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‘Good News Bible’ translator Bob Bratcher dies
Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press
July 14, 2010

‘Good News Bible’ translator Bob Bratcher dies

‘Good News Bible’ translator Bob Bratcher dies
Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press
July 14, 2010

CHAPEL HILL — Robert

Bratcher, the New Testament translator for the Good News Bible, died July 11 at

the Carol

Woods retirement community in Chapel Hill. He was 90.

Born in Brazil the son of L.

M. Bratcher, a Southern Baptist missionary for 35 years, Bob Bratcher taught at

Baptist Theological Seminary in Rio de Janeiro from 1949 until 1956, when he

resigned from the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board in a dispute over his

teaching.

Since he had worked with the

American

Bible Society in revising a Brazilian Bible, Bratcher asked Eugene Nida,

executive secretary of the ABS Translations Department, to recommend him for a

teaching position in the United States. Nida invited Bratcher to work with him

at the Bible society “in the meantime,” which turned out to be until Bratcher’s

retirement in 1995.

In the early 1960s, the

secretary of special ministries for the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board

asked the Bible society to recommend the best translation for people who speak

English as a second language. Looking over the modern translations available at

the time, ABS leaders decided that no single version really fit that need, so

Nida asked Bratcher to do an English translation “for Southern Baptists.”

Released with the title Good

News for Modern Man, the New Testament was first issued in 1966. The complete

Bible was published in 1976 as the Good News Bible, also known as Today’s

English Version.

For a time the best-selling

Bible in America, the Good News Bible touched millions of lives, the vast

majority of whom never heard of its chief translator. In a radio interview in

2003, Bratcher said that’s the way it should be.

“A translator — especially a

translator of the Scriptures — should not be known, because the important things

are the words and the message that come through those books and not the person

who did the translation,” he said.

Bratcher’s name did appear

in early versions of the translation, prompting a question at one conference of

why he was identified contrary to standard policy. The ABS official, Bratcher

said, answered frankly, “Well if it didn’t go well, we’d have someone to blame.”

Bratcher caught plenty of

blame in 1981, when he made comments at a national seminar in Dallas sponsored

by the Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention criticizing

fundamentalist views of the Bible

“Only willful ignorance or

intellectual dishonesty can account for the claim that the Bible is inerrant

and infallible,” Bratcher said.

“No truth-loving, God-respecting, Christ-honoring believer should be guilty of

such heresy. To invest the Bible with the qualities of inerrancy and

infallibility is to idolatrize it, to transform it into a false god.”

Bratcher’s comments made it

into the New York Times, setting off a controversy that prompted many

conservatives to stop giving to the American Bible Society and led to a

financial crisis.

Determining him to be a

liability, ABS officials decided Bratcher should be dismissed, but overseas

colleagues in the United

Bible Societies, the umbrella fellowship of 145 individual Bible

societies including ABS, supported him. Eventually Bratcher agreed to resign

from the ABS but continued to do the same job as a consultant for the United

Bible Societies. After retiring he continued to work with the Brazilian Bible

Society.

Bratcher was a longtime

active member and Bible teacher at

Binkley Memorial Baptist Church in Chapel Hill. A memorial service for

him is scheduled at 3 p.m. Saturday, July 24, in the church sanctuary, with a

reception immediately following in the Fellowship Hall.

Dale Osborne, associate

minister at Binkley Baptist Church, said Bratcher retired only recently after

teaching adult Sunday school classes for more than 25 years. “Anyone who spent

time in one of his classes came away with a greater understanding of the

scriptures,” Osborne said.

Osborne said most recently

Bratcher spearheaded an effort to establish a relationship with a church in his

native Brazil. “Even at 90 he was going strong in his attempts to make

connections with God’s children,” Osborne said. ”I loved Bob

Bratcher. Binkley Baptist church will miss him to no end.”

The Good News Bible used a

theory of translation termed “dynamic equivalence,” where the meaning of the

Hebrew and Greek are expressed in a translation “thought for thought.” It

contrasted with the “formal equivalence” method evident in old standard

translations like the King James Version and Revised Standard Version, which

resulted in a more wooden word-for-word translation.

“They felt that way that

faithfulness was being preserved, but that is not necessarily true,” Bratcher

explained in the 2003 interview

with Robert Seymour, his former pastor, on WCHL radio in Chapel Hill.

“We’re trying to make the

translation match the original, not in form, but in the way the reader will

understand and react to it,” he said. “The ideal is that the reader of the

translation understands the text as well as the reader of the original and

reacts to it in the same way. Of course it’s an impossible goal, but that’s

what you try to do.”

The method was never popular

with some biblical conservatives, and it became even less so when some of

Bratcher’s own views became public. Alleging that Bratcher’s disdain for

fundamentalism influenced his translation, critics noted choices like replacing

the “blood” of Jesus in passages like Romans 5:9 with references to Christ’s

atoning death.

The Good News Bible also

passed what had become a litmus test for so-called “liberal” translations —

translating Isaiah 7:14 to refer to a pregnant ”young woman” instead of

the traditional rendering of “virgin.”

Bratcher said the Hebrew

word used by Isaiah means a young woman of marriageable age, though not

necessarily a virgin. When the passage is quoted in Matthew 1:23 as prophesying

the birth of Jesus, the word is “virgin,” implying the New Testament author

used a Greek translation of the Old Testament made 500 years after Isaiah.

The Isaiah verse sparked

controversy in the mid-20th century when the Revised Standard Version used “woman,”

earning accusations from fundamentalists and some evangelicals of deliberately

tampering with the Scripture to deny the doctrine of the Virgin Birth.