Trinitarian Bible Society – Quarterly Record
Issue Number: 580 – July to September 2007
Why the Need For a Revision of the Society’s Reina-Valera 1909 Spanish Bible?
by W. Greendyk, General Secretary, TBS (USA), (pictured above)
(formerly headmaster of a mission school in Bolivia)
As the Society’s logo states, its principal goal is that of distributing the
‘Word of God among all nations’. This implies producing, as God enables,
the most accurate and faithful translations of His Holy Word in as many
languages as possible, with the prayer that the Holy Spirit might bless God’s
Word to the salvation in Jesus Christ of sinners from among all nations.
Over the course of the Society’s long history, and as the Lord has given
light, on various occasions it has been deemed necessary to revise certain
translations if it was discovered that the existing editions did not meet the
criteria of the Society’s Constitution. As mentioned in a recent article in the
Quarterly Record,1 this has been found to be the case with the Spanish Bible
that the Society had published for many years.
More than four hundred million people in more than twenty countries
speak Spanish, making it the world’s fourth most commonly spoken language
and the second most common for international communication.2
Over the past half-century, interest in the Bible has increased enormously
in Latin America—an area where for centuries only the clergy and the
educated minority read God’s Word. As illiteracy is gradually being eradicated
across this immense area, readers young and old are increasingly
reading the Scriptures. It is the Society’s goal, then, with God’s help, to make available to the Spanish-speaking world a translation that is at once
faithful to the original tongues and understandable to the present-day
The Society’s revision of the Spanish Bible
The Society’s revision of the Spanish Reina-Valera 1909 Bible, commonly
referred to as the RV 1909 Bible, is well underway, and several
books of the Bible have undergone the first phase of revision. As we
prayerfully proceed with this most worthwhile project, we are occasionally
faced with scepticism and even criticism from some quarters. This was
not entirely unexpected, and to a certain extent initial misgivings regarding
any ‘new’ revision of the Spanish Bible that had been published by the
Society for almost one hundred years are not completely unwarranted. In
these few paragraphs, then, we wish to address some of the concerns that
have been expressed.
The need for a revision of the Spanish Bible: translational changes
Perhaps the most common apprehension regarding the revision of the
Spanish Bible has been a concern that the Spanish used in the original
translation will be ‘modernised’ or ‘simplified’. This is quite simply not the
case. On the contrary, the beautiful Castilian Spanish employed by
Casiodoro de Reina and Cipriano de Valera in their Spanish translation is
being retained in the entire text, with few exceptions. The only instances
where translational changes are being made are where specific deviations
from the original Hebrew or Greek text were found, or where the Spanish
word used in a particular verse has taken on a decisively different meaning,
resulting in a possibly confusing interpretation of the passage in question.
This can be explained in no better fashion than by citing specific examples.
The RV 1909 Bible renders the last part of Hebrews 3.1 as follows:
‘…considerad al Apóstol y Pontífice de nuestra profesión, Cristo Jesús’. An
English translation of this passage would literally be: ‘…consider the
Apostle and Pontiff of our profession, Christ Jesus’. The dictionary of the
Real Academia Española defines the word ‘pontífice’ as ‘1) bishop or archbishop
of a diocese; 2) the supreme prelate of the Roman Catholic Church; 3) a priestly magistrate who presided over the religious rites and ceremonies in Ancient Rome’.3 In Latin America and Spain, which have been predominantly Roman Catholic for centuries, even the most uneducated person would undoubtedly know to whom the word ‘pontífice’ refers—the pope in Rome—much the same as the word’s English cognate, ‘pontiff ’, is used almost universally to refer to the pope. The Greek lexicons all concur that the word in the original language, avrciereu,j (archiereus), is defined as ‘chief priest’ or ‘high priest’. In Mark 14.47, as well as in various additional instances where this word is found in the New Testament, it has been translated
as ‘sumo sacerdote’ (high priest). In other instances, the same Greek word has been translated, mostoften in a plural context, as ‘príncipes de los sacerdotes’ (chiefs of the priests; e.g., Matthew 2.4) or ‘principales sacerdotes’ (chief priests; e.g., John
7.45). Thus, in Hebrews 3.1 and in the numerous additional instances where the word had formerly been translated as ‘pontífice’, it has been substituted with the word ‘sumo sacerdote’ (high priest) or ‘principales sacerdotes’ (chief priests) depending on the context, for translational accuracy, clarity and consistency. In the RV 1909 Bible, a clear distinction had been made between sinful men who held the office of high priest and Jesus, the Greater High Priest, by capitalising the word ‘Pontífice’. Hence, where the word in the original refers to Jesus Christ, specifically in the book of Hebrews, the term ‘Sumo Sacerdote’ has been capitalised in the revision.
