Olaf Norlie’s Simplified New Testament

by V. Alex Bills

(Bible Collectors’ World – Jan/Mar 1987)

Back in 1951 Professor Norlie had finished his translation of the whole New Testament but couldn't find a publisher, so with the help of St. Olaf students it was issued in a mimeograph form. And it was ten years before Zondervan took over and issued … Norlie, Olaf M., Norlie’s Simplified New Testament In Plain English - For Today’s Reader. A New Translation from the Greek, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids. Mich. c. 1961, 603 pp. It was first issued in a bright pictorial wrapper and called a Children’s Bible but very soon it was issued in a more reserved wrapper and … with The Psalms For Today A New Translation in Current English by R.K. Harrison. Wycliffe College, University of Toronto.” 160 pp.

Olaf Morgan Norlie is an outstanding Lutheran scholar. He was born in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1876. His education included the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota plus Lutheran Colleges and Seminaries. When he retired he possessed 15 degrees, both earned and honorary. He was pastor of a Norwegian Lutheran Church in Minnesota for 8 years and then for 17 years taught Psychology and Greek at Luther College in Iowa, followed by post of Dean and Professor of Religion at Hartwick College and Seminary. His retirement followed years of service as librarian at St. Olaf College.

He was an active leader in the organization of his church, for 20 years he was editor of the Lutheran World Almanac. He was author of many books including The Outlined Bible and The Open Bible. His tremendous interest in the field of Bible translation resulted in the standard reference work called The Translated Bible.

The first published portion of the translation was The Gospel of John. Life Builder’s Press, San Antonio, Texas. 1943. 152 pp. Although living in San Antonio I can find out nothing about this publisher nor a copy of the Gospel.

The New Testament is made from an uncritical text and all the readings of the KJV are retained. However, the effort is to make the text “more interesting and intelligible” with “particular attention…to make this translation readable, while at the same time making it meaningful - combining clarity and simplicity with a pleasing English style, thus gaining a simple and graceful eloquence so often lacking in modern-speech translations.” Well, the goals are high enough. certainly!

The outline of the methods used as contained in the one page Preface are…simpler words, wherever there is a choice…shortens the sentences…omits the solemn style… capitalizes all the names and pronouns referring to Deity…retains the versification - without allowing verse numbers to be obtrusive…subject headings - for convenience in reading a study.” One indication of the success of this goal is seen in the very recent issue of a book Adventures in English by Ray Ruwe, Arlington. Neb., based on the Gospel of John in this version and designed for use here and abroad as a text for learning English. This is a very worthwhile effort for nationals of other lands all want to learn English and this will help channel this desire into Bible related channels easily. Some samples of the Simplified New Testament follow: Matt. 6:5,6: “And again, when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they like to pray in the churches and on the street corners…But when you pray, go into the bedroom and shut the door, then pray to your Father…Mark 16:2: “They arrived at the tomb very early on the first day of the week. The sun had just risen.”

Rom 8:1: “There is, therefore, no death sentence hanging over those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Rom. 14:1: “If there is someone who is weak in the faith, receive him kindly and do not argue about his personal views.”

II Cor. 13:12: “At present we seem to see only blurred reflections in a mirror, but then it will be face to face. Now I know only in part, but then I shall understand fully, even as God has fully understood me.”

The Psalms translation is the work of Roland Kenneth Harrison who was born in England in 1920. He was educated in the University of London, receiving the B.D., the M.Th., and the Ph.D. degrees. He taught for two years in the University of Bristol before coming to Canada where for 11 years he taught Biblical Studies at Huron College in Toronto. Then he moved over to the University of Toronto to be professor of Old Testament at Wycliffe College. He is the author of several books, based on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Samples from the Psalms for Today in Current English … Psalm 94:1-8. 23: “Lord God of retribution, avenging Deity, manifest Yourself. Stand up. Judge of the world; meter out retribution to the haughty, As for the wicked, Lord, how long will they continue to rejoice? They blurt out arrogant words; all the wrongdoers are boastful. They oppress Your people. Lord, and afflict Your inheritance. They kill the widow and the stranger, and murder the orphans. And they assert. ‘God does not see it; the God of Jacob ignores it.’ Ponder on this, you dull-witted people: when will you become wise, you dolts? Who will repay them for their sins, and destroy them for their iniquity? The Lord our God will obliterate them.