J.B. Phillips’ The New Testament in Modern English Revised Edition: Book Review

A Little Background

My Studies

I am preparing for a new series of sermons and leading a small group through the Gospel of Luke. Right now I’m refreshing my big picture understanding – so I’ve just finished reading through the entirety of Luke in J.B. Phillips’ translation.

JB Phillips' The New Testament in Modern English book cover for the Revised Edition.
JB Phillips’ The New Testament in Modern English book cover for the Revised Edition.

It occurred to me that this translation is quite good but not well-known and so I wanted to share it with you. ๐Ÿ™‚

In my personal studies of Scripture I have found I can sometimes go into “automatic” mode when reading Scripture – a mode that feels like it already knows what the text is saying or even worse that just wanders off elsewhere while my eyes still parse the text.

To overcome this dilemma I frequently use different translations of Scripture. I tend to do devotional reading in a single version over a period of time – till it has become familiar and then move to another translation – and so on. After a while away from a translation I find the words are again crisp and fresh.

When I’m preparing a sermon I like to read from as many different translations as possible. While there are various levels of literal fidelity to the original languages in translations, every translation (even the most literal) is to some extent an interpretation or commentary upon the Scriptures. Reading different versions highlights the different ways different individuals have thought about these particular passages in a concise way which can then be further explored via commentaries, original languages, and other resources.

J.B. Phillips

J.B. Phillips was an Anglican clergyman who began translating some of the Scriptures into “modern” language during World War II. His ministry was in a heavily bombed area and the translation occurred under this recurring threat.

His translation was well-liked and garnered admiration from none other than C.S. Lewis. He also saw his translation being used “authoritatively” and felt that it was not good enough so he went about retranslating it.

Phillips completed the entire New Testament as well as some books of the Old Testament. His New Testament is best known.

Throughout his life he struggled with depression and reflects a theological perspective more reminiscent of William Barclay’s “liberal evangelical” than fundamentalist or evangelical generally.

You can read more about his life on Wikipedia.

Michael D. Marlowe has written a fairly extensive review of the translation along with some analysis of Phillips’ more heterodox views for those looking to evaluate a little more deeply the merits of the man and the translation. Another interesting article on the same topic is available from the Tyndale Society and authored by Hilary Day.

Why Use The Phillips Translation?

As I noted earlier, I read from numerous translations – I’ve spent time with the KJV, NKJV, NIV, NLT, ESV, HCSB, LEB, The Message, The Living Bible – and the list could go on.

I do not necessarily see one translation as superior to the other but each providing insights that another may not have been able to highlight. I use the ESV, LEB, NASB when working with the details, but utilize the NLT and NIV1The NIV and the HCSB are both mid-way translations, somewhere between the fairly strictly literal approach of the ESV/NASB and the dynamic/thought-for-thought translations like the NLT/Living Bible. when working more big picture.

So, I am not suggesting this should be your bible – but that it is a good bible. If you come across passages that sound different from what your more literal bible says – compare them, do some research – one often learns fascinating things because of the differences in translation.

I find Phillips’ translation to be fairly literal overall but at times it strays significantly into thought-for-thought territory. The language is contemporary and has that British flare to it which brings a different flavor than our American translations.

Phillips’ is good at making the text flow and showing the connections between texts. If your translation feels a little stale – give it a try – or any one of the numerous other excellent translations/paraphrases out there…just know what you are getting (e.g. The Message is a very free-form paraphrase, I still think it has a place, but it is for that place and not every place).

For Free

You can read the Phillip’s New Testament online for free, though I am unsure that this edition is the same as the translation I read (1972), it may be the earlier and looser translation he made. It is available from both the Christian Classics Ethereal Library and Bible Gateway. You can also purchase a newer edition (the one I read) from Amazon.

Book Review: Metamorpha (Author: Kyle Strobel)

Cover of Kyle Strobel's book Metamorpha
Cover of Kyle Strobel’s book Metamorpha.

Coming in with Low Expectations…

I am a voracious reader and my interests cover a variety of topics. One of my specialties, so to speak, is books on Christianity. I enjoy a number of Christian authors and am constantly expanding my interests.

Not too long ago I received a promotional copy of a new book by Kyle Strobel entitled Metamorpha: Jesus as a Way of Life. Promotional books oftentimes aren’t of the greatest quality and when I saw that this was, in fact, Lee Strobel‘s son (Case for Faith, Case for Christ, Case for a Creator) I was underwhelmed. I had tried Strobel’s Case for a Creator and while the volume had grasped my interest initially, I became discombobulated and bored as the volume continued.

I felt like Lee’s writing skills as an investigative journalist didn’t carry over well to full-length volumes and this challenge for journalists seemed to be confirmed by David Aikman‘s The Delusion of Disbelief. In any case, my skepticism was high, but I began to plunge ahead – and I was pleasantly surprised.

