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. 🙂

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.

Studying Through the Bible for a Church.

Introduction:

There is a lack of biblical literacy in many, young and old, who attend Christian churches. This, sadly, occurs even amongst those in leadership positions. How is this to be remedied?

The issue is time for some – they simply lack the time or do not prioritize the time to spend in Scripture. The problem for others though is more complex – and more easily resolved – they lack the means. Jumping into Scripture can be a bit like jumping into the deep end of the pool. Some will scorn me for saying this – but there are many passages in the bible I find difficult to understand and some that throw me into a complete and depressive tizzy.

As a youth I discovered William Barclay‘s Daily Study Bible. Barclay had written commentaries on each book of the New Testament over a period of years for the Anglican church. They were divided into small daily segments for devotional reading and while fairly concise managed to hit deeply upon a wide variety of topics and to faithfully handle the Scriptures in many aspects. They were reasonable to read alongside of one’s devotional reading – unlike so many of today’s commentaries which are so voluminous that one could never make progress in reading through the entirety of the Scriptures – mired always in the details.

I think there is a need for such a series today and for such a series to be promoted through the church and for weekly meetings to occur in which discussion of the past week’s readings can be discussed and pondered. I have hesitated thus far in recommending the DSB as such an option for several reasons:

  1. William Barclay while generally maintaining to Christian orthodoxy occasionally shows his underlying modernism – and this could be a significant concern for the new or young believer.
  2. The books are becoming somewhat dated, the quotations and illustrations not always relevant (I have not had a chance to read the revised editions, but these I understand to have dropped his own translation – which was a highlight to me of the originals).
  3. There is no citations and no bibliographic data providing a way for those who find a particular passage interesting or confusing to find further resources.

I have been and continue to look for such a resource to recommend to the church. Someday, I hope to write such a reference (I already have registered the domain for this purpose at layeredbible.com) but I do not have the time available to me at this juncture for such an endeavor – someday if the Lord wills, He will provide the time (I do not think I have unique insight into the Scriptures, rather I find myself more a compiler, cataloger, and synthesizer of those who have gone in the past or are now).

For the time being…I have continued my research and decided to share this research here in this post.

Options:

  • Lucado, Max. Life Lessons Series. Nelson Impact.
    • Covers the New Testament only.
    • Price is extremely reasonable at $6.99/volume.
    • Not what I’m looking for. While offering some good questions, etc. it doesn’t appear to provide much literary, historical, grammatical, theological, etc. info. You can see a sample chapter here.
  • The Navigators. LifeChange Series. NavPress.
    • Covers O.T. and N.T.
    • Price is extremely reasonable at $6/volume.
    • A sample is available here, unfortunately it is an introductory chapter – not an actual chapter on the text.
  • Willow Creek Association. New Community Series.
    • Covers some books of both the O.T. and N.T.
    • Priced at $6/volume.
  • Deepening Life Together Series. Baker Books.
    • Covers some NT books.
  • MacArthur, John. John MacArthur Study Guides. Nelson Impact.
  • LifeGuide Bible Studies. Inter-Varsity Press.
    • Priced at $6/volume.
  • NLT Life Application Bible Studies. Tyndale House.
    • Priced at $6/volume.
  • Wiersbe, Warren. Wiersbe Bible Study Series. David C. Cook.
    • Covers OT and NT.
    • Priced at $7/volume.
  • Stott, John. John Stott Bible Study Series. IVP Connect.
    • Price at $6/volume.
  • Wiersbe, Warren. Be Series. David C. Cook.
    • $10/volume.
  • Arthur, Kay. New Inductive Series. Harvest House Publishers.
    • O.T. and N.T.
    • $7/volume.
  • Blackaby, Henry, Melvin Blackaby, Thomas Blackaby. Blackaby Bible Study Series. Thomas Nelson.
    • N.T.
    • $8/volume.
  • Walk Through the Bible Series. Baker Books.
    • N.T.
    • $6/volume.
  • Wright, N.T. For Everyone Series. IVP Connect.
    • My Comment: I’m not a huge fan of Wright’s writing style in these commentaries. While Wright series is intended as a successor to Barclay’s volumes, thus far I’ve found them too sermonic in nature – too many stories that don’t relate directly to the text.
    • N.T.
    • $6.50/volume.

Bibliography

  1. I reviewed somewhere around 1100 items from Christian Book Distributor’s Bible Study and Curriculums section.

Faithlife Study Bible (ITS FREE!)

I’ve been a pretty huge fan of the NLT Study Bible – and still am…but the Faithlife Study Bible by the folks over at Logos is garnering some of my attention as well.

Logos is primarily known for its Logos Bible Software – some of the premier software for academics and ministry “professionals” studying the Scriptures.

Faithlife Study Bible's Beta Logo.
Faithlife Study Bible’s Beta Logo.

The Faithlife Study Bible (FSB) isn’t a book you can purchase – rather it is available digitally – on the web, on iOS, Android, or the Kindle Fire. It integrates with Logos Bible Software and Vyrso eBooks – so anywhere you can use these, you can use it.

What I love about the FSB – and what I’ve been saying needs to happen for some time now – is that the FSB keeps growing. It isn’t a static entity. They are constantly adding new resources and notes to the Bible!

Ohh, and did I mention the Faithlife Study Bible is free? Yup, no strings attached, free. They are giving away 2.5 million copies – which I hope is a “gimmick” to get folks to download it now and that when they hit 2.5 million copies that they will continue to give it away for free…It would actually make business sense for them to do so imho, as individuals who come to love the FSB will be much more likely to purchase their Logos and Vyrso products.

And in fact, the stinkers make the FSB a non-annoying advertising tool for their Logos products already. You get tons of information in the FSB, but if you want an even more in-depth look at a topic they link out to various resources they have available that contain more in-depth information – but those you have to pay for. See, sneaky…but a great way to win new customers – and they aren’t giving a crappy product away just to get additional product purchases – the FSB is a robust resource in and of itself.

So what exactly does the FSB include? First off, it uses the Lexham English Bible (LEB) as the underlying bible translation. This translation is part of Logos’ publishing arm – which creates “digital first” products. The LEB is a new English translation of the Scriptures. The LEB is included free with FSB, but the FSB can be used with other translations as well (including the ESV, KJV, NKJV, NRSV, NASB95, and NIV2011).

It currently includes (and remember, this is always expanding) over 240 photos of biblical locales, over 35 videos, and over 120 infographics, timelines, and tables…and let me tell you, these are not you sub-par infographics, timelines, etc. one finds littered across the internet!

It also includes the Lexham Bible Dictionary (another “digital first” publication by Logos) which has over 2,700 articles on a variety of biblical topics.

There are a bunch of other features I haven’t explored too much – including some powerful community options to facilitate group study of Scripture (e.g. by a church or small group). Hopefully this has been enough to whet your appetite – go get your free copy of the FSB now. You won’t regret it.