The Berkeley Version of the New Testament

by Gerrit Verkuyl
(Bible Editions & Versions – April/June 2003)

[Editor’s Note: The following abridgement of an article by Gerrit Verkuyl was intended to explain the approach and principles of his translation. It appeared in an unidentified publication many years ago and is reprinted here because of its potential interest to the members of our Society].

The conviction that God wants His truth conveyed to His offspring in the language in which they think and live led me to produce the Berkeley Version (BV) of the New Testament. For I grew increasingly aware that the King James Version (AV) is only, in part, the language of our people today.

It is true that many have read and appreciated the thoughts, expressions, and choice passages of the Authorized Version. The easy flow and cultured rhythm of its Elizabethan phrases are so appealing that many precious verses have been memorized for both private and public use. No modern version has matched it for dignity and beauty. It has so readily lent itself to use in devotional thought and prayer, affording a vocabulary to which all later translations would be compared. Like some great hymn or lofty anthem, the 1611 translation can lift the drooping heart and quench the thirsty soul, while modem versions often leave one cold.

While the KJV serves to guide our daily living to higher planes, it may, indeed, be the preferred translation people turn to for the accustomed passages in their devotional reading. But if this steeping of our minds in archaic expressions hinders our unity of worship and life, then we face serious danger. There were few sins our Lord more roundly denounced than the Pharisees’ separation between their devotions and their daily living.

It is significant that on the Day of Pentecost “every man heard them speak in his own language.” Accordingly, we rejoice in the effort of those today, who labor to bring the blessed Word to tribes and peoples throughout the earth in their respective tongues. But while we encourage the dissemination of the Gospel over land and sea, shall we neglect our own people? If the language of 1611 is not the language of 1950, is it well to insist that it be the sole translation for our growing generation?

A little girl from a Christian home asked me, “Why do I have to suffer to come to Jesus?” (Matt. 19:14, AV). Upon my reply that Jesus loves children and makes those happy who come to Him, she quoted what she had learned in Sunday School, and what she understood Jesus had said, “Suffer, little children to come to me.” How utterly contrary to our Lord’s intention was this small child’s conclusion! Divine revelation is intended to reveal His thoughts, but to this child the words of the AV failed to convey our Lord’s gracious invitation and no amount of dignity or rhythm can make up for such a failure. That child is entitled to a language in which it thinks and lives, and this is a right all human beings deserve.

Who knows how many new converts, young or old, have grown discouraged as they conscientiously tried to read their Bible and came across so many unfamiliar words and unaccustomed word-endings that they could not easily comprehend the meaning! Were they really Christians? If so, why did they not find these sacred words more interesting? Why are they so different from their native tongue?

During my years working with children and youth up and down this land, these facts kept glaring me in the face. Many years ago I began to translate passages from the AV into current language. Most of it was done as I was relaxing, away from home, at odd spare moments, and almost all of it from the Old Testament. In fact, the story of baby Moses in Exodus 2 got me started. Read it and you will see why! No child could understand the first four verses and few adults could do much better. Through the years stacks of typewritten pages have been piled high on my shelves that will never be published. But they served to prepare me, though unintentionally, for my translation of the New Testament which was to come later.

My interest in Greek began during my freshman year in college. For me those first two years of preparatory work were quite enjoyable but the study of Greek was almost too much. Our young professor infused us with his love for everything Hellenic and made us believe that this was a course we could not afford to neglect. So naturally, at Princeton Seminary, New Testament studies became my specialty and a fellowship was granted, enabling me to continue studying abroad.

My life work, serving on my church’s Board of Education, allowed me little time for additional studies, besides those required for my teaching. But since my work was in the field of Christian education, it allowed me to make use of the New Testament in the original language in hope that some day I might do my own translating of it.

My first reason for beginning work on such an arduous a task has been given: to provide God’s Word in today’s language. I learned that others had felt a similar urge half a century before. There was Moffatt, whose vocabulary is remarkable, and Goodspeed, who purposely used more common words. Also Weymouth, the Englishman, whom I liked the best. These men served their generation well, but my urge was to do my part by providing for areas of translation which they had not touched. The Revised Standard Version (RSV), which came out after mine, would not have altered my plans. For I aimed at a translation less interpretive than Moffatt’s, more cultured in language than Goodspeed’s, more American than Weymouth’s, and less like the King James Version than the RSV.

As an example of the latter, turn to Matthew 9 and you will count the use of “and” six times in four verses. These conjunctions were needed in the original language because it had no punctuation marks. They are mostly superfluous in modern English but the RSV retains five of them. “Behold” occurs twice, a word that is not used today, but perpetuated in the RSV. Even the exclamation, “God forbid!” is used in the RSV, the equivalent of which is nowhere found in the original language of the entire Bible. Yet it appears in Luke 20:16, though in the Pauline writings it is eliminated in favor of a more proper translation.When I began my translating work I did not know that Weymouth had supplied footnotes, but I soon realized there was a need for them, if only to avoid including interpretation within the text, as Moffatt so often does. Phillips. whose Letters to Young Churches did not come out until 1947, marvelously succeeded in combining translation with interpretation as he candidly admits. But this approach remains dangerous. It has been said about Moffatt, with some justification, “Hard telling where revelation ends and Moffatt begins.”

