2015 02 07

I am interested in the usefulness of the Modern English Version (MEV) as a Bible Study tool. I have been interested ever since I learned about its production. This interest has led me to examine a number of verses in the MEV that have been traditionally scrutinized among Bible students. What follows are my findings. Since the greatest interest in the MEV will come from people who are passionately loyal to the King James Version (KJV) and the Textus Receptus (TR), much of my analysis will compare MEV with KJV.

Other abbreviations I will use:
GNB=Good News Bible
NRSV=New Revised Standard Version
RSV=Revised Standard Version
NIV=New International Version
MT=Masoretic Text

I will begin by pointing out passages that show MEV to be a strong translation. In particular, I will highlight passages in which MEV improves upon the reading of the KJV. Next, I will note passages in which MEV followed the KJV but, either obviously or by scholarly consensus, should have improved on the KJV renderings. Finally, I will observe passages in which MEV blindly followed the TR.

Where MEV improved on KJV’s renders:

Luke 23:33

When they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left.

The KJV has “Calvary” rather than “The Skull.” For some reason, the KJV translating team assigned to the Gospel of Luke decided to use the Latin word for “skull” (calvary) rather than the English word. The other major TR translation (NKJV) was reluctant to to make the move to English in this verse and thus retained “Calvary.” This verse speaks well for the MEV’s credability.

Acts 20:28

Therefore take heed to yourselves and to the entire flock, over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

The Greek in this passage (so I read) clearly shows the deity of Christ. To MEV’s credit, the deity of Christ is clear in this passage (contra GNB, NJB, NRSV, RSV).

Mark 6:20

... for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, but heard him gladly.

KJV has “observed” rather than “protected.” “Observed” is a faulty translation even for 17th century English. MEV, to its credit, did not follow KJV’s error in this verse.

2 Samuel 5:23

When David inquired of the Lord, He said, “You shall not go up. Circle around behind them and come against them opposite the trees.

KJV’s language here (“fetch a compass” rather than “circle around behind”) is not faulty. It’s just dated. MEV’s reading is superior by contemporary standards. I have noticed that MEV updates other dated KJV language at 1 Samuel 25:22 (and several others like it; although KJV may be better in 1 Kings 14:10); Isaiah 52:12; Matthew 19:14; Mark 6:20.

For honorable mention, MEV corrected KJV's Acts 12:4.

Where MEV retained KJV’s render but shouldn’t have:

Isaiah 14:12

How are you fallen from heaven,
    O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
    you who weaken the nations!

KJV’s “Lucifer” is retained in this verse. Why? I can only speculate. I am not even certain why KJV rendered Lucifer here. My guess (for the KJV translators) is that they were constantly consulting the Latin when they were working through the Old Testament. When they got to this verse they were either confused by the Hebrew or just preferred the Latin over the Hebrew. Lucifer (in Latin) just means “morning star” and “light-bringing.” Some time, in the passing years, Lucifer came to be seen as a proper name for Satan. When modern translations began to translate the Hebrew literally to “Day Star” (RSV) or “star of the morning” (NASB), some people, familiar with the KJV, thought the translations were calling Jesus (Revelation 22:16) Satan. There is really no justification for this charge against modern English translations. I suspect the MEV translator in charge of this verse felt (real or imagined) pressure from KJV lovers to retain “Lucifer.”

1 Corinthians 14:2

For he who speaks in an unknown tongue does not speak to men, but to God. For no one understands him, although in the spirit, he speaks mysteries.

The MEV closely follows KJV here. Both translations promote the use of ecstatic utterances by describing the tongues that were being spoken as “unknown.” In most KJVs, the word “unknown” is italicized, indicating that it is a supplied word that cannot be found in any Greek manuscript:

For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries (KJV).

The best English translation wouldn’t have the word “unknown” anywhere in this verse. I cannot even speculate why the MEV translator in charge of this verse opted to retain “unknown.” It speaks very poorly for the translation.

Romans 3:7

If through my lie the truth of God has abounded more to His glory, why am I still being judged as a sinner?
KJV:
For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?

KJV is unclear and seems to promote the practice of lying in order to glorify God.

It seems MEV does not improve upon the KJV. For that matter, nor does NKJV.

