MEV: Clear, Reverent, Accurate, or Meh?

The newly announced Modern English Version of the Bible (MEV) is described on its website as “Clear, Reverent, Accurate”. But James McGrath is unimpressed, calling it The Meh Version. Indeed there seems to be little new here, as far as one can tell from the few samples given.

The MEV is also described on the website as “The most modern word-for-word translation produced since the King James tradition within the last 30 years.” If that sentence is typical of the logic and grammar of the MEV, then it is certainly neither clear nor accurate. Well, what exactly are they claiming? If by “most modern” they mean “newest”, well, I guess that is true, but it tells us nothing about the quality.

Looking a little more closely, I found the following:

The MEV is a translation of the Textus Receptus and the Jacob ben Hayyim edition of the Masoretic Text, using the King James Version as the base manuscript.

The MEV is a literal word-for-word translation. It is also often referred to as a formal correspondence translation.

The Committee on Bible Translation began their work on the MEV in 2005 and completed it in 2013.

CLEAR: Literal translation (word-for-word, not thought-for-thought), with capitalized references of God. Historical facts and events are expressed without distortion. At the same time the translation is done in such a way that readers of all backgrounds may understand the message that the original author was communicating to the original audience.

REVERENT: Every effort is made to ensure that no political, ideological, social, cultural, or theological agenda is allowed to distort the translation.

ACCURATE: The Scriptures are accurately translated without loss, change, compromise, embellishments or distortions of the meaning of the original text.


However, one of the testimonials is as follows:

It was with great enthusiasm that I took on the request to update books from the 1611 King James Bible with the modern English vernacular …

Another one:

A new, precise update of the King James Version has been glaringly necessary. …

So which is this, a translation of the named Greek and Hebrew texts, or an update or paraphrase of KJV?

I’m sorry, but I agree with McGrath’s “Meh”. If you want a modern language literal translation of the same base texts, the World English Bible is probably a better bet – and is in the public domain. But no doubt the publishers of MEV will make quite a lot of money with their nicely presented printed editions like their SpiritLed Woman Bibles. Sadly Bible translation, at least in English, now seems to be not so much Christian ministry as business.


“Farewell NIV”?

At BLT krwordgazer posts “Farewell NIV”?, a highly critical review of a claim by another blogger that the NIV has gone away. This includes a careful discussion of the gender related issues which have been the reason for some people rejecting the NIV 2011.

For some of us there is little new in this post. But for readers who have not already had their fill of these discussions, this is a useful introduction to the issues.

Please comment on the post at BLT, not here.

“Poetic” and “Accessible” Language

I am not usually much interested in liturgy, as I don’t see much place for formal liturgy in church (but that is not an issue for discussion here). But I did read Doug Chaplin’s post Accessible and poetic: crafting words for worship, and the principles discussed there seem to me very relevant for Bible translation. Here is a quote:

Some people hear the word “poetic” and think “obscure”, when they should be thinking “vivid”. Others hear the word “accessible” and think “bland”, when they should be thinking “inviting”.

I am all in favor of Bible translations which are poetic, if that means vivid, not obscure. And for me it is important that Bible translations are accessible, in the sense of inviting, but that should not mean that they are bland. Would anyone disagree?

The Truth New Testament: A Review

The Truth New TestamentThis is a follow-up to my post yesterday The Truth New Testament by Colin Urquhart. Yesterday I introduced this translation to readers here. Today I am reviewing the book and its text.

The edition pictured here is the standard version, which, from the online sample, has very few footnotes. I have in my hand a borrowed copy of the study edition, which has quite a lot of short notes, although taking up at most a quarter of each page, and over 200 pages of study material at the end including a few translated Old Testament passages. I have not looked at this additional material. Sample pages are available online for the standard version, including Romans 6-8, and for the study edition, including John 1 and some of the study materials.

