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What is the J. B. Phillips translation of the Bible?

J. B. Phillips translation
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John Bertram Phillips (1906—1982) was an Anglican minister in London. He found that his congregation had difficulty with the language of the King James Version. He sought to produce a translation that would be easier to understand, and the result was the New Testament in Modern English, often simply called the Phillips translation.

Because of war conditions in 1941 when Phillips started the project, he had few resources to work with other than his own Greek New Testament. (Today, most translations are produced by teams of scholars and editors, but Phillips worked alone.) After using his translations with his congregation for about a decade, his work began to be published:

• 1952 – Letters to Young Churches (The Epistles). C. S. Lewis wrote the Introduction in which he explained the need for a work like Phillips’ and its benefits.
• 1955 – The Young Church in Action (Acts)
• 1957 – The Book of Revelation
• 1958 – The Gospels Translated Into Modern English
• 1958 – The New Testament in Modern English (the complete New Testament)
• 1963 – Four Prophets (Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah). Phillips never completed the Old Testament.

J. B. Phillips says he was not concerned about “minute accuracy” but rather wanted to convey the “vitality and radiant faith as well as the courage of the early church” (from the Introduction to The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition, Simon and Schuster, 1972, p. vii).

Today, English-speaking Christians have dozens of Bible translations as well as paraphrases to choose from. Each one, if done with integrity, is an attempt to communicate the meaning of the original Hebrew or Greek into English. There is no one-to-one correspondence of words between different languages, so translation is an art as well as a science. In Phillips’ day, there were very few translation options, and many saw his work as a breath of fresh air compared to the archaic language of the Authorized (King James) Version.

The J. B. Phillips translation can still be used with profit today, although we would recommend a translation done by a team of scholars, like the NIV or ESV, as the primary Bible for reading and study.

Below are examples of the J. B. Phillips translation compared to the NIV and ESV:

Ephesians 1:1
NIV: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:

ESV: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Phillips: Paul, Special Messenger of Jesus Christ by God’s choice, to all faithful Christians at Ephesus (and other places where this letter is read):

Romans 5:1–2

NIV: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

ESV: Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Phillips: Since then it is by faith that we are justified, let us grasp the fact that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have confidently entered into this new relationship of grace, and there we take our stand, in happy certainty of the glorious things He has for us in the future.

J. B. Phillips wrote a total of 26 books, including his translation work. His New Testament in Modern English remains a readable, vivid translation for modern readers. C. S. Lewis gave it high praise: “It is like looking at a familiar picture after it has been cleaned” (www.jbphillips.org, accessed 12/28/21).

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022