What price a Bible?

I wonder how much your Bible cost you?

You can purchase a good quality English translation for less than £10.00 and if you use a smartphone you can download dozens of English translations for free (visit www.youversion.com ). In fact, there are so many English translations that people are often confused which is best to read. I recommend the most recent anglicised NIV which was published in 2011.

Given the freedom and ease with which we have access to the Bible, it is salutary to recall that this was not always the case. During the middle ages, it was illegal to translate the Bible into the language of the common people. The only copies available were written in Latin (a version known as the Vulgate) which few people could read and only the Pope was authorised to interpret and apply.

In the second half of the 14th Century, John Wycliffe, a brave Oxford professor, along with associates, translated the Vulgate Bible into Middle English. This work was completed in 1384 shortly before his death from a stroke. In 1415, the Council of Constance declared him a heretic and banned his writings. His body was exhumed and burnt to punish him for his heresy. His followers, known as Lollards, were viciously persecuted. Possession of a copy of Wycliffe’s Bible was punishable by death.

In the first half of the 16th Century, William Tyndale, another brave scholar who studied at both Oxford and Cambridge undertook the first English translation from Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. When a learned clergyman lambasted him for his efforts Tyndale responded: “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!”

The work became too dangerous in England and so Tyndale fled to Europe. The printing press had been developed in the time between Wycliffe and Tyndale which enabled his Bible to be mass produced and smuggled into England.

In 1535, Tyndale was betrayed by Henry Philips and the following year he was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. He was strangled while tied at the stake upon which his body was burned. His final words were “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes”.

Four years later, at the instigation of Archbishop Cranmer, King Henry VIII sanctioned the publication of his Great Bible. Politically this was presented as an original translation, but in truth, it was based heavily on Tyndale’s work. Even the King James Version which was authorised in 1611 is estimated to be 80% the work of Tyndale.

During the 200 years between Wycliffe’s Bible and the KJV thousands of men, women and children were tortured and killed, many being burnt alive because they possessed and read the bible in their own language. Today Tyndale’s vision has become a reality. It is possible for ordinary people, like ‘the boy that driveth the plow’, to read and understand the scriptures for themselves. Next time you pick up your bible remember that what has cost you just a few pounds cost heroes like Tyndale their lives.


This blog post featured in the February 2016 edition of Lifelines

Lost in Translation

Lost In Translation

I have recently started using the NIV(2011) version in my preaching on Sundays, and a few people have asked me why I am doing this after using the ESV for 10 years, so I thought that I would take a moment to share a little of my reasoning. The short answer is that sometimes it is refreshing to have a change, but is not simply a matter of taste as I hope to briefly explain.

The starting point is the fact that the Bible was written in ancient languages: Hebrew for the Old Testament and Greek for the New Testament. As few of us are, or indeed ever will be, fluent users of these languages we need to have a translation into a language that we can read and understand. Translation however is an imprecise process and also involves a degree of interpretation. The Italians have a proverb which says ‘traduttore traditore’ meaning ‘the translator is a traitor’. There is inevitably loss when something is translated; the question is how much loss is acceptable.

Consider the simple English expression ‘My name is David’. If you were taught French at school you would have been taught to introduce yourself with the expression ‘Je m’appelle David’ and told that this means ‘my name is David’. However, if you simply replace the words with English this would become something like ‘I call myself David’. This would be understandable but not the way English people speak. A translator has to choose between formally following the wording and structure of the original language, and producing something that is more readily understood in the target language. Bible translators use three words to describe the priority of their translation.

  • Formal translation – aims to replace word for word, at times sacrificing good English style and using a more extended vocabulary. A formal translation is good for students of the bible with a wide vocabulary and a good understanding of the background of the Bible times. In short those who are prepared to work a bit to understand what the Bible says. (e.g. NASB, KJV, ESV, RSV)
  • Functional translation – aims to achieve a more understandable quality of English using more common vocabulary in the same way as the wider population. This sacrifices some of the nuances of meaning for the sake of readability and makes the text more understandable to a general reader. (e.g. NIV, TNIV, HCSB)
  • Free translation – places the highest priority on simplicity of English and vocabulary. The results are often very easy to understand but the reader may be more strongly influenced by a translator’s interpretation than they realise. These translations can be good for less confident readers, but are also popular for bringing a refreshing perspective on familiar scriptures for readers who normally use other translations. (e.g. GNB, NCV, NLT, The Message, Living Bible)

Note however that all translations involve interpretation, the question is how much are you prepared to accept? It would be easy to assume that the best or most accurate translation would be the one that is most formal. However if you then can’t understand the English that is of little benefit to you! This is compounded by the fact that every language changes and even over a period of a few years words can become outmoded, take on new meanings, or become loaded with vastly differing meaning. This means that we will always need newer translations to take account of these adaptations. The NIV was first developed in the 1970’s and has gone through a couple of revisions such as NIVI and TNIV. The latest revision is known as NIV(2011) because it was produced in 2011, and is one of the most readable and popular English translations available. I hope this will help me make my preaching clearer. If you use the NIV on the You Version Bible app or have bought a new NIV in the last two years then these will be NIV(2011).

Should you change version? That is really up to you! You will find it easier to follow what I am reading on Sunday mornings if you do, and the NIV(2011) is freely available on a smart phone or tablet. In the end, the best translation for you is one that you will read and understand. There is value in any of those listed above and I will continue to refer to them all in my study.

This blog post featured in the February 2014 edition of Lifelines