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Books and Writings of J.B. Phillips

Writings Listed with Year of Publication

Reviews of the 1950's

Translator's Foreward to the "The New Testament In Modern English"
The essential principles of translation

Books in Print & Availability Online


Letters to Young Churches 1947
The Gospels 1952
Your God is Too Small 1952
Making Men Whole 1952
The Inside Story in Modern English as told in Luke, John, Acts & Romans - A translation by J.B. Phillips 1952
Plain Christianity 1954
Appointment with God 1954
When God Was Man 1954
The Young Church in Action 1955
The Church Under the Cross 1956
New Testament Christianity 1956
St. Luke's Life of Christ 1956
Is God at Home? (Originally the Lutterworth Leaflets) 1957
The Book of Revelation 1957
The New Testament in Modem English 1958
The New Testament in Modem English - Large Print American 1958
The New Testament in Modem English - Student Edition 1958
The New Testament in Modem English - Revised Student Edition 1958
A Man Called Jesus 1959
Your God is Here and Now-(Originally 'God our Contemporary') 1960
Good News - A collection of Essays 1960
The Four Prophets 1963
Ring of Truth 1967
Peter's Portrait of Jesus - a commentary 1976
Newborn Christian 1978
Living Gospels of Jesus Christ with pictures by Old Masters 1981
The Price of Success - An Autobiography 1984
JB Phillips:For This Day/Through the Year

Published in the Boys Magazine (School Boys Scripture Union)
The Mystery of Evercreech Hollow 1931
The Greatest Reason 1933
The Vital Link 1933
Two on Trek 1933
A Letter to You from Uncle Jack 1933
Jimmy Greenwoods Discovery 1935

Written for 'Our Own Magazine'
The Holiday in the Castle - published under the pseudonym of Peter Thornton 1934

Published in the Kings Messenger (SPG)
Penny and the Angel 1948

Ring of Truth in French, Japanese, Chinese, Braille
Your God is Too Small in Dutch, Finnish, Portuguese, German
A Man Called Jesus in German
Is God at Home? in Swedish
Letters of the New Testament in Portuguese
New Testament also in Large Print and Braille

J.B. Phillips: The Wounded Healer by Vera Phillips & Edwin Robertson
The Christian Year - The Prayer Book Collects with Epistles and Gospels translated by J. B. Phillips Edited with notes by H.W. Dobson

from the dust-jacket of "New Testament Christianity"

"(J B Phillips as a translator of the New Testament) ..... has become a household word through his modern rendering of the Epistles and Gospels." Hugh Montefiore in The Spectator

"'It is all to the good that we should be given a translation in straightforward English, free from any touch of 'churchiness', and Mr Phillips has a flair for doing this that none of his predecessors in the task have had." The Times Literary Supplement reviewing THE GOSPELS

"There is, in the churches today, a genuine concern to meet the challenge of modern utilitarian society and of modern thought. Christian publicists, like the brilliant J. B. Phillips, achieve this by the freshness of their writing and the erudition of their arguments." Charles Hamblett writing in Picture Post

"He has accomplished what eminent translators regard as theoretically unattainable - to arouse in the modern reader the same emotion experienced by the original writer." The Chicago Sunday Times


"Is as fresh, vigorous and alive as are Mr Phillips' translations themselves." Bishop J. W. C Wand in The Sunday Times

"Perhaps because the book has behind it the overmastering sense of the reality of the young Church that can he seen in the New Testament, because it seems almost to have demanded that it should be written, and because Mr Phillips constantly met modern young people who wanted to hear what impression his work as a translator had made on him, there is a quite unusual vitality about it." The Times Literary Supplement

'This is a splendid book ... deserves as wide a circulation as his modern translations of the New Testament to which it forms a companion volume." Hugh Montefiore in The Spectator

"An interesting book. It contains a formidable statement of the effect which the serious and systematic reading of the scripture always has upon the honest human mind." The Church Times

