Review by The Rev Dr Paul Ellingworth for The Methodist Recorder
It is probably correct to describe The Bible: A Study Bible, freshly translated by Nicholas King (Kevin Mayhew hardback edition £49.99, presentation edition £59.99), as unique. There have been other English versions of the Bible by single translators such as James Moffatt and Ronald Knox. However, for the last generation or more, these have been based on Hebrew and Aramaic texts of the Old Testament and Greek of the New.
There have also been English translations of the Greek version of the Old Testament, commonly known as the “Septuagint” or “LXX”. Since 1851 the best known of these has been that by a translator with the resounding name of Sir Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton; this version was recently republished in American English by Michael Paul Johnson as LXX2012. In addition, there is a “New Translation of the Septuagint” (NETS), published by Oxford University Press in 2007, and reprinted with corrections and emendations in 2009. There are also in progress translations of the Septuagint into Spanish, French and German. So what makes Nicholas King’s version unique? Like the others, it offers an English translation of the Greek Old Testament, including the apocrypha or deuterocanonical writings, misleadingly described by the publishers as being “from the original Greek”; but it adds a translation of the New Testament which is, of course, from the original.
King describes his version as a “Study Bible”. Each book and in the Old testament each group of books (the Pentateuch, the historical books, the wisdom literature, and the prophets), has a concise introduction and explanatory footnotes. In the New Testament, footnotes are limited to references to Old Testament texts; explanatory material is presented on the page in the same type as the text, but heavily indented to avoid confusion.
This is a very personal work. One cannot imagine Moffatt or Knox beginning a preface with the address: “Dear Reader”. King came to understand “this translation [as] a vocation, a calling within the wider calling to be a Jesuit priest who teaches biblical studies”.
He speaks of his surprise when the work was completed and also of “a sense that something is missing which I had come greatly to value”. The language of both translation and additional material is fresh and appropriately informal: the introduction to the Acts of the Apostles begins: “The racy tale that you are about to read …”, and concludes, referring to the Holy Spirit: “Watch how this power is made evident throughout this extraordinary story.”
This is a version intended to be read rather than analysed, so detailed criticism is best left to academic journals.
But readers may be somewhat deterred by a few features which are not part of current English style, such as the repeated “and” at the beginning of sentences in both Old and New Testaments. It would also be helpful if, in any future edition, verses were individually numbered in the New Testament as they are in the Old. It can be frustrating to search for a particular verse in a passage for example, as long as John 8. 12-59 or as compact as Galati ans 3. 6-29. King defends his choice to translate the Septuagint by stating, correctly, that it was “the version most used by our New Testament authors” and that the LXX manuscripts “in some cases preserve a superior reading”. This does not, of course, mean that the LXX as a whole is superior to the Hebrew and Aramaic texts.
The publishers are to be congratulated on producing a book of more than 2,400 pages which is still pleasant to handle. Methodists need have no fear of being led astray by a tendentious Roman Catholic version: Gabriel’s greeting to Mary is rendered: “Rejoice, you who have received favour.” I recommend that readers of the Methodist Recorder look at this translation for themselves – of course along- side others. They will learn much from it and mostly enjoy it.