The following article by Gerrit Verkuyl is reproduced from The Bible Translator 2/2 (April 1951), pp. 80-85. I have inserted the page numbers in square brackets in the body of the text, and have added some comments in footnotes. —M.D.M.

The Berkeley Version of the New Testament

by Gerrit Verkuyl

The Bible Translator 2/2 (April 1951), pp. 80-85.

(By request of the editor, Dr. Gerrit Verkuyl has endeavored in the following article to describe the basis of his Berkeley Version translation. We trust that this article will be the first in a series, through which translators may explain their approach and principles of procedure. - Ed.)

The conviction that God wants His truth conveyed to His offspring in the language in which they think and live led me to and through the labors that resulted in the Berkeley Version (B.V.) of the New Testament. For I grew increasingly aware that the King James Version (A.V.) is today only in part the language of our people.

It is true that to many, who have read and reread their Bible and have thus matured in its thoughts and expressions with mastery of choice passages, the archaic and poetic forms of the A.V. have grown precious. The easy flow and cultured rhythm of its Elizabethan phrases appeal to them — and I may say, to us, for I have memorized much of it for private and for public use. No modern Version has matched it for dignity and beauty. It has so readily lent itself to use in devotional thought and prayer, affording a vocabulary compared to which all later translations sound like secular twang. Like some great hymn or lofty anthem the 1611 translation may lift the drooping heart and quench the thirsty soul, while modern Versions may leave us cold.

So long as this serves to guide our daily living to higher planes, it may, indeed, be preferable for us to turn for our devotional reading to the accustomed passages. But if this steeping of our minds in archaic expressions hinders our unity of worship and life, then we face serious danger. There were few sins our Lord more roundly denounced than the Pharisees’ separation between their devotions and their daily living.

It is suggestive that on the Day of Pentecost “every man heard them speak in his own language.” Accordingly, we rejoice in the service of those who in our day labor to bring the blessed Word to tribes and peoples over the whole earth in their respective tongues. But while we thus facilitate the winging of the Gospel over land and sea, shall we neglect our own? If the language of 1611 is not the language of 1950, is it well to favor the latter for our growing generation?

A little girl from a Christian home asked me. “Why do I have to suffer to come to Jesus?” Upon my reply that Jesus loves children and makes those happy who come to Him, she quoted what she had learned in Sunday School, and what she understood Jesus Himself had said. “Suffer, little children to come to me.” How utterly contrary to our Lord’s intention! Bismarck once said, “The purpose of words is to conceal thoughts.” But divine revelation is to reveal His thoughts. For this child the words of the A.V. failed to convey our Lord’s gracious invitation and no dignity or rhythm can make up for such a failure. The child is entitled to language in which it thinks and lives and in this right all human beings share.

[81] Who knows how many Christian converts, young or old, have grown discouraged as they tried conscientiously to read their Bible and came across so many unfamiliar words and unaccustomed word-endings they could not appropriate! Were they really Christians? If so, why are not these sacred words more interesting? Why different from their native tongue?

Because during my years with children and youth up and down this country these facts kept glaring me in the face, I began many years ago to translate from the A.V. into current language. Most of it was done by way of relaxation, away from home, at odd spare moments and almost all from the Old Testament. In fact, the Babe Moses story of Exodus 2 got me started. Read it and you will see why! No child could understand the first four verses and few adults could be of much help. Through the years piles of papers, all typewritten, have been stacked high on my shelves and they will never be published: but they prepared me, though unintentionally, for the later New Testament work.

My interest in Greek began with my freshman year in college. The late Joseph Ernest McAfee had just returned from his year abroad, most of which he spent in Greece, trying out his classics among the people. For me the two years of preparatory work had been rather enjoyable but Greek had been one of too many studies. Our young professor, who looked like a young Greek of Plato’s day, infused us with his love for everything Hellenic and made us believe with him that this was something we could not afford to neglect. And this we kept up for the four years. Naturally, in Princeton Seminary New Testament became my specialty and a fellowship was earned enabling me to continue studies abroad.

