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by Eugene A. Nida

By request of the Editor of The Bible Translator. the writer discusses in some detail the basic principles and procedures employed in the development of the recently published Reina-Valera Revision of 1960. Readers may remember a previous article on this revision. (Vol. 2. No. 2. pp. 88-90. 1951), written by Mr. John H. Twentyman, who represented the British and Foreign Bible Society in this program. For those especially interested there is available on request 8 brochure in Spanish telling not only the story of the history of the Spanish Bible. but giving a good deal of specific information as to types of revisions made In this recently published text.

In 1960 the British and Foreign Bible Society and the American Bible Society published jointly a revision of the Spanish Bible, known generally as the Valera Version, but which should be more accurately designated as the Reina-Valera Version, since it was first translated and published in 1569 by Casiodoro de Reina, after twelve years of intensive work, and later put out in 1602 in revised form by Cipriano de Valera, who gave more than twenty years of his life to its revision and improvement, This text has been the basic text of the Protestant Spanish church for generations, but it has not remained unchanged through the years, even though many Spanish-speaking persons tend to think of it as coming down to them unmodified from the Golden Age of Spanish literature. Actually, by means of a succession of minor revisions, of which the edition of 1909 was the last and most extensive, more than 100,000 changes of spelling, orthography, and punctuation were introduced and well over 60,000 changes of wording. However, the translation does bear the unmistakable flavor of "antiquity" and is dearly loved by many throughout Spain and Latin America. There is no doubt that Reina and Valera were both men of high literary ability and their translation and revision reflects not only sensitivity to language style but unusual insight into exegetical problems. However, despite the fact that this translation has been widely used and fervently loved (and defended), in the years prior to 1950 (when the present revision was begun), the Bible Societies had received a series of suggestions for certain substantial modifications. There was no organized opinion with respect to such changes, and a study of the suggested alterations indicated that almost all kinds of corrections were being proposed. As a result, the Translations Secretary of the American Bible Society was asked to study the situation in Latin America and Spain and to determine whether a revision was required and if so, what form it should take.

Investigation of the need for revision

An on-the-spot study of sentiment among Spanish-speaking Protestants in Latin America and Spain soon revealed that there was a very widespread feeling that something should be done to bring the form of the Reina-Valera text more into line with contemporary usage. When groups of persons were asked as to whether they would favor some revision, the almost immediate reaction was for various individuals to bring up passage after passage which was obscure or archaic in form. At the same time, however, almost everyone indicated his profound love for the text and his unwillingness to lose the "flavor of the ages." Actually the suggestions for changes involved a number of features: (1) orthography, especially the elimination of obsolescent accents and the simplification of the spelling of proper names, (2) misleading or unknown terms, of which there was quite an abundance because of the radical changes in Spanish through the years. (3) awkward grammatical constructions, which confused the reader and made for difficulty in public reading of the Scriptures. and (4) inadequate exegesis of a limited number of passages, especially those which proved inconsistent with other Biblical truths or were obviously contradictory to renderings to be found in the Bibles of other European languages, e.g. Portuguese, French, or English.

Part of the difficulty in assessing just what types and how many changes were desirable, if the constituency was to be served and satisfied, was the fact that despite this desire for some limited number of changes the Protestant constituency in Spanish-speaking Latin America is predominately very conservative on matters of Biblical interpretation and use. The better educated people naturally tended to desire more radical changes, while the lesser educated were basically suspicious of alterations. In fact, in some limited groups, even the pastors were afraid to suggest the slightest change in the text. for fear that they might seem to be tampering with the Word of God. On one occasion the very mention of "manuscripts" in a talk about the history of the Spanish Bible brought an expression of deep concern from one pastor, who arose and in an almost tearful plea, held out a battered copy of the Reina-Valera text and said, "But is not this the Word of God?"

At The other extreme, professors in seminaries and in many Bible schools urged the Bible Societies to consider a very radical revision of the Bible, which would bring it entirely up to date, not only in such mechanical phases as orthography and grammatical form, but in textual and exegetical matters. Many of these persons would have preferred the publication of the Hispano-americana Version (an entirely new translation of the New Testament published at the beginning of this century) with a corresponding Old Testament of the same general quality. But these sentiments, though they certainly reflected an intelligent evaluation of the textual and exegetical problems, did not fully take into consideration the very preponderate sentiment of the churches as a whole for the retention of as much of the for n and meaning of the Reina-Valera as possible.

