John Bertram Phillips
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John Bertram Phillips or, J. B. Phillips (16 September 1906 – 21 July 1982) was an English Bible scholar, translator, author and clergyman. He is most noted for his version of The New Testament in Modern English.
Phillips was born in Barnes, Surrey. He was educated at Emanuel School in London and took an Honors Degree in Classics and English from Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He was ordained an Anglican clergyman in the Church of England in 1930.
During World War II, while a minister at Church of the Good Shepherd in Lee, London, he found the young people in his church did not understand the Authorised Version of the Bible. He used the time in the bomb shelters during the London Blitz, to begin a translation of the New Testament into modern English, starting with the Epistle to the Colossians. The results appealed to the young people who found it easier to understand.
Encouraged by their feedback, after the war he continued to work the rest into colloquial English.
At first he couldn't find a publisher but with help from writer and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, Geoffrey Bles agreed. Portions were published starting with Letters to Young Churches in 1947, which received Lewis' backing. In 1952 he added the gospels. In 1955 he added Acts and titled it The Young Church in Action. In 1957 he added The Book of Revelation. The final compilation was published in 1958 as The New Testament in Modern English for which he is now best known. This was revised and republished in 1961 and then again in 1972. Time Magazine wrote of Phillips, "...he can make St. Paul sound as contemporary as the preacher down the street. Seeking to transmit freshness and life across the centuries". In his Preface to the Schools Edition of his 1959 version of the New Testament, Phillips states that he "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."
Phillips also translated parts of the Old Testament. In 1963 he released translations of Isaiah 1-39, Hosea, Amos, and Micah. This was titled Four Prophets: Amos, Hosea, First Isaiah, Micah: A Modern Translation from the Hebrew. After that, he did not translate the Old Testament any further. He talked of the revelation he received as he translated the New Testament, describing it as "extraordinarily alive" unlike any experience he had with non-scriptural ancient texts. He referred to the scriptures speaking to his life in an "uncanny way" similarly to the way the author of Psalm 119 talks.
Phillips had a near death experience in his 20s and also suffered from clinical depression throughout his life. He wrote an autobiography, The Price of Success, published two years after his death, and his life was further detailed in a book, The Wounded Healer, by his wife Vera and co-writer Rev Edwin Robertson.
His books include:
- The Newborn Christian
- The Church Under the Cross - 1956
- Making Men Whole
- When God was Man
- Letters to Young Churches
- The Young Church in Action
- Your God is Too Small - 1961
- Plain Christianity
- Appointment with God
- A Man Called Jesus
- New Testament Christianity
- God our Contemporary
- Good News
- The New Testament in Modern English - 1958
- The Gospels in Modern English
- The Book of Revelation
- Four Prophets - 1963
- The Ring of Truth: A translator's testimony - 1967
- The Price of Success - autobiography, 1984
- Resurrected writers: J. B. Phillips article by Maxwell Ryan