The Good News Bible

This modern English version, which incorporates the fourth edition of the New Testament in “Today's English Version” or “Good News for Modern Man”, professes to give the meaning of the original “clearly and accurately…in standard, everyday, natural English”. In this respect it follows the R.S.V. of 1946, the Basic English of 1949, the New English Bible New Testament of 1961, which was presented “in English which is as clear and natural for the modern reader as the subject matter will allow”, and the Living Bible of 1971 “in everyday language for everyone”. Dr. Luther A. Weigle wrote, “For use in worship the Bible must be cast, not in what is merely the language of today, but in enduring simple diction which is worthy to stand in the great tradition of Tyndale and the King James Version” (Introduction to the R.S.V.). The English style of the Good News Bible rises above the vulgarity, triviality and pedantry which characterise some of the modern versions, and its diction is simple, but whether it is enduring remains to be seen.

The Hebrew Text

The text of the Old Testament follows Kittel's 3rd edition of the Massoretic Text as a general basis, but departs from it in several hundred passages. The Hebrew is displaced in 188 passages by “one ancient translation”, in 162 passages by “some ancient translations”, and in 232 passages by a conjectural emendation based on a reconstruction of the “probable text”, which the translators assume to have been corrupted in the course of transmission.

Old Testament changes affecting important doctrines

Genesis 1.2 “The power of God was moving over the water”. GNB has a footnote giving “spirit of God” or “wind from God”. Here and in many other passages the Authorised Version has “Spirit of God”. In several instances GNB avoids distinguishing between “God” and “Spirit” by making the reference to the “spirit” impersonal. Genesis 6.3 “I will not allow…” (KJV “My Spirit shall not always strive…”); Exodus 31.3 “I have filled him with my power” (KJV “the spirit of God”); Judges 13.25 “the LORD's power began to strengthen him” (KJV “The Spirit of the LORD began to move him”).

Genesis 3.15 “You will bite their heel” (KJV “his heel”). In GNB this verse no longer relates specifically to Christ.

Genesis 22.18 “All the nations will ask me to bless them as I have blessed your descendants”. The Hebrew word rendered “seed” in KJV is singular, and is quoted in Galatians 3.16 in relation to Christ, “He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ”. The whole force of Paul's inspired interpretation is weakened by the use of the plural noun in Genesis and a singular noun in Galatians.

Genesis 49.10 “Nations will bring him tribute” (KJV “until Shiloh come”). The prophecy of the Messiah is eliminated from GNB.

Psalm 22.16 “They tear at my hands and feet” (KJV “They pierced…”). The clear prophecy of the crucifixion is obscured in GNB.

Proverbs 8.22 “Wisdom” speaks — “The Lord created me first of all”. If this passage in GNB refers to “Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1.24), it refers to Him as a creature.

Isaiah 7.14 “a young woman…will have a son” (KJV “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son…”). The prophecy of the virgin birth of the Redeemer is eliminated.

Isaiah 61.10 “Jerusalem rejoices because of what the LORD has done” (KJV “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD”). The KJV follows the Hebrew text, which makes the speaker of verse 1 most probably the speaker of verse 10, but GNB brings in additional words from the Targum, making Jerusalem the speaker in this verse.

Micah 5.2 “Bethlehem…out of you I will bring a ruler for Israel, whose family line goes back to ancient times” (KJV “Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting”). The eternal pre-existence of the promised Redeemer is not found in GNB.

Although the Good News Bible is introduced as a translation, and not a paraphrase, considerable liberty is taken with the text throughout. For example, in Genesis 1.2 the Hebrew is very accurately rendered by the KJV “Darkness was upon the face of the deep”. The GNB “dynamic equivalent” of this is “The raging ocean that covered everything was engulfed in total darkness”. If this were translated back into Hebrew, it would be difficult to recognise the “Divine original”.

The New Testament

The first edition published as “Today's English Version” in 1966 was translated by Dr. Robert G. Bratcher from the Greek New Testament published by the United Bible Societies in the same year. The editorial committee of this Greek New Testament later included a Roman Catholic cardinal, Dr. Carlo M. Martini, S.J., Professor of New Testament Textual Criticism at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. “In future the Greek New Testament will be under the patronage not only of the international Bible Societies, but also of the Pontifical Biblical Institute”, (Kurt Aland, Journal of Biblical Literature, June 1968). The Greek editions produced by this ecumenical committee underlie the New Testament portion of the Good News Bible.