Our basic problem, therefore, in attempting to evaluate judgments on the current Reina-Valera text, was to get some concrete qualitative and quantitative judgments on what changes should be made and how many. To do this, we cut pages out of printed Bibles and attached them to larger sheets by scotch tape at the top and bottom. Then, after any discussion of a possible revision with various church groups, we distributed as many of these sheets as we could to as many persons as would be willing to receive them, with the understanding that they would go over the passages in question and write in the margins any and all changes which they felt should be made. These persons were told that they need not always indicate what solution to a problem should be undertaken, but they could simply place a question mark beside certain passages or expressions which were not clear and which should probably be changed. Frankly, it was surprising how many persons accepted such sheets and how many people of all classes, from pastors to barely literate laymen, were willing to cooperate. We had not, however, expected to receive many of these sheets back, for as is so often the case in such experiments, people are ready to volunteer, but when it comes to following up, ''the spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak." In this instance, however, we were actually deluged with material, including in all more than 1,700 pages, most of these the marked up sheets, but in many instances long lists of proposed changes, for the persons in question felt that sending the original sheets back to the Bible Society would be too expensive, and hence they compiled long lists.

The use of these trial paste-up sheets had several important advantages: (1) they helped to convince the people that the revision being undertaken was a reflection of what they wanted done (and this was true), (2) the volume of the response and the quantity of changes were clear evidence that a revision was required: and (3) the committee was able to use these comments as very valuable evidence as to what type of revision was wanted by the people. A careful study of these suggested changes did confirm unmistakably that a revision was desirable, but at the same time it was most interesting to note that for the most part people were not interested in any changes of text or exegesis. In fact, what was clearly indicated was a revision which would bring the language up to date, but which would leave the meaning of the Bible as unmodified as possible.

The question faced by the Bible Societies was one of whether to give the people what they needed, but probably would not accept (namely, a full-scale revision of the Reina-Valera), or provide what the people obviously desired, namely, a light revision of orthographic, grammatical, and lexical forms. The history of revising the Bible is strewn with instances of revisions which were ahead of their time, for getting people to accept a particular alteration of the Bible involves a long process of education. It is not possible to force upon any constituency merely what they need. They must be led to realize that they want it. Accordingly, it seemed a much wiser procedure to plan on a limited revision, more or less in line with what was evidently desired, and then later to prepare an entirely new text of the Spanish Bible to serve the needs of seminary students and the more educated laity. The need of such a radically different text of the Spanish Bible is, of course, very important. For one thing, the Roman Catholic Church has put out three entire Bibles in Spanish during the last few years: (1) Bover-Cantera, (2) Nacar-Colunga, and (3) Straubinger, all of which in some respects reflect more contemporary exegetical positions than are contained in the Reina-Valera revision of 1960. Leaders in the Protestant church in Latin America have been very conscious of this need for a more thorough revision or new translation, but they also wisely recognized the problem of the tradition-oriented congregations which must be helped to understand the problems. Accordingly, these leaders agreed to a whole-hearted backing of the limited revision of the Reina-Valera, on the understanding that by the time this was completed the Bible Societies would undertake a more thorough revision or new translation. Hence, in 1960, the American Bible Society and the British and Foreign Bible Society began a new translation of the Spanish Bible, to be published within the next five or six years.

Responsibility for the Reina-Valera Revision of 1960

The British and Foreign Bible Society and the American Bible Society, who operate in Latin America as Las Sociedades Biblicas en America Latina. have undertaken the full responsibility for this revision involving the appointment of committees, the expenses of revision, and the publication of the resultant text. They have, however, done this in constant consultation with church leaders, of not only the various historical denominations but also of the newer independent, and often entirely indigenous groups. This consultation was not only carried out extensively by representatives of the Bible Societies in Latin America and Spain, but was accomplished principally through consultative committees. For the New Testament there were 80 consultors and for the Old Testament 60 consultors who were sent mimeographed copies of the revised text and who were asked to send back their comments as to the tentative revision which had been made. These consultants were chosen on the basis of personal competence in Biblical studies, geographical distribution, and denominational affiliation.

