Phillips' New Testament
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,
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
To a young woman who was engaged to a man called
Joseph (a descendant of David). The girlís name was Mary. Luke 1:27,
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,
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
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,
This is the essence of all true religion. Matthew
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
Two further examples are cited below:
I send the promise of my Father upon you. Luke
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,
It is apparent that Phillips introduces his own
interpretations quite frequently. He justifies this practice by
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
Salute one another with an holy kiss. Romans 16:16,
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,
Even in the headings, Phillips at times uses less
than acceptable language. We illustrate by the one preceding Romans
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,
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