The study edition is a well presented hardback book, with a dark red cover similar to the standard edition pictured, but without Colin Urquhart’s name on the front. From the outside it doesn’t look much like a Bible, but it is printed on thin Bible paper with two sewn in ribbon markers.

I have looked at two sections of the text, Matthew 1-5 and Romans 6. In general this translation is into good clear contemporary English, with no sign of archaic words or syntax. In places it seems a little stilted, suggesting that a good stylistic editor might have improved it. The less elegant phrasing is not because the Greek text is followed too literally: for example, in Matthew 3:3 “Make ready for the Lord’s coming” (make what ready?) in place of the literal “Prepare the Lord’s way”.

The genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17 is somewhat abbreviated into a list of names, with repeated names and “begat” or “the father of” mostly omitted. Josiah has been omitted from this genealogy, presumably as an oversight.

Urquhart wrote, and I quoted in the previous post, about “sometimes giving the literal translation of the Greek followed by another phrase that puts the same truth in another way that can be readily appreciated by the reader”. The cases I have found seem more the other way round: “the Messiah, the Christ” in Matthew 2:4, “The truly humble, those who are poor in spirit” in 5:3, and “Those with gentle spirits, the meek” in 5:5. I am glad that these explanatory additions are exegetically responsible and phrased in a way which preserves the readability of the text. Thus they are much better than the amplifications in the Amplified Bible, which has recently to my regret become a favourite of some Charismatic preachers.

In Matthew 2 I was annoyed by the repeated capitalised “Child” and “He” for Jesus. In 2:8 it might have been an appropriate choice to avoid capitalising Child on Herod’s lips, but more likely this is a mistake as Herod then twice refers to Jesus as “Him”. This made me look at John 20:15 where we have two different people given this honour in one sentence: “Sir, if You have moved Him…”

In Matthew 3:1 “In those days” has become “Some years later”, historically accurate but not justified by the Greek text.

In the following account of John the Baptist there is an interesting alternation between “baptise” and “immerse”. The stylistic variation makes for good English and helps to explain the “baptise” to readers not familiar with the word. But the rendering “immerse” suggests Urquhart’s credo-baptist theology (presumably adopted after he left the Church of England), which is even more clearly reflected in the rendering of verse 11:

I immerse in water those who have truly turned away from their sins and surrendered to God. But after me someone more powerful than I is coming. I am not fit even to carry His sandals. He will immerse people in the Holy Spirit and in God’s purifying fire.

Here we see a good explanation of the parallel between John’s baptism and the otherwise obscure “baptism” in the Holy Spirit. But we also see a theologically loaded definition of “repentance”, and a forced interpretation of the literal “into repentance” as referring to a past act. There may be good scriptural warrant for baptism following repentance, but this verse is not it and should not be translated as if it were.

In the next verse, 3:12, we have another odd explanatory addition: “spiritual threshing floor”. It is hardly likely that this verse could be wrongly taken literally. Similarly in 5:16 we read “spiritual light”. There is more danger of literalism with 5:6, which has lost its vivid imagery in:

Those who long for righteousness are blessed, because they will be filled with God’s life.

But where an explanation might have been useful, of the “salt” in 5:13, none is given.

In Matthew 4 there are more theological interpretations: “He had to be subjected to temptation from the devil” in verse 1 and “Defeated, the devil then left Him” in verse 11. Then in verse 13 Capernaum is simply “near Zebulun and Naphtali”, suggesting that these are towns rather than areas.

I also looked at Romans 6 because of the baptism issue and because this is one of the passages that can be read on the Internet. In this passage Urquhart uses the word “baptise” several times. But there are other explanatory additions, such as “We have died to sin; so can we continue to live in ways that displease God?” in verse 2. In the next verse there is a sign of a non-standard exegesis, taking “into Christ Jesus” as in apposition to “into his death”:

Surely you understand that all of us who have been baptised live now in Christ Jesus. Through our baptism we were made one with his death.