Contrary to the usual situation in Latin America almost seventy-five percent of the consultants actually responded with suggestions on the text, and much to the surprise of the committee most of the suggestions were for further changes. In fact, the total number of additional changes which were advocated was somewhat over 10,000, all of which had to be carefully classified and considered by the committee in its final full session.

Final decisions as to the text of the Reina-Valera revision rested with the Editorial Committee which was set up for the program, for once the Committee had been named, the Bible Society representatives were only advisors to the Committee and had no vote on decisions.

Organization of the work

The basic work on the revision was done by an Editorial Committee of six persons: Juan Diaz G. (of Mexico), Honorio Espinoza (of Chile), Francisco Estrello (of Mexico), Alfonso Lloreda (of Venezuela), Henry Parra S. (of Colombia), and Alfonso Rodriguez H. (of Cuba). According to original plans, it was hoped that one additional member might be found from the Rio Plata area of South America (Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay), but for a number of reasons this did not work out. The Editorial Committee consisted of two Methodists, three Presbyterians, and one Baptist, but the men were not chosen because of denominational affiliation, but because of proven competence in Biblical studies. All of the men had at one time or another taught in seminaries; three were seminary presidents; three were distinguished preachers and orators; and one a well known poet in evangelical circles.

All the members of the committee participated in the four full sessions, but one member of the committee dropped out of the program during the subsequent subcommittee meetings. Unfortunately, two members of the committee, Francisco Estrello and Honorio Espinoza, passed away before the publication of the edition.

The regular meetings of the committee consisted of four sessions of six weeks each, held during January and February of 1950-53, in three different locations: San Jose, Costa Rica; Lima, Peru; and Mexico City (twice). The travel expenses of the committee members were of course paid by the Bible Societies and they were compensated for these periods at the same rate which they received in their regular work. For their basic revision work done between sessions they were, however, paid additional honoraria.

At each of the meetings there were representatives of the Bible Societies: John H. Twentyman, of the British and Foreign Bible Society, and Eugene A. Nida, of the American Bible Society, but these men had no vote in the meetings. Their task was to help in the practical arrangements of the meetings, to assist the committee in digging out commentary data or providing information on special exegetical and linguistic problems, and to help prepare copy for the mimeographed drafts to be sent to the consultors.

Beginning with the, third session there was a regular secretary for the committee, Percy C. Denyer. who recorded the decisions of the committee, read proof. and systematized various technical aspects of the work. He was likewise without vote. As the program developed, Mr. Denyer's responsibilities, of course, increased, for he ( I ) received suggestions from the consultants and classified these for committee study, (2) checked the revision for consistency and brought such problems to the attention of the committee, (3) made certain mechanical changes consistently throughout the text (as authorized by the committee), (4) prepared copy for the printer, and (5) worked out a limited and later an exhaustive concordance to go along with the text. The committee was constantly indebted to Mr. Denyer's careful attention to detail and his painstaking accuracy in so many phases of the work.

Principles of the revision

In order to carry out a consistent piece of work within a well defined area of revision, as was obviously required by the constituency, it was of utmost importance that the committee work out a clear set of detailed principles to guide the program. This was done at the very beginning by (1) carefully studying the numerous suggestions sent in before the program was begun, (2) working out the implications of such principles on certain restricted passages, and (3) amplifying the principles by wider sampling of Biblical passages and by studying their implications over the entire range of translation work, including orthography, grammar, exegesis, and format (e.g. paragraphing and poetic indentation of quoted passages). At the beginning some 36 principles were formulated (these were, of course, somewhat expanded as the work progressed), and these were consistently followed, insofar as possible. Moreover when, as later proved to be the case. certain detailed principles covering minor details were altered, the secretary was instructed to go over all the preceding text and to alter it in accordance with these suggested modifications. However, there were no radical modifications in the basic principles, though, as is usually the case, the committee discovered that the application of some of the principles involved a good many more changes than they had at first anticipated.

