It is the 23rd of August 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Eric from Ohio, a longtime listener, sent me this question via the bird app:
“What translation of the Bible do you read from at the end of the episodes? It's not ESV and I don't think it is NIV. Would you be willing to talk about which translation it is and why you chose it? Maybe you could talk a little about the history of English translations?”
A great question and something I have written about a little bit.
The answer to which translation I use? All of them. But recently I have been reading from the Common English Bible. It was first published as a collaboration between a number of church bodies as a balance between a thought-for-thought and word-for-word translation. It was translated into English that would be readable for a 7th grader.
But I’ve used a lot.
Let me break down the basics of an English translation.
The granddaddy of them all is the King James Bible. Published in 1611 it was a Protestant English Bible based on the available Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic sources and the Latin Vulgate.
And this is how it was until the 1800s.
First, the British empire and the study of archaeology and paleography exploded what we knew about extant manuscripts. Take the new Testament as an example, the text used by everyone was based on the Byzantine text from the 5th century. There had been other Christian centers of manuscript copying but Roman persecution from the 4th century led to many of them being destroyed. Or hidden in Monasteries only to be found in the 19th-century explosion.
The fruit of this was a number of older manuscripts from divergent places that could check each other as well as the Byzantine text (also called the majority text because there are still a majority of those readings)
The ultimate fruit of these archaeological discoveries was the Revised Standard Version which is an updated version of the King James but with the newest and best manuscript tradition.
The NRSV was an updated version of this RSV, published in 1989.
The ESV is an updated version of the RSV published first in 2007.
What about all the other versions? They all have their root in the work of a G. Adolf Deissmann whose studies from the 1890s blew the door off of what we knew about biblical Greek. Deissmann was a dumpster diver. He collected not the holy texts, but the everyday texts and scraps. Before Deissmann the greek of the New Testament was unknown. Even called “Holy Ghost Greek”. But Deissmann discovered the common Greek of the 1st century and realized how down to earth and readable the New Testament would have been in its original context.
Thus, the translations shouldn’t be stuffy and highfalutin’ but instead colloquial.
Thus we have the NIV, the Contemporary English Version, the Common English Bible, the New Living Translation, even the New King James (which updates the KJV but sticks doggedly to the older and less complete manuscript tradition).
Think of translations like denominations. Hypothetical question: “how many churches should 1 small town have?” The answer: one, of course. But alas.
But unlike some ideas of church membership, you can have as many translations as you want. So use them all! Even the NASB (which I admit is so clumsy I use it as often as I do the New King James).
The best thing to do is to read the Hebrew of the Stuttgart collaboration and the Greek of the Nestle-Aland version of the NT manuscripts. But most of us don’t and so we have a group of translations that all attempt to render into English these texts from various perspectives and philosophies.
I would like to say I have a lot to say on study Bibles… but that’s for another time.
The last word for today comes from the Scottish Psalter (another kind of translation that arranges the words such that they have a rhyme scheme for lyrically speaking and singing). This is from Psalm 40:
I waited for the Lord my God,
and patiently did bear;
At length to me he did incline
my voice and cry to hear.
He took me from a fearful pit,
and from the miry clay,
And on a rock he set my feet,
establishing my way.
He put a new song in my mouth,
our God to magnify:
Many shall see it, and shall fear,
and on the Lord rely.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 23rd of August 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by the Nestle to my Aland, Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.