A Review of the William F. Beck Translation of the New Testament
Luther W. Martin
The complete title of Dr. Becks translation. Is: "The New Testament, In the Language of Today." Dr. Beck, being of the Lutheran persuasion, issued his work through the Concord a Publishing House, St. Louis, Mo., with the copy which I have used being from the "fifth printing, slightly revised." (1964).
That the translator has substantial admiration for Holy Scripture, we do not doubt; and, that he desires to render the New Testament into "the language of today" we do not question. However, we believe that he has perhaps sacrificed some historical accuracy in order to achieve modern literary style and readership.
Careless Use of the Word "Bible"
The word "Bible" is used some 112 times in Beck's New Testament. This tends to leave the uninformed with the impression that the book now called the "BIBLE" was in existence in the time of Christ and His apostles. Of course we hasten to add that the Old Testament books WERE in existence, but the term "Bible" did not come into common usage until the fifth century. Further, throughout his work, Dr. Beck calls the "scribes" by such terms as "Bible scholars," "a man trained in the Bible," "Bible student," and "those who know the Bible" . . . to name a few.
The Greek words used and rendered "Books" are; (1) Biblion, a paper, letter, written document; a book, a roll. (2) Biblos, a book, a roll . . . with a connotation of sacredness and veneration. (3) Biblaridion, a little book . . . and used only in the tenth chapter of Revelation. An entirely different word is used for the term "scribe" . . . it is grammateus, which means secretary, scribe, or a teacher of the law. This word is related to gramma, that which is traced or drawn a picture, that which is written, etc. But to render grammateus or gramma, as a Bible scholar, etc., is historically inaccurate; it is interpolative rather than interpretative.
Careless Use of the Name "Christian"
Dr. Beck inserts the proper noun, "Christian" some 190 more times than it is actually used. Only the Greek word Christianos is properly translated "Christian" . . . in Acts 11:26, 26:28, and 1 Pet. 4:16. These are the ONLY three instances in which the word "Christian" can accurately be used in the entire Bible. Yet, Beck has inserted the term 193 times in his translation.
Beck inserts "Christian" for the first time in John 21:23, in lieu of the Greek word for "disciple," which is mathetes. Yet, even Beck's translation renders Acts 11:26
"It was in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians." Thus, the church in Antioch was the first occasion and location in which the disciples had this new name applied to them; while Beck's unhappy usage would have the term used relative to a situation prevailing several years earlier. Again, this leads me to suggest that Beck's rendering is historically misleading.
Careless Use of "Saturday" and "Sunday"
The Greek New Testament uses two different expressions to designate the "first day of the week." Specifically, the word mia, which means "one," and protos, which means "first" or "foremost." Further, the word "sabbaton" or "sabbatou" which refers to the sabbath, was frequently used to designate the entire period of time from sabbath to sabbath. Thus, "mia ton sabbaton' literally meant the first (day) or first time designation of the week. It is so rendered in Acts 20:7 in our well known English versions. Similarly, the word "protos" is used in Mark 16:9 and "prose sabbatou" is rendered the first day of the week, in the better known English versions. Beck inserts the term "Sunday" in his translation . . . and although he is accurate in calling the first day of the week, "Sunday," nevertheless it was a term that did not come into general use until long after the time of the Apostles.
Instead of rendering "sabbaton" as the "sabbath," Beck uses Saturday . . . and, here again, he is correct, but such usage leaves the impression with the readers of his translation, that such terms were in use in the time of Christ . . . which is grossly incorrect.
Other Unusual Handling of Holy Scripture
In Gal. 6:12 and 14, Dr. Beck decided to use capitals for the first letter of the word "Cross".... in reference to the "Cross of Christ." He used the capital "C" in these instances in the Galatian letter, but in some 24 other times in his translation, he used the lower case "c". We wonder why he arbitrarily decided to use the upper case in the three instances?
In Mark 5:9 and Luke 8: 30, Dr. Beck gives the name of the unclean spirit as being "Six Thousand," because we are many. In one instance he gives it with a capital "T" for thousand, and in the other, he does not capitalize. We are not really concerned about a lack of consistency in spelling or punctuation, etc., but we do wonder upon what basis Dr. Beck arrived at the "Six Thousand" figure? .... without resorting to interpolation. Truly, at one time, the Roman army assigned six thousand men to a "legion" . . . but this figure varied all the way from three thousand to six thousand. Thus, to substitute a literal figure in place of the "legion" which is exactly what IS used in the Greek is beyond our comprehension.
One of the instances in which we feel Dr. Beck's Lutheranism is showing, is in Luke 21:12, wherein Christ is foretelling some of the happenings which would befall the disciples. He told how they would be persecuted being delivered up to the synagogues, into prisons, and being brought before kings and rulers. Dr. Beck uses the expression "church councils" in lieu of synagogues. Of course, Martin Luther WAS delivered up before a council of the Catholic Church.... but there is no basis whatsoever for inserting "church councils" in Luke 21:12. Such an erroneous rendering puts Christ supposedly in the position of recognizing and endorsing "church councils."
It is doubtful that Beck's translation will receive circulation scarcely outside of the Lutheran church. However, he has some worthwhile renderings in a limited number of passages . . . but the unhappy renderings greatly diminish the usefulness of his work.
TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 9, pp. 9-10 June 1966