The Revised English Bible (1989)

W. D. McHardy, ed., The Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha. Oxford and Cambridge: Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, 1989.

This is an extensive revision of the British New English Bible (1970) that eliminated many of the NEB's incautious renderings in favor of a more literal approach, but it remains considerably less literal than the Revised Standard Version (1952). The method of translation is comparable to that of the New International Version (1973); but, being the work of non-evangelical scholars, it lacks the distinctively evangelical interpretation of the Old Testament to be seen in the NIV. It does however return to some more traditional renderings, as in the opening verses of Genesis:

NEB (1970)

In the beginning of creation, when God made heaven and earth, the earth was without form and void, with darkness over the face of the abyss, and a mighty wind that swept over the surface of the waters.

REB (1989)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was a vast waste, darkness covered the deep, and the spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water.

Isaiah 9:6 is returned somewhat to the traditional rendering, but not entirely. (The Hebrew word el is translated "hero" instead of "God"):

NEB (1970)

For a boy has been born for us, a son given to us to bear the symbol of dominion on his shoulder; and he shall be called in purpose wonderful, in battle God-like, Father for all time [margin, "of a wide realm"] Prince of peace.

REB (1989)

For a child has been born to us, a son is given to us; he will bear the symbol of dominion on his shoulder, and his title will be: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty Hero, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

The REB introduces some gender-neutral language (the preface explains that this was done only to the extent that it was deemed possible "without compromising scholarly integrity"), but much less than the New Revised Standard Version (1990). The style is more dignified than the NEB, which had presented some problems for liturgical use. In their revision the REB revisers were also more cautious with regard to the Hebrew and Greek text. Most of the venturesome transpositions and text-critical conjectures of the NEB are reversed.

The Director of Revision was W.D. McHardy. The revisers were: The Rev. Professor G. W. Anderson; The Very Rev. Professor R. S. Barbour; The Rev. Fr. I. P. M. Brayley, SJ; Dr. S. P. Brock; The Rev. Professor G. B. Caird; The Rev. Dr. P. Ellingworth; Dr. R. P. Gordon; Professor M. D. Hooker; The Rev. A. A. Macintosh; The Rev. Professor W. McKane; The Rev. Professor I. H. Marshall; The Rev. Dr. R. A. Mason; The Rev. Dr. I. Moir; The Rev. Fr. R. Murray, SJ; The Rev. Professor E. W. Nicholson; Dr. C. H. Roberts; Dr. R. B. Salters; Dr. P. C. H. Wernberg-Moller; The Rev. Professor M. F. Wiles. Literary advisers were: M. H. Black, Mrs. M.Caird, J. K. Cordy, Baroness de Ward, The Rev. Dr. I. Gray, Dr. P. Larkin, Miss Doris Martin, Dr. C. H. Roberts, Sir Richard Southern, P. J. Spicer, Dr. J. I. M. Stewart, Mary (Lady) Stewart.


Preface to the Revised English Bible

The second half of the twentieth century has produced many new versions of the Bible. One of the pioneers was the New English Bible, which was distinctive inasmuch as it was a new translation from the ancient texts and was officially commissioned by the majority of the British Churches.

The translators themselves were chosen for their ability as scholars, without regard to Church affiliation. Literary advisers read and criticized the translators' drafts.

The translation of the New Testament appeared in 1961. The Old Testament and the Apocrypha were published with a limited revision of the New Testament in 1970; the New English Bible was then complete. Two years later a new impression appeared with some very minor corrections, and the New English Bible has remained substantially as it was first produced until the present day. It has proved to be of great value throughout the English-speaking world and is very widely used.

The debt of the Churches to those who served on the various committees and panels is very considerable and has been gladly acknowledged on many occasions. One name that will always be associated with the New English Bible is that of Dr. C.H. Dodd, who as Director from start to finish brought to the enterprise outstanding leadership, sensitivity, and scholarship. It is fitting also to recall with gratitude the roles of Professor Sir Godfrey Driver, Joint Director from 1965, and Professor W.D. McHardy, Deputy Director from 1968.

