Good News about the Good News Bible: the title is lying to you. The Good News Bible is not a real bible, not in the technical sense. It does not provide a true translation of Christian or Jewish scripture. It is instead a book that re-writes the stories found in religious scripture while masquerading with biblical style. It combines several bible translations with modern conjecture and decorative art.
First published by the American Bible Society in 1966 as the Good News Translation, it artfully rewrites several versions and translations of scripture using everyday terminology. Terminology that has evolved over the last few thousand years to encompass a greater understanding of our world and cosmos. The American Bible Society has an extraordinary reach of various publications which include the Good News Bible also published for the Church of England. Translated into many other languages, its international audience includes China, India, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
The Anglicized version of the Good News Bible is provided as an easy to read version of the traditional translated bible. Its audience includes children, accommodation services and military service personnel. In the hands of children especially, the Good News Bible becomes religious propaganda. Like every Christian Bible it attempts to lure people into a belief that ancient scripture written by our ancestors was done so, while filled with the power of god.
A Wolf in Sheeps Clothing
The Good News Bible goes a few steps further. By using modern day language to provide an interpretation of the bible, it can give a false assertion that the traditional bible has always provided an explanation for the present understanding of our worlds physical environment. This intent becomes clearer when you compare the Good New Bible with more traditional translations, such as The King James translation.
My own edition of the Good News Bible was gifted to me as a child, in State funded religious instruction at primary school. It was while trying to read and understand the Good News Bible in my youth, that I found myself becoming skeptical of Christianity. The Good News Bible was filled with inconsistencies which conflicted with many religious teachings. For the first few decades of my life, I tried hard to ignore these confusing messages. As I yearned for social acceptance, my road to realising that religion wasn’t all it made out to be, was always underpinned with skepticism. Skepticism, which began with the very first reading of Genesis, Chapter 1.
The Beginning Chapter of the Good News Bible
Genesis: Chapter 1: Verses 1 to 5; from the Good News Bible first published in 1976 as a British usage edition.
The Story of Creation
In the beginning, when God created the universe, the earth was form-less and desolate. The raging ocean that covered everything was engulfed in total darkness, and the power of God was moving over, the water. Then God commanded, “Let there be light” -and light appeared. God was pleased with what he saw. Then he separated the light from the darkness, and he named the light “Day” and the darkness “Night”. Evening passed and morning came – that was the first day.
A young child who is just beginning to learn about religion is unlikely to read the preface to the book. They will not realise the difference between a parable and a translation. After reading the preface, to the Good News Bible there is one admission that for me really stands out and explains quite concisely the compilation of all bibles, past and present. The preface provides a detailed process of what scriptures and translations were used to produce the parables that make up the entirety of the Good News Bible. Part of the process
“… has adopted a reconstructed text (technically referred to as a conjectural emendation) based on scholarly agreement;”
The preface tells us that a draft copy of the Good News Bible was sent to a review panel consisting of prominent theologians and biblical scholars. We are asked to believe that the theologians and biblical scholars speak the will of god. Just as we are asked to believe that the original scriptures were written by people who also did the work of god. The same can be said for the religious scripture translators who also include their own conjecture into works they are translating, especially when there are no similar words in the translated language.
During confirmation lessons given at St Augustine’s in Hamilton, Brisbane (1998), a respected theologian and Monk of the Anglican Church in Australia, explained to me the effect of conjectural emendation on the christian bible and how it began long before the bible was widely available. Before the invention of printing presses, clergy and monks were instructed to make copies of the bible by hand. It was not uncommon for the clergy and monks to add conjectural emendation of their own to the books of the old and new testaments.
How Emendations Can Alter the Original Context of a Work
The first striking evidence of the effect of conjectural emendation in the Good News Bible is the use of the word Universe. When the bible was first compiled, it was believed that the Earth, a flat world was the centre of all things around which the sun and other heavenly bodies rotated.
The word, universe that is used in the Good News Bible in place of heaven and earth comes from the Latin word universum. The first known use of the word universe was in the 14th Century. This is well after the bible was first translated and still well before humans became aware of multiple solar systems and galaxies that extended far beyond and are much older than our own.