"Here we have theology as refreshingly presented as the Letters To Young Churches, a meal attractively appetising, containing all the elements necessary for solid nourishment." John Downward in Life of Faith

"It has great freshness and energy and I particularly liked the way it deals with faith - a very helpful approach. I wish it every success." C. S. Lewis

"Warm, witty and gay, his work reminds us that the Good News is still as good and as new as it ever was; and his redefinitions of faith, hope and love restore their morning brightness to these words somewhat tarnished by the centuries. This book ought to startle those whom J. B. Phillips describes as 'unconscious Christians' broad awake; it is a book filled with the laughter of God." Joy Davidman

"What makes this book so telling is its urgent awareness that the same supernatural power which in the first century inspired the Church's worship and energised its life is available here and now. I earnestly hope and believe that these pages will impart something of their own shining certainty to a multitude of readers." The Rev Professor James S Stewart, D.D.

J.B.Phillips' new book is excellent. I like its sanity, its clarity, its humanity and its hopefulness. It is particularly valuable because it comes at the end of a long spell of living with the New Testament and my own feeling is that J. B. Phillips has given us the essence of the New Testament message in this book." The Rev Dr William Neil

"With his well-known gift for vivacious and telling words, Mr Phillips blows away some of the cobwebs of forced and loveless 'religiousness' which tend to smother the authentic Gospel. He appeals to us to read the New Testament for ourselves, and to test by its standard such matters as the emphasis on guilt in some present-day evangelism. Here are wise words on faith, hope and love, and on the practical maintenance of the Christian Life, which it is an inspiration to read." The Rev Professor C. F. D. Moule, M.A.

The New Testament In Modern English

The essential principles of translation

There seem to be three necessary tests which any work of transference from one language to another must pass before it can be classed as good translation. The first is simply that it must not sound like a translation at all. If it is skilfully done, and we are not previously informed, we should be quite unaware that it is a translation, even though the work we are reading is far distant from us in both time and place. That is a first, and indeed fundamental test, but it is not by itself sufficient. For the translator himself may be a skilful writer, and although he may have conveyed the essential meaning, characterisation and plot of the original author, he may have so strong a style of his own that he completely changes that of the original author. The example of this kind of translation which springs most readily to my mind is Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyaim. 1 would therefore make this the second test: that a translator does his work with the least possible obtrusion of his own personality. The third and final test which a good translator should be able to pass is that of being able to produce in the hearts and minds of his readers an effect equivalent to that produced by the author upon his original readers. Of course no translator living would claim that his work successfully achieved these three ideals. But he must bear them in mind constantly as principles for his guidance.

Translation as interpretation

This seems to me to be the right place to set down a justification for my own methods. As I have frequently said, a translator is not a commentator. He is usually well aware of the different connotations which a certain passage may bear, but unless his work is to be cluttered with footnotes he is bound, after careful consideration, to set down what is the most likely meaning. Occasionally one is driven into what appears to be a paraphrase, simply because a literal translation of the original Greek would prove unintelligible. But where this has proved necessary I have always been careful to avoid giving any slant or flavour which is purely of my own making. That is why I have been rather reluctant to accept the suggestion that my translation is "interpretation"! If the word interpretation is used in a bad sense, that is, if it is meant that a work is tendentious, or that there has been a manipulation of the words of New Testament Scripture to fit some private point of view, then I would still strongly repudiate the charge! But "interpretation" can also mean transmitting meaning from one language to another, and skilled interpreters in world affairs do not intentionally inject any meaning of their own. In this sense 1 gladly accept the word interpretation to describe my work. For, as I see it, the translator's function is to understand as fully and deeply as possible what the New Testament writers had to say and then, after a process of what might be called reflective digestion, to write it down in the language of the people today. And here I must say that it is essential for the interpreter to know the language of both parties. He may be a first-class scholar in New Testament Greek and know the significance of every traditional crux, and yet be abysmally ignorant of how his contemporaries outside his scholastic world are thinking and feeling.

