The Open English Bible project aims to create a translation of the Bible into formal but contemporary English which is completely free of copyright restrictions and available without cost for any purpose. The OEB has no restrictions on what its readers and users can do with it (for both good and bad). You may quote it, publish it in part or full, on their blogs, in your churches, remix it, reword it, correct its egregious translation mistakes or indeed add your own.
The OEB is being created by taking existing English language translations which are in the public domain, and conforming them to modern English and suitable public domain Greek and Hebrew source texts.
The New Testament of the OEB is being formed on the base of the “Twentieth Century New Testament”, in particular the revised edition published in 1904. The Old Testament books which have been completed at this stage lean heavily on the work of John Edgar McFadyen and Charles Foster Kent, both of whom were very respected turn of the century Old Testament scholars.
The normative text for the OEB New Testament is the Westcott & Hort critical text. Since the NA27 is subject to a claim of copyright, W&H remains the best available (public domain) text. The normative text for the OEB Old Testament is the Codex Leningradensis (Leningrad Codex); specifically the electronic version of the Westminster Leningrad Codex.
The TCNT was one of the earliest 20th century attempts at a translation in clear modern language aimed at the ordinary reader and based on a modern textual base (ie Westcott & Hort). Predating the mid-20th century translations such as the New English Bible and even Moffatt’s groundbreaking attempt, it is out of copyright worldwide. The TCNT also has a particular resonance with the open source and free content communities of today – it was created by a loose collaboration of volunteers rather than a top-down hierarchy. A worthwhile article on the making of the TCNT can be found on Google Books. Given the requirements of (a) modern language and (b) public domain status the TCNT was the best contender.
The language of the 20CNT has been edited, and continues to be edited:
to reflect modern English usage (including the use of ‘they’ as a third person single pronoun) at a reading level corresponding roughly to the NEB/REB or NRSV
to reflect modern scholarship, including on the translation of terms such as ‘the Jews’ in John and terms referring to sexual practices (see TNIV and Dr Ann Nyland’s version)
This editing was moderate, aiming for a scholarly defensible mainstream translation usable within a religious community rather than a translation focused on a readership completely unfamiliar with the Bible or Christianity (as an example, the OEB is comfortable with the words ‘Christ’ and ‘Messiah’ and will not replace them with ‘Annointed One’ or similar). A freely licensed translation for the audiences of the Better Life Bible or the CEV is a project for another day.
The English language market is currently very well covered by translations for all seasons, everything from the Message, through the CEV, NRSV, AV, and so on through the acronym soup. The OEB aims at the levels of accuracy and natural language achieved by these translations, but the purpose of the OEB is not to gift the world with a more accurate or ‘better’ translation per se. The existing commercial English translations are, for the large part, of a high standard of accuracy and are the result of much work by knowledgeable and well intended translators.However, with the honourable exception of the World English Bible (WEB) – and of course the Authorised Version – all of these Bibles are subject to copyright, and owned by a particular organisation or publisher. Without wishing to criticise these organisations, their translations naturally have limitations on what end users can do with them.The OEB has no restrictions on what its readers and users can do with it (for both good and bad). You may quote it, publish it in part or full, on their blogs, in your churches, remix it, reword it, correct its egregious translation mistakes or indeed add your own.
This generation has a greater ability to confirm the accuracy of their Bible translations than any previous generation in history. The underlying Greek and Hebrew, lexicons, learned discussions and flamewars are all just a click away – as are a dozen other translations. Attempting to use copyright law to create authority is an exercise doomed to failure, as are all attempts to enforce truths by the power of the state.
The World English Bible (WEB) is an impressive achievement, and of great importance. However its language, based as it is on the ASV, remains bound to the Tyndale tradition. As a free counterpart to the NRSV and ESV it is invaluable; however there is still a need for a free Bible as a counterpart to the NEB/REB and TNIV/NIV translations. As well, the World English Bible in the New Testament is based upon the Byzantine Majority Text, and the OEB is based on the heavily Alexandrian focused text of Westcott & Hort.
The NET Bible is a great translation that has been a pioneer of using the Internet as a distribution medium, and its translation notes are particularly valuable. Unfortunately, though, the NET Bible’s licence doesn’t allow the creation and distribution of modified versions, which is a key freedom required for content to be considered ‘open’.
Although all translators have opinions on the truth and meaning of the ancient documents which form the Bible, the intent of this revision of the TCNT is not to push any particular theological line but to provide a freely usable translation of an Alexandrian text-type based critical text in modern English. The GitHub account for the OEB contains the original text of the Twentieth Century New Testament in USFM, (which can be checked against the the pdf of the published edition on Archive.org); it also contains a list of all of the changes made to that text. As can be seen from the article on the making of the TCNT mentioned above, the TCNT itself was the product of a wide range of translators of differing backgrounds and was not itself intended to push a particular theological point of view. Fundamentally the OEB is not an exercise in translation so much as editing. All changes are made transparently, and we endeavour to ensure that no new wording is added that is not attested to in at least one modern, scholarly, mainstream translation.
The OEB is organised by Russell Allen and includes the comments, corrections and work of a number of volunteers. We are always open to offers of help.
The OEB is available under a CC0 licence, effectively a waiver of copyright which allows the maximum reuse. We request (though this is not a licence condition) that altered versions be distributed under another name, or with changes clearly and comprehensively disclosed so that readers are not confused.
A chain of title for a work is a description of the ownership of the copyright which can be shown to publishers to reassure them that they will be able to legally publish.The OEB is primarily based on existing public domain English language texts, which are themselves translations of public domain Greek and Hebrew texts. The OEB attracts copyright when it is edited. Merely suggesting changes to the editor is not enough to give a volunteer a copyright claim, but anything more will require the volunteer to either give a written assignment of any copyright they may hold in the text they are contributing to Russell Allen (who will then place it under the CC0 licence) or themselves place that text directly under the CC0 licence. Although the OEB consults a number of modern translations to ensure accuracy, it is always mindful that these translations are proprietary and not under free licences.
Contact Russell Allen via oebible at openenglishbible.org
The first step is to join the OEB mailing list by going to forum.openenglishbible.org and following the instructions there.If you are a professional translator of Koine Greek or ancient Hebrew, let us know!If you are a software developer, you can help develop the support infrastructure the OEB relies on for handling USFM markup, generating PDF, Word etc, handling variants and automatically checking for typos.If your skills are in reading and writing English, you can help with transcription, proofreading and discussing ways to make the OEB’s English more natural and accessible.