My life-work, with my church’s Board of Education, allowed me little time for further studies other than those I was expected to teach; but all my work was Christian education so that personal use of the New Testament in the original could be continued, and the hope that some day I might do my own translating of it was never given up.

My first reason for setting to work on so arduous a task has been given: God’s Word in today’s language. I found that others had felt a similar urge half a century ago. There is Moffatt, whose vocabulary is remarkable, and Goodspeed who purposely used commoner words. Also Weymouth, the Englishman, whom I liked best. They served their generation well; but the urge was in me to do my part and there are phases of the work I had in mind which they have not touched. The Revised Standard Version (R.S.V.) which came out after mine, would not have altered my plan. For I aimed at a translation less interpretive than Moffatt’s, more cultured in language than Goodspeed’s, more American than Weymouth’s and freer from the King James Version than the Revised Standard.

The last of these is farthest from what I had in mind. Turn to Matthew 9 and count “and” six times in four verses. These conjunctions were needed in the original because it had no punctuation marks. They are mostly superfluous in modern English. But the R.S.V. retains five of them. Twice “behold” occurs, a word out of use today, but perpetuated [82] in the R.SV. Even the ejaculation, “God forbid!”, the equivalent of which is nowhere found in the entire Bible’s original language, appears in Luke 20:16, though in the Pauline Writings it is properly eliminated for the right translation. *

When I began my translating I did not know that Weymouth had supplied footnotes; but I did know there was need for them, if only to avoid interpreting within the text, as Moffatt so often does. Phillips, whose “Letters To Young Churches” did not come out till 1948, has marvelously succeeded in combining translation with interpretation and he so confessedly presents his work; but it remains dangerous. Of Moffatt it has been said with some justice, “Hard telling where revelation ends and Moffatt begins.”

To many readers brief footnotes render helpful service and at times the translator cannot do well without them. For instance the word “flesh,” which in Gen. 2:23 means what we might mean by it. In Gen. 6: 3 that is not precisely the same meaning. Man, who resists God’s ways, is called fIesh.—not just his body but his whole being. But when Paul mentions flesh he is thinking in terms of the human being, particularly the soul, as lacking the Spirit of God, i.e. ungodly human nature. All of which would be hard to translate; but a brief footnote clears it up.

Another instance concerns love and hate. In Luke 14:26 our Lord tells the crowds, “Whoever comes to me without hating his father, etc. … cannot be my disciple.” But in John 13:34 he epitomizes His constant teaching of love by saying, “I give you a new command, that you love one another.” How do hate and love contrast? It may help us to join the group at the Lake of Galilee after His resurrection as pictured in John 21:15-17. Self-confident Peter had exclaimed before they entered Gethsemane, Mat. 26:33, “Though all the rest feel scandalized on your account. I never!” Jesus planned to reinstate him, but not without a trial. The love, of which He spoke, roots in appreciation; it is the love of John 3:16, agape. “Do you prize Me more dearly than these do?” How could Peter say that he did! He could not and used a word for love that implies friendship, philia. This happened twice; then Jesus used Peter’s word for love and let him through on that.

It is this “prize dearly” of which the verb “hate” in the above admonition is the opposite; so it comes to this: “Whoever comes to me without prizing less dearly his father cannot be my disciple.” A brief footnote helps wonderfully to render this understandable.

For most Bible readers there is need of some chronology. We know that Usher’s efforts were not altogether successful, so that even in the King James Version its dating no longer appears. But we have surer data now and feel called to facilitate the reading wherever possible. Between data given us in the New Testament itself and historic witnesses, we are in position to approach correctness rather closely. But now and then there is need again of footnotes.

History tells us that King Herod, the First, died March 4 B.C. The Wise Men called on him before traveling on to Bethlehem and he waited for their return before having the boy babes murdered. But Joseph and [83] Mary had taken the Christ child to the temple when he was forty days old and had brought the smallest possible sacrifice; which means that the Wise Men had not been there yet. They came to the house; not to the stable, and there is no mention of their meeting Joseph there. He must have been out working. It would seem then that Jesus was born at least two months before Herod’s death. The traditional date of December 25th seems not far wrong; but not in the traditional year 1 Anno Domini. The year 5 B.C. seems more likely. The monk who tried to work out our Christian calendar, Dionysius Exiguus, a Roman abbot of the sixth century, did well with the materials on hand; but with him we are four or five years behind correct time. So is, by the way, the Church of Rome with her jubilees.

