The New English Bible

Set your troubled hearts at rest.  Trust in God always; trust also in me.


These words are quoted from one of today’s best sellers which I have before me on my desk.  This is one of the most recent translations from the original Greek as it was inspired by the Spirit of God.  This text is inscribed on pages which are sedately and fittingly bound between the navy blue covers of the most recent translation of the Word of God, the Bible.  A more familiar and better loved translation of the above text appears in the version authorized by James I, King of England in 1611.  John 14:1 reads as follows in this version:


Let not your heart be troubled:  ye believe in God, believe also in me.


            It is hardly believable that the BIBLE should be rated one of the nation’s best sellers in this day of spiritual lethargy but this is exactly the case.  In the April 7th issue of Time magazine The New English Bible is ranked in the number two spot of the non-fiction best sellers, directly after The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which has the distinction of occupying the number one spot.

The appearance of this latest attempt at a modern translation of the inspired Scripture has evoked comment in the English speaking world both in the western and eastern hemispheres.  This translation is promoted and advertised by book sellers as “a wholly new translation of the New Testament from original sources into current English (not a revision).”  It is intended not as a replacement for other versions but “its aim is to give to the reader a translation in living language filled with beauty and immediacy, the full, clear meaning of Scripture.”

This publication which comes off the conservative Cambridge and Oxford University presses has received the imprimatur of many well-known theologians and Bible scholars in the United States and England.

Dr. Harold J. Ockenga of the Park Street Baptist Church of Boston exclaims: A translation which enthuses me . . . Chaste, expressive, accurate, and without governing theological presuppositions.  With beauty of language and simplicity of word, it suggests that the message is addressed to the reader . . .

There will be little debate on the outstanding merit of a work resulting from such scholarly application of the latest methods of historical criticism.

From Princeton Theological Seminary Dr. Andrew W. Blackwood writes: Every Bible preacher and teacher ought to have at hand modern translations, especially of the New Testament.  Among them all, none seems to surpass, or perhaps equal, The New English Bible, with its clarity, accuracy, and touches of quiet beauty.  It throws new and welcome light on passages otherwise obscure and it suggests many “leads” for meditation, prayer, and exposition.

F.F. Bruce, Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester in England, also comments at considerable length on the NEB and is concerned particularly with the actual work of translation from the original manuscripts which the translators had at their disposal.  F.F. Bruce says concerning this latest translation: The translators, we are told, have aimed at a “timeless” English, something which would be genuinely English in idiom, avoiding archaisms (old or out-dated expressions, A.L.) and passing fashions of the day, readily understood by people of reasonable intelligence without being bald or pedestrian (common place, A.L.),      more concerned with conveying a sense of reality than with preserving hallowed associations, accurate without being pedantic . . . One thing that the revisers of     1881 – 1885 (British Revised Version, A.L.) overlooked was that if a version is to be suitable for use in public worship it must sound well.  A preliminary survey of the NEB New Testament suggests that the translators have had considerable success in this regard.

It should be quite evident to the reader of these three quotations that the NEB has met with considerable approval among Biblical scholars.  Added to this general approval by the clerics and scholars is the approval accorded this newest version by the purchasing public.  This version was put on sale from England to New Zealand during the middle of March and a print order of 1,275,000 copies was not going to be enough to fill the demand.  In New York, dealers’ reorders have already accounted for a fifth printing.  The copy I have on my desk is one of the second printing in December of 1960.

Almost all reviewers have assessed the value of this latest translation in terms of its contributions to religion and literature.  Even the London Daily Worker considered the publication of this translation of the Bible sufficiently important to merit comment.  Comment was made on the NEB in spite of the fact that is was the 78th anniversary of the death of Karl Marx, apostle of the proletariat, and earliest father of the Socialist party.  The Daily Worker considered the new translation “to be weighed in the balance and found wanting.”

The beauty and power, the earthy 17th century prose, have been replaced by merely competent writing which ranges in character from that of a           report in the Times to that of advertising copy.

It is understandable that the authors of the Daily Worker, who are basically agnostic and atheistic, should take such a dim view of this latest attempt at Biblical translation while scholars and clerics should be more enthusiastic in their reception of such an attempt.  The Poet Laureate John Masefield writes concerning this most recent version: The new version cannot fail to move the living world.  The work, greatly planned, has been manfully done. That which slept has been awakened.

This newest version of the inspired Scriptures is certainly worth careful scrutiny it seems to this writer.  It is the result of 13 years of cooperative scholarship in Britain.  Since 1948 representatives of all the major church groups of the British Isles have met at regular intervals in Westminster Abbey at which meetings the committee responsible for this translation has received reports on the progress of the work.  The New Testament is the only completed part of the work.  Work upon the Old Testament and the Apocrypha is still going forward.

It should be remembered that just 350 years ago the King James Version came from the hands of the translators.  It was greeted by many voices among whose was the voice of dr. Hugh Broughton, one of the greatest Hebrew and Greek scholars in England, who sent a message to the king to say:  “I had rather be rent in pieces with wild horses than any such translation by my consent should be urged upon poor churches . . . The new edition (King James Version, A.L.) crosseth me.  I require it to be burnt.”

Dean Burgon, a textual scholar and master of English style characterized the British Revised Version of 1881-1885 as the “most astonishing as well as the most calamitous literary blunder of the age.”

The translators confess in the introduction to the NEB that they are conscious of the “limitations and imperfections of their work.”  The reason for this they say is because of the richness and subtlety of meaning that may lie in a sentence written in the original Greek.  They modestly hope that this translation “may open the truth of the Scriptures to many who have been hindered in their approach to it by barriers of language.”

There are undoubtedly many places where one could begin to criticize a new translation of this nature.  This is particularly true when one has been thoroughly indoctrinated in a correct understanding of the Scriptures as they are understood and taught in the Protestant Reformed Churches.  When we began to study this version we turned first to some of the favorite passages which we have learned to love in the King James Version.  We also turned to the NEB translation of II Timothy 3:16: “Every inspired scripture has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, or for reformation of manners and discipline and right living.”   In the King James Version this text reads:  “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”  In II Peter 1:20-21 we read in the NEB concerning this matter of inspiration:  “But first note this:  no one can interpret any prophecy of Scripture by himself.  For it was not through any human whim that men prophesied of old; men they were, but impelled by the Holy Spirit, they spoke the words of God.”  This part of Scripture appears as follows in the King James Version:  “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation.  For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy  men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

Now it may certainly be that the most recently discovered manuscripts in the original Greek permit these passages of Scripture to be translated as they are in the NEB, but this writer cannot help but feel that in both these passages something of the philosophy of the present day concerning the fallibility of Scripture has crept into the new translation and that we have more than translation but an interpretation of Scripture as well.  For this reason we must be careful that we do not concur too readily with the comments of many of the critics and scholars that I have quoted in this article.

In conclusion I would like to say that I personally am not impressed with any of the new translations.  To me they do not have richness nor do they outwardly seem to have the veracity of the Authorized Version of 1611.

I too feel that the scholar of the Bible should have a copy of the latest translations on his desk and even young people can profit from a reading of some obscure passages which are made more lucid in the new translations.

“How much will the church use this latest translation?” is one of the major questions that accompanies its introduction to the reading public.  I submit that it will be used as a supplementary tool for Bible study but it cannot possibly replace the tried and tested version which one hears read each Sunday and often reads more than three times each day.