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Friday, December 23, 2005

Jim West's favorite Bible version

Theologian Jim West's favorite English Bible version is the Revised English Bible (REB). Jim says of the REB, "The language is simply unsurpassed and the scholarship is second to none."

It's good to hear a clear opinion like that from someone about an English version. The REB does have rather good quality literary English. That appeals to biblical scholars like Jim West. I would still claim that the original biblical texts were not written in as high a register of language as the REB, and so neither should a translation of those texts.

I suspect that many American readers of this Better Bibles blog have never read any of the REB (its translation team was British). Here is the familiar Luke 2 Christmas passage from the REB:
1. In those days a decree was issued by the emperor Augustus for a census to be taken throughout the Roman world. 2. This was the first registration of its kind; it took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3. Everyone made his way to his own town to be registered. 4-5. Joseph went up to Judaea from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to register in the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was of the house of David by descent; and with him went Mary, his betrothed, who was expecting her child. 6. While they were there the time came for her to have her baby, 7. and she gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them at the inn.

8. Now in this same district there were shepherds out in the fields, keeping watch through the night over their flock. 9. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone round them. They were terrified, 10. but the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid; I bring you good news, news of great joy for the whole nation. 11. Today there has been born to you in the city of David a deliverer — the Messiah, the Lord. 12. This will be the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.’ 13. All at once there was with the angel a great company of the heavenly host, singing praise to God:

14. ‘Glory to God in highest heaven,
and on earth peace to all in whom he delights.’

15. After the angels had left them and returned to heaven the shepherds said to one another, ‘Come, let us go straight to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16. They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17. When they saw the child, they related what they had been told about him; 18. and all who heard were astonished at what the shepherds said. 19. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered over them. 20.The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for what they had heard and seen; it had all happened as they had been told.
Merry Christmas, everyone. It has been a privilege to have you as contributors, visitors, commenters, and poll takers for this blog.

And let us each be people in whom God takes delight (Luke 2:14), this Christmas and all through the New Year.

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At Fri Dec 23, 05:54:00 PM, Blogger Jim said...

Amen to your last sentence and the same to you likewise!


At Fri Dec 23, 08:48:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Wayne, ever since I first read the REB I have loved the way it uses the word 'deliverer' here rather than 'saviour'. The use of a different word jars me out of my comfort zone and forces me to rethink what the passage is actually saying. I also like the way it uses the phrase 'for the whole nation' rather than 'to all the people' - a more precise translation, I would think?

Yes - a blessed Christmas to you, Wayne, and to the whole team here at BBB.

At Fri Dec 23, 10:11:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

The use of a different word jars me out of my comfort zone and forces me to rethink what the passage is actually saying.

I like the way you expressed this important fact, Tim. I need to be jarred out of my comfort zones also. We are rich as English speakers for having so many different Bible versions, with different ways of saying essentially the same thing, with potential of jarring us out of our comfort zones.

Thanks for your Christmas wishes. The same to you and yours.

At Sat Dec 24, 03:26:00 AM, Blogger KAT said...

The NEB used to be one of my favorite "literary-oriented" bibles, but as time went by, I kept running into awkward sounding "britishisms". The REB somewhat improved on that, but it too, had the same problem to an extent. I've since moved on a bit, but still keep both versions on my bookshelf -- They are decidely "anti-Tyndale", and in turn, offer a fresh take on the biblical text.

Nowadays I give more time to the Jerusalem and New Jerusalem versions for my "bible as literature" uses. Both of which are products of British scholarship, both fall into the anti-Tyndale tradition, but neither one injects as many anglicisms into the text as the NEB and REB.

All of them are great though, and it's a shame that not one of the four is even close to being as popular as the current American evangelical translations (i.e. NIV, NLT, etc.).

At Sat Dec 24, 08:53:00 AM, Blogger exegete77 said...

Blessed celebration of our Savior/Deliverer's birth for all of you.

Thanks, Wayne for the valuable web site/blog.

Rich Shields

At Sat Dec 24, 09:30:00 AM, Blogger Tim said...

I suspect that in this passage the REV is being deliberately a bit more "formal equivalence" than usually, retaining a lot of Biblish becuase the passage is so well known.

On the register of Biblical texts though I suspect that the register of much of the OT would be higher than the NT, written for scribes by scribes. But that anyway the whole Bible was written to be read aloud and heard, rather than read with the eyes!

Few Bible translations capture that feel. And none seeks to represent the voice of the different passages, except through formal equivalence...

At Wed Dec 28, 04:59:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Tim, thank you for your point that this passage is not typical of the REB as a whole. The NIV translators deliberately and explicitly left certain well known passages rather close to the traditional form. I suspect that the REB translators have done the same, even if they haven't said so explicitly.

But I am surprised at your suggestion that "the register of much of the OT would be higher than the NT". I would suggest the opposite. Much of the OT consists of rather down to earth stories which were probably written in the normal style for such stories. There is little sign in the Hebrew text of the kinds of features one would associate with high level language. It is the NT which has a lot of rather formal theological discourse for which a higher level of language might be expected. But in fact there is evidence for such higher level language only in a few passages like Luke 1:1-4.

At Fri Dec 30, 11:00:00 AM, Blogger Gummby said...

Ironically, I see the REB & ESV as close cousins on the area of gender-neutral language. The REB dials it back a notch from the NEB, and tries to use non-specific nouns (ie, one for he) where the text doesn't warrant a gender.

The Britishness of it doesn't bother me as much (but then, I like J.B. Phillips as well). My main hangup is the translators. I'd probably use the REB more if I could be more certain of the scholarship. It's lack of availability in electronic formats is also a negative.

One other interesting note: I saw an interview with David Daniell (who is best known for his work on Tyndale's New Testament) awhile back, where he said that he considers the REB as the other translation besides Tyndale worth reading.


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