Luke informs us that Jesus began His ministry at the age of thirty and that John the Baptist, six months older, started his preaching in the 15th year of Tiberius, who became emperor 11-12 A.D. In John 2: 20 the Jews assert that their temple has been under reconstruction for 46 years and we know that Herod commenced the rebuilding in 20-19 B.C., which would make that the year 27 A.D. and John’s appearance in 26 A.D. If, as it seems, there were four Passovers in connection with our Lord’s ministry, then He was baptized late 26 or early 27 and was crucified early April of the year 30.

The early part of Acts is dated by the ascension, forty days after His resurrection, with Pentecost ten days later; the stoning of Stephen which could hardly have occurred while there was a governor over the land, but probably happened after Pilate had been removed in 37 and before his successor had arrived. Acts 12 reports the death of Herod Agrippa, who slew the apostle James, both occurring in 44. The opening of the 18th chapter tells of the expulsion of the Jews from Rome by Claudius, who died in 54 and had for many years favored the Jews. In the same chapter Gallio is called proconsul of Achaia, a title that would not apply before 53. Almost certainly the Jewish riot occurred shortly after Gallio’s arrival that same year, for that would appear to be their best chance.

A serious insurrection occurred in Palestine A.D. 55, led by an Egyptian, who escaped when Felix attacked and decimated them; hence Lysias’ suspicion, Acts 21: 38. For two years Felix retained Paul in prison, then in the year 60 he returned to Rome, being succeeded by the governor Festus.

Another distinctive feature. which, we feel convinced, should be observed in all our Scriptures, is the capital initial for pronouns of Deity, both for reverence and for clarity. In the Gospels this plan requires close scrutiny, for the question is not whether our Lord deserves the distinction but whether those who addressed Him ascribed Deity to Him. Certainly the opponents did not at any time. And His followers did not customarily until after His resurrection. At one or two exalted moments, such as Peter’s confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” that height is momentarily reached; but it was not retained.

The intention of evil spirits presents difficulties. Some addressed Him as God’s Son, Mat. 8:29, or “Son of the Most High God.” But [84] their acknowledged ruler was Satan; they did not reverence the Triune God; they did not intend to honor Christ.

In most cases the distinction between persons to whom pronouns belong is quite clear; but occasionally the initial capital serves to facilitate the reading. In Mat. 8:14, “Entering Peter’s home Jesus noticed his mother-in-law bedridden with fever.” In His conversational way of telling parables, as in Mat. 13: 27, 28, the pronoun “him” makes it sun-clear that, although Jesus is talking, the pronoun refers to the speaker in the parable. And where John the Baptist summons messengers to question Jesus, “When the men reached Him,” certifies whom they reached.

Because there is one single, outstanding day to which no other day can be compared, i.e. the Day of His Coming, we have at all times designated it by use of an initial capital.

The fourth distinctive feature of this translation is the retention of words, clauses, and passages which are not found in the original from which we have translated, but they were in the originals from which the men of 1611 translated and therefore in the New Testament to which today’s Bible readers are still accustomed. Naturally, my translation had the gaps that occur in all modern Versions, and I hold no brief against those who have so presented their work to the public; but I could not bring myself to do it. If the only readers were new converts, either from American or other paganism, no great harm might be done; but to those accustomed to the King James Version, these gaps come with a shock, which to me seems happily avoidable. Our Lord has a tender feeling toward “these little ones,” and we do well not to offend them. Every word so conserved is in full agreement with our Sacred Writings and some are precious, such as Mat. 18:11, “The Son of Man has come to save the lost.” As stated in the preface, we indicate these portions by means of parentheses.

