The Holy Bible - An American Translation
By WILLIAM F. BECK(B.A., B.D., M.S.T., Th.D.)
William F. Beck (1904-1966) was the son of a Lutheran pastor in Minnesota. He became a minister himself after graduating from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, in 1927. For the next sixteen years he served as a pastor in Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) congregations in Iowa. In 1943 he left the pastoral ministry to work for the LCMS Office of Publicity and Missionary Education in St. Louis. In 1946 he was hired as an editor at Concordia Publishing House, where he was responsible for the production of Sunday school materials, devotional pamphlets and periodicals for young people. During this time he was also a doctoral student at Concordia Seminary. In 1956 he received a Th.D. in New Testament, and in the following year he taught courses at the seminary. In 1959 he published an English translation of Gospel texts arranged in the form of a harmony, entitled The Christ of the Gospels.
According to an article written by his son, 1Beck first began to prepare translations of parts of the New Testament during the 1930's and 40's, while he was a pastor in Iowa. At that time, his congregations were using the King James Version, but he "discovered that even his Sunday school teachers were having a difficult time understanding" it. He became convinced that "a simpler text was needed, if his people—young and old alike—were to grow in their knowledge and love of Scripture," and so he began to provide his students with his own translation of the texts used in the Sunday school lessons.
As one might expect from such an origin, Beck's version of the New Testament (1963) was a modern English translation, informal in style, and at a rather low reading level. Although Beck was theologically conservative, he did not believe that it was practical to expect laymen to learn the meaning of important theological terms such as "justification" and "grace." In his version he avoided such terms; he used "become righteous" instead of "justified," and translated charis with "love" instead of "grace." The need to explain the ruling presbuteroi ("elders") of the early churches is avoided by calling them "pastors" (Phil. 1:1, Acts 20:17, 1 Tim. 5:17, Titus 1:5). Beck also avoided all literary-sounding words, such as "blessed," for which he substituted "happy" (in the beautitudes we read that those who mourn are "happy").
At the time of his death in 1966, Beck was working on a translation of the Old Testament. He had finished the first draft, and was revising it. After his death, his friends gave the manuscript to two scholars: Elmer Smick (professor of Old Testament at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary) and Erich Kiehl (Concordia Seminary). Smick and Kiehl recommended certain revisions, and the text with these revisions was published together with the New Testament as "An American Translation" (ATT) in 1976. In this edition of the complete Bible the New Testament was also revised somewhat, in order to correct problems in the version pointed out by the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations. The complete Bible was then published by Lutheran News, Inc.
Soon afterwards a second edition was issued, containing a text further revised by one of Beck's friends, Dr. Phillip B. Giessler. In this second edition "grace" replaced Beck's "love" as a translation for the word charis, "blessed" replaced "happy" in the beatitudes, and "justified" replaced "became righteous" in some places.
After the publication of the second edition of the AAT, Giessler continued to work on a revision of Beck's New Testament, which was published as the God's Word to the Nations (GWN) New Testament in 1988, and reissued as the New Evangelical Translation (NET) New Testament in 1990.
The Fourth Edition to The Holy Bible - An American Translation was published in 2000. Dr. John Drickamer, a qualified translator of Hebrew and Greek and expert in the English language, went through the entire AAT, smoothing out some of the English and incorporating any valid textual changes that had been suggested by various scholars through the years.
Now Lutheran News, Inc. is once again printing The Fourth Edition to The Holy Bible - An American Translation. No revisions were made for this printing, but typographical errors were corrected.
1 Reu Beck, "The Life and Work of Dr. William F. Beck," Multi-Language Publications Newsletter (quaterly publication of Multi-Language Publications of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) 27 (March 2003), pp. 2-3.