While MennoMedia prepares an Anabaptist Community Bible for the 500th anniversary of Anabaptism in 2025, conservative Anabaptists are working on their own Bible project.
Unlike the Anabaptist Community Bible — which uses an existing translation, the Common English Bible, and adds commentary by study groups — the conservative Anabaptists are making a linguistic update of the entire biblical text.
A team of eight is working to publish a Bible in modern English that’s easier to understand than the King James Version, which most of their churches use.
Begun in 2017, the project is called Traditional Text Bible Publishers. TTBP has representation from Nationwide Fellowship, Groffdale Old Order Mennonite Conference, Pilgrim Conference, Conservative Mennonite Churches of Ontario, Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church and independent or unaffiliated groups. The team meets once a year in person and monthly by conference call.
In a podcast, TTBP member Aaron Burkholder of Versailles, Mo., said, “Several Conservative and Old Order Mennonite men had already begun working on the Bible text completely independent of each other because of a burning desire for this work to be done.”
When the men learned what the others were doing, they decided to work together to produce a Bible that is easier to understand.
Conservative Mennonite churches in the United States adopted the King James Bible when their groups stopped reading the Bible in German in church about 100 years ago. The KJV has served them well, and it is used in their churches and schools.
Languages change, however.
“We will have children growing up among us who decide the Bible is too hard to understand, and there will be a spiritual void,” Burkholder said. “A Bible in current English will also be more easily understood by people who know English as their second language.”
The group considered wider use of the New King James Version, published in 1982, because it is similar to the original KJV, and conservative Anabaptists prefer traditional Bible translations. But several considerations led them to prepare a new translation.
TTBP member Daniel Burkholder of Reinholds, Pa., noted it is difficult to buy the rights to publish the NKJV, which they would need to do to produce a Bible with different translations side by side.
Another concern was that some words in the NKJV seem to make foundational rules less binding.
In the NKJV (and other recent translations), 1 Peter 3:3 says a women’s beauty should not “merely” or “only” come from outward adornment, such as jewelry and fancy hairstyles. But, in its original language, 1 Peter does not say a woman’s beauty should not “merely” come from something other than her character. Older translations say simply that women’s beauty should not come from jewelry and fancy hairstyles.
This difference is important to conservative Anabaptists, and they want to preserve the simpler meaning.
“We at Traditional Text Bible Publishers recognize the weight of solemn responsibility that comes with translating the Bible,” wrote the group in its Summer 2023 newsletter. “We do well to approach the Word with caution and humble reverence.”
The group is especially concerned to use older Greek Bible texts that the church would have known and used through the centuries. This text family is referred to as the Traditional Text (or sometimes the Byzantine Text). Similar earlier editions of the Greek New Testament were called the Textus Receptus, or the Received Text. TTBP is cautious when it comes to Alexandrian Greek texts that have informed other Bible translations and prefers not to use those texts in this translation project.
The TTBP group is focusing on the New Testament first and wants a linguistic update that is informed by careful readings of the Greek text. They are working with a Bible translation consultant from the United Kingdom who checks the work.
Drafts of Matthew, Mark and Luke have been completed and are available in print for public review. Comments come from both general readers and ministers, and the group takes the feedback seriously.
Matthew Brubacher, a member of the editorial team from Ontario, said that the group has taken suggestions that improve wording. But the group has also rejected some suggestions. Brubacher said in an email: “We have been asked whether Mark 10:25 might be more accurately translated as ‘It is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.’ However, the evidence for that translation is weak and the point was that the thing was impossible, so we have kept the standard translation of camel.”
It is not TTBP’s goal to offer a distinctly Anabaptist translation, but rather a faithful rendering of biblical texts. The group is not offering any commentary or study guide. Christian Light Publications, a conservative Anabaptist publisher in Harrisonburg, Va., is working on an Anabaptist Study Bible.
The group understands that some conservative Anabaptists may be reluctant to use their translation because it is not commissioned by any church body. But they hope it will help readers, Anabaptist and otherwise, understand the Bible better.
They even hope that it can be used in parallel with other languages. Old Order Anabaptist groups still read the Bible in German during church services, but many like to compare it with an English version at home.
Traditional Text Bible Publishers is not sure how long it will take to complete the translation project. Joshua Porter, one of the TTBP committee members from Pensacola, Fla., wrote that “this is not a project that we can hurry through in a year or two.”