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Chapter 39

Phillips' New Testament

 

When J.B. Phillipsí Letters to Young Churches was first published it met with much acclaim. This semitranslation, semiparaphrase expressed the words of the New Testament Epistles in words which seemed both fresh and understandable. It seemed, at least to some, that at last Peterís assertion was neutralized:

And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood. 2 Peter 3:15-16.

Later Phillips completed a translation of the entire New Testament. The Phillips Version suffers from the same defects as others which employ the use of free paraphrase. However, unlike The Living Bible, Phillips does not employ crude language.

The Trinitarian Bible Society has pointed out a number of specific mistranslations (Trinitarian Bible Society, Tract No. 28). These include:

Forgive and ye shall be forgiven. Luke 6:37, KJV

Make allowances for others, and people will make allowances for you. Luke 6:37, Phillips

Clearly the latter is an entirely different statement from that of the King James Version, which accurately reflects the Greek original. Christís message to us is lost.

Judge not, that ye be not judged. Matthew 7:1, KJV

Donít criticize people, and you will not be criticized. Matthew 7:1, Phillips

It will be noticed that the correct translation promises Godís grace in His judgment to those who are not judgmental. Phillipsí Version altered this sublime truth to focus our minds upon our fellow men and their criticism of us. Thus a divine truth is deliberately deleted.

For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. Romans 1:17, KJV

I see in it Godís plan for imparting righteousness to men, a process begun and continued by their faith. Romans 1:17, Phillips

It will be noted that in the correct translation Godís righteousness is said to be revealed from faith to faith. This wording indicates that Godís faith imparted to the believer from Him generates further faith.

To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virginís name was Mary. Luke 1:27, KJV

To a young woman who was engaged to a man called Joseph (a descendant of David). The girlís name was Mary. Luke 1:27, Phillips

Twice in this text Phillips has failed to translate the Greek word parthenos as virgin, rather translating it as young woman and girl. Although Phillips translates the Greek word as virgin elsewhere (Matthew 1:23) his failure to do so in this text in inexcusable. In biology this term is used in parthenogenesis. No biologist would fail to understand that parthenos refers to a female who has not had sexual relations.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1, KJV

At the beginning God expressed himself. That personal expression, that word, was with God and was God. John 1:1, Phillips

Once again Phillips has altered the initial words of the text. The use of the word God instead of the Word in Phillipsí first sentence leaves one in doubt whether the reference there is to the Father or to the Son. Indeed the powerful implication is the former, for when God is correctly translated in Phillipsí second sentence this reference quite clearly is to the Father. But the original Greek refers to the Word and this, the context makes plain, is a reference to Jesus.

Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33, KJV

Set your heart first on his kingdom and his goodness, and all these things shall come to you as a matter of course. Matthew 6:33, Phillips

In attempting a smooth paraphrase, Phillips has virtually removed Godís hand from the bestowal of His blessing.

For this is the law and the prophets. Matthew 7:12, KJV

This is the essence of all true religion. Matthew 7:12, Phillips

Christís words, as recorded by Matthew, were carefully chosen. He intended to convey that the golden rule is the essence of Scripture, which in His day was the Old Testament. In an age when aspersions are frequently cast upon Godís first Testament, suggesting a tyrannical, unloving God, the potent affirmation of the gentleness and love of God as expressed in the Old Testament, has been totally forsaken by Phillipsí assumption that he is at liberty to place altered words into the mouth of our Saviour.

While we seek to be justified by Christ. . . Galatians 2:17, KJV

If we grasp the real truth about justification. . . Galatians 2:17, Phillips

Once more we note a marked alteration in meaning. Paulís expression to the Galatian believers clearly refers to those who are seeking justification. Phillips took license to change that meaning to refer to those who understand justification. These are two entirely different matters. Surely, the Bible student is entitled to know what Paul, writing under inspiration, really wrote to Godís flock in Galatia.

Two further examples are cited below:

I send the promise of my Father upon you. Luke 24:49, KJV

Now I hand over to you a message of the Father. Luke 24:49, Phillips

When he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2, KJV

If reality were to break through, we should reflect his likeness, for we should see him as he really is! 1 John 3:2, Phillips

It is apparent that Phillips introduces his own interpretations quite frequently. He justifies this practice by claiming:

I feel strongly that a translator, although he must make himself as familiar as possible with New Testament Greek usage, must steadfastly refuse to be driven by the bogey of consistency. He must be guided both by the context in which a word appears, and by the sensibilities of modern English readers. J.B. Phillips, Foreword to the New Testament

We suggest that rather should the sensibilities of modern English readers be guided by the Word of God.

These examples, selected from among many, suffice to alert the reader of Godís Word that when he reads Phillipsí paraphrase, he quite frequently is not reading the inspired Word, but rather the human notions of J.B. Phillips. Thus the version falls far short of the requirements of one diligently desiring to know Godís will.

As in almost all of the modern versions, it is not unknown for the reader to be confounded by the adoption of words far more difficult to comprehend, especially by the young or the foreign reader, than the delightfully simple words chosen by the translators of the Authorized Version.

Let us cite one example from Phillips:

For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen. Romans 1:20, KJV

For since the beginning of the world the invisible attributes of God, for example, his eternal power and divinity, have been plainly discernible. Romans 1:20, Phillips

Ignoring that Phillipsí examples have been inserted from his mind and are not found in Paulís original letter, we note that he has used the word attributes in place of things and the word discernible as an alternative to seen. Now these are perfectly correct translations as are those in the King James Version, and they are good words. The point made here is that they are much more complex than their simple synonyms in the King James Version.

As with other modern translations, Phillipsí defective version, because of his use of paraphrase, is further compounded by his reliance on the corrupted manuscripts. We will not elaborate on this matter, for it is well illustrated in other chapters of this work.

While Phillips uses no vulgarities in his paraphrase, his vocabulary is less than elegant at times. Three examples are cited without comment:

Salute one another with an holy kiss. Romans 16:16, KJV

Give each other a hearty handshake all round for my sake. Romans 16:16, Phillips

The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness. Romans 1:18, KJV

Those men who render truth dumb and inoperative by their wickedness. Romans 1:18, Phillips

I speak as a man. Romans 3:5, KJV

Iím using a human tit-for-tat argument. Romans 3:5, Phillips

Even in the headings, Phillips at times uses less than acceptable language. We illustrate by the one preceding Romans 11:30-36.

The whole scheme looks topsy-turvy, until we see the amazing wisdom of God!

Phillipsí version would have been greatly improved if he had fully believed one of the texts in his version.

All scripture is inspired by God. 2 Timothy 3:16, Phillips

But it is quite obvious that he did not take that passage to heart, for in his preface he revealed his true attitude to the sacred manuscripts he had chosen to paraphrase. There he wrote,

Paul, for instance, writing in haste and urgency to some of his wayward and difficult Christians, was not tremendously concerned about dotting the "iís" and crossing the "tís" of his message. I doubt very much if he was even concerned about being completely consistent with what he had already written. Consequently, it seems to me quite beside the point to study his writings microscopically, as it were, and deduce hidden meanings of which almost certainly he was unaware.

Could we safely rely on a version prepared by a man with such a cavalier approach to Godís Holy Word? How different was Paulís assessment of his inspired writings!

Which things also we speak, not in the words which manís wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth. 1 Corinthians 2:13, KJV

 


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