Review of Jack Lewis, The English Bible from KJV to NIV.

Lewis, Jack P., The English Bible from KJV to NIV: A History and Evaluation. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981, 2nd ed. 1991 (with new chapters on the NKJV, REB, NRSV).

In this book Lewis has gathered together much historical information on the major English versions which is otherwise unavailable in print. It includes chapters on the King James version, American Standard Version, Revised Standard Version, New English Bible, New American Standard Bible, Jerusalem Bible, New American Bible, Living Bible, Good News Bible, and the New International Version. An extensive bibliography is appended which lists most books, major journal articles and reviews for each version up to 1980. The second edition (1991) abbreviates the chapter on versions prior to the KJV and adds chapters on the New King James Version, the Revised English Bible, and the New Revised Standard Version. The bibliography is also extended to cover these three versions, but it is not updated for the NIV, despite the fact that a number of important books and articles on that version had appeared since 1980.

The book excels as a useful compilation of detailed information, but as an attempt at "evaluation" it is very unsatisfactory. The chapters on the KJV, NASB, and NKJV are almost entirely negative, consisting mainly of long and redundant catalogues of supposed faults. The argument in these chapters is moreover often derisive and unfair. In his polemic against adherents of the venerable KJV, Lewis gives an entirely false impression of the number of significant differences between editions of the KJV, which really amount to very few, if indeed any, although many changes of spelling and punctuation have naturally been made in the course of its long history -- yet these cannot be compared to the significant alterations often quietly made in printings of the modern versions. He often fails to take notice of the Greek text proper to the KJV, and so criticizes the version for what he believes to be a faulty translation in places where it presents a perfectly accurate translation of the Received Text. In other places his unjust criticisms merely show that he is not familiar with the Elizabethan idiom of the KJV. Lewis ridicules traditionalists who have expressed theological misgivings about some of the modern versions, but his own criticisms often reveal what seems to be an unreasonable and rather impish spirit of opposition to traditional renderings. For example: He demands to know, as if he could not account for it, why the NIV translators preferred the traditional rendering in Habakkuk 2:4, "the righteous will live by his faith," instead of the alternative, "by his faithfulness," which is given in the margin. But it is hardly credible that Lewis is unaware of the fact that the former interpretation, which is certainly admissible as a rendering of the Hebrew, is practically insisted upon by Paul in Romans 1:17 and in Galatians 3:11, where the Apostle quotes Habakkuk 2:4 as proof of his doctrine concerning justification by faith. Here Lewis does his readers a disservice by feigning a lack of understanding, for whatever reason.