To many readers the use of brief footnotes renders a helpful service, and at times a translator cannot do well without them. For example, in Gen 2:23, the word “flesh” obviously means the physical body. However, in Gen. 6:3, it does not appear to have that precise meaning. The man who resists God’s ways is called “flesh,” — not referring to his body, but to his whole being. When Paul mentions “flesh” he is thinking in terms of the human being, particularly the soul, as it lacks the Spirit of God, i.e., ungodly human nature. All of this would be hard to translate, but a brief footnote can clear up the matter.

Another example concerns the use of “love” and “hate.” In Luke 14:26 our Lord tells the crowds. “Whoever comes to me without hating his father…cannot be my disciple.” But in John 13:34 He says, “I give you a new command, that you love one another.” How can these two opposite sentiments be reconciled? It may help us to consider what Jesus said in John 21:15-17. Self-confident Peter had exclaimed before they entered the garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:33). “Though all the rest feel scandalized on your account, I never!” The love, of which Jesus spoke, has its roots in appreciation; it is agape, the love of John 3 16. “Do you prize Me more dearly than these do?” Jesus asked. How could Peter say that he did? He could not, so used philia, a word for love that implies friendship. This happened twice. Then Jesus used Peter’s own word for love and let him through on that.

It is this “prize dearly” of which the verb “hate” in the above admonition is the opposite, so it really means: “Whoever comes to me without prizing less dearly his father, cannot be my disciple.” A brief footnote helps wonderfully in rendering this verse more understandable.

For most Bible readers there is a need for some degree of chronology. We now have better data, which allows us to ascertain when most of the events recorded in Scripture occurred. Between what is given in the New Testament itself along with historic witnesses, we are in a good position to approach fairly close dates in most cases. But occasionally there is the need for footnotes.

History tells us that King Herod I, died in March, 4 BC. The Wise Men visited him before traveling to Bethlehem and he awaited their return before having the boy babies murdered. But Joseph and Mary had taken Jesus to the temple when he was forty days old and had brought the most inexpensive sacrifice possible, indicating that the Wise Men had not yet been there. Upon arriving, they went to a house, not to the stable. So it would seem that Jesus was born at least two months before Herods’s death. The traditional date of December 25 seems not far wrong; but not the traditional year of 1 Anno Domini. The year 5 BC seems more likely. So a footnote can clarify all this.
Luke informs us that Jesus began His ministry at age thirty and that John the Baptist, six months older, began preaching in the 15th  year of Tiberius, who became emperor in AD 11-12. In John 2:20 the Jews assert that their temple has been under reconstruction for 46 years and we know that Herod commenced the rebuilding in 20-19 BC, making it AD 27, with John appearing in AD 26. If there were four Passovers in connection with Jesus’ ministry, then He was baptized in late 26 or early 27, and was crucified in early April of the year 30. Again, footnotes can indicate all this.
The early part of Acts is dated by the ascension, forty days after Christ’s resurrection. The stoning of Stephen, which could hardly have occurred while there was a governor over the land, probably happened after Pilate had been removed in 37 and before his successor had arrived. Acts 12 reports the death of Herod Agrippa, who slew the apostle James, both occurring in 44. The opening of the 18th chapter tells of the expulsion of the Jews from Rome by Claudius, who died in 54 and had for many years favored the Jews. In the same chapter, Gallio is called proconsul of Achaia, a title that would not apply before 53. Such information appears in footnotes.
Another distinctive feature, which we feel should be observed in all translations, is a pronoun for Deity beginning with a capital letter, both for reverence and for clarity. In the Gospels this plan requires close scrutiny, for the question is not whether our Lord deserves the distinction but whether those who addressed Him regarded Him as Deity. Certainly his opponents did not at any time. And, His followers did not customarily do so until after His resurrection.
The final distinctive feature of this translation is the retention of words, clauses, and passages not found in the Greek manuscripts we used, but are found in the manuscripts used by those translating the AV. Naturally, my translation omits some of these. So, to those who are accustomed to the AV, these omissions would come as a shock. We would do well not to offend those who are accustomed the AV. As stated in the Preface, we indicate such omitted portions by means of parentheses.

Concerning another element of my translation I am not equally confident, but nevertheless feel I should observe. Both Heb.11:31 and James 2:25 made use of the Septuagint, which designated Rahab of Jericho a harlot. We know that she managed an inn; she was therefore a woman who entertained men overnight. Perhaps all such women were called harlots (?). But, the Hebrew word translated into the Septuagint Greek is Zona, and may mean innkeeper. We so translate it because of Rahab’s personal qualities which do not suggest the harlot we think of today.

We conclude with another correction of some importance, in the last clause of Rom. 4:25, which reads in the AV, “...and was raised again for our justification.” We have it in the fifth edition, “by reason of our justification,” with the following footnote: “His resurrection was God’s declaration that. . . believers are judged righteous.”