On the Need for Bible Translation

With many translations of the New Testament already available, is there a need for yet another? There is a need for the New Testament Recovery Version because there is a progressive recovery of truth among God’s children. The truth has been revealed gradually throughout the ages, and in each age the level of revelation has affected the understanding of the Bible as well as the translation of the Bible. Every translation necessarily bears the understanding of its translators. In bringing the ancient text into a modern language, the translators must first understand the original in terms of the original and, in many cases, interpret the original. Every translation, then, is the record of the translators’ understanding of the original text. After 70 years of Bible study, we too have an understanding of the ancient text. In many places our understanding depends upon and corresponds to what has been handed down to us through the ages, but we must admit that we have seen things that not all today see. Our understanding of the truth, then, compels us to render the text according to what the Lord has shown us. Every major Bible translation group understands this principle.

Translation Methodology

The Recovery Version conforms to a particular philosophy of Bible translation which is admittedly not in vogue today. Every translation of the Bible embodies a philosophy about what the Bible is, about the relation of its writers to God, and even about God Himself. The trend today is away from a more literal rendering of the ancient text toward a more literary one; newer translations seek to make the Bible easy to read and understand. But while we do not aim for obscurity, we contend that the deep things of God are not simple for human language, that the mind of Christ is not shallow or easily explained, and that the content of the Bible comes not merely through our renderings but by the Spirit through spiritual words. Our view about Bible translation reflects Paul’s words to the Corinthians concerning the ministry in general: "Which things also we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things with spiritual words" (1 Cor. 2:13). Our words, our translation, must be with spiritual words, else the Spirit, we maintain, has no way nor any responsibility to bear the spiritual things of the Bible to our readers. We admit that translation of this sort is sometimes not the easiest to read or comprehend, but we are compelled to sacrifice easy reading for deeper truth. Though we are for the casual reading of the Bible, we maintain that the Bible is to be studied carefully, and we so translate it, attempting to leave in our work the fine points expressed in the original.

The Recovery Version embodies a multitude of decisions on the original form of the Greek text. Every major translation of the New Testament follows for the most part the accepted edition of the Greek text of its day, but no translation is expected to accept every decision of the Greek editions. Translators must grapple with the manuscript question to their own satisfaction. While the Recovery Version follows the Nestle-Aland 26th edition for the most part, it has departed here and there based on the study and consideration of the manuscripts by its translators. Thus, the Greek text underlying the Recovery Version is unique, even if it is quite close to the accepted scholastic edition of the day.

Study Aids

The New Testament Recovery Version has several critical components which no other versions can offer: extensive footnotes stressing the revelation of the truth, the spiritual light, and the supply of life; in-depth outlines of each book expressing the spiritual meaning in each book; and cross references leading not only to verses with similar language but also to portions with related spiritual revelation. These components could not be attached to any existing versions because the language of the older versions is too archaic for our purposes and the copyright restraints of the newer versions prohibit our employing them in such a way. Thus, from the linguistic and legal perspectives we need our own text of the New Testament to which we can attach these components.

The Importance of Translation

The translation of the Bible is one of the greatest endeavors that Christians can set themselves to do, not only into languages that lack a proper translation of the Scriptures, but even into languages that already possess a number of good translations. Such an endeavor, far from evidencing a desire simply "to be different" or indicating disdain for what others have previously done, manifests a seriousness in Bible study and a love for God’s Word that befits all believers. As disciples of the Lord, we should diligently study the Bible to the greatest degree possible, depending on what gifts God has graciously given us. If we are able to, we should even go so far as to translate the Scriptures on our own to better understand the text and to better apprehend the light in God’s Word. If God has enabled us to delve into His Word this deeply, we do well to labor on His Word to this extent, for in translating from the original languages of the Bible, we so immerse ourselves in the text that we can only better perceive what the Spirit of God is saying to us in His Word. The Bible is the only book that deserves to be translated again and again, and each new translation affords the believers better access to the truth in His Word. In properly translating the Bible, we do not diminish its worth or impact; rather, we glorify the Word of God and thus its Supreme Author.

