Russ, who interviewed Fr. King, now presents us a review of the King Bible. Thanks to Russ for taking the time to do this!
After becoming aware of (and then purchasing) Fr. Nicholas King’s translation of the scriptures at the beginning of the year, Tim asked if I would do a review of said translation, and foolishly I agreed. Tim does such a nice job reviewing bibles and books that I felt somewhat intimidated so I hope you find this helpful and informative. And just for the record, I have absolutely no specialty or knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic or Latin other than what I read in study bibles or commentaries themselves. I am a Catholic who has a deep and abiding interest in the Word of God and the translations that are available to us. The following impressions are the result of my spending the past few weeks with it.
Fr. King’s career as a translator began after he came back from South Africa, where he had been teaching New Testament in seminaries and universities, along with some academic administration. Upon his return to England and finding himself with a bit of an academic break, he decided to translate Mark and John for a summer school class he was preparing for. As it turns out, one of his students was married to a publisher, and as he said in an interview, “Eventually the request came: How would you feel about translating the whole Bible? Initially I was reluctant, but after reflecting on it for a while, and a certain amount of arm-twisting, I thought: ‘Why not?’”
He finished translating the NT in 2004 and then began work on the Old Testament Septuagint. So my review will start with the NT as well. Eventually I will write a review of my impressions of the Old Testament.
It comes in a hard case and the first thing I noticed (as did my daughter) when I slid it out was that it had a purple ribbon. It’s her favorite color. It’s just one ribbon but that’s more than most bibles these days. It opened out nice and flat on the table. You have a choice of either hard cover or fake leather and I went with the fake and I’m pretty sure Tim would turn right around and Fed Ex it to have it rebound in real alligator leather or something similar. It tops off at 2400 pages so it seems like it should weigh more than it does. No font size is stated in the book or on the web site but I’m guessing about 9 for the text and a bit smaller for the footnotes in the OT, so if you’re getting old like me (53) you probably already own a pair of reading glasses anyway so it’s no big deal. I emailed the publisher to find out but they never replied. And it smells really nice. You just don’t get that from Kindle books.
The second thing I noticed after I opened it up was that that it had some nice marginal space. The paper is kind of thin like most bibles, but if you like writing in your bible, you can certainly use a pencil and not worry about it bleeding through to the other side. The bleed through of the text isn’t as bad as some of the pictures I provided seem to indicate.
This translation is advertised as a study bible so after I started flipping through the NT I was worried that they had shipped me the wrong edition as I did not see any footnotes, cross references, or commentary, while I found plenty of notes at the bottom of the pages of the Old Testament. I finally found the commentary, and when I did I discovered something else in the process: there is no verse numbering in the NT. Anyway, not the kind we’re used to seeing. Take a look.
Here is an example:
You see Chapter 1 indicated, and just to the right of that in small print 1-17, indicating the verses for that section that he has titled “Jesus’ family tree”. Notice that there are no verses in the text. Then, after the text, heavily indented, comes his commentary for that particular section. It goes like this throughout the whole NT. The commentary is informal but…informative. After spending time with this bible I found I liked the commentary. It doesn’t overwhelm you like a lot of study bibles. They’re not overly academic but things to be aware of when reading the text. One reviewer found the notes “lively” and “neatly set into the text itself instead of being buried in the footnotes at the bottom of the page. They really do make it much easier to read and follow the story.”
I admit it, I really disliked that it didn’t have verse numbering. I’ve had a lot of bibles in my time but never one without the verse numbering included. It makes it a chore if you want to use this for study purposes.
In an online interview Fr. King explained why he did this when he first translated Mark and John: “I ignored chapter and verse, since they are both medieval impositions on the text, and wanted to get the ‘feel’ of what it was like for the early readers (or, we should say, hearers, since most of them would not have had the skills of writing or reading) of those gospels, and of their freshness.”
