange. Or could we consider the virgin goddess “Dike” to be named “OK” in English? As we all know, Paul’s technical NT word, derives from the LXX uses, which come from the Greek legal system, which borrows the concept of legal rightness from this virgin deity, whose very name means “Justice” or “Righteousness” (or “Okay”?):

  18. Yancy Smith says:

    I know this will not be entirely OK with most folks or perhaps not OK with many, but I wonder if Okay, or OK would be a cool translation of Jesus’ oft repeated “Amen, Amen!” Which seems wierd in many translations. Some dynamic equivalence translations just sort of drop Amen, Amen. In most translations it seems almost always to be in introductory phrase that could be substituted for with HONK HONK or something like that and be just as meaningful. In some cases it seems to introduce a qualifying response to what others or Jesus himself has said.

  19. Mike Sangrey says:


    My understanding of the “Amen, amen” is that it was more of a technical term indicating a solemn rabbinical statement. If that is true, then “OK” wouldn’t work very well.

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