The following transcript is one of Ronald Reagan’s famous radio addresses. In this address (which aired September 6, 1977), Ronald Reagan, the great orator, eloquently gives his thoughts on the “Good News Bible” (also called the Good News for Modern Man and Today’s English Version) in comparison to the Authorized Version or the King James Bible.
What would you say if someone decided Shakespeare’s plays, Charles Dicken’s novels, or the music of Beethoven could be rewritten & improved?
I’ll be right back. . .
Writing in the journal “The Alternative”, Richard Hanser, author of The Law & the Prophets and Jesus: What Manner of Man Is This?, has called attention to something that is more than a little mind boggling. It is my understanding that the Bible (both the Old & New Testaments) has been the best selling book in the entire history of printing.
Now another attempt has been made to improve it. I say another because there have been several fairly recent efforts to quote “make the Bible more readable & understandable” unquote. But as Mr. Hanser so eloquently says, “For more than 3 1/2 centuries, its language and its images, have penetrated more deeply into the general culture of the English speaking world, and been more dearly treasured, than anything else ever put on paper.” He then quotes the irreverent H. L. Mencken, who spoke of it as purely a literary work and said it was, “probably the most beautiful piece of writing in any language.”
They were, of course, speaking of The Authorized Version, the one that came into being when the England of King James was scoured for translators & scholars. It was a time when the English language had reached it’s peak of richness & beauty.
Now we are to have The Good News Bible which will be in, “the natural English of everyday adult conversation.” I’m sure the scholars and clergymen supervised by the American Bible Society were sincerely imbued with the thought that they were taking religion to the people with their Good News Bible, but I can’t help feeling we should instead be taking the people to religion and lifting them with the beauty of language that has outlived the centuries.
Mr. Hanser has quoted from both the St. James Version & the Good News Bible some well known passages for us to compare. A few thousand years ago Job said “How forcible are right words!” [Job 6:25] The new translators have him saying “Honest words are convincing.” That’s only for openers. There is the passage [Eccl. 1:18], “For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow”. Is it really an improvement to say instead, “The wiser you are, the more worries you have; the more you know the more it hurts.”
In the New Testament, in Mathew, we read “The voice of the one crying in the wilderness. Prepare ye the way.” [Matthew 3:3] The Good News version translates that, “Someone is shouting in the desert. Get the road ready.” It sounds like a straw boss announcing lunch hour is over.
The hauntingly beautiful 23rd Psalm is the same in both versions, for a few words, “The Lord is my shepherd” but instead of continuing “I shall not want” we are supposed to say “I have everything I need.”
The Christmas story has undergone some modernizing but one can hardly call it improved. The wondrous words “Fear not: for; behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy” has become, “Don’t be afraid! I am here with good news for you.”
The sponsors of the Good News version boast that their Bible is as readable as the daily paper – and so it is. But do readers of the daily news find themselves moved to wonder, “at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth”? Mr. Hanser suggests that sadly the “tinkering & general horsing around with the sacred texts will no doubt continue” as pious drudges try to get it right. “It will not dawn on them that it has already been gotten right.”
This is Ronald Reagan. Thanks for listening.
— aired September 6, 1977