Phillips began by rewording the New Testamentepistles for his church's youth group in modern English, which group met during World War II in bomb shelters. These he published in 1947 under the title Letters to Young Churches. 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. Later he finished the whole of the New Testament, first publishing it in 1958, revising it and republishing it in 1961 and 1972. Phillips worked entirely from the Greek Testament.
Many editions of the translation were printed without verse numbers, and those with verse numbers can be hard to use, due to Phillip's rephrasing. The early editions are also very British in their use of English. The tone of the edition is illustrated by his translation of John 3:16, "For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that every one who believes in him shall not be lost, but should have eternal life." The best known, and often quoted, passage from the translation is a portion of Romans 12:2, "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould."