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An Introduction to The [expanded] Bible™

More Than an Ordinary Translation

The Bible is the most influential literary work in human history, an unparalleled collection of poetry, prose, history, narrative, laws, psalms, proverbs, prophecy, and letters. Yet the Bible is much more than a great library. It is also the inspired and authoritative Word of God—his message to human beings. God speaks to us through his Word. It is critical, therefore, that it be understood.

Most people, however, do not read the Bible in its original languages. The Bible was originally written in Hebrew (the Old Testament) and Greek (the New Testament), with parts in Aramaic. As the most important book of all time, the Bible has been translated into hundreds of other languages, including, in the case of The Expanded Bible, English.

No translation is ever completely successful, however, whether of the Bible or any other text. All translations fall short for a variety of reasons. First, no two languages are equivalent in their vocabulary, sounds, rhythms, idioms, or underlying structure. Nor are any two cultures out of which languages arise equivalent in their way of understanding and expressing reality, their value systems, or their social and political organization, among other factors. Second, the meaning of a text includes much more than its abstract thought. The sounds and rhythms of words, word play and puns, emotional overtones, metaphor, figurative language, and tone are just some of the other devices that carry meaning. No translation can transfer all these things from one language to another. Third, all translation requires interpretation. One cannot convey meaning in a second language without first deciding what it means in the original. This step of interpretation in translation is unavoidable and imperfect; equally skilled and well-meaning scholars will interpret differently. Fourth, a traditional translation requires one to choose a single possibility—whether of a word or an interpretation—when in fact two or more may be plausible.

The Expanded Bible, while also imperfect, helps with all of these problems inherent in translation. It allows the reader to see multiple possibilities for words, phrases, and interpretations. Rather than opting for one choice, it shows many. It can, for instance, show both an original metaphor and a more prosaic understanding of that metaphor. It can show a second or third way of understanding the meaning of a word, phrase, verse, or passage. It can provide comments that give the historical, cultural, linguistic, or theological background that an English-language reader may lack. When helpful, it provides the most literal renderings to show what a translator has to work with.

With so many English translations available, some may ask why we need another. In many ways this is not another translation. Instead, it offers additional information that allows readers to see how translation communicates meaning. Readers see, in a clear and concise format, much of what a translator sees while working to be as faithful to the text as possible. The goal of this approach is not to suggest that a text can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean (it cannot), but to show that the Bible in its original languages is rich, multi-layered, and profound. The Expanded Bible does not overcome all the limitations of translation, but it allows more of the features of the original text to come across into English than any ordinary translation can.

Approaches to Translation

All translations of the Bible wish to be clear, accurate, and readable. Different translations emphasize different approaches to reaching that goal. Some emphasize reproducing as closely as possible in a modern language the structure of the original language (including word order, sentence length, and groupings of words in clauses and phrases). This approach, often called formal equivalence, favors being as literal as possible in finding single meanings for words, preserves idioms and metaphors (even if they convey little to a modern reader), and tends to expect the reader to work hard to understand the meaning of the text.

Another approach emphasizes that meaning in language is conveyed by groups of words working together. This approach, often called functional equivalence or meaning-based translation, tries less to find the single meaning of each word in the original, and more to understand and convey the meaning of entire phrases, clauses and sentences. To use an example from a modern language, the Spanish phrase ¿Como se llama?, translated literally, would be something like “How yourself call?” This would be a poor translation. A more accurate, though less literal, rendering would be “What’s your name?” Meaning-based translation theory claims this situation occurs frequently in all translation, including in translation of the biblical languages.

One place meaning-based translations differ from formal equivalence translations is in their treatment of gender. The New Testament Greek word adelphoi, for instance, sometimes means “brothers” (male siblings), but also commonly means simply “siblings” or “brothers and sisters”—referring to Christian believers. When the context in the original language calls for it, The Expanded Bible uses English terms that refer to both sexes. If multiple interpretations are possible, it shows alternatives.