However, on the proverbial flip side of things, after using it for a while (I’ve started out by reading John’s Gospel) I realized I was concentrating more on the text itself and not on what a certain scholar had to say in the footnotes, or this doctor or saint of the church. Like the reviewer previously mentioned, I wasn’t getting bogged down by notes/commentary. I found myself meditating on the story in front of me, becoming a “participant” in the story I was reading, which was a pleasant (and fruitful) surprise. (Full disclosure: after finishing a chapter of John I went back and put the verses in with a pencil using the NRSV as a guide to where the verses began. If the verse began in the middle of a line I indicated that by making a small dot above the word.) And I forgot to mention, it is single columned, which I truly enjoy.
Book Introductions are brief, concise, sometimes only a sentence or two long, nothing like what you find in your traditional study bible.
Below is one to the Letter to the Romans:
When a word could be translated in a different way Fr. King puts the alternative choice in a bracket after the word he settled on. For instance, in Matthew 23 where we find Jesus tearing into the Pharisees (the “Woe to you!” section) and most translations have “hypocrites,” Fr. King translates “frauds” and then: [hypocrites]. Most study bibles would have something like this notated at the bottom of the page, stating “or…” and then give the alternate translation. But if you’re not familiar with the bible, if you’re new to reading the scriptures, this might be a problem because it could be interpreted as being part of the text itself instead of what it actually is, an alternative way to translate a certain word or phrase. And there’s nothing in the Introduction that alerts the reader to this, which I think should be looked at in future editions.
Cross references from the Old Testament can also be found in the text and bracketed off instead of being found at the bottom of the page or on the margin like they’re found in the NJB.
The picture on the side here is from Matthew 5:21-48, the “you have heard” section of the Sermon on the Mount. On the left margin you see the verses indicated, and then he has this section of verses broken down even further into individual parts, which he numbers 1, 2, etc. As stated above, if you’re new to the bible this could very well be problematic as the reader might think this breakdown is part of the text. Also, notice the bracketing of the Old Testament verse that Jesus is quoting. Personally I don’t mind it, but again, the beginner might think that Jesus actually says, “Exodus…”
I found in John’s gospel a new translation philosophy, at least to me anyway. Unlike the other gospels, in John you find the recurring refrain of “the Jews,” and most times Fr. King translates “the Judeans.” He explains: “You may also notice the reference to the ‘Judeans’ at the start of the passage. This is by way of alternative to translating the word as ‘Jews” (the same word is used for both in Greek), and may serve to mitigate the anti-Semitism that, too often, this Gospel has been used to justify.’” I liked it. I think it works well.
As he answered earlier in the week in 7 Questions, inclusive language was required by the publisher of his work. As can be seen in the picture above, he used “brother or sister” for that passage. In other places he translates “my fellow Christians,” “brothers and sisters,” or “him or her.” For me, this really isn’t an issue any longer. In the past I admit to being completely turned off with the use of inclusive language, thinking that all such translations came straight from the bowels of Hell, but not anymore. As long as it’s done in an accurate, professional way that doesn’t detract or become overbearing I hardly notice it any longer.
In conclusion, I thank Tim for alerting me to this translation and for giving me the opportunity to review it for his blog. And thanks to his readers for taking time out to read it. If there is anything else you would like to know about his translation of the NT (how a particular verse is translated perhaps or if there is something I should have covered but didn’t) please feel free to ask and I will do my best to answer you. In the next couple of weeks I will send Tim my review on Fr. King’s translation of the Septuagint.
Before wrapping up, I would like to give Fr. King the final word. In the online interview I referenced above the following Q&A is covers something that we sometimes forget and what some Christians don’t realize.
You have said that “the Greek text of the New Testament is only a scholars’ guess, and what we have in our modern editions is not a manuscript that ever existed; all the manuscripts that we possess have mistakes in them, so we do not even know what the original text was.”
Does this conflict in any way with your belief that God’s voice is just below the surface? Do you believe that this voice will get harder to hear/find?
Fr. King: This is where the Church comes in; we get the Bible from the Christian community and not the other way around. However (and this is really important) it is also true that the Church is subservient to the text, as well as being its source, and we all have to listen to that voice of God which is there “below the surface of the text,” whatever the quality of the translation, and whatever the state of the manuscripts.