History of the World English Bible
A Conversation with God
In March 1994, before the World-Wide Web was something most people in
the United States knew existed, I was praying. I was in a beige
Volkswaken Rabbit, driving from Longmont to Boulder on the Diagonal
Highway and talking with the Lord. I was asking Him directly about the
lack of a modern English, quality translation of the Holy Bible that
could be freely distributed and copied without royalty payments or
copyright violations via electronic and print media.
To be honest, the answer startled me. The Lord clearly told me to do a
Bible translation. We discussed that for a while, and the Lord
prevailed over my rather lame arguments. (I'm glad the Lord is patient
with me.) One message from God can change things forever.
God's Living Word
I started studying some things about Biblical Greek and
Hebrew, learned to use some scholarly helps, and dug in, starting with
John. The resulting translation was called "God's Living Word."
I started posting drafts of the translation on appropriate groups in
Usenet and on an email mailing list. Many people came along side and
helped with the work by proofreading, suggesting improvements in
wording, etc. Most of these people I don't even know, or know their
qualifications. Some claimed to be experts, some did not, but I judged
their suggestions, not the suggesters. We got through John, John's
letters, and we were starting on Revelation,
when I calculated my rate of progress, in verses per week, and
extrapolated how long it would take to translate the whole Bible at
that rate. You see, I was working full time in an engineering job,
active in church, taking care of a family, and doing this translation
in little snippets of time that were available after all of that.
Consequently, I had to be very efficient with my time, but could not
compromise on accuracy. After all, this is the Holy Word of God we were
talking about. Anyway, since I wasn't happy with my projected age
(about 150 years old) at the time of project completion, and I wasn't
sure Jesus would wait that long to come back, I took this up with the
Naturally, the Lord's answer surprised me. He first pointed out to me that the American Standard Version of 1901 was firmly in the Public Domain. Indeed, it was even more so than the more archaic King James Version,
which is still encumbered (at least technically) by a Crown Patent that
is effective in British Commonwealth countries. The ASV is also widely
regarded as an accurate and reliable translation of the Holy Bible into
English. It was the obvious choice for updating to modern English.
Next, our Most Holy Lord suggested doing a spell-checking style update
of the vocabulary.
I promptly went out and found an electronic copy of the American
Standard Version of 1901. I then loaded it up into the then-current
version of Microsoft Word, and attempted to spell-check and correct the
whole thing. The sheer size of the text and large number of corrections
quickly crashed Microsoft Word. I learned from that exercise, though,
and wrote a couple of custom computer programs using my then-favorite
programming language, Delphi Pascal. The first one scanned the ASV text
for unique words that were not found in a modern English Bible, like
"shineth" and "caulkers," and put them in a database table along with a
suggested substitution. The suggested substitution was based on
recognizing certain Elizabethan English suffixes and common words, and
replacing them with their modern English equivalents. If the program
logic didn't recognize one of those cases, it simply left the suggested
substitution blank. It was then up to a real human (me) to look up the
remaining words in context and find the appropriate substitution. The
second custom program read the text of the ASV and made all of the
substitutions listed in the table. This all took about a month of
spare-time programming and about 15 minutes for the final run of the
program. The end result, which I called the ASV 1997 revision (for lack
of a better name) was not quite modern English, in that it still lacked
quotation marks and still had some word ordering that sounded more like
Elizabethan English or maybe Yoda than modern English.
General Bible Format
In the process of doing the above transformation on the ASV, I invented
a simple-to-parse format for representing Scripture text. I wanted
something that would be easy to edit, easy to process, and easy to
convert to other formats like HTML and formats for printing. I didn't
know about SIL Standard Format, then, unfortunately, or I probably
would have used that. However, that is OK, and probably even good,
because I learned a lot in that exercise. After using my format for a
while, I revised it, and the revision is called General Bible Format. I still use it, and so do some other people. I plan to replace it with yet another format (USFX)
when I get the programs I use that process GBF all replaced. The reason
for this upgrade is to also be able to handle the wealth of Bible
translations in minority languages that are in the related USFM, doing similar transformations on them for publication purposes.
The cool thing about any of these formats is that, with the proper
software tools, you can have one master copy of a Bible translation and
generate many formats for publication, as you can see listed on the World English Bible site, today.
World English Bible Named
I became increasingly dissatisfied with the ASV97 name for the new
Bible translation, especially after 1997 had passed, so I asked the
Lord in prayer what the name should be. That is when the World English
Bible (WEB) got its current name. It makes sense, too, since it is
targeted at English speakers all over the world, and it is distributed
primarily over the World-Wide Web.
Changing vocabulary from old to new was pretty quick. Some of the
remaining grammatical updates concerning word order, usage, and
punctuation were not easy to automate, so those have been done (and in
some books, are still being done) manually, with prayer and lots of
attention to detail. Every change gets checked at least twice, normally
by different people.
One of the troubling issues of Bible translation is which
original-language text should be regarded as most authoritative.
Scholarly opinion is divided between the Nestle-Aland/UBS text (NU)
that is weighted heavily based on ages of manuscripts, the text
underlying the KJV translation (Textus Receptus or TR), and the
Byzantine Majority Text (MT). These differences are, to my way of
thinking, the equivalent of no more than a theological ant hill,
because the differences between texts, though numerous, are small, and
often make no difference in meaning at all. None of them affect any
essential doctrine that cannot be supported with other Scripture
passages where there is no dispute over the wording. To resolve this
issue, I did a radical thing. I asked the Author for guidance. After
all, it is His Book, and I wanted to give Him the respect that He
deserves. He answered clearly, not by directly picking one of the three
options I asked about, but by pointing out the correct rendering of a
passage as it was in the MT, but not in the TR or NU. Many people have
chipped in comments, some praising this decision, and some deriding it.
