The New English Bible

New Testament, 1961. C. H. Dodd, ed., The New English Bible. New Testament. Oxford and Cambridge: Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, 1961.

Bible, 1970. C. H. Dodd, ed., The New English Bible with the Apocrypha. Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, 1970.

This controversial version was sponsored by several denominations in Great Britain. (1) In more than one way it resembles the earlier Moffatt Bible: The translators used great freedom with the underlying texts (introducing many transpositions and conjectural emendations), they aimed to represent the Bible in a definitely colloquial and modern English style, and they were bold to adopt interpretations which, though long familiar to scholars, were quite new to the public. This characteristic of the version was apparent in the very first words of Genesis:

Revised Standard Version (1953)

In the beginning God created (a) the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit (b) of God was moving over the face of the waters.

a. Or, When God began to create

b. Or, wind

New English Bible (1970)

In the beginning of creation, when God made heaven and earth, (a) the earth was without form and void, with darkness over the face of the abyss, and a mighty wind that swept (b) over the surface of the waters.

a. Or, In the beginning God created heaven and earth.

b. Or, and the spirit of God hovering.

Here the New English Bible presents an interpretation of Genesis 1:1-2 favored by many Old Testament scholars since about 1920. The grammar is interpreted in line with the opening verses of other ancient Near Eastern stories of creation, such as the Babylonian Enuma Elish, which begins, "When above, the heavens had not been named, and below, the earth had not been called by name ..." Also, the ruach of God is understood as a "wind" rather than his "Spirit." On the alleged parallels with the Babylonian myth, see the very full discussion by Alexander Heidel in his book The Babylonian Genesis (Chicago, 1951). But many other scholars have not been convinced that the opening verses of Genesis should be understood in this way. The translators of the Revised Standard Version's Old Testament (1953) declined to adopt the new interpretation, although they indicate it in their footnotes. It should be noted that in addition to other elements of the 'Babylonian' interpretation the New English Bible here has interpreted the 'wind of God' as if it meant 'a mighty wind,' but this interpretation of the word elohim is very questionable. Harry Olinski in his Notes on the New Translation of the Torah (Philadelphia, 1969) observes that "there is no authority for this in any tradition" and "the word elohim does not have the meaning 'mighty, tempestuous,' or the like in a single one of the some 2,570 occurances of the word in the Bible." (p. 55.)

Isaiah 9:6 is often quoted in liturgies as ringing statement of the divinity of Christ. But the NEB's rendering does not agree with the familiar liturgical use.


For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called "Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."


For a boy has been born for us, a son given to us to bear the symbol of dominion on his shoulder; and he shall be called in purpose wonderful, in battle God-like, Father for all time, (a) Prince of peace.

a. Or, of a wide realm.

In many places the NEB rearranges the text and gives interpretations apparently favored by some scholars at the time, without even mentioning the traditional or majority view in a note. For example, Nahum 1:14 is ordinarily understood as a curse upon the Assyrian king, coming after a promise to the Israelites in verses 12-13. But the NEB translators make some transpositions and interpret verse 14 as if it were a promise to Israel:


12 Thus says the LORD, "Though they be strong and many, they will be cut off and pass away. Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more. 13 And now I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds asunder."

14 The LORD has given commandment about you: "No more shall your name be perpetuated; from the house of your gods I will cut off the graven image and the molten image. I will make your grave, for you are vile."


These are the words of the LORD:

13 Now I will break his yoke from your necks and snap the cords that bind you. 14 Image and idol will I hew down in the house of your God. This is what the LORD has ordained for you: never again shall your offspring be scattered; and I will grant you burial, fickle though you have been. 12 Has the punishment been so great? Yes, but it has passed away and is gone. I have afflicted you, but I will not afflict you again.

