The translation of the Holy Bible into English is long and varied and substantial—from the earliest translations of the Psalms around 700 AD, through the translation of the entire Bible from Latin under John Wycliffe in the late 1300s and of the New Testament from Greek by William Tyndale in 1525 and the monumental King James Version from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek in 1611, and then into the modern era of the Revised Version in 1885, the American Standard Version in 1901, and the explosion of numerous other versions in the twentieth century. One wonders, then, why there exists yet another translation called the Recovery Version.
When Brother Lee began ministering in the US in 1962, he typically used the King James Version (1611) as his text of the Bible, and often he was compelled to make adjustments to that translation, which were closer to the original languages. The old-timers among us probably still have their KJV with miniscule improvements handwritten in the margins or between the lines. For example, Ghost was changed to Spirit in Matthew 28:19; mansions to abodes in John 14:2; godly edifying to God’s economy in 1 Timothy 1:4; blessed are they that do his commandments to blessed are those who wash their robes in Revelation 22:14; and these are only a very few of the hundreds of corrections made. In his printed ministry he often used the American Standard Version (1901), which is a much more accurate translation, though sometimes painfully so and woefully archaic.
Thus, there was the need for an accurate and up-to-date translation of the Bible among us in the Lord’s recovery. Many newer translations existed, of course, but none of them met all the needs that we had. First and foremost, none of the existing versions captured all the more accurate translations of the very fine utterances in the original languages that we became aware of in our study of the Bible over the past one hundred years. There are hundreds of these, and in the coming issues of this newsletter we hope to focus on many of them one by one. (Hopefully, you are subscribed!) We needed a translation of the Bible that respects the original utterances in Matthew 16:19 (“shall have been bound/loosed”), Matthew 28:19 (“baptizing them into”), John 3:16 (“believes into”), Acts 13:1 (“the local church”), 2 Corinthians 3:18 (“beholding and reflecting as a mirror), Ephesians 4:16 (“through every joint...and through the operation”), and many other verses of both the Old and New Testaments. We have our reasons for this degree of accuracy, which we will offer below.
Second, Brother Witness Lee’s intention in picking up the burden for the Recovery Version was not only to provide a more accurate translation of the Scriptures but also to offer a thorough set of footnotes that would bring people into the truth, minister life into them, solve the common and hard problems in the Bible, and fully open up all the books of the Bible. (See Issues 1-4, May-August 2021, of this newsletter for articles on these four purposes.) It would have been difficult, if not impossible, to append a body of footnotes of this size to any modern translation due to copyright restrictions. Thus, there was a righteous and legal reason for a new translation of the Bible: if we intend to comment so fully on the text of the Bible, we should do so on a translation of the text that we ourselves bore the pains to do and not on the work of others, and the responsibility for the translation that we are putting before others should be our own, and not that of others.
But there is a more fundamental reason for any new translation of the Bible, and it is quite simple: the Bible, more than any other book, deserves to be translated again and again and again. The great works of the ancient world have been translated numerous times, and they will no doubt continue to be newly translated until the end of the age. How much more so the Holy Bible! While translation makes the Word of God accessible to billions of people in thousands of languages, it is an imperfect vehicle for the full meaning in the original languages. That does not mean that we cannot have the complete Word of God in translation; we certainly can. What matters is not merely the letter of the Bible but more so the Spirit who gives life, and the Spirit can and does operate through translation. Indeed, Bible translation is “sanctioned” in the New Testament itself by the Holy Spirit since all the Old Testament verses quoted in the New are translations and have become just as much the Word of God. Thus, translation is necessary in God’s economy (cf. Neh. 8:8). But no one should think that any one translation of the Bible is perfect, and thus, new translations of the Bible are a good sign in any language—as long as they are good translations, of course. Unfortunately, some people view new translations negatively, mainly because they are content with what is out there already. But their contentment can never annul the simple truths that every translation of the Bible is short in some way and that the Bible, above all other books, deserves to be translated again and again and again. Further, when any group of believers, or even any single believer, takes up the burden of translating the Bible yet again, it is not necessarily a sign of aberrancy or sectarianism, as some may accuse, but can be a true token of love for the Word of God. The long and varied history of English Bible translations, done either by groups of believers or by individuals, is testimony to this fact. Thus, when anyone asks us, “Why did you people in the local churches translate the Bible on your own,” we should simply ask them, “Why have you not translated the Bible yourself?!” It’s the Bible. If we love it, we will want to know it in its original languages, and we will want to try to render it based on our appreciation of it. Of course, most will say that they are not able to do that. But we are able, and so, we have done it. Those who cannot do it have no ground to condemn and should not condemn those who can and do translate the Bible. Thus, out of love for the Word of God, we in the Lord’s recovery have worked hard to offer yet another translation of the Bible, but one with particular attention to detail in accuracy, and for very good reasons.
The foremost reason for our painstaking attention to accuracy is to take care of the type of readers we were translating for—the brothers and sisters in the local churches of the Lord’s recovery. Through the past one hundred years the ministry of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee has trained us in the local churches to be careful readers of the Bible, attending not just to the general sense of the text but also to the precise utterance. The apostles wrote things “not in words taught by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things with spiritual words” (1 Cor. 2:13), and this ministry attends not just to the spiritual things in the Bible but also to the words given by the Spirit to convey these things. We in the Lord’s recovery have been helped to treasure not just what is said in the Bible but also exactly how it is said. We want to know what the writers of the Bible, under the inspiration of the Spirit, actually said, literally and precisely. And because we are this kind of readers, our translation of the Bible is able to strain at accuracy, even sometimes at the expense of good style. We can forgive an awkward translation when we know that we are getting closer to an original utterance that unlocks a nuance of meaning that would otherwise be lost in smoother translation. The Recovery Version is characterized by this preference for literalness because we in the Lord’s recovery, its primary readers, desire and expect this.
But there is another reason for translating the Bible with this focus on literalness, which is somewhat related to the first reason. Readers of the Bible everywhere deserve this kind of translation of the Bible, if they so desire it. The multitude of Bible translations, from KJV to the most recent English translations, offer a range of distinctives in translation, and readers can go to any of them according to their preference and taste. Some prefer a literary Bible, others a simple-language Bible, and so on, as tastes and expectations dictate. But there are those rare readers throughout the earth who want to know precisely what the Bible says, and we owe it to them to offer them a translation that is as close to the original languages of the Bible as we can possibly get it (without making it completely unreadable). There should be a translation like this, as unpopular as it may seem, for these seeking ones at least, and it is our privilege and honor to offer the Recovery Version to them.
This is our claim about the Recovery Version, which we make here without supporting detail. But in the coming issues of this newsletter we hope to give many concrete examples not just of the literalness of the Recovery Version but, more significantly, of the importance of that kind of literalness to a fuller and more proper understanding of the divine revelation in the Bible. If you have not done so already, please subscribe below to this newsletter, and look for these examples in the coming issues.