SPRINGFIELD — Because the professor of the first Greek course Barclay Newman took in college “made it fascinating,” Newman became a translator for the American Bible Society — and a primary translator for the ABS’ Contemporary English Version.
After that first course with R.C. Briggs at Union University, “I took all the Greek I could get,” Newman said.
After earning a doctor of philosophy degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he taught biblical studies at William Jewell College. He also taught Greek after the professor teaching the language retired. Then he was approached about working for the ABS, an opportunity that lasted more than 42 years.
Because the ABS is part of the United Bible Society, Newman served as a consultant for Southeast Asia, including time in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. He taught at the University of Malaysia for seven years, where he set up the translation department.
His tenure would have been much shorter at the university because the Malay government hadn’t been inclined to renew his visa when it expired. But because the university wanted him to stay, the government relented. During his university days, he translated poetry, short stories and a novel.
As a consultant, he traveled Southeast Asia, holding regional workshops on linguistics and the art of translating. He would sit down with translators and discuss their needs and any issues they experienced. “I did a lot of preaching as well,” he said.
Newman served as a member of the Old Testament committee for the ABS’ Good News Bible (Today’s English Version) in 1976 and chaired the revision committee when the Bible was released as the Good News Translation in 1992.
In the early 1980s, the Canadian Bible Society asked him to work on the Good News in Paper for children and some other texts. His wife, Marjorie “Jean” Newman, worked with him on the material for children.
Leaders at the American Bible Society, including Newman, were convinced that a Bible with oral readability was needed — a Bible “written to be read aloud,” the ABS said.
Because more people in the world hear the Word rather than read it, a good translation “ought to communicate the message of the Bible clearly” so that the Bible is understandable when heard, Newman explained.
That conviction led the ABS to produce the Contemporary English Version (CEV), with Newman as chair of the committee and chief translator. He translated all Bible books except 12 in the Old Testament. With a degree in English, Jean served as editorial assistant for the project.
“The CEV is an ear-oriented text,” he said, with words — except proper names — having no more than three syllables. It also promotes aural comprehension, making sure listeners know to which noun each pronoun refers.
And the CEV was the first translation to use measured lines in the Bible’s poetry sections. The ABS believes the breaks are critical for oral readability and requires that those sections be printed exactly as measured, Newman said.
He explained the translation does more to explain certain words — such as grace, faith, justification, sanctification, redemption, regeneration, reconciliation and propitiation — because the basis of those words came from Latin rather than Greek. The translators tried to maintain gender faithfulness and took ethnicity into account, particularly related to the treatment of Jesus, pointing to “Jewish leaders” rather than to “Jews” as a group.
The ABS published the CEV New Testament in 1991 and the whole Bible in 1995. G.P. Putnam & Sons released the complete text as Seek First: The Bible for All People in 2006.
Newman retired from the ABS in 2005 but continues to explore translation issues. In 2010, he revised and expanded A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament, originally published in 1971. He also did the Running Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament published by the German Bible Society in 2007.
In addition to translation handbooks for individual Bible books, he has written the soon-to-be-released Scripture Stark-Naked: Scripture in Sync with the Source. The Center for Advanced Christian Studies will publish the book through its Paperwood Press and plans to release Newman’s Clues for Bible Translation probably as four books.
An accomplished artist and woodcarver, Jean has been asked to write children’s books as well. The pair plans to continue creating as long as the Lord allows them to do so.