Aside from the arbitrary transposition of verses, there is some very peculiar exegesis going on here, and without any warning to the reader that most scholars prefer the traditional interpretation represented in the RSV. In fact the NEB is the only English version that diverges from it. One thing that might be said on behalf of the NEB here is that it eliminates the abrupt transition in the persons addressed between verses 13 and 14 , but if we allow the verses to be shuffled around and interpreted in such creative ways, how can we ever hope to know what the " words of the LORD" are?

Another place where the NEB translators have adopted an interpretation favored by a minority of scholars without informing the reader of the majority view is in Acts 20:7, where they have interpreted the Greek text's Ἐν δὲ τῇ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων "on the first day of the week" as if it meant Saturday. They believed that Luke was reckoning the days from sunset to sunset, according to the Jewish custom, so the evening of the first day would have been what we call a Saturday evening.


On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and he prolonged his speech until midnight.


On the Saturday night, in our assembly for the breaking of bread, Paul, who was to leave the next day, addressed them, and went on speaking until midnight.

Although this interpretation is possible, most scholars agree that it is unlikely. Paul's intention to depart the next day is mentioned as a reason for his having "prolonged his speech until midnight." Therefore in his commentary on Acts, G.H.C. MacGregor concludes:

The first day of the week is certainly Sunday. But was the time Saturday evening—the 'first day' on Jewish methods of calculation beginning at what we would call 6 p.m. on Saturday—or Sunday evening? Almost certainly the latter, as 'the morrow,' when Paul intended to depart, most naturally means the day after that first mentioned, and therefore is presumably Monday. (Interpreter's Bible, volume ix [New York: Abingdon, 1954], p. 267.)

If the Jewish method of talking about days is being used, then it is difficult to understand Paul's plans for the next day. Because in the Jewish reckoning "the next day" would not come till the next evening. But clearly the verse does mean to say that Paul intended to leave town on the following day, during daylight hours, without spending another evening with the saints in Troas. He would have travelled in daylight. Therefore, the manner of speaking about days here must not be in accordance with the Jewish method, and it was a Sunday night. F.F. Bruce agrees that the text indicates that the church met "on Sunday evening, not Saturday evening; Luke is not using the Jewish reckoning from sunset to sunset but the Roman reckoning from midnight to midnight; although it was apparently after sunset that they met, 'break of day' (verse 11) was 'on the morrow' (verse 7)." (Commentary on the Book of the Acts, [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954], p. 408, n. 25.) See also the treatment of this question in R. J. Bauckham's article "The Lord's Day," in From Sabbath to Lord's Day: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Investigation, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan/Exeter: Paternoster, 1982).

Although this question of interpretation is of relatively minor importance, it is notable that the NEB presents a new interpretation without alerting the reader to the fact that most scholars disagree with it. This is not a very helpful method of presenting the text to laymen, who are left to wonder how reliable the translation may be at any given point. And it so happens that the interpretation here does become important in controversies with seventh-day sabbatarians who maintan that the early church did not meet on Sundays, because Acts 20:7 is one of only two or three places in the New Testament where Sunday meetings are indicated. We notice that in John 20:19 the NEB does interpret ὀψίας τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ τῇ μιᾷ σαββάτων (lit. "evening on that day, the first day of the week") as "Late that Sunday evening." But did the translators suppose that an evening meeting on the μιᾷ σαββάτων meant one thing to Luke and another thing to John?

The translators seem to have been rather pessimistic about the preservation of the New Testament text, because they adopt some readings which are very poorly attested. An example of this may be seen in John 19:29, where the translators adopt the reading, υσσω περιθεντες, "putting it on a spear," instead of υσσωπω περιθεντες, "putting it on a hyssop." A marginal note informs the reader, "so one witness; the others read on marjoram;" but the "one witness" in this case is an unimportant cursive manuscript from the eleventh century, and it is highly unlikely that it alone preserves the original reading here. Bruce Metzger in his Textual Commentary suggests that its reading "seems to have arisen through haplography (υσσωπεριθεντες being written for υσσωπωπεριθεντες)." (2)

Although the NEB was highly rated by some prominent scholars and aroused popular interest for a time, it never gained an enduring popularity. Its novelties and its style made it unsuitable for use in church services. The unusual translation prompted many questions from scholars about the text upon which it was based, and so the underlying Greek text was published in Tasker 1964.

