“An American Translation”

A few months ago I received from Editor Herman Otten, of the conservative Missouri Lutheran paperChristian News, a copy of The Holy Bible, An American Translation, along with a request for comment. Accompanying this review copy was a special edition of Pastor Otten’s paper, Christian News, which was entirely devoted to the story of this new translation of Scripture and the story of its translator, the late Dr. William Beck. Although, as most of our readers know, I am firmly committed to the regular use of the King James Version in our churches and in our homes, this does not mean that I have a closed mind with respect to other translations of Holy Scripture. Hence, I also gladly comply with the request for comment on this recent translation. 

First of all, let me point out that this translation is the work of a very conservative Missouri Synod Lutheran scholar. He was chiefly a New Testament scholar, but there is no doubt in my mind that he also had to be an Old Testament scholar, in order to produce this work. There is a tremendous amount of careful and painstaking work, involving many years, evidenced in this translation. Permit me to quote a few paragraphs from the special edition of Christian News, in order to furnish some information about the translator: 

“William F. Beck, Th.D., has spent the major portion of his professional life translating the Bible—meticulously working through original manuscripts and recently discovered papyri, to get the exact meaning from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and the Greek version of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament. 

“The New Testament scholar William Arndt, Th.D ., translator of Walter Bauer’s monumental German classic titled in English, A Greek—English Lexicon of the New Testament wrote of him: ‘Pastor Beck is a skillful translator. He has studied the Greek language and especially Biblical Greek to such an extent that he can render well the New Testament into good English. His New Testament is a grand piece of work.’

“William Beck received his Th.D. in New Testament Greek from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. For several years he was a guest lecturer at Concordia Seminary in Biblical Interpretation. 

“His The Christ of the Gospels (1959), a harmony and translation of the four Gospels, was well received by critics and public alike. He is also the author of We Bring Christ (1960), seven mission messages to inspire the reader to testify for Christ, and coauthor of a Lenten Sermon volume, The Crowds Around Calvary (1960). He has also served as technical advisor on Biblical films. 

“Beck completed his translation of the entire Bible shortly before his death some nine years ago. Various editors and language authorities at Concordia and such evangelical Bible scholars as Dr. Elmer Schmick of Gordon Conwell and Dr. Erich Kiehl of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, have carefully gone through Beck’s translation of the Old Testament in order to improve it. 

“Dr. Beck told the editor of Christian News a few weeks before he died that his Old Testament was ready for publication but that he would allow for various improvements in vocabulary and grammar. He did not want anyone to tamper with his translation of the messianic passages in the Old Testament. He feared that some liberal scholars, who accepted a few of the ‘destructive’ theories of historical criticism, would. remove the real meaning of the messianic prophecies and make it appear as if these passages did not predict the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. Dr. Beck insisted that ‘my translation or parts of it will be published essentially as found in my manuscripts with possibly only minor changes in vocabulary and grammar. It is of the utmost importance that my translation continue to give a clear testimony that Jesus Christ is God and Lord, the only Savior for men, and that nothing is done which in any way would detract from the basic truth that the Bible is the Word of God in its entirety.’ 

“The LCMS’s Commission on Literature approved the publication of the entire Beck Bible. (The New Testament was published by Concordia Publishing House in 1963 under the title The New Testament In The Language Of Today. HCH) Various conventions of the LCMS urged Concordia to publish the Bible and Concordia repeatedly said that it would. However, Concordia has in recent months said it would not publish the translation. The LCMS’s 1975 Anaheim Convention declined an overture from Trinity Lutheran Church of New Haven asking the LCMS to direct Concordia to publish the Beck translation. 

“The editor of Christian News promised Dr. Beck a few weeks before Dr. Beck died that he would publish the entire Beck translation if Concordia should eventually refuse to publish it.” 

What may be said about this new translation? 

In the first place, the translator certainly succeeded in furnishing a translation in contemporary language. He does not go to extremes, so that the language is crude. But the language is certainly the language of today, and is very understandable. I have one criticism in this regard: I do not believe that even in contemporary English it is proper literary style to employ the many contractions which are used in this translation. This, I believe, is allowable conversational style; but it is not good literary style. 

In the second place, Dr. Beck succeeded in preserving the real meaning of the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament in his translation, as was his purpose. Whatever else may be said concerning this translation, it is distinct from some of the recent translations and versions of Holy Scripture in this regard. For example, one does not find the truth of the virgin birth eliminated from the well-known messianic prophecy of Isaiah 7:14.

However, if this American Translation is intended to be a suitable replacement for the King James Version, then I must object strenuously and for various reasons. I do not like to do so, especially not in view of the current conflict in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. I would prefer to give aid and comfort to the conservatives in that conflict, as over against the so-called moderates (actually liberals), especially in view of the fact that one of the chief issues in that conflict is that concerning Holy Scripture. Hence, I would prefer to make only favorable remarks concerning this new translation of Scripture because it is being promoted by conservatives in the LCMS. Nevertheless, I would not be honest and straightforward if I withheld my negative comments. Moreover, my negative comments are such that I cannot recommend this new translation as a substitute for the King James Version. I can only recommend it as a study aid which one may add to his library of study aids and which he may consult for comparative purposes. 

And what are my reasons? 