The rigorous adoption and following of principles had a number of advantages: (1) greater consistency could be maintained throughout the revision, (2) repetitious discussion could be avoided, for once a principle was fully accepted, many changes could be made without the need of bringing up old issues, and (3) the arguments during the sessions could be focused on the principles, rather than against other committee members, and hence the differences of opinion could be more impersonal. In other words, instead of members arguing against each other, they could both attack the principles, though perhaps from different perspectives.

The principles included well-defined statements as to the limitation of the revision, namely, that it was to be primarily formal and not exegetical. These types of principles are not, however, easy to follow, for it is not always easy to decide just when a term is really obsolescent and when it is merely exegetically misleading. However, with surprising consistency the committee refrained from making any important exegetical alterations. Nevertheless. in some instances where a critical text is so much to be preferred over the traditional Textus Receptus, the committee did make some slight changes particularly if such changes were not in well-known verses where an alteration would be unduly upsetting to the constituency. In a number of instances certain modifications in exegesis and text were introduced by way of the pre-l909 text of Reina-Valera, for it was found that in many instances the form of the Reina-Valera circulated before 1909 was distinctly superior to the 1909 revision, which apparently had been made without much attention to consistency and without any close scrutiny of more valid exegetical aids.

If there were serious differences of opinion between the members of the committee on some particular rendering (these were actually not very common), the regular procedure was to put off discussion to a later period within the same session. If by that time agreement was still not reached, the problem was referred in a special document sent to the consultants. Without fail, by the next session the committee had no difficulty in reaching agreement. In the actual voting a tie could have easily resulted, but usually decisions were unanimous and agreement was registered informally, but as indicated above, when there was a tie vote, any final decision was postponed. Where some specially complex problems developed, the representatives of the Bible Societies were usually asked to submit data from various additional commentaries or technical sources, though of course the committee members in their work had access to a wide variety of commentaries and were constantly consulting various translations in Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, and English.


As noted above, there were 60 consultants for the Old Testament and 80 for the New Testament, with a surprisingly high response. This was accomplished principally because of prior personal contact with these persons and the fact that the local representatives of the Bible Societies cooperated so effectively in cultivating the interest of such people and encouraging their cooperation. The members of the Editorial Committee also went out of their way to consult personally with these people and a rather extensive correspondence was carried on with the consultants, so that they fully realized the extent to which their contributions were appreciated and were being used.

In addition to the regular consultants there were two special consultants. who read the entire Bible from the standpoint of style. These men are well-known for their literary ability and hence made some very useful suggestions in smoothing out otherwise rough renderings. One additional special consultant went over the entire text from the standpoint of exegesis and presented to the committee a very important list of suggestions aimed at more consistent exegetical treatment of the text. On the New Testament the Editorial Committee had the special assistance of Dr. Adolfo Araujo of Spain, who made a very detailed study of the text, exegesis. and style.

Detailed procedures

During the first session the Editorial Committee undertook the following program: (1) studied the submitted suggestions, which had been specially classified for the use of the committee, (2) formulated some minimum principles, (3) applied these to selected passages, (4) expanded the basic principles, and (5) finished preliminary drafts of several New Testament books.

At the end of each session, members of the Editorial Committee selected various books of the Bible which they revised between sessions and which they then presented to the rest of the committee. In the actual sessions each person read his own basic draft, done prior to coming to the meetings, and for the time that he was presenting his draft he was the chairman of the meeting, The reading of the draft was followed carefully by the other members of the committee who watched the Greek or Hebrew text, checked unusual renderings with commentaries, and noted parallel renderings in other translations. The oral reading of the entire Bible had an advantage of discovering infelicitous expressions which might have slipped past in printed form, but which were more readily detected in the oral reading. Insofar as possible, work was rotated each day so that no one person would have to read aloud or be chairman for too long a stretch.

The committee worked on an average of seven hours a day, with short breaks in the middle of the morning and afternoon. In some few instances, in order to get certain portions done, the committee put in somewhat longer sessions, but it was soon discovered that after seven hours it was quite impossible for the committee to do really creative or adequate work,

After the four main sessions, during which time the entire Bible was gone over and all the principal suggestions from consultants discussed, there were three important subcommittee sessions from one to two weeks each. These sessions took up special problems which came to the attention of the committee in the process of preparing the copy for the printers or which were suggested by proofreaders and others dealing with some of the more mechanical phases of the work. All other problems were dealt with by correspondence. Whenever in the subcommittee sessions there were problems which in any way impinged upon basic principles the members present took a "conservative approach" to any further changes. referring to the rest of the committee any special problems which seemed to go beyond earlier principles or procedures.