Words and their context

After reading a large number of commentaries 1 have a feeling that some scholars, at least, have lived so close to the Greek Text that they have forgotten their sense of proportion. I doubt very much whether the New Testament writers were as subtle or as self-conscious as some commentators would make them appear. For the most part I am convinced that they had no idea that they were writing Holy Scripture. They would be, or indeed perhaps are, amazed to learn what meanings are sometimes read back into their simple utterances! Paul, for instance, writing in haste and urgency to some of his wayward and difficult Christians, was not tremendously concerned about dotting the "i's" and crossing the "t's" of his message. I doubt very much whether he was even concerned about being completely consistent with what he had already written. Consequently, it seems to me quite beside the point to study his writings microscopically, as it were, and deduce hidden meanings of which almost certainly he was unaware. His letters are alive, and they are moving - in both senses of that word - and their meaning can no more be appreciated by cold minute examination than can the beauty of a bird's flight be appreciated by dissection after its death. We have to take these living New Testament documents in their context, a context of supreme urgency and often of acute danger. But a word is modified very considerably by the context in which it appears, and where a translator fails to realise this, we are not far away from the result of an electronic word transmuter! The translators of the Authorised Version were certainly not unaware of this modification, even though they had an extreme reverence for the actual words of Holy Writ. Three hundred years ago they did not hesitate to translate the Greek word EKBALLO by such varying expressions as put out, drive out, bring forth, send out, tear out, take out, leave out, cast out, etc., basing their decision on the context. And as a striking example of their translational freedom, in Matthew 27: 44 we read that the thieves who were crucified with Jesus "cast the same in his teeth", where the Greek words mean simply, "abused him".

The translator must be flexible

1 feel strongly that a translator, although he must make himself as familiar as possible with New Testament Greek usage, must steadfastly refuse to be driven by the bogey of consistency. He must be guided both by the context in which a word appears, and by the sensibilities of modern English readers. In the story of the raising of Lazarus, for example, Martha's objection to opening the grave would be natural enough to an Eastern mind. But to put into her lips the words, "by this time he's stinking", would sound to Western cars unpleasantly out of key with the rest of that moving story. Similarly, we know that the early Christians greeted one another with "an holy kiss". Yet to introduce such an expression into a modern English translation immediately reveals the gulf between the early Christians and ourselves, the very thing which 1 as a translator am trying to bridge. Again, it is perfectly true, if we are to translate literally, that Jesus said, "Blessed are the beggars in spirit". In an Eastern land, where the disparity between rich and poor was very great, beggars were common. But it is to my mind extremely doubtful whether the word "beggar" in our Welfare State, or indeed in most English-speaking countries, conjures up the mental image which Jesus intended to convey to his heaters. It was not the social misfit or the work-shy, spiritually speaking, but the one who was obviously and consciously in need whom Jesus describes as "blessed" or "happy".

The use of insight and sympathy

Perhaps a few words about the kind of technique which I have adopted may be introduced here. I have found imaginative sympathy, not so much with words as with people, to be essential. If it is not presumptuous to say so, I attempted, as far as I could, to think myself into the heart and mind of Paul, for example, or of Mark or of John the Divine. Then I tried to imagine myself as each of the New Testament authors writing his particular message for the people of today. No one could succeed in doing this superlatively well, if only because of the scantiness of our knowledge of the fist century A.D. But this has been my ideal, and that is why consistency and meticulous accuracy have sometimes both been sacrificed in the attempt to transmit freshness and life across the centuries. The cross-headings which appear through out the book are meant to make it both more readable and more intelligible; at the same time they are intended to be quite unobtrusive and can easily be ignored. But, by the use of these headings, solid and rather forbidding slabs of continuous writing (such as appear in the Greek Text) are made more assimilable to the modern reader, whose reading habits have already been "conditioned" by the comparatively recent usage of clear punctuation, intelligent paragraphing and good printer's type.


