Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series on Bible translations.
By Johnnie Godwin
Contributing Columnist, B&R
The Bible is my favorite book! I trust that the Bible is God’s Word. My trust is not naïve or gullible; rather, it has come over 81 years of life and experience with the Bible. I was blessed with parents who believed the Bible to be God’s Word and taught me its truths and how to live by them. From earliest days of my life, my parents took me to the First Baptist Church of Midland, Texas. And that church was faithful to believe and teach the Bible as God’s Word. The church still does!
My earliest journeys with the Bible and its translations. No Bible translation other than the King James Version (KJV) of 1611 ever touched my life until I was a teenager. Then our pastor told us about the Revised Standard Version (RSV) that had just come out in 1952. Earlier translations and revisions had existed, but I hadn’t known about them. Our pastor said that he thought the RSV was all right but that he would probably continue to preach and quote the KJV since he had grown up on it and memorized most Scriptures from that version. I was born during the Depression and first heard of another translation from my pastor. Saved at age 7 and felt led to preach at age 15, I was still reading only the KJV.
But then I went off to college at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Though I had begun to read the Bible seriously at age 15, my Bible was still the KJV. Then, at Baylor, I got my first taste of the RSV and appreciated some clarifications and words I hadn’t understood in the KJV. Wife Phyllis bought me my first RSV, and the inscription reads, “March 1, 1957: To My Husband On Our First Anniversary.” As I prepared to write this article, Phyllis and I read the inscription afresh and wondered where she got the money to buy the Bible for me. We didn’t have any money — well, government housing based on income and Safeway’s three pounds of hamburger meat for $1 took most of our money besides tuition and tithe from a part-time job I had. I still treasure that RSV.
Moving from biblical ignorance to original languages and. . . . After struggling through two courses of German, I moved to the Classics Department and found the language love of my life: Greek. I studied it so hard and long and majored in it that Phyllis began to call me her “Greek freak.” Later, before seminary was over, I had taken 16 courses in Greek and three in Hebrew. And somehow Phyllis had found money to buy me the “Thayer Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.” A year or two later, Phyllis bought me the wonderful new English version of Walter Bauer’s “A Greek-English Lexicon,” which Arndt and Gingrich had translated from German. I had the Hebrew scholar and textbook author Kyle Yates for an Old Testament course and then took Hebrew in seminary.
New Bible translations began to come out, and I bought each one for its value and got more insights into the Bible. With pride and new knowledge — but not wisdom — I went home with some of my college education and shared it with my dad. He was a truck-driver who had to quit school in the ninth grade to support his widowed mother. But my education meant a lot to me. So did wisdom. He told me upon one of my corrections I made to him, “I’ve seen a lot of educated ignoramuses in my life.”
From book-learning to pastoring and then a publishing career. Job 12:12 reads, “Wisdom is found with the elderly, and understanding comes with a long life” (CSB). I graduated from seminary 55 years ago. After that, I pastored churches, wrote Bible curriculum for our denomination, and then moved upwardly through six jobs at the Baptist Sunday School Board of the SBC (now LifeWay Christian Resources of the SBC) for 22-and-one-half years. Since retirement 25 years ago, I’ve written more than a million published words; and most of those have to do with the Bible and either translations or dictionaries from it. I’m not smart, but I feel I may be getting to the front edge of wisdom. I will share those thoughts with you in part two of this article in the May 16 issue of the Baptist and Reflector. B&R — Copyright 2018 by Johnnie C. Godwin: firstname.lastname@example.org.