In the first place, although I will not belabor this point, I want to be counted among those who mourn the introduction of a multiplicity of versions and translations. This is not only because I appreciate the beauty and majesty of our King James Version, although I do. It is not only because I fail to see the need of these new translations in contemporary language, although I do indeed fail to see this. And let me add: I speak from experience in my family and in the church, where I have never encountered any real difficulty with respect to the language of our King James Version. But it is also, and chiefly, because the introduction of a multiplicity of versions and translations destroys all uniformity and creates confusion as far as the Scriptures are concerned. I am thankful that this is not the case in our own churches, and I fervently hope that it never will be the case. But it is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon that one quotes from the King James Version, another quotes from the Revised Standard Version, another quotes from the New International Version, still another quotes from the Living Bible, and yet another from the New English Bible, or from some other contemporary translation. Now we can add another translation to the list. And in another couple of years I suppose another translation or paraphrase will put in an appearance. I have noticed, both in conversation and in reading, that one first must find out which version of the Bible is being used; and in some instances the divergence between versions is so great that one must first settle on the proper rendering of a given text. Theoretically I could conceive, perhaps, of a replacement of the King James Version if at least all those who call themselves conservatives could agree on a good and suitable replacement. But this, it is plain to see, will never be. 

In the second place, I call attention to the fact that, even apart from the matter of contemporary language, this translation differs considerably and at many points from the King James Version. In fact, sometimes it differs to such an extent that it can hardly be called a translation, but rather must be classified as a paraphrase or a commentary. And; as might be expected, such paraphrases, or commentaries, are not entirely accurate; sometimes, in fact, they are downright inaccurate. I could cite numerous examples of this. Let me quote just a few. Genesis 1:2 caught my attention as soon as I opened this new translation. In the King James Version this verse reads: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” The translation under review reads: “There was nothing living on the empty earth, and it was dark on the deep sea, but God’s Spirit hovered over the waters.” The differences are obvious, and the new translation is, to say the least, questionable. The King James Version renders the well-known words of Psalm 1:6 as follows: “For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.” The Beck translation renders this verse: “You see, the LORD cares about what happens to the righteous, but the wicked go their way and perish.” In this case, although the word “cares” expresses an element of the meaning of the text, it does not convey the same meaning as “knoweth,” which is undoubtedly the verb that is used in the Hebrew. Again, “what happens to the righteous” is not the same as “the way of the righteous.” But the latter is the expression found in the original. Even the well-known words of Psalm 23:1 are changed. The King James Version has, as you know: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” The Beck translation has: “The Lord is my Shepherd—I have everything I need.” This change may seem innocent at first glance, but it is not as innocent as it appears. And the simple fact is that “I have everything I need” is not the same as “I shall not want.” Examples of this kind could be multiplied. This only goes to show that all change is not improvement. 

In the third place, I call special attention to something which I also criticized in the New International Version, namely the substitution of “only” for “only begotten.” This is done repeatedly in the Gospel according to John, for example. To call Jesus “the only Son” instead of “the only begotten Son” is both unnecessary and inaccurate. It is unnecessary: for there is nothing difficult to understand about the words “only begotten.” It is inaccurate: for the original very definitely has the words “only begotten.” And this is an important change. For the simple fact is that our Lord Jesus Christ is not the only son of God, but He is indeed theonly begotten Son of God. 

Finally, I must call attention to a very serious and erroneous Lutheran bias which has crept into this translation. This is not an innocent error, but a deliberate change. It is, in fact, mentioned by the translator in an appendix entitled, “What Does The Text Say?” (pp. 341-344) In this appendix there is a comparison made between the Beck translation and the RSV and the NEB with respect to various subjects. One of these subjects is “Salvation For All.” Under this caption the translator claims that “God wants to save all people,” and he takes exception to the fact that the RSV and the NEB speak of people destined to hell. He might also have included here the King James Version. My point is that this translation deliberately changes various passages of Scripture which speak of men as being destined for destruction and which refer to sovereign reprobation—quite in accord with current Lutheran theology, although not in accord with the theology of Martin Luther himself. Let me quote a few passages in which the difference is very plain to anyone who can read and in which the Beck translation makes a .deliberate and totally unjustified change. 

Romans 9:22, (KJV), “What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.” (Beck translation), “God wanted to show people His anger and let them know His power, but He waited very patiently before He would punish those who deserved it and had prepared themselves for destruction.” 

Romans 9:33, (KJV), “As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumbling-stone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” (Beck translation), “as the Bible says: I’m putting in Zion a Stone they will stumble over and a Rock they will fall over. But if you believe in Him, you will not be disappointed.” 

I Peter 2:8, (KJV), “And a stone of stumbling, and rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.” (Beck translation), “a Stone they stumble over and a Rock they fall over. When they disobey the Word, they stumble over it; that’s the end appointed for them.” 

Jude 1:4 (KJV), “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation . . . .” (Beck translation), “There have sneaked in among you some men—sometime ago it was written they must be condemned this way . . . .” 

It is my contention that the above examples are examples not of legitimate translation but of a deliberate changing of the text which cannot at all be justified in the light of the original. 

More could be said and more unjustifiable changes could be mentioned. But the above are sufficient. 

In conclusion, therefore, I regret to say that I cannot recommend this new translation. The most I can say is that it might serve some purpose, with very careful use, as a reference work. By no means must it be used as any kind of substitute for our King James Version.