Archive for the ‘J. B. Phillips’ Tag

Feast of J. B. Phillips (July 21)   3 comments

Above:  J. B. Phillips

Image in the Public Domain



Anglican Priest, Theologian, and Bible Translator


The trouble with many people today is that they have not found a God big enough for modern needs.

–J. B. Phillips, in Your God is Too Small (1961), 7


If we are to help in the development of Christian citizens for the future it is imperative that we teach the New Testament as containing spiritual essentials for modern living.

–J. B. Phillips, from the Preface to the Student Edition (1959) of The New Testament in Modern English (1958)


John Bertram Phillips, born in Barnes, Surrey, England, on September 16, 1906, struggled with mental distress (including depression) throughout his life and left a legacy of faith that continues to influence people positively.  Our saint’s father instilled a sense of inadequacy in young J. B.; nothing J. B. did was good enough for the old man.  Our saint did much that was impressive; he, for example, graduated from Emmanuel College, London, with honors in English and Classics.  He was briefly a schoolmaster before becoming a priest in The Church of England in 1930.  Phillips served four parishes, but his enduring influence came via writing.

Phillips translated the New Testament and part of the Old Testament.  He started in London, in 1941, translating some of the epistles while sitting in a bomb shelter.  Younger members of the parish found the Authorized (King James) Version unintelligible.  Phillips, having found the alternative translations inadequate for those young people, began to translate the New Testament (beginning with epistles) for members of the flock of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Lee, London.  In that project he benefited from feedback from parishioners and friend C. S. Lewis.  Also essential to the work of translation was Vera (died in December 2005, aged 94 years), whom J. B. married in 1939.  She was, in his words, his “finest critic.”  Phillips published the New Testament in phases (1947-1957) then released the revised translation in The New Testament in Modern English (1958).  Four Prophets, containing Amos, Hosea, First Isaiah, and Micah, followed in 1963.  The second edition of The New Testament in Modern England debuted in 1972.

Phillips was (and remains) a target of much criticism by fundamentalists.  He did, after all, reject the theory of verbal inspiration of the Bible and denounce total depravity, for example.  Furthermore, his classic work, Your God is Too Small (1961), summarized various inadequate God concepts, ranging from Resident Policeman to Grand Old Man to Pale Galilean, beloved of many who disliked his theology anyway.

Milder criticisms from other quarters have focused on our saint’s tendency to paraphrase when translating.  Yet, as Phillips wrote, sometimes a literal translation did not convey the meaning of a story set in one culture to readers from a different culture.  For example, Phillips wrote, the familiar

Blessed are the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3)

was literally, from the Greek,

Blessed are the beggars in spirit.

This carried one connotation in Roman-occupied Judea, where there was no sizable middle class, the gap between rich and poor was great, and beggars were therefore common.  Yet how would

Blessed are the beggars in spirit

sound to citizens of the post-World War II British welfare state?  Phillips translated that verse:

How happy are those who who know their need for God, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!

Phillips, who spent his final decades focusing on writing, was able to continue mainly because of Vera.  He wrote honestly of his struggles, went to counseling, and helped others, but sometimes depression still afflicted him.  With Vera’s help our saint kept writing.  After he died, aged 75 years, at Swanage, Dorset, England, on July 21, 1982, she helped to prepare his remaining works for publication.

Phillips has long been a positive influence in my spiritual development.  Your God is Too Small has continued to challenge me to lay aside childish God concepts, idols.  His translations have helped me in Bible studies, for he avoided familiar wording that masked meanings and captured the essence via paraphrases.  For example, Phillips wrote

makes a man common

in lieu of the familiar

defiles a man.

In so doing he conveyed the essence of ritual purity laws; defilement was ubiquitous, and purity set one apart from the masses of the great unwashed.

Modern English is a moving target, of course, so certain passages of the Phillips New Testament is probably unintelligible to many young people in the English-speaking world outside England in 2018.  Some English cultural references might confuse many readers from elsewhere.  For example, O reader, consider the meaning of “common” in the English context, with the commons and The Book of Common Prayer.  Yet this is not a problem education and reading cannot correct.  Besides, the Phillips New Testament, when compared to and contrasted with more recent modern English translations, is decidedly stately and eloquent–a positive description.


Loving God of timeless truth, we thank you for your servant J. B. Phillips,

who, through his mental struggles, glorified you and made your word intelligible to many.

May we who profess to follow you glorify you in our contexts,

bring others to saving faith in you,

and deepen the faith of many who are already in the fold.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Nehemiah 7:73b-8:12

Psalm 16

1 Corinthians 13

Matthew 28:16-20








Proper 24, Year B   Leave a comment

Above:  Christ Carrying the Cross, by El Greco

Complicated Answers

The Sunday Closest to October 19

Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost

OCTOBER 17, 2021



Job 38:1-7, (34-41) (New Revised Standard Version):

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:

Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

Gird up your loins like a man,

I will answer you, and you shall declare to me.

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Tell me, if you have understanding.

Who determined its measurements–surely you know!

Or who stretched out the line upon it?

On what were its bases sunk,

or who laid its cornerstone

when the morning stars sang together

and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,

so that a flood of waters may cover you?

Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go

and say to you, “Here we are”?

Who has put wisdom in the inward parts,

or given understanding to the mind?

Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?

Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,

when the dust runs into a mass

and the clods cling together?