We seem to be alone in what seems to be the correct translation of the discourse between the Phoenician mother and Jesus, Mat. 15:21-28. She sought healing for her daughter; Jesus sought a chance to educate His apostles. “It is not fair,” He said, “to take the children’s bread and to throw it to the doggies.” According to the original He did not speak of dogs, but of little dogs or pups, a much milder phrase, not kunes but kunaria. The mother did better than my fellow-translators have done; she caught on to His gentleness and she won. A retired missionary from China, who came across this reading, smiled happily because so he had himself translated it this way to his people.

Of another translation I am not equally confident and have much hesitated; but I feel it should be observed. Both Heb. 11:32 and James 2:25 have made use of the Septuagint which designated Rahab of Jericho, a harlot. We know she managed an inn. Women did not travel; only men would frequent an inn; she was therefore a woman who entertained men overnight. Perhaps all such women were called harlots; but the Hebrew word from which it is translated into the Septuagint Greek is Zona, which may mean innkeeper. We so translate it because of her personal qualities which do not suggest the harlot we think of [85] today. Rahab believed in God and protected His messengers. She was trusted by her loved ones, who were saved from destruction with her. She had flax on her roof which meant industry to transform part of it into linen and part into oil wicks, and she married a man of high repute. †

There is also a verse, Lk. 3 :23, which in the forthcoming edition of B.V. has words in a different position from the usual. The 22nd verse acquaints us with the Holy Spirit’s descent upon Jesus after His baptism. In the 23rd verse the emphasis is on Jesus Himself (autos en Iesous) “Jesus Himself, supposedly Joseph’s son, began His ministry at about thirty, being a descendant of Heli, whose ancestors … .” Before resetting this sentence we consulted three New Testament Greek scholars, two of whom gave me their approval.

Another correction of some importance is the last clause of Rom. 4:25, which reads in the King James Version “and was raised again for our justification.” We have it in the fifth edition, “by reason of our justification” with a footnote, “The resurrection of Christ was God’s declaration that all believers in Him are made righteous.”

We may conclude with the last petition in the prayer He taught us, Mat. 6:13. It is a threefold plea, first for our Father’s guidance; further for a path away from temptation, and not as we would have prayed for strength against temptation; then supremely for deliverance apo tou ponerou, “from the wicked one.” Our Lord is not speaking of a principle but of a person. He had faced and fought the Devil during his ministry without let-up. He was tempted for us and He overcame for us. We must be tested but not tempted; we must pray: “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the Evil One.” So I learned to pray as a little child in Holland and so I have continued praying, although in public I must audibly follow the popular translation.


*A contrary opinion about the translation of μη γενοιτο is expressed by Henry Alford in his New Testament for English Readers. Alford states that “God forbid is the only adequate rendering of the expression in the original, let it not be, for it implies a reference to an averting Power, and the occasion is solemn enough to justify in our language the mention of that Power.” (Note on Romans 6:2.) Likewise Daniel Wallace in his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics explains that the optative form γενοιτο is used in this expression because “the voluntative optative seems to be used this way in the language of prayer.” (p. 481, emphasis added.) If this is true, then Verkuyl’s translation “Not at all!” does not convey the sense as well as the traditional “God forbid” does. —M.D.M.

† Verkuyl’s assertion that the participle זוֹנָה (the ordinary Hebrew word for “prostitute”) means “innkeeper” in the case of Rahab is by no means credible, although it is encountered often enough in pseudo-scholarly commentaries (e.g. Adam Clarke). It relies entirely upon the euphemistic rendering פונדקיתא in the Aramaic Targum Jonathan in Joshua chapter 2 and 6, and it is not supported by any of the lexicons. But even if this meaning could be assigned to the Hebrew word in this context, it cannot also be claimed that the Greek word πορνη used in Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25 means “innkeeper.” The Greek word unambiguously denotes a “prostitute,” and it is the Greek which must be translated in a version of the New Testament. Nevertheless, a note on Hebrews 11:31 in Verkuyl’s version illogically states, “Only if all female innkeepers were immoral may the usual translation stand.” We note that זוֹנָה is also translated “innkeeper” in Joshua 6:17, 22, and 25; but strangely enough it is translated “harlot” in Joshua 2:1, where the reference is to Rahab. —M.D.M.