Although both formal and functional equivalence translation theories have benefits, and impassioned advocates, every translation in fact uses both approaches. Even the most literal translation sacrifices literalness for meaning when it must, and even the most meaning-based or idiomatic translation is literal when the literal is clear and readable. One of the virtues of The Expanded Bible is that it represents the best of both approaches, offering idiomatic renderings to clearly convey the meaning of the text, and literal alternatives to show underlying structural features and allow the reader to assess the choices a more meaning-based translation has made. Ultimately, no translation serves the goals of clarity, accuracy, and readability better than The Expanded Bible.

How to Use The Expanded Bible

The Expanded Bible incorporates within each line the information one would find in a variety of Bible reference works, making it possible to read and study the Bible at the same time. The base text is a modified version of the New Century Version, a clear and accurate, meaning-based (functional-equivalent) Bible version. This base text appears in standard black type. Alternate interpretations of words, phrases, or idioms (and other information) are placed in brackets in lighter type. For Expansions, Alternates, certain Literals, and certain Traditionals (see below), a bullet (·) is used to show where to begin the replacement of a word or words before the set of brackets with the word or words within the set of brackets. The Literals and Traditionals that are not associated with a bullet do not require to be substituted for any word or words in the base text, but are just to be added.

The easiest way to learn to use The Expanded Bible is simply to read it. One may wish to read a verse or passage first using only standard black text, then go back and read it again using the expanded material. The markers (sigla) used are simple and the method is quite intuitive:

[   ]EXPANSION: Other possible ways of translating a word, phrase, clause, or sentence. Expansions are enclosed within a set of brackets [   ], and provide synonyms, different nuances, or sometimes more sophisticated diction.
Hebrews 4:12 God’s word is alive and ·working [active; powerful; effective] and is sharper than a double-edged sword.
[or]ALTERNATE: A different translation possibility that takes the meaning of the original language in a different direction than the base text does. Alternates provide information not possible in a standard translation, which must choose between possibilities for its main text. These are signaled by an or within a set of brackets: [or].
Hebrews 11:1–2 Faith means ·being sure [the assurance; or the tangible reality; or the sure foundation] of the things we hope for and ·knowing that something is real even if we do not see it [the conviction/assurance/evidence about things not seen]Faith is the reason ·we remember [or God commended/approved] ·great people who lived in the past [the people of old; the ancients; our spiritual ancestors].
LLITERAL: A more literal rendering of the original language, allowing the reader to see why translations make varying choices. These are signaled by a superscript L within a bracket: [L].
Ephesians 5:6  Do not let anyone ·fool [deceive] you ·by telling you things that are not true [or with shallow philosophies; Lwith empty words], because these things will bring God’s ·anger [wrath] on ·those who do not obey him [Lthe children/sons of disobedience].
TTRADITIONAL: Provides familiar terms and well-known renderings from past translations, especially those in the King James tradition. Signaled by a superscript T within a bracket: [T].
1 Corinthians 13:12 Now we see a ·dim [obscure; or indirect] reflection, as ·if we were looking into a mirror [Tthrough a glass darkly], but then we shall see ·clearly [Lface to face].
CCOMMENT: Briefly provides historical, cultural, theological, or other explanatory information to help readers better understand a verse or passage. These are signaled by a superscript C within a bracket: [C]. (There is no bullet in the base text for these because no replacement is required.)
Ephesians 5:25–26 Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her 26 to ·make her holy [sanctify her], cleansing her in the washing of water by the word [Cthe “washing” may refer to (1) baptism; (2) spiritual cleansing (Titus 3:5); or (3) an analogy drawn from the Jewish prenuptial bath (Ezek. 16:8–14); the “word” may be (1) the Gospel; (2) a baptismal formula, or (3) the confession of the one baptized].
Gen. 1:1REFERENCE: Provides cross-references to parallel passages, quotations from or allusions to another part of the Bible. These usually appear within a bracket. (There is no bullet in the base text for these because no replacement is required.)
Matthew 4:7 Jesus answered him, “It also says in the Scriptures, ‘Do not ·test [tempt] the Lord your God [Deut. 6:16].’ ”
nTEXTUAL VARIANT: Footnoted material that shows significant differences in various manuscripts in the original languages. Signaled by a superscript nthat leads to a linked footnote. (In some cases a passage in the base text is enclosed within vertical lines, indicating what is not contained in certain early manuscripts, as the footnote indicates.)
Matthew 6:13 |The kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours forever. Amen.|n
6:13 The kingdom … Amen. Some early Greek copies do not contain this passage.