To provide a comparison, the Latin scripture for chapter 1 verse 1 of the Christian bible provides the following:
1.1 In principio creavit Deus cælum, et terram.
The King James version of the bible first translated in 1611 contains a more literal translation:
1.1 In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.
The King James translation is similar to many other biblical translations of its time.
The use of the word universe can provide the reader with a false impression that Genesis 1.1 has always been inclusive of the known observable universe as we perceive it today. Yet, by using the word universe in its modern context, Genesis Chapter 1 becomes even more confusing to understand, especially if you have a broader understanding of science and astronomy.
- Our solar system was not created at the beginning of the Universe, it didn’t come into existence until approximately 4.5 billion years ago when our sun, called Sol (which is a star) was born.
- Our binary star system in comparison to many others is much younger than those which have been discovered since the early 20th century. The most recent estimate of the age of the Universe is 13.8 billion years.
- Our sun is a second generation star or as NASA term it, a Population I star; meaning it formed from the dying remnants of at least one if not more first generation or population II stars. We know this by evaluating the chemistry of the sun which is composed of materials formed when a population II star made of hydrogen and helium explodes. There may have existed Population III stars well before population II stars, but we are not aware of any still in existence.
- In order to create planets and life (such as ourselves), you need carbon. Carbon is created from stars.
If you step back in time into the shoes of the Jewish tribes who lived in the middle east when the first scriptures of the old Testament were written and compiled in Judaism, you would gain a better historical context of Genesis. That is because the knowledge we now have of the world’s environment today is significantly advanced then it was approximately 3,313 years ago. Genesis no longer fits with our modern world knowledge and trying to adapt an ancient script to a modern sentiment, such as that found in the Good News Bible, turns it into a complete religious farce.
Applying the word, universe to this opening chapter does nothing to make the story any more acceptable or understandable. It would have been much easier to use the word sky instead of heaven, for at least the originally intent of this verse would have been kept. Further, the rest of the opening verses as provided above do nothing more than increase the reader’s confusion.
For instance, how can the Earth be form-less and desolate but still have a raging ocean and wind covering it? Reference to wind in this case is taken from a footnote in the Good News Bible that insinuates that the power of god may have been wind which moved over the raging ocean. The latter description tends to void the first, for if there is a raging ocean and wind, then these verses would only makes sense if the Earth was not without form.
Back to Emendation
This brief analysis returns us to the use of conjectural emendation used in an attempt to present ancient biblical content in everyday english so that the average Joe can better understand god’s work.
It also begs the question: were those writers who were involved in the creation of the original scriptures from which the biblical translations have evolved, ever really filled with the spirit of god when writing scriptures? Surely, such an omnipotent, all knowing being would have understood that the Earth was round, that the sun rotated around it and that the Earth was not the centre of the universe? Surely he would foresee that the human race, having become like gods themselves by eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge, would eventually discover the truth about life? Surely this god, which we are told exists outside of time and the universe, would have the knowledge that in order to create carbon based lifeforms, you need to create stars first? Why not just present the truth and facts from the very start and avoid confusion?
The truth of it is, that the christian bible and in this particular case, the Old Testament no matter what form it attempts to take is already filled with reconstructed text and human conjecture. No amount of rewriting or discovering new translations or ways in which to express the true and intended meaning of the old testament will change its unreliable parables. The Good News Bible like every bible and scripture before it, provides incorrect, though accepted responses as to the meaning and origin of life for people who knew and know no better. Now in an age where the resources and knowledge gained by the human race can prove it to be incorrect, many faiths still cling to the old ways.
So why keep up the pretense? Why pretend that god always meant Genesis to be inclusive of the universe? Could it be that to admit the old testament is just a bunch of old stories provided by an old civilization to explain the meaning of life, would undermine the christian faith and belief that the bible is the word of god? Without the bible, without scripture, without the holy spirit to guide the creation of the good news that christians blindly agree with, christians would very much find themselves without a god in which to believe.
The parables in the Good News Bible are nothing more than a mythical tale, created for a mythical god which is full of fictional conjecture, old and new. Conjecture written, changed, translated and compiled by multiple writers whose insane belief system gave rise to societies where christianity could control the less educated through manipulation, power, greed and deceit.