The 1966 “Good News for Modern Man” or “Today's English Version” was ornamented with the titles of several popular newspapers, to convey the impression that the New Testament is like the newspapers, designed to reach every man, and that it is as up-to-date as the daily press. To many, however, the titles of the newspapers suggest misleading propaganda and trivial scandal — of interest today and forgotten tomorrow. The version was presented to the reader as “genuinely ecumenical, hailed by representatives of every church, from Baptists to Jesuit Father Abbott of Rome's Christian Unity Secretariat, who described it as a masterpiece of modern linguistic study”. In the present short review we can only draw attention to a number of unsatisfactory features, and sound a note of warning to any who may have been misled by the spate of favourable publicity with which these new versions are thrust upon the public.

Passages relating to the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ

In common with most editors and translators since the middle of the 19th century, the editors of the Good News Bible accept as “the best primary sources” a group of manuscripts which stand apart from the great majority, and present in a weaker form many passages of Holy Scripture which testify to the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. The effect may be studied in the following examples.

His miraculous birth obscured

Matthew 1.25 “…till she had brought forth her firstborn son”. GNB omits “firstborn”, and so obscures the fulfilment of the prophecy in Isaiah 7.14 “A virgin shall be with child”. It is significant that in an article in the Bible Translator Dr. Bratcher, the chief GNB translator, argued at length that Isaiah 7.14 should read, “a young woman”, and so it is rendered in GNB, with an explicit footnote rejecting the translation “virgin”.

His essential Divine Goodness concealed

Matthew 19.16, 17 “Good Master, what good thing shall I do… Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God”. GNB renders this, “Teacher…what good thing must I do…Why do you ask me concerning what is good? There is only One who is good”.

The KJV says in effect — “You know that there is only One who is essentially and perfectly good — that is God Himself. You addressed me as “Good”, but do you really believe me to be “Good” and therefore one with God?” The whole significance of the passage is destroyed by the altered reading.

Fulfilment of Prophecy left in doubt

Mark 15.28 GNB relates to a footnote, as of doubtful authenticity, the words, “In this way the Scripture came true which says: He shared the fate of criminals”.

Mark 16.9-20 which includes the post resurrection appearances of the Lord Jesus Christ, is separated from the rest of the Gospel and given in brackets under the title, “An old ending”. This is followed by “Another old ending”, much shorter and unquestionably spurious. The divine inspiration of this passage is thus called in question.

Peter's testimony to “Christ, the Son of the living God” rejected

John 6.69 “We believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”. GNB reduces this to “We believe and know that you are the Holy One who has come from God”. Thus another declaration of His unique Divine Sonship is lost. The GNB reading would not be unacceptable to a Unitarian. Admittedly, “the Holy One” is a title of great dignity, but it does not attribute Sonship to the Person addressed.

His use of the title, “Son of God” denied

John 9.35 “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” By changing this to “Son of Man” GNB eliminates a clear personal testimony of our Lord concerning His own Divine Sonship. While it is true that the title “Son of Man” is used elsewhere, there is here a clear reference to His unique relationship with the Father, and GNB destroys the important doctrinal teaching of this verse.

Prayer to the Father in the Name of the Son discountenanced

John 14.14 “If ye shall ask anything in my name” is changed in GNB to “If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it”. If we accept the alteration we dilute the testimony of Holy Scripture to the efficacy of prayer offered to the Father in the Name of the Son. The footnote in GNB “Some mss, do not have me” misrepresents the manuscript evidence, and should read — “Most mss. do not have me”, but this admission would require the deletion of the extraneous word in the text.

The Deity of Christ obscured in Acts 20.28

Paul admonished the elders of Ephesus, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood”. In GNB this becomes, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he made his own through the death of his Son”. (Margin — “or his own death”). This rendering obscures the very clear declaration that the purchase was made with the blood of God the Son. By substituting “death” for “blood” the translation obscures the connection between this passage and many Old Testament Scriptures which speak specifically of an atonement to be wrought by the shedding of blood.

The Deity of Christ eliminated from Romans 9.5

The Apostle Paul writes of his own “kinsmen according to the flesh…whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen”. This is the plainest possible declaration that Christ is God, but GNB introduces a radical change by adjusting the punctuation, so that the statement reads, “They are descended from the famous Hebrew ancestors; and Christ, as a human being, belongs to their race. May God, who rules over all, be praised for ever. Amen”. This states only the humanity of the Messiah, and acknowledges His descent from the patriarchs, but it no longer states that Christ is God over all blessed for ever.