Right through the chapter there continues to be expansion, as if Urquhart the preacher is showing through more than Urquhart the translator, right through to the final verse 23:

You have seen for yourself that sin pays wages: eternal death and separation from God. But God’s gift to you is eternal life that is yours in Christ Jesus, your Lord.

I am pleased that Colin Urquhart has taken the effort to produce this translation. He has thus given the lie to the old charge that Charismatics aren’t interested in serious study of the Bible. In general terms he seems to have done a good job, in producing a clear, natural and generally accurate translation – although one which could have done with a bit more careful tidying up.

However, I did find more theological interpretation in this version than I would expect to find in a general purpose Bible. For that reason, and also because there is no Old Testament, I cannot recommend this version as anyone’s primary Bible. It has to be taken as what it is, one person’s, one respected leader’s reading of the Bible. Colin Urquhart is a man whose teaching I am happy to receive, and on that basis I would find this version useful, but I would always want to check it against a more reliable version, or against the original Greek.

The Truth New Testament by Colin Urquhart

For more than thirty years I have been involved in various manifestations of the Charismatic Movement here in the UK, and more recently also in the USA. In that time I have seen many good things and also some less than good. Very often among those less good things has been Charismatic preachers’ use of the Bible. I have noticed a strong tendency to use very literal Bible versions (NASB has often been a favourite) and to support sermon points with very dubious exegesis of those versions.

Colin UrquhartAmong the UK Charismatic leaders I have long had great respect for is Colin Urquhart. So I was interested to discover, only yesterday for the first time, that he has translated and published his own version of the New Testament, called simply The Truth New Testament. And this version is by no means another literal translation. Here, for example, is John 1:1:

Jesus is the Word. He existed in the beginning, before time began. This Word was with God and, indeed, the Word was God.

The surprising claim is made that

The Truth New Testament is the first UK translation of the New Testament for 50 years.

That can only be true because this version was published in 2009, and so predates N.T. Wright’s 2011 The New Testament for Everyone, sold in the USA as The Kingdom New Testament. Also, to be pedantic, the claim is true only if restricted to translations into standard English, as in those 50 years there were at least two new Welsh translations, one in Scots (not to be confused with Gaelic), and various attempts into English dialects, as well as numerous versions in world languages largely translated and published in the UK.

The Truth New Testament seems to be a genuine translation from the original Greek, not a paraphrase. Urquhart is clearly not a New Testament scholar and theologian in the same league as Wright (but then is anyone?), but he studied for the Church of England ministry (which he left in the 1970s) at a time when he probably had to learn Greek to a reasonable level.

Here is part of Colin Urquhart’s introduction to the version, as found also on its website but here edited and reformatted to match the printed text:

Having been a preacher and teacher of God’s Word for over 45 years, I have a great love for the scriptures. I have been devoted to bringing understanding of its significance for modern living to people in over 40 nations, where I have had the privilege of ministering in the name of Jesus Christ.

As someone who has been interpreted into several languages I am familiar with the process of translating the meaning of the truth from one language to another. I have been blessed with many wonderful interpreters over the years. They have impressed on me that the best interpreters do not necessarily translate what I say literally, but express what I say in a way that will be understood clearly in their own language.

As the principal of a Bible College, among several other aspects of ministry, I have always been deeply concerned that any version of the New Testament should be accurate. But I have also been acutely aware that people will only translate God’s Word into action in their lives if they clearly understand its meaning and implications for them personally.

I mention these things so that you can understand the principles behind this particular version, ‘The Truth’. Any translation inevitably involves a certain amount of interpretation.

There are two types of translation available today. Some are strict word by word or phrase by phrase translations. These are accurate translation of the original Greek text, but do not necessarily draw out the meaning of the text. On the other extreme are modern paraphrases which are certainly edifying but often seem to depart from the original. I believe that God wanted me to chart a middle course between these two extremes.

I sought to do this by first translating the text literally, and then asking the questions, ‘What does this mean? How would you express this in today’s world, with the modern mindset that people have?’