As the drafts were prepared by the committee, using pages of text pasted on larger sheets of white paper, these were then typed up on stencils, proofread, mimeographed, and sent out immediately to the consultants, so that before the next yearly session the committee could have some general judgment as to the acceptability of the text. The detailed suggestions for change were not, however, taken up one by one until the entire job was completed and until all the suggestions could be classified. first by type of modification, and secondly, by passages. All the suggestions, relating to a particular type of change or a special verse, needed to be studied at the same time, for the consultants often had contradictory judgments on particular changes.

The preparation of the mimeographed text for the consultants required the mimeographing of somewhat over one-quarter of a million sheets of paper, since the total number of stencils was a little over 3.300. Though this was a rather laborious process and one requiring a lot of pressure (for we attempted to finish up the mimeographing shortly after the end of each session ), it was necessary since any special problems had to be constantly checked with the committee, for sometimes the copy was not too clear after numerous changes had been made, erased, and written in again. Nevertheless, this mimeographing of the text proved very worthwhile, since not only did the committee receive most useful help from the consultants, but by and large the constituency seemed to feel that it was adequately represented in the work.

The procedures which were adopted did not involve the usual system of minutes, for the actual decisions of the committee were registered in the draft prepared for mimeographing. However, the Secretary did make lists of all general decisions. including lexical items which would have to be checked through concordances or orthographic and grammatical alterations, which would have to be checked throughout the text. In addition, Secretary Nida also made rather comprehensive notes of typical problems, so as to have reference data on the work and to provide the committee with information on prior discussions. At the same time, a very full report was made at the end of each yearly session, listing all important work done, significant decisions made. and all procedures outlined for the future.

Editing of the text

As noted above, the Secretary had an increasingly larger task as the work developed, for it was necessary to ensure consistency in the work, to deal effectively with the numerous suggestions from consultants, and to prepare copy for the printer. This editorial work may be described in the following phases:

1. Consistent orthographic alterations. This involved the spelling of proper names, but the committee authorized only the simplification of the present Reina-Valera spelling, not the correcting of the transcription of the Greek and Hebrew terms, (2) punctuation in accordance with contemporary usage (while referring to the committee all changes which might involve modifications in interpretation), and (3) use of accents in accord with recent decisions of the Royal Spanish Academy.

2. Consistent use of terms. No attempt was made to produce a strictly "concordant" translation, whether in matters of word usage or in parallel passages. In the first place, the 1909 Version was far from consistent in such matters, and to attempt to overhaul the text completely would have gone far beyond the principles established for this limited version. On the other hand, the committee did not want to change a word in one parallel passage without making a similar change in the corresponding passage. if the words in question involved the same basic difficulty in understanding. In other words, the committee did not want to add to the "synoptic problem" by creating greater inconsistency, but at the same time it was felt that the committee should not try to "rework" passages so as to make them as consistent as the Greek or Hebrew texts would warrant. In the case of Old Testament quotations in the New Testament, the committee was also anxious to be consistent but not to introduce any artificial conformity.

3. Consistency of application of principles. The Secretary found that in a number of minor instances the committee had applied the principles in most places, but had failed to apply them in other very similar situations. These problems were brought to the attention of the subcommittee for action.

It happened that the printers who first set up this Reina-Valera revision failed to take into consideration the need for more adequate spacing between words (Spanish must be consistently set with greater space between words than is the case with English, for the syllable structure of predominately open syllables makes for serious misunderstanding if the setting between words is too tight). This meant that the entire Bible had to be reset. This fact resulted in some advantage, for it meant that the first setting was read by five different proofreaders who detected a number of minor details which could be improved in the resetting. This circumstance actually amounted to a kind of "reading committee," but their attention was directed, of course, to matters of mechanical consistency rather than to exegetical or stylistic refinement.