The illuminating possibilities of The Expanded Bible method are most apparent when these different devices are used in close succession. Each device builds on the previous one to help us understand difficult passages and bring out the richness of the text more fully than any standard translation can: Romans 3:21–25

21 But now ·God’s way to make people right with him [Lthe righteousness of God] ·without [apart from] the law has been ·shown to us [revealed; made known], a way ·told to us [testified to; attested] by the law and the prophets. 22 ·God makes people right with himself [LThis righteousness comes] through ·their faith in [or the faithfulness of] Jesus Christ. This is true for all who believe in Christ, because ·all people are the same [there is no distinction/difference; Cbetween Jews and Gentiles]23 [LFor; Because] Everyone has sinned and ·fallen short [or is not worthy of] of God’s ·glorious standard [or glorious presence; Lglory]24 and all need to be ·made right with God [justified; declared righteous] as a free gift by his grace, ·by being set free from sin [Lthrough the redemption that is] ·through [or in] Jesus Christ. 25 God ·sent [or appointed; or presented] him ·to die in our place to take away our sins [as a sacrifice of atonement; or as the mercy seat; Tas a propitiation; Cthe Greek term could mean the place where sacrificial blood was dripped (the mercy seat) or the sacrifice itself; it implies an atoning sacrifice that turns away divine wrath].

About the scholars

Tremper Longman III (Ph.D., Yale) is the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College. He has written numerous articles and authored or coauthored over twenty books, including commentaries on Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Daniel, Nahum, and Jeremiah and Lamentations; How to Read Psalms; How to Read Proverbs; How to Read Genesis; and How to Read Exodus. He coedited and wrote articles for The Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry and Writings. In addition, he is one of the main translators of the New Living Translation and has served as a consultant on other translations of the Bible including the Message, the New Century Version, and the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

Mark L. Strauss (Ph.D., Aberdeen) is professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary San Diego, where he has served since 1994. He is the author or coauthor of various books and articles, including Four Portraits, One Jesus: An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels; How to Read the Bible in Changing Times; How to Choose a Translation for All It’s Worth (with Gordon D. Fee); Mark in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Revised Edition (with Walter Wessel); The Essential Bible Companion (with John Walton); Distorting Scripture? The Challenge of Bible Translation and Gender Accuracy; Luke in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary; and The Davidic Messiah in Luke-Acts. Dr. Strauss has a heart for ministry and preaches and teaches regularly at churches, conferences, and colleges.

Daniel Taylor (Ph.D., Emory) is the author of ten books, including The Myth of Certainty; Letters to My Children; Tell Me a Story: The Life-Shaping Power of Our Stories; and, most recently, Creating a Spiritual Legacy: Passing On Your Stories, Values, and Wisdom. He speaks frequently at conferences, colleges, retreats, and churches on a variety of topics. Dr. Taylor is also cofounder of The Legacy Center, an organization devoted to helping individuals and organizations identify and preserve the values and stories that have shaped their lives. He is a contributing editor of Books and Culture.

Special Abbreviations

OTOld Testament
NTNew Testament
ADAnno Domini (in the year of our Lord)
BCBefore Christ
LXXThe Septuagint (a Greek translation of the OT)
cf.confer (compare)


Copyright Information

The text from The Expanded Bible may be quoted in any form (written, visual, electronic or audio), up to and inclusive of 500 verses or less without written permission, providing the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible, nor do verses quoted account for 25% or more of the total text of the work in which they are quoted, and the verses are not being quoted in a commentary or other biblical reference work. This permission is contingent upon an appropriate copyright acknowledgment as follows:

Scripture taken from The Expanded Bible. Copyright ©2011 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For churches requesting to use a small selection of material for church bulletins, sermons or classroom use that falls within our “gratis use” guidelines, formal written permission is not necessary. Churches may use stand-alone quotations/scriptures in sermons, bulletins, newsletters, or projected in a worship setting without asking written permission provided the translation is correctly cited.

For requests not covered by the above guidelines, write to HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Attention: Permissions Department, P.O. Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214 or go to


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