It seemed an awesome task to maintain accuracy with the Greek text and yet have the freedom to expand the translation where necessary so that it can be readily understood. This I have done by sometimes giving the literal translation of the Greek followed by another phrase that puts the same truth in another way that can be readily appreciated by the reader.

I sensed the Lord encouraging me in this by reminding me frequently that this exactly what a good preacher does. He reads the Word and explains it. Yet this had to be done without turning this edition into either a commentary or a study Bible! The text needed to be easily readable and readily understood.

I intend to review the text of this version. But this post is already long enough, so I will leave that to a follow-up post.

The Truth New Testament is available from paperback £10.80, Kindle edition £4.62, hardback study edition £14.99; also at Kindle edition $7.13, print editions available only as over-priced special imports. (Disclosure: these are affiliate links.)

Wallace: Literal translations “inevitably inaccurate”

Dan Wallace has now posted the second part of his review of NIV 2011. This is a follow-up to part 1 which I posted about yesterday.

A large proportion of part 2 is in fact an excursus, which might have been better published as a separate essay, “What Makes for an Accurate Translation?” He writes that, in the light of possible misunderstandings of part 1, he needs to “correct the frequent perception that literal = accurate, and not-so-literal = inaccurate.” And he does so in remarkably strong terms, stating that (with his own emphasis)

a formally equivalent, or ‘literal,’ translation of the Bible will inevitably be uneven and inaccurate.

He justifies this statement by discussing various renderings of Matthew 1:18, Luke 20:16 and Romans 7:7, and concludes that

At bottom, the best translation is one that is faithful to the meaning of the original text. That does not always, nor even usually, mean a literal translation.

Then Wallace turns to NIV 2011, and gives what appears to be a remarkably positive but brief review. He praises several text critical decisions and some changes of wording from NIV 1984. Then he draws the apparent conclusion that

All in all, this is a fine translation and is the culmination of the efforts of many decades, scholars, countries, denominations, and ideologies. Yet everyone associated with the NIV is unswervingly committed to the Bible as the word of God written. Their joyous wonder at the beauty and majesty of the scriptures comes through loud and clear in this superb version.

But is this really all he has to say? The only specific clue that there is more to come is in the post title, “Part 2 of 4”. But I suspect that Wallace will have some more negative things to say about NIV 2011 in part 3, before coming to his final conclusions in part 4.

Dan Wallace on NIV 2011 and the history of the English Bible

At Reclaiming the Mind Dan Wallace offers part 1 of a review of NIV 2011. This first part is in fact a review of the history of English Bible translations, mostly from 1885 to the present day. Although there are some small points which I could take issue with, in general this is the kind of excellent work one would expect from Wallace. I look forward to the other three parts of the review, which will presumably appear soon at the same place.

Slander: a mistranslation?

In a post on my own blog, I argue that The devil isn’t a slanderer, because the Greek word diaballo often translated “slander” doesn’t mean that. Specifically, in English “slander” implies a false accusation, but the Greek word refers to an accusation “without any insinuation of falsehood”. More to the point for better Bible translations, this means that where diabolos is often translated not “devil” but “slanderer”, i.e. 1 Timothy 3:11, 2 Timothy 3:3 and Titus 2:3, a rendering like “malicious talker”, as in 1 Timothy 3:11 NIV, would be more appropriate.

My observations on standing up to bullying behaviour might also be of interest to BBB readers.

Wisconsin Evangelical Lutherans endorse NIV 2011

In a pointed contrast to the way in which the Southern Baptist Convention recently condemned the NIV 2011 update in a snap vote, the Translation Evaluation Committee of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has prepared a long and detailed report (PDF) proposing that the Synod formally accept this new version for use in its publications. Their evaluation process included discussions with Douglas Moo of the CBT (the NIV translation committee). This report can serve as a model of how a new Bible version should be evaluated in this kind of context.

Thanks to Esteban Vázquez for the link.