But Pleasantly Surprised…

Kyle Strobel writes with clarity, honesty, and wisdom I have seldom encountered except among some of the greatest authors. I can rank him without hyperbole alongside C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity, Chronicles of Narnia) and George MacDonald (Diary of an Old Soul, Unspoken Sermons). The quality of his writing is superb, the content is clear and concise, the depth of his knowledge is impressive.

Strobel is young. Very young. But his work deserves the attention not only of this generation but also of the elder generations. With the wisdom of Solomon he carefully examines the faults of the elder and younger generations. Unlike so many contemporary writers who are blinded by the faults of the other generation Strobel is careful to pull the plank out of each generation’s eye as he seeks to unfold a clearer vision of following Christ.

Read If…

If you are looking for visionary insight into following Jesus,
Or you desire to deepen your walk with God. Or even to understand who this God is and why you should care,
If you find yourself in conflict with those of other generations,
Or are simply looking for deep, heart-wrenching, intellectual, theological stimulation – get ready to take a wild ride.

A Review of Scribd’s Subscription eBook Service

Photo of a Hallway with Bookshelves Against One Wall and Lights Hanging from Ceiling

Introduction

[ This review replaces an earlier and much more positive review I had written about Scribd. ๐Ÿ™ ]

I love books! I frequent libraries and bookstores and love the books I keep on our shelves at home. I’m also a big fan of subscription services and have been using some of them since their earliest days (Netflix, Dollar Shave Club). So when you offer me (e)books in a subscription format I’m eager to give it a try.

In the past I’ve subscribed to Amazon Kindle Unlimited (at least twice) but found that while the collection is huge the quality is lacking. Sure, there are tons of good books, but for every good book there seems to be a dozen worthless ones. I just haven’t had good luck finding books I wanted to read with Kindle Unlimited.

NOTE: I read almost exclusively nonfiction, so for those looking for fiction volumes, Kindle Unlimited may be a good choice, I just can’t speak from personal experience!

The Good

Where Scribd hits it out of the ballpark for me is in the quality and number of books on topics I’m interested in. For example, their religion/theology section is AWESOME.

And from a cursory glance Scribd seems to hit most of the core functionality needed in an ebook service:

  • Accessible via the web.
  • Dedicated mobile app.
  • Create lists of ebooks.
  • Create highlights and notes.
  • Remember last page read.
  • Robust search.
  • Browsable library.

In addition Scribd offers access to a significant library of audio books and magazines and while not my primary concern, this is certainly a nice feature!

The Bad

Unfortunately, as I’ve spent more time with Scribd, I’ve found the service has a few really significant faults. While I’m still subscribed at the moment I’m planning to cancel soon. I hope they’ll rectify these issues in the near future and I’ll be happy to resubscribe. It is a service with so much potential!

Lists That Forget

I love making lists – so I make lists of books I want to read. I began doing so on Scribd but ran into a problem. When I hit ~500 books on my lists, Scribd begins silently dropping the books I added first to the list! There is no warning, it just happens.

I’ve confirmed with Scribd that this is the service functioning as expected and while they are considering changing this, I haven’t seen any change in the months I’ve been using the service nor have I heard that there are definite intentions to do so.

Highlighting Limitations

If you need to highlight text on a single page things work well but if you want to highlight across multiple pages to create a single continuous highlight you can’t. You have to create multiple highlights. This is basic functionality included with Amazon’s Kindle and something I’ve come to expect, its lack is quite frustrating…though if this was the only problem with highlighting, I’d make do.

To the above you can add issues with memory utilization on mobile. If you make multiple highlights using the Scribd app it becomes progressively slower and more difficult to highlight. Exiting the app and reopening it resolves this issue, but this occurs fairly quickly and if you are doing highlighting with any frequency you will be closing and reopening the app regularly.

Perhaps I could live with both of these, but when combined with a third issue – the inability to see highlights/notes in a single place – I’m just not willing to deal with that many problems (and with such basic functionality)!

Goodbye Highlights/Notes When Book Expires

Highlights/notes seem to be tied specifically to each volume, so when a book is removed from the service one loses all the highlights/notes associated with the book. This is absolutely unacceptable.

In addition, I am concerned about whether Scribd also silently deletes highlights/notes after some magical number as it does with saved lists. Are highlights/notes being silently deleted as I make new ones?

There are some services such as Suprada Urval’s Exifile which allow you to export notes/highlights and I’m incredibly thankful for Suprada creating such a utility, but even this utility requires us to go into each book we have highlights/notes to perform an export. This isn’t Suprada’s fault, its part of the limitations of Scribd mentioned above.

Is It Worth It?

I was quite excited about Scribd when it was first released, but I’m pretty disappointed now. Depending on the sort of reader you are, Scribd may still be a good choice – for me though it has fatal flaws. I’m hoping Scribd will resolve these issues and I’ll be able to write a glowing review in the near future.

What do you think? Do you use Scribd? Have you found another subscription service you prefer?

Photo by Janko Ferliฤ on Unsplash