The Historical Validation of Translation

In the Old Testament

The impetus for translating the Bible is almost as old as the Bible itself. In even as early a time as that of Nehemiah, translation of the Scriptures became necessary for the people of God, and the Bible itself records that Ezra the scribe, with many assistants, "read in the book, in the law of God, interpreting and giving the sense, so that [the people] understood the reading" (Neh. 8:8). We know that part of this "interpreting and giving the sense" was rendering the words of Scripture from Hebrew into Aramaic, the language of the returned exiles; hence, the Bible itself validates its need for translation.

In the New Testament

Later, after the Old Testament canon had been written and the Jews had dispersed throughout the Mediterranean lands, the first complete translation of the Hebrew Scriptures was executed by Jewish scholars in Greek between the mid-third and late second century BC. For the most part, Old Testament quotations contained in the New Testament are drawn from this translation, called the Septuagint, and by this again the Bible validates the need for its own translation.

For the Church

Even though the early church, existing in a predominately Greek-speaking world, did not generally require translation of the Greek New Testament, translation into a number of the other languages of the Roman Empire began early and was widespread. Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Georgian, and Armenian translations of the Scriptures were produced for the needs of the spreading church. And for the growing church in the West, a number of Latin translations, of varying quality, appeared. By the end of the fourth century, the need for a single, common translation into Latin motivated Jerome to bring forth his spectacular Vulgate, the translation of the Scriptures that sustained the church in the West for over a thousand years, well beyond the time of the Reformation. Even though we normally think of the Reformation as a period of blossoming for Bible translations, Jerome’s Vulgate actually served as the scriptural platform for the Lord’s move at the time, since much of the polemical writing of this era is in Latin and depends on Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible. Further, many early translations of the Scriptures into English were made, not from Greek or Hebrew as might be expected, but from Jerome’s monumental and classic work into Latin. For example, Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible in the early 14th century, the first in Europe in a nearly thousand years, was based upon Jerome’s Vulgate. But it is indeed the case that the Protestant Reformers, armed with a particular recovery of light and truth in the Scriptures, picked up the task of translating the Bible into the languages of the Europeans with full vigor. Luther, easily the most dominant figure of the Reformation, is also easily the most influential Bible translator of all time. His approach to the translation of the Bible into German, completed in 1534, influenced a number of translators in other languages, including William Tyndale, who, around the same time, was the first to translate the Bible into English entirely from its original languages.

For the Further Recovery of the Truth

As the recovery of truth progressed across the centuries, serious students of the Bible each in turn took up the task of translating the Scriptures, either as personal exercises or as fully executed versions (e.g., J. N. Darby, Conybeare and Howson, Henry Alford, Kenneth Wuest). Their devotion to and love for the Bible made possible a broad range of good translations which have rendered immense help to those equally serious students who have not been able to translate the Scriptures on their own. In our own time, we also have approached the Word of God seriously and diligently. Both Watchman Nee and Witness Lee desired to study the Bible thoroughly, so that the Lord would open the Word richly among us. While Watchman Nee at times translated short portions of the Scriptures for his messages, it was Witness Lee who realized the great need for and recognized the great benefit in translating the Bible by ourselves and for ourselves. In 1974, as he embarked upon the life-study of the Bible, he initiated the work of translating the New Testament into English, directing a small team to translate from the original language as the life-study progressed through the entire New Testament. Numerous improvements in the translation of the text and an appreciable augmentation in the body of footnotes were published in a revised edition in 1991.

We worship the Lord that He has placed in the hearts of so many of His believers a genuine love for His Word, and that He has also enabled us to attend to the Scriptures to the extent that we have. We praise Him that through His servants Watchman Nee and Witness Lee, He has opened up to us the inexhaustible riches of the Bible and has led us into the depths of the divine revelation. We thank Him that by His grace we had the opportunity to translate the entire Bible and to place the Recovery Version in the hands of the Lord’s lovers and seekers. May the Lord bless each of its readers!