It was right that the New English Bible in its original form, like any other version, should be subject to critical examination and discussion, and especially the Old Testament, which had not had the advantage of even a limited general revision. From the beginning helpful suggestions and criticisms had come in from many quarters. Moreover the widespread enthusiasm for the New English Bible had resulted in its being frequently used for reading aloud in public worship, the implications of which had not been fully anticipated by the translators. As a result it became desirable to review the tanslation, and in 1974 the Joint Committee of the Churches decided to set in train what was to become a major revision of the text.

New translators' panels were constituted under the chairmanship of Professor W.D. McHardy, who was appointed Director of Revision. The result of their work is the Revised English Bible, a translation standing firmly in the tradition established by the New English Bible. This substantial revision expresses the mind and conviction of biblical scholars and translators of the 1980's, as the New English Bible expressed the mind of a previous generation of such specialists, and it is fortunate that some distinguished scholars have been able to give their services throughout the entire process. To them we owe a great deal, and to none more than to Professor McHardy, who has served with great devotion throughout and made this a large part of his life's work.

The original initiative for making the New English Bible translation had come from the Church of Scotland in 1946, and a number of other Churches later joined them and formed a committee which was to plan and direct a new translation in contemporary language. The Joint Committee comprised representatives of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland, the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, the Congregational Church of England and Wales, the Council of Churches for Wales, the Irish Council of Churches, the London Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, the Methodist Church of Great Britain, and the Presbyterian Church of England, as well as of the British and Foreign Bible Society and the National Bible Society of Scotland. Roman Catholic representatives later attended as observers.

After publication of the complete translation, there were changes in the composition of the Joint Committee. The Roman Catholic Church entered into full membership, with representatives from the hierarchies of England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Following the union of the Presbyterian Church of England with the Congregational Church as the United Reformed Church, the united church was represented on the Committee. After the review began, the Committee was joined by representatives of the Salvation Army and the Moravian Church.

The progress of the work of the revisers has been regularly reported to meetings of the Joint Committee, taking place once and sometimes twice a year in the Jerusalem Chamber, Westminster Abbey. The Committee has much appreciated the courtesy of the Dean and Chapter in making the Chamber available for these meetings.

Members of the Joint Committee have given guidance and support to the Director of Revision throughout, and have had the opportunity of inspecting drafts as the work on each book approached its final stage, in many cases making detailed comments and criticisms for the consideration of the Director and revisers.

Care has been taken to ensure that the style of English used is fluent and of appropriate dignity for liturgical use, while maintaining intelligibility for worshippers of a wide range of ages and backgrounds. The revisers have sought to avoid complex or technical terms where possible, and to provide sentence structure and word order, especially in the Psalms, which will facilitate congregational reading but will not misrepresent the meaning of the original texts. As the "you"-form of address to God is now commonly used, the "thou"-form which was preserved in the language of prayer in the New English Bible has been abandoned. The use of male-oriented language, in passages of traditional versions of the Bible which evidently apply to both genders, has become a sensitive issue in recent years; the revisers have preferred more inclusive gender reference where that has been possible without compromising scholarly integrity or English style.

The revision is characterized by a somewhat more extensive use than in the New English Bible of textual subheadings printed in italic type. These headings are used, for example, to mark broad structural divisions in the writing or substantial changes of direction or theme. They should not be regarded in any way as part of the biblical text. The headings in the Psalms are a special case; these have been translated from those prefixed in ancient times to the Hebrew Psalms.

The traditional verse numbering of the Authorized (King James) Version is retained in the Revised English Bible for ease of reference. Where the Authorized Version contains passages which are found in the manuscripts on which that version rests, but which are absent from those followed by the Revised English Bible, these passages are reproduced in footnotes, in order to explain gaps in the verse numbering.

A table of measures, weights, and values will be found on pages xi-xii. The ancient terms usually appear in the text, but modern equivalents have been used when it seemed appropriate to do so.

The Joint Committee commends the Revised English Bible to the Churches and to the English-speaking world with due humility, but with confidence that God has yet new light and truth to break forth from his word. The Committee prays that the new version will prove to be a means to that end.

Donald Coggan
Chairman of the Joint Committee