The Judgment Seat of Christ abolished in Romans 14.10

The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ”. This clearly implies that the Son is one with the Father in judgment, and is consistent with the Saviour's own words, “The Father…hath committed all judgment unto the Son”. GNB reads, “All of us will stand before God, to be judged by Him”, and thus another testimony to the Deity of Christ and His equality with the Father disappears.

The Miraculous Incarnation of the Son eliminated from 1 Timothy 3.16

In the vast majority of Greek manuscripts and in the Authorised Version we read, “God was manifest in the flesh”. In GNB this is reduced to “He appeared in human form”, and the statement is introduced as “the great secret of our religion”. There is nothing mysterious or secret about any person being present in human form. This is true of all men, but the great mystery of our religion is that Christ is God manifest in the flesh. This is true of Him alone. The overwhelming evidence for the true reading is given in TBS Article No. 10.

The Manuscripts

The corrupted readings adopted by GNB are supported by a small group of ancient manuscripts at variance with the vast majority of the documents now available to Biblical scholars. Some of these defective manuscripts, particularly Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, were produced at a time when the most dangerous heresies prevailed in the Church with regard to the Person of Christ and His relationship to the Father. In the last century Westcott and Hort endeavoured to make this deficient minority of the New Testament documents respectable by propounding a theory that the majority of the New Testament manuscripts were derived from copies which had been deliberately “edited” and embellished, implying that their conformity with the Trinitarian doctrine embraced by the Church was artificial and not original. There is in fact no historical evidence for any such revision, but the groundless and dangerous theory has cast its long shadow over the whole field of Biblical scholarship right down to our own times.

The Bible testifies to the eternal Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of the Eternal God. The modern versions, and the defective sources upon which they rely, obscure this vital testimony, which the Authorised Version faithfully preserves.

Passages relating to the Atonement

The Holy Scriptures unequivocally state that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins”. The need for satisfaction, expiation, substitution, reconciliation and atonement is set forth in the sacrifices of the Old Testament, and their significance is unfolded in the New Testament in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. The Good News Bible removes the word “blood” from many passages, without any warrant from the manuscripts, and substitutes the word “death”. “Faith in His blood; Justified by His blood; Redemption through His blood; Peace through the blood of His cross; Boldness to enter…by the blood of Jesus; The blood of the everlasting covenant; Washed us from our sins in His own blood; Thou hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood”; in these passages the reader of GNB will find no reference to the atoning blood of the Redeemer. For nearly two thousand years all of the Greek documents have spoken, through versions in many tongues, of “the precious blood of Christ”, but we are now invited to bow to a principle of “dynamic equivalence” which effectively expunges these words from our Bible. If “Today's English” has no place for the precious blood of the Lamb of God, then surely yesterday's English is to be preferred.

Examples of incorrect translation

Romans 1.16 “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ” is rendered in GNB “I have complete confidence in the gospel”. This conveys a different meaning from that of the words given by Divine inspiration. “Others may be ashamed, Satan may tempt me to be ashamed, but I am not ashamed…” The reader of Paul is led to such thoughts as these, but in GNB there is no disavowal of shame. The Greek word occurs also in Mark 8.38, Luke 9.26, Romans 6.21, 2 Timothy 1.8,16; Hebrews 2.11; 11.16. In all these cases GNB has “ashamed”, and there is no reason to make a change in the rendering of Romans 1.16.

John 1.1 “The Word of God” becomes “He was the same as God”. The reader of GNB will interpret this to mean that He was like God, and those who deny the Deity of Christ will be pleased with this weaker rendering.

John 1.14 “The glory as of the only begotten of the Father”, becomes “the glory which he received as the Father's only Son”. By inserting the words “which he received” the translator makes it impossible to refer the passage to the essential glory which He had with the Father before the world began. As it stands in the Greek, the words may relate to the glory of His own eternal being, as well as to the ascription of glory to Him by the Father. The added words weaken the force of the passage.

