King's College London
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'To make a good one better': translating the Bible

The Good News Bible

Opening from Bible including a line drawing showing Mary seated with her hands claspedThe Good News BibleThe American Bible Society produced a fresh English translation of the New Testament from the Greek in 1966, entitled Today’s English Version: Good news for modern man. Aimed at both native English speakers and those for whom English was a second language, it used a contemporary idiom.

Unlike the New English Bible, which aspired to a ‘timeless’ English, the compilers of Today’s English Version, led by Dr Robert G Bratcher, aimed at an effect of ‘dynamic equivalence’; in other words, they chose a style of English that they hoped would produce the same effect on 20th century readers as the Greek text had produced on those who first read it. Following completion of a fresh translation of the Old Testament, the whole work was published in 1976 as the Good News Bible.

As the Good News Bible aimed to use everyday contemporary idiom, separate American and British editions were published, to take account of the differences between American and British English. The British edition is shown here. One of its notable features was the metrification of weights and measures; thus, for example, the village of Emmaus is described by Luke as being ‘about eleven kilometres from Jerusalem.’, rather than seven miles away.

An innovative feature of both American and British editions was the inclusion of illustrations, delicate line drawings by the artist Annie Vallotton. The illustrated Bible has a long tradition (see, for example, the 16th century German Bibles in section 4), but the Good News Bible was the first major 20th century translation once again to use pictures to ‘translate’ the Bible into visual form.

The Good News Bible was immediately popular, with a million copies of the British edition being sold in the first three months after publication. It was widely praised for the accuracy and intelligibility of its translation and for its helpful glossary and index, though the prosaic quality of its rendering of some of the poetical books of the Old Testament came in for a good deal of criticism.

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