The Simple English Bible

By Donald P. Ames

Recently the phone rang at the church building, and as I answered it, the lady on the other end began telling me about the new translation they had brought out under the above name. Apparently it has been done by brethren, and is “not a paraphrase” but a new and accurate translation, and is written on a fifth grade level of comprehension. As I reflected upon the conversation, there seemed a number of good ideas being offered, yet I was also surprised how little I really knew about the translation itself. They wanted to know if they could send the church 20 issues (return guaranteed) and let us look it over 15 days before deciding, so I said “go ahead.”

Several of us began examining it carefully to see how accurate and readable it was. Frankly, I must admit I found it very disappointing. The sentences were short and single thought (which they did on purpose to make for easier reading). However rather than simplify the understanding, in some cases it chopped it up so much it made it even harder to grasp. And some of the expressions therein would have required even more explanations than the KJV (such as t4orgies,” etc.) to children – an added disadvantage to those who might be already busy struggling to answer questions in booklets based on the KJV already. Although a “translation, ” it read much more like a paraphrase. And, sadly, in some places, they took almost as many liberties, while in others of complicated translation, they almost avoided changing it to avoid being “put on the spot” (or so it seemed).

Those received included only the New Testament, and that in a red hard-back binding (which did not impress me much for real quality). The N.T. was nicely laid out, but already about an inch and a half thick, which means by the time the O.T. would be added, we would be looking at a book 3-4 inches thick! Copyrighted in 1981 (American edition), it is published by Upward Productions, Inc. and apparently is being sold via phone solicitations rather than traditional book stores (at least for a beginning). O.T. quotes are set in and easily spotted, and listings of qualifications, events or genealogies are spaced on short successive lines so they can be easily read. Yet, none of us who examined it felt it was any easier to grasp than the New King James Bible or New American Standard Bible. Several said they felt it was so strange they simply did not care for it at all – and none of us felt it sufficiently interesting that we were interested in really purchasing a copy for our personal reading.

Some places made for good translations. “Baptism” is consistently translated “immersion” throughout. Matthew 16:19 is translated “will have already been” bound and loosed — correctly conveying the idea there. “Begot” is translated “fathered” and “fornication” is translated “sexual immorality.”

However, there are some rather poor translations made too, which were major factors in turning all of us against it. “Deacons” is translated simply as “servants” in 1 Timothy 3, which in view of modern usage, might have been better served by the word “deacon” instead. “Repent” is consistently translated “change your hearts” – an idea that might not necessarily convey a sign of regret or remorse for what was done wrong, but just simply altering into a different direction. “Tongues” in Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 12-14 (etc.) are not helped with the consistent translation of “inspired languages” — an idea almost beneficial to Pentecostals who could argue it was a “God-given language” and hence not designed to be understood. In 1 Corinthians 7 and other passages, the use of the expression “Christian woman” is so freely tossed about one would never believe this “accurate translation” realized the word “Christian” only appears three times in the Bible — and not once in 1 Corinthians 7 (where it appears 9 times in that chapter alone).

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “Upon this rock foundation, I will build my community – those called out by God.” This translation (?) sounds almost like he is talking about a local town or sub-division rather than the establishment of His church! Maybe since some of our liberal brethren are getting the church involved in real estate and housing projects, though, there is more to this verse than meets the eye!

While 1 Corinthians 11 has been a passage that has bothered those in favor of making an eating place out of the Lord’s meeting place, they took a major liberty to remove such objections of the passage in this new translation. In 1 Corinthians 11:34 it reads: “If someone comes only (Emp. mine – DPA) for the food, he should stay home and eat there!” Hence the way is opened for “coffee and donuts” etc., as long as one does not come “only” for the food. And this is not a paraphrase, but a translation? Where did that idea come from in the original? Liberal brethren are busy “feathering their own nests” here.

Acts 11:30, which so many liberals have sought to use to try to justify the concept of the sponsoring church, gets another dose of mistranslation in support of liberalism. Rather than Saul and Barnabas taking the funds to the elders of the churches in Judea where the brethren had the need, it is translated, “Then Barnabas and Saul brought it to the elders in Jerusalem.” This leaves the door wide open for the false practice of a sponsoring church, but not for a accurate translation!

2 Corinthians 9:13 is another passage liberal brethren have sought to lift from context (“all”) and try to apply to universal benevolence. To do so, of course, they must not only ignore the contextual limitation of the word “all,” but accuse Paul of collecting the funds under one understanding (for the needy saints) and spending them under another (for all men). I would wonder if that would not fall under misrepresentation! So, this “translation” gives the liberals a little help by rendering it ambiguously: “Sharing with them or anyone else (emp. mine – DPA) shows that you are generous.”

In 1 Corinthians 7:39 the door is opened for several different translations of questionable nature. It is rendered: “A Christian woman is bound by her marriage promise as long as her husband lives, but if her husband dies, she becomes free from it. She may marry anyone – anyone in the Lord Jesus.” I wonder if this is in support of the concept that “non-Christians” are not under the law of God? Is only a “Christian woman” so bound? And, the expression “only in the Lord” is definitely open to debate as to its meaning. However they chose to translate it (their option, of course) here “anyone in the Lord Jesus.”

Seventh-Day Adventists could find real comfort in the translation of Matthew 5:17, where, speaking of the Law and the Prophets, Jesus says, “I did not come to destroy them. I have come to give them their full meaning.” While that could include the idea of “fulfilling” them, it would have to come as an interpretation subject to argument, and not from this “accurate translation.” A much better translation could have been done here!

In Revelation 1:1 the Revelation of Jesus Christ was not spoken to John in symbolic language, signified, or even a question of literal or figurative translations. Following the example of the NASB (which unfortunately settled for “communicated it”), this translation also renders it simply “Jesus revealed it to John.” One wonders why they stayed so vague and uncommitted after so freely taking liberties in some of the other passages we have looked at.

Other translations of profitable or unprofitable nature include “elders” being referred to only as “overseers,” and “saints” translated as “holy ones.” Acts 8:37 is omitted from the text and included in a footnote, though both John 8 and Mark 16 are included in the text and a footnote questioning them is included.

Frankly, while there is a need for an easy to understand translation for people of today, and while I commend some of our brethren for an interest in such, unfortunately, as far as I am concerned, this is not much real benefit. I would rather commend the New King James Bible or the New American Standard Bible to those desiring something easier to understand. And, if you are unfamiliar with this “Simple English Bible,” maybe this review will help you be on your guard when you are approached about it. Examine it carefully if you are going to seriously consider it – it most likely could create more problems than it will help. And, if such be the case, it would hardly be beneficial in teaching people the truth without addition or subtraction – while busy showing what is wrong with this “simple” and easy to read translation (?).

Guardian of Truth XXX: 17, pp. 524-525
September 4, 1986