In 1989 an extensive revision of the NEB, called the Revised English Bible (REB) eliminated many of the NEB's incautious renderings in favor of a more literal and dignified approach, and also eliminated some of its least defensible modifications of the underlying texts. And thus the New English Bible passed from the scene. But the version continues to hold historical interest because of the prestige of the translators and because of the interesting reviews of the work which were published by other scholars (including some by prominent literary critics). These reviews continue to be relevant today because many recent versions exhibit the same features which the reviewers found objectionable in the NEB. Some of the earlier reviews published after the appearance of the New Testament were collected in a volume edited by Dennis Nineham, The New English Bible Reviewed (London: Epworth, 1965). We reproduce here portions of three of them, by T.S. Eliot, Henry Gifford, and C.L. Wrenn.

The NEB Translators

General Director: C. H. Dodd.

Old Testament Panel: The Rev. Professor W. D. McHardy, The Rev. Professor B. J. Roberts, The Rev. Professor A. R. Johnson, The Rev. Professor J. A. Emerton, The Very Rev. Dr. C. A.Simpson, Professor Sir Godfrey Driver (Convener), The Rev. L. H. Brockington, The Rev. Dr. N. H. Snaith, The Rev. Professor N. W. Porteous, The Rev. Professor H. H. Rowley, The Very Rev. C. H. Dodd (ex officio), and Miss P. P. Allen (Secretary).

Apocrypha Panel: The Rev. Professor W. D. McHardy (Convener), The Rev. Professor W. Barclay, The Rev. Professor W. H. Cadman, The Rev. Dr. G. B. Caird, The Rev. Professor C. F. D. Moule, The Rev. Professor J. R. Porter, The Rev. G. M. Styler.

New Testament Panel: The Rev. Professor C. H. Dodd (Convener), The Very Rev. Dr. G. S. Duncan, The Rev. Dr. W. F. Howard, The Rev. Professor G. D. Kilpatrick, The Rev. Professor T. W. Manson, The Rev. Professor C. F. D. Moule, The Rt. Rev. J. A. T. Robinson, The Rev. G. M. Styler, The Rev. Professor R. V. G. Tasker.

Other translators who participated: The Rev. Professor G. W. Anderson, The Very Rev. Principal Matthew Black, The Rev. Professor J. Y. Campbell, The Most Rev. J. A. F. Gregg, The Rev. H. St J. Hart, The Rev. Professor F. S. Marsh, The Rev. Professor John Mauchline, The Rev. Dr. H. G. Meecham, The Rev. Professor C. R. North, The Rev. Professor O. S. Rankin, The Rev. Dr. Nigel Turner.

Literary Panel: Professor Sir Roger Mynors, Professor Basil Willey, Sir Arthur Norrington, Mrs. Anne Ridler, The Rev. Canon Adam Fox, Dr. John Carey, and the Conveners of the Translation Panels.


1. Participants included representatives from The Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland, The Church of England, The Church of Scotland, The Congregational Church in England and Wales, The Council of Churches for Wales, The Irish Council of Churches, The London Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends, The Methodist Church of Great Britain, The Presbyterian Church of England, The British and Foreign Bible Society, The National Bible Society of Scotland.

2. Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart, 1971), p. 253. Prior to the NEB, the υσσω reading had been adopted by Moffatt, Goodspeed, and Phillips; and in recent years it has cropped up again in Eugene Peterson's The Message. It seems to be characteristic of liberal scholars especially to prefer such weakly-attested readings, on wholly subjective grounds, rather than simply accept the text as it has been preserved in our manuscripts.