Leviticus 10:9

Do not drink wine nor strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations....

I offer this verse as an example of the use of “strong drink” for the Hebrew “sekar.” Most Hebrew scholars prefer “beer” over “strong drink.” Strong drink implies anything strong, including coffee. Many versions shy away from “beer” because it might offend Christians who enjoy a beer every once in a while. Well, we all see that MEV joined right in on the obfuscation. NKJV is superior to MEV for translating “sekar” as “intoxicating drink.”

Isaiah 40:6

The voice said, “Cry out.”     
 And he said, “What shall I cry out?”
All flesh is grass,     
 and all its loveliness is as the flower of the field.

This verse betrays the shallow textual analysis that went into the translating of the MEV. Recent scholarship has determined that there is a flaw here in the Masoretic Text (MT). MT reads in the second line, “And he said....” Textual critics have determined “he” to be a copying error in MT. Qumran scrolls, LXX and Latin have “and I said” and thus indicate this simple correction of the MT. The faulty reading is retained in KJV, NKJV, NASB and now MEV.

Where MEV updated KJV but shouldn't have:

Psalm 139:16

Your eyes saw me unformed,
yet in Your book
 all my days were written,
 before any of them came into being.

The part of this verse that has to do with “all my days” is notoriously difficult to translate. If a version wants to say that God formed a person’s days when the person was still in the womb, the translation should indicate that what is being spoken by the psalmist is a person’s proclivity to a long or short life—not some kind of appointed day of death. KJV has the superior reading of most modern English translations by speaking of body parts rather than length of life.

Incidentally, MEV is less literal than KJV in the first line of this verse. The Hebrew means “You saw my embryo” (New Interpreter’s Study Bible). KJV’s “my substance, yet being unperfect” is far more literal than MEV’s “me unformed.”

The KJV renders Ephesians 2:5, 8 better than any modern English translation I know about. In both of those verses there is the statement, “by grace ye are saved.” As most of us know, English has no equivalent to the Greek (or Hebrew) perfect tense. The best approximation in English for a Greek perfect tense is the English present tense. It comes closest to conveying a condition that has been, is and (for all expectations) will continue. The KJV renders present tense in Ephesians 2:5, 8, indicating that salvation by grace is a continuing process and not a one-time event that occurred some time in the past. Modern translators, for some reason, render most perfect verbs in the past. To say “by grace you have been saved” (MEV) does damage to the meaning of the text. The MEV guys (and the NKJV guys) jumped on the modern-translations band-wagon here and departed from KJV.

PASSAGES THAT ARE BLINDLY FAITHFUL TO TEXTUS RECEPTUS:

MEV admits to adherence to the Textus Receptus; so we should not be surprised when passages that are obviously faulty in TR are faithfully translated into the MEV. Here are some examples.

1 Timothy 3:16

Without question, great is the mystery of godliness:
God was revealed in the flesh....

1 John 5:7-8

There are three who testify in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and the three are one. There are three that testify on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are toward the one.

To MEV’s credit, there is a footnote after verse 8 that reads:

The earliest Greek manuscripts lack in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and the three are one. There are three that testify on earth.

Almost all translations, including MEV, include John 7:53-8:11 even though the text is highly-highly dubious. Most of us Bible-readers are happy to keep the text because we love it so much—whether or not it is original. MEV, to its credit, has this footnote at 7:53:

The earliest Gk. manuscripts lack 7:53–8:11.

Revelation 22:19

And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the Book of Life and out of the Holy City and out of the things which are written in this book.

Acts 9:6

Trembling and astonished, he said, “Lord, what will You have me do?” The Lord said to him, “Rise up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

Final Thoughts

It seems to me that the MEV has targeted readers who are loyal to the KJV. This target reader loves the KJV so much, even the NKJV falls short of the KJV glory. In several key places, where KJV departed from TR, MEV favored the KJV over the TR. KJV loyalists will probably appreciate that particular MEV slant. Examples of KJV favoritism are few and are likely confined to hot-button verses.

I am not a TR fanatic; but I am interested in it. I appreciate that there are some English translations that are TR specific (KJV, NKJV and now MEV). For TR study, NKJV and MEV are equally useful.