Can you hunt the prey for the lion,

or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,

when they crouch in their dens,

or lie in wait in their covert?

Who provides for the raven in its prey,

when its young ones cry to God,

and wander about for lack of food?

Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul;

O LORD my God, how excellent is your greatness!

you are clothed with majesty and splendor.

You wrap yourself with light as with a cloak

and spread out the heavens like a curtain.

3 You lay out the beams of your chambers in the waters above;

you make the clouds your chariot;

you ride on the wings of the wind.

You make the winds your messengers

and flames of fire your servants.

You have set the earth upon its foundations,

so that it never shall move at any time.

6 You covered it with the Deep as with a mantle;

the waters stood higher than the mountains.

At your rebuke they fled;

at the voice of your thunder they hastened away.

8 They went up into the hills and down to the valleys beneath,

to the places you had appointed for them.

9 You set the limits that they should not pass;

they shall not again cover the earth.

25 O LORD, how manifold are your works!

in wisdom you have made them all;

the earth is full of your creatures.

37b  Hallelujah!


Isaiah 53:4-12 (New Revised Standard Version):

Surely he has borne our infirmities

and carried our diseases;

yet we accounted him stricken,

struck down by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions,

crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the punishment that made us whole,

and by his bruises are we healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have all turned to our own way,

and the LORD has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,

yet he did not open his mouth;

like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,

and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,

so he did not open his mouth.

By a perversion of justice he was taken away.

Who could have imagined his future?

For he was cut off from the land of the living,

stricken for the transgression of my people.

They made his grave with the wicked

and his tomb with the rich,

although he had done no violence,

and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain.

When you make his life an offering for sin,

he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;

through him the will of the LORD shall prosper.

Out of his anguish he shall see light;

he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.

The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,

and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,

and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;

because he poured out himself to death,

and was numbered with the transgressors;

yet he bore the sin of many,

and made intercession for the transgressors.

Psalm 91:9-16 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

9  Because you have made the LORD your refuge,

and the Most High your habitation,

10  There shall no evil happen to you,

neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.

11  He shall give his angels charge over you,

to keep you in all his ways.

12  They shall bear you in their hands,

lest you dash your foot against a stone.

13  You shall tread upon the lion and adder;

you shall trample the young lion and the serpent under your feet.

14 Because he is bound to me in love,

therefore I will deliver him;

I will protect him, because he knows my name.

15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;

I am with him in trouble;

I will rescue him and bring him to honor.

16 With long life will I satisfy him,

and show him my salvation.


Hebrews 5:1-10 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition):

For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.  He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.  Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as those of the people.  And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was.

So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,

“You are my Son,

today I have begotten you”;

as he says also in other place,

“You are a priest for ever,

according to the order of Melchizedek.”

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear.  Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.


Mark 10:35-45 (Revised English Bible):

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him and said,

Teacher, we should like you to do us a favour.

He asked,

What is it you want me to do for you?

They answered,

Allow us to sit with you in your glory, one at your right hand and the other at your left.

Jesus said to them,

You do not understand what you are asking.  Can you drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?

They answered,

We can.

Jesus said,

The cup that I drink you shall drink, and the baptism that I am baptized with shall be your baptism; but to sit on my right or on my left is not for me to grant; that honour is for those to whom it has already been assigned.

When the other ten heard this, they were indignant with James and John.  Jesus called them to him and said,

You know that among the Gentiles the recognized rulers lord it over their subjects, and the great make their authority felt.  It shall not be so with you; among you whoever wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.  For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Proper 24, Year A:

Proper 24, Year B:

Job 38:

Hebrews 5:

Mark 10:

Matthew 20 (Parallel to Mark 10):

Luke 22 (Parallel to Mark 10):

Beneath the Cross of Jesus:

Throned Upon the Awful Tree:

How Can I Thank You?:

Darkly Rose the Guilty Morning:

Jesus, We Adore Thee:

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded:

Stabat Mater:

Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended:

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross:

My Song is Love Unknown:

In the Cross of Christ I Glory:

For the Cross:

Prayer for Good Friday:

Prayer for Holy Saturday:

Prayers for Those Who Suffer:

A Prayer for Those Suffering from Holiday Grief:


There is no one-size-fits-all explanation for the causation of suffering that is also accurate.  Job’s alleged friends thought there was one, and they spent much of the Book of Job repeating it and pestering Job.

You must have sinned,

they said,

and God must be disciplining you.

The story within the Book of Job contradicts this point of view, as does New Testament theology of the suffering of Jesus.  Sometimes we suffer the consequences of our actions; other times we suffer because of what others have done.  And, quite frustratingly, sometimes we cannot understand why we are suffering; there is no reason which is apparent to us.

Life brings us circumstances which are more complicated than pat answers and theological statements which fit onto bumper stickers.  If we have an inadequate theology, life will, in time, expose this reality.  The late J. B. Phillips wrote a profound little book, Your God is Too Small.  He was correct; many Christians carry insufficient God concepts in their heads.

I do not profess to be a great spiritual master, but I do try to catch myself in great errors and endeavor not to repeat them–with mixed results.  I try, for example, to have a sufficient God concept, to admit that the mystery of  God exceeds my potential for full understanding.  I can know certain things for sure, but most of the reality of God remains hidden from me. I try to embrace the ambiguity of not knowing, and so to live comfortably with the forever unanswered questions.  God is God, and I am not.  So be it.  Blessed be God.