Although 1 have worked directly in this translation from the best available Greek Text, it would be ungracious to forget the very many people who have made the work possible. 1 think first of the textual critics, whose patient work gives us a text to work from which is as near as possible to that of the original writers. I am most grateful to them, as all translators must be, and I should also like to express my thanks to the numerous commentators whose works I have consulted again and again. As will be gathered from what 1 have said above, I have not always agreed with them but they have informed my mind and stimulated my thoughts many times. The painstaking work of commentators, to put it at its lowest, saves the translator from being over-facile or slipshod! Again, although it would be impossible to supply a full list, I am extremely grateful to the many people - including first-rate scholars, hard-working parish priests, busy ministers, doctors, scientists, missionaries, educationists, elderly saints and lively young people -who have, over the years, written me hundreds of letters, the great majority of which were constructive and useful. Their help has been invaluable.

It has been my practice not to consult other modem translations until my own version has been finished. I do not therefore owe anything directly to any contemporary translator, much as 1 admire the work of Dr. J. W. C. Wand and Dr. E. V. Rieu of this country, and Dr. Edgar J. Goodspeed of the United States of America. But none of us who translates today can be unaware of the trail that was blazed for us near the beginning of this century by such pioneers as Dr. R. F. Weymouth and Dr. James Moffatt. We cannot but admit that we are in a much more favourable position because such men had the courage to break a centuries-old tradition, and translate into contemporary English.

I am particularly grateful to Dr. C. S. Lewis, to whom I sent a copy of my version of Paul's letter to Colossae when I first began the work of translating. He wrote back giving me great encouragement. And later, after many disappointments, when I eventually found a publisher in Mr. Geoffrey Bles, Dr. Lewis not only supplied the admirable title Letters to Young Churches but wrote an Introduction which played no small part in launching that book.

I find myself therefore indebted to all kinds of people of different nationalities and different denominations. Not the least of my gratitude is evoked by the assurance that has grown within me that here in the New Testament, at the very heart and core of our Faith, Christians are far more at one than their outward divisions would imply. From this unquestionable evidence of fundamental unity I derive not only great comfort but a great hope for the future.




When I began the work of translating Paul's epistles in 1941 I certainly had no idea either that my efforts would be published or that I should eventually translate the whole New Testament. I wrote for the young people who belonged to my youth club, most of them not much above school-leaving age, and I undertook the work simply because I found that the Authorised Version was not intelligible to them. My primary aim was not in any sense to compete with the version of 1611, but to communicate to young people inspired truths of which they were almost entirely ignorant.

It is, then, with the greatest possible pleasure that I welcome this schools edition of my whole translational work. It is as though the wheel had come full circle after eighteen years and once more I find myself using modern language to communicate ancient truths to young people.

Before ordination I had myself a short experience as a schoolmaster, and in each of the four Parishes in which I have served there have been Church schools and sometimes State schools as well. My contact with these schools has greatly increased my respect for the teaching profession, not least for those who undertake the extremely difficult task of conveying the meaning of essential Christianity to the young mind. In my view we are starting off on the wrong foot if, in teaching Scripture, we insist on using language which is nearly three hundred and fifty years old. I would myself be among the first to admire and marvel at the beauty, the majesty and the moving rhythms of that version to which we of older generations are accustomed. But if the true meaning and relevance of the New Testament message is blunted and masked by archaic language, then I think we must, at least in our first approach, use language which is intelligible to modern children. There is a peculiar danger here: if school prayers and scripture readings are invariably couched in outdated language, then it is very unlikely that the children will think of God as in any sense contemporary, and it is probable that they will tend to regard the New Testament story as a holy legend far away and long ago. If we are to help in the development of Christian citizens for the future it is imperative that we teach the New Testament as containing spiritual essentials for modern living. If this book helps that admirable army of teachers in the vital art of communicating what I believe to be most urgent to communicate, then one of my greatest hopes will be realised.



J B Phillips New Testament
New Testament in Modern English
New Testament in Modern English - Student Edition
New Testament in Modern English - Revised Student Edition
Ring of Truth : A Translators Testimony
Your God Is Here and Now
Your God Is Too Small

J B Phillips, a Popular Biography by Jim Capon

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