John 1.18 “The only begotten Son” becomes “The only Son, who is the same as God”. In common with most modern textual critics, the translator omits from verse 14 the word begotten, and in 1966 he also omitted “Son” from verse 18, which he rendered “the only One…”. The restoration of the Son in verse 18 is an improvement, but the changes here show how the text of Holy Scripture, and its translation, in the hands of many modern scholars, have become matters of fluctuating uncertainty.

Examples of incorrect exegesis

Revelation 13.8 “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”. GNB attaches “from the foundation…” to the previous words, “written in the Book of Life”. The translator would doubtless argue that both interpretations are admissible, but he is on weak ground here. The Scriptures teach us that Christ was “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God”, and the Revelation here declares that His atoning sacrifice was seen in prospect before the world was made.

Matthew 16.18 reads, “And so I tell you, Peter: you are a rock, and on this rock foundation I will build my church”. This rendering encourages the reader to believe that the Church was built upon Peter, but the Greek text and the Authorised Version lead the reader to Christ as the Rock. Peter had affirmed that Christ was the Son of the living God, and He is the foundation of the Church.

Luke 2.14 In common with Roman Catholic and other modern versions GNB has “peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased”. The correct rendering is given in the older versions — “on earth peace, good will toward men”. The mistake in GNB arises partly from the use of a defective Greek source, and partly from an imperfect understanding of the doctrine conveyed by this Scripture.

Matthew 21.42 “The stone which the builders rejected as worthless turned out to be the most important of all”. This GNB rendering almost seems to suggest that this was accidental and unforeseen. There is a weakness and uncertainty of expression quite inappropriate to the very positive character of the original.

There are many other instances which would require a study of much greater length to examine in detail. The treatment of the Greek for righteousness throughout the Epistle to the Romans is very much open to question, but cannot be analysed in the present article.

The English Style

The Good News Bible is couched in simple words in common use, and by omission of conjunctions and alteration of punctuation long sentences are broken up into shorter units. This sometimes results in a rather staccato effect, with a loss of rhythm and fluency. This is particularly noticeable in Revelation. The English style is in some respects rather better than that of the New English Bible, which the late T.S. Eliot described as “vulgar, trivial and pedantic”, but there are occasional lapses into colloquial style inappropriate to the Divine Author, the inspired writers, and the subject matter. The translation is inconsistent in the use of “don't” and “do not” — e.g. Matt. 6.19 “do not store up riches…”; Luke 12.32 “Do not be afraid…”; Luke 12.33 “purses that don't wear out”; Luke 12.4 “Do not be afraid…”; Luke 13.25 “I don't know where you come from”. In serious literature, even in the 20th century, it is customary and appropriate to avoid these contractions.

The Cartoons

The version is profusely illustrated with line drawings often entirely inappropriate and unsuitable for inclusion in any book intended to be taken seriously. Many of these pictures are in a style more in keeping with popular newspapers than the Bible. The publishers described the drawings as being “as modern as the language”, but in many cases the relevance of the cartoon is difficult to discern. Some are quite innocuous, but others are grotesque and out of place, particularly the “heroes of the wine bottle” in Isaiah 5.22, and the gigantic finger thrust into the mouth of Jeremiah in chapter 1. GNB reads, “I am giving you the words you must speak” — and conveys the meaning by means of the hand touching the prophet's mouth. The Authorised Version reads more accurately, “I have put my words in thy mouth”, and the picture is not needed.

“The United Bible Societies”

The copyright of the Good News Bible is owned by the American Bible Society. The full title is “Good News Bible — Today's English Version”, and the edition circulating in Great Britain is the “British usage edition”, in which the English spelling replaces the American. Three Bible Societies were involved in its production. The American Bible Society group working on the Old Testament was joined in 1971 by “a consultant representing the British and Foreign Bible Society and the National Bible Society of Scotland”. Final approval was given by the American Bible Society Board Managers and the General Committee of the British and Foreign Bible Society.

The Good News Bible is distributed throughout the world by the United Bible Societies, which now base their foreign-language translation work mainly on this version. Any defects in the English GNB are thus reproduced and multiplied in an ever-increasing number of other languages.

The Trinitarian Bible Society exists to publish and distribute the Holy Scriptures throughout the world in many languages, in accurate and trustworthy translations. Further information literature is available on request.

Trinitarian Bible Society (U.S.A.), 927 Alpine Commerce Park, Suite 100, Grand Rapids, MI 49544, U.S.A. · Tel.: (616) 735-3695

U.S.A. Tax Exemption Number: 237365237

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