Translational helps for the reader

Because of the special limitations in the Reina-Valera Revision of 1960, the committee did not include the normal types of translational helps for the reader, involving important alternative readings and renderings. Since this revision does not follow a critical text, such renderings and readings would be rather contradictory, for only the more accurate readings and renderings would thus occur in footnotes. Moreover, it was felt that the present level of Biblical understanding among the laity in Spanish-speaking Latin America would not warrant such marginal helps, for they would be more disconcerting than useful. Of course such notes are being planned for the new Spanish translation begun in 1960.

On the other hand, the committee has made use of a few notes, including (1) the traditional explanations of certain Hebrew proper names, where the meaning of the passage turns on the understanding of the Hebrew word, e.g. Jacob, Esau, Beulah, etc., and (2) the meanings of some words which are not widely used in evangelical circles, e.g. Hades, Seol (Sheol), and Asera (Asherim).


The basic proofreading of the printed text was done by five different persons in addition to the printer's proofreaders. All of these proofs were then sent to the Secretary, who compared these and made a final set of corrections for the printer. Of course, there was a good deal of overlapping between proofreaders, but there was sufficient diversity in what was found by these different persons to justify using all of them.

When the galleys were made into page proofs and returned for proofing these were checked by three persons, and the revised page proofs were checked by two different persons. Similarly, plate proof was checked by two persons. This was all in addition to the proofreading done by the printer.

However, despite the extreme care with which the proofreading was done, there are still some errors, but these are fewer than in most Bibles.

Presentation to the public

Contrary to usual procedure, no attempt was made to put out trial publications in the new revision in order to test public reaction.

In general, of course, the practice is to produce a single Gospel, then perhaps a New Testament, and only after that an entire Bible. In this instance, however, the Bible Societies were consistently advised by Latin Americans against such a procedure, for they maintained that preliminary tentative editions would cause undue contention and difficulty. In the past it has been customary, in Latin America, for the Bible Societies simply to issue another edition with certain changes; and when this has been done without undue publicity the results seem much better. Moreover, there has been every indication that the revision of 1960 had the support of the vast majority of the constituency and no special difficulties were foreseen, though naturally some opposition is always inevitable, for certain persons thrive on criticism of others, and the issuing of a revision of the Scriptures always presents a cause célèbre.

Actually, however, there was a test of the revision without people being particularly aware of the fact. Two Illustrated Gospels were published with the new text and both Christmas and Easter portions had the new text, and to date there has not been the slightest criticism or opposition to the text used in these publications. The fact of the matter is that most people were quite unaware that these publications were in a revised form. This is, of course, exactly what the committee wanted, for it seemed best to alter the Reina-Valera so as to make it more understandable, without seeming to change it.

In the publicity which was prepared for presenting the 1960 revision to the public the constant themes were (1) the limited nature of the revision and (2) the fact that the committee did exactly what had been done many times before, i.e. brought the text more into conformity with contemporary usage, while not spoiling the style of the traditional renderings.

General evaluation of procedures

It must be recognized that an entire revision of the Bible in four principal sessions and three subcommittee meetings was only possible because (1) the committee members did sound pieces of work between sessions, (2) the revision was essentially of a limited nature, touching principally matters of form and style and not interpretation and text, and (3) the Secretary was unusually qualified in the careful handling of details. It is, of course, possible at this time to see various modifications which could have been made to improve the procedures and speed up the work. These would include: (1) the appointment of a full-time secretary right from the beginning, (2) the employment of more than one person to help in the preparation of copy for the printer (this is really a tremendous job), and (3) the possible use of printing rather than mimeographing of the basic draft to be sent to consultants. Under the circumstances in which the committee worked, this latter procedure would not have been possible, but in the case of the new Spanish translation, we are planning on sending preliminary drafts right to a printer, who will set the type, and then after correction, produce a sufficient number of galley proofs on thin paper to send to the consultants. The use of a printer will make it possible for us to correct the basic draft more satisfactorily and to send out corrected copy to various consultants and editors. This finally corrected galley material will then be sent to a printer as copy for the ultimate composition.

Just how acceptable this revision of 1960 will ultimately prove to be can only be known within two or three years, for in the final analysis neither the Bible Societies nor the consultants are the final judges or arbiters, but the churches. However, this limited revision has been designed to provide the churches with what they seemed to want. It will be interesting to see how well the attempt has succeeded or failed.