I was even called a heretic for believing that God could actually
communicate with me, today. No matter. He did, and I fear Him and
respect His opinion over everyone else's. Therefore, a couple of us
working on the project took on the challenge of conforming the WEB New
Testament to the Greek Majority Text New Testament, as the Lord
directed. That is why, even though the WEB is derived from the ASV, it
is based on the MT instead of the Greek text used by the ASV
translators (which was close to the NU text).
Hebrew Names Version
At one point in time, I joined forces with Wayne Mitchell to create a Hebrew Names Version, also called the World English Bible: Messianic Edition.
This is the same as the World English Bible, except for three main
things. It substitutes English spellings for Hebrew names for people,
places, and festivals in place of equivalent Greek/English names. It
goes back to the tradition of substituting "LORD" or "GOD" for God's
proper Name in the Old Testament, instead of using the transliterated
"Yahweh" that the WEB uses. It also boldly renders "baptism" as
"immersion." The target audience for the HNV is genuine Messianic Jews
who speak English as a first language. The HNV is generated
automatically from the WEB using a phrase substitution list and a
custom program to make the changes on that list. In the history of that
project, there was much debate on just how far to go with the name
substitution (more or fewer), exactly how to handle God's Proper Name
in the Old Testament, and about the baptism/immersion translation
decision. The current mix seems to be a good balance. Some people are
really taken aback that the Names of God are not treated the same way
as other names. So far, without exception, the people making those
comments have not been Messianic Jews.
The World English Bible is published electronically on the World-Wide Web at several different web addresses, including http://eBible.org/web/, http://WorldEnglishBible.org, and http://WEBible.org.
Many different formats are available for browsing online or
downloading. Because it is in the Public Domain, the World English
Bible has found its way to many other web sites, Bible study programs,
etc. I lost count long ago. The New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs of
the World English Bible and the HNV are available in print. The current
printed editions are printed on demand, and have prices to suit that
production process, but we hope that when the whole Bible is finished,
there will be some conventionally-printed editions with large enough
quantities to bring the prices down to something more palatable than
the current prices. In the mean time, the electronic editions are free
for the downloading.
WEB Companion Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical Books
Without taking a doctrinal position on these books, the concensus view
among WEB volunteer leadership was that the books found in "Catholic"
Bibles that were missing in most "Protestant" Bibles were worth
preserving and including in this work. Since the ASV didn't have an
Apocrypha, the WEB Apocrypha is based on the KJV Apocrypha. The lead
volunteer on this portion of the project has stepped aside, so it may
have to wait until the Old Testament is finished for much more progress
to be made on it. Those who value these books can read them. Those who
don't can ignore them.
There are at least audio two recordings of the WEB that I'm aware of: an incomplete one at http://eBible.org/webaudio/
of only part of the completed sections of the WEB, and a complete
recording of the whole Bible, but with much of it still being edited,
In most cases, the edits made are small but very numerous, such as
adding quotation marks, swapping word order to something more natural
for modern English speakers, etc. Rather than log each of these
individually, we rely on automated version comparison programs to keep
track of what changed, when. Readers can do the same thing by keeping
older versions for reference (or searching the Wayback Machine).
Global Village Checking
The World English Bible is an open text project with drafts posted on
the Internet and with readings emailed out daily for for anyone to see
who wants to and who has Internet access. Anyone can email typo
reports, translation suggestions, etc., and many people do. We don't
require a set of credentials from all contributors, but every
suggestion is double-checked and evaluated before being accepted or
rejected. Some people have done excellent scholarly work. Some have
just noticed a typo or punctuation problem and reported it. It all adds
up to some very good quality control. Sometimes people point out an
alternate reading that is more clear and still accurate. Sometimes
people suggest things that don't preserve the meaning of the text, or
try to push some strange theological agenda, and those suggestions are
summarily dismissed. Those suggestions that improve the readability
and/or accuracy with no compromise in the meaning get accepted. We
don't have a complete list of all contributors, but there have been
hundreds. (Some early contributors' emails were lost in a hard disk
crash, so we couldn't make one if we wanted to.) We don't publish a
list of contributors lest people judge the Bible translation by the
character or theology of the most disreputable of the contributors
(whose suggestions would probably have been rejected, anyway). We do,
however, acknowledge that this is far from being a one-man work, and
many have helped in the process. The glory all goes to God, though,
because it is His Word and He enables us all to do this work and guides
us in the process.
Are We There, Yet?
The frequently asked question that is
hardest for me to answer with repect to the World English Bible is when
the Old Testament will be done, and the whole Bible put into print.
Current status is at http://eBible.org/web/,
but completion times is hard to predict. This is a volunteer project
(even my part), and work tends to get done in spurts. My main job is
related to Bible translation support, now, but not this translation, so
it is still a hobby-level effort. Anyway, I hope it is soon. The Lord
knows. Perhaps He will let me know in advance. :-) I've asked the Lord
for a way to speed the project without compromising on accuracy. I'm
expecting a reply, soon.
World English Bible Rainbow Missions, Inc. Michael