Which Bible Versions Did Lewis Read?

king-james-bibleC. S. Lewis read the Bible in many English-language versions and in koine Greek, although he “bemoaned his lack of Hebrew” (Dorsett 57). Lyle Dorsett, former director of the Marion E. Wade Center, found “more than a dozen Bibles” in Lewis’s “personal library … several of [which] were in Greek” (57). However, except for Letters to Malcolm, Lewis rarely used or liked the Authorized Version. He told first-time Bible readers that, except for the Old Testament, it would be better if they used a modern translation (“Preface” 231, “To Genia” 127). Lewis himself used Miles Coverdale’s (1535) translation in Reflections on the Psalms (7). Otherwise, he generally used and recommended James Moffat (1935) and Ronald Knox’s (1945, 1949) translations (“Preface” 231, Miracles 197, “To Mary Neylan” 375, “To Rhona” 941).

The sole exception is the discovery that, in Lewis’s letters to two Italian Catholic priests, he translated the Authorized Version into Latin, instead of using the Vulgate (Rupprecht 73-74). Why did Lewis dislike the Authorized Version? In his preface to J. B. Phillips’s 1947 translation of the New Testament Epistles, he recognized the changing nature of language and insisted on “periodical re-translation” (230-31). Lewis explains that “the Authorised Version has ceased to be a good (that is, a clear) translation. It is no longer modern English: the meanings of words have changed” (230). He also says that “we must sometimes get away from the Authorised Version … simply because it is so beautiful and so solemn. Beauty exalts, but beauty also lulls. Early associations endear but they also confuse” (231). Lewis goes further, explaining that New Testament Greek, which he says “is not a work of literary art,” reflects the nature of the Incarnation and makes the Authorized Version impractical (230).

[T]he Incarnation itself ought to shock us. The same divine humility which decreed that God should become a baby at a peasant-woman’s breast, and later an arrested field preacher in the hands of the Roman police, decreed also that He should be preached in a vulgar, prosaic and unliterary language. The Incarnation is in that sense an irreverent doctrine: Christianity, in that sense, an incurably irreverent religion. When we expect that it should have come before the World in all the beauty that we now feel in the Authorised Version we are as wide of the mark as the Jews were in expecting that the Messiah would come as a great earthly King. The real sanctity, the real beauty and sublimity of the New Testament (as of Christ’s life) are of a different sort: miles deeper or further in. (230)

Sources Cited
Dorsett, Lyle  W. Seeking the Secret Place: The Spiritual Formation of C. S. Lewis. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2004.
Lewis, C. S. Miracles: A Preliminary Study. New York: Macmillan, 1947.
—. “Preface.” Letters to Young Churches: A Translation of the New Testament Epistles.  By J. B. Phillips. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1947. vii-x. Rpt. as “Modern Translations of the Bible.” God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics.  229-33.
—. Reflections on the Psalms. 1958. San Diego: Harvest/Harcourt, 1986.
—. “To Genia Goelz.” 13 June 1951. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950-1963. Ed. Walter Hooper. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2007. 126-27.
—. “To Mary Neylan.” 26 March 1940. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 2: Books, Broadcasts, and the War, 1931-1949. Ed. Walter Hooper. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2004. 371-76.
—. “To Rhona Bodle.”  28 May 1949. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 2: Books, Broadcasts, and the War, 1931-1949. Ed. Walter Hooper. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2004. 941-42.
Rupprecht, Arthur. “The Versatile C. S. Lewis: Latin Scholar.” Seven 18 (2001): 73-92.