In the original lecture series done in 1984 at the Loma Linda University Church, Graham Maxwell spoke for about a half hour each Friday night following by written questions and answers from Lou Venden and also from the audience. The next several posts contain questions and answers from the fifth presentation, “The Record of the Evidence.”
Lou: No one has wanted to burn a new version in quite some time, as far as I know. Although I do know someone who wanted to burn the Reader’s Digest Bible.
Graham: Well, that’s an improvement, in any case. In Tyndale’s day they burned the translator. In modern times, they burn the translation. Now they cremate people with words as they talk about them in the press.
Lou: In a way Graham, I can understand the frustration of a person who says, “Wouldn’t it be better to get rid of all these versions? It’s so confusing. Why are there so many? I go down to the religious book store, and I say, ‘I would like to buy a Bible.'” But it’s not that simple any more. The sales person responds, “Well now, what version do you want?” How do you respond to the confusion that is created by all these versions?
Graham: It’s a pity that such a blessing is perceived as confusion. I think a lot depends on how much one knows about the source of the Bible. If it had been written originally in our own language, maybe one version would be enough. But when you look at the Greek and the Hebrew and the Aramaic, you realize that the same phrase can be translated in different ways. Like, “Be ye therefore perfect,” in Matthew 5:48. Now is that a command, or is it a promise? You cannot tell from the Greek. It is very difficult to bring that ambiguity over into English. This is where Goodspeed shows himself such a master. His English translation of Matthew 5:48 is, “You are to be perfect.” That can be read as either a command or a promise. But most versions would say it either one way or the other. So in view of the difficulty of bringing ambiguity over into English, I don’t want to limit myself to a single version that would give me only one possibility. I want to have all the possibilities that are available.
Lou: I noticed you spoke of Goodspeed, I’ve sometimes thought that was your favorite. But then I’ve heard you say, “Well, today this one is my favorite, but tomorrow it may not be.” Of all these translations, which one is the most trustworthy and reliable?
Graham: It’s simply incredible that the Goodspeed translation has held up so well over the decades. By the way, Goodspeed did the New Testament and he did the Apocrypha. He did not do the Old. In The Chicago Bible, a group of others under Dr. Smith did the Old. That’s why it’s sometimes called the Smith-Goodspeed Bible. Which is my favorite? Which is the best? It all depends on what you use it for. When I get home at night, if I want to put my feet up and read something inspiring, it’s still difficult to beat Phillips. Absolutely marvelous! But if I am doing serious preparation for teaching, I’ll have the original out in front of me but also several versions. One of them would be the Revised Standard Version. Though it was burned in 1952, it has proven to be one of the most precise, conservative, and safe English translations ever.
Lou: Do you think that a group translation, a committee translation, is a little more reliable than one by an individual?
Graham: That’s a very useful question. Group translations may be a little more dull. For example, when the Revised Standard Version was being prepared, they always had to have a two-thirds vote before they would arrive at a decision. Often, Goodspeed was on the committee and so was Moffatt. Sometimes they would disagree with the two-thirds vote. So when it was all over, Goodspeed wrote a book, Problems in Bible Translation, to list the one hundred or so places where he was voted down. And it’s very exciting reading. So if the translator is an individual, there is a little more freedom. And in spots an individual translation may even be more correct, because the group had to arrive at a compromise in order to get the two-thirds vote. You know, textbooks written by committees aren’t as exciting as books written by an individual.