It is important to point out that in this instance, as is the case with many
other changes that are being made to the RV 1909 Bible, no new word
whatsoever is being introduced. Rather, the word or words from the original
translation that are believed to be the most accurate and faithful renderings of the original, as well as the most understandable to all Spanish readers, are being chosen and used more consistently throughout the Bible translation.
A fair number of the translational changes that are being made to the RV 1909 Bible involve a change in verb tense or mood to agree more suitably with the original Hebrew or Greek. To illustrate one example of such a change, we shall examine the translation of the first part of Psalm 35.9. The RV 1909 Bible has translated this as
follows: ‘Gócese mi alma en Jehová’, which can be translated into English as ‘May my soul rejoice in Jehovah’. However, the original Hebrew verb translated in this instance as ‘Gócese’ is not in the jussive mood (a directive mood that signals a speaker’s command, permission, or agreement that the proposition expressed be brought about4), but is in the simple imperfect tense, which usually signifies
incomplete, and thus future, action. This phrase has been changed accordingly in the Spanish revision to express the simple future tense in Spanish: ‘Mi alma se gozará en Jehová’ (My soul shall rejoice in Jehovah). The reader will agree that these two
verb usages carry a substantially different connotation.
Hence, utmost care is being taken to ensure that not only the proper verbs are employed, but that the tense or mood in which they are rendered most accurately and faithfully translates the verbs in the original languages. Here again, no simplifying or modernising is employed, but rather, with God’s help, an accurate translation is sought in every aspect. In various instances, the Greek words swthri,a (so¯te¯ria) and swth,rion
(so¯te¯rion), defined by W. Bauer,5 J. Thayer,6 and most other Greek lexicographers
as ‘deliverance, salvation’ and ‘saving, delivering’ respectively, have
been translated as ‘salud’ in the RV 1909 New Testament (e.g., Luke 1.77,
Acts 28.28), while in other instances these same words have been translated
as ‘salvación’ (e.g., Luke 1.69, Luke 2.30). The final clause of Ephesians
5.23 had been translated as follows: ‘…y él es el que da salud al cuerpo’.
Wherever Spanish is spoken in the world today, the word ‘salud’ signifies
‘health’. Hence, this Biblical phrase could erroneously be understood to
read ‘…he it is who gives health to the body’. While we fully recognise and
agree that the Lord indeed is He who gives health to our bodies, the context
of this passage clearly manifests, as confirmed by the Bible
commentators, that what is referred to here is ‘He who gives salvation, or
deliverance’ to the ‘body’ of the Church. The original Greek word translated
in the RV 1909 Bible as ‘el que da salud’ (he who gives health) in the
above-mentioned phrase is swth,r (so¯te¯r), which is defined in the most
widely-used and well-known lexicons as ‘one who rescues; saviour, deliverer,
preserver’. Consequently, the translation of the phrase ‘el que da
salud’ has now been rendered ‘Salvador’ (Saviour), thus removing any possible
ambiguity in this context. Much the same as the English word ‘health’
formerly had ‘salvation’ as one of its meanings in some older dictionaries
of the English language, the Spanish word ‘salud’, as defined by the latest
edition of the RAE’s Dictionary, has as a fifth and somewhat obscure
meaning ‘salvation; the obtaining of eternal glory’.7 In an online consultation,
a member of the Real Academia Española confirmed that the word
‘salud’ has ‘fallen into disuse when referring to salvation’.8 Thus, in each
instance where ‘salud’ had formerly been employed in the RV 1909 Bible
to denote salvation, the word ‘salvación’ (or ‘Salvador’ where applicable) is
being substituted in the revision. This word unequivocally and universally
For those who may be concerned that such changes to the Spanish Bible
will remove the beautiful eloquence of the old Castilian Spanish, we would
simply propose that the word ‘salvación’ is no less beautiful than the word
‘salud’; we would even suggest that this word, with its unambiguous and
unequivocal meaning—salvation—is perhaps even more gloriously eloquent
than ‘salud’—a word which unquestionably refers to physical ‘health’
in the Spanish-speaking world today. It has been pointed out by some that
in Acts 27.34 of the English Authorised Version, the Greek word swthri,a
(so¯te¯ria) has also been translated as ‘health’. It is clear from the context in
which this word is used, however, that in this sole instance where the original
word has been translated as ‘health’ in the AV, the Apostle Paul refers
to precisely that—physical health—when he urges his fellow seafarers, who
had been fasting aboard their storm-tossed ship, to ‘take some meat: for this
is for your health’. The context of this passage clearly indicates that the
Apostle is not referring to the salvation of the soul, but to the health of the
body! In the forty-two other instances of this same Greek word in the AV,
it has been translated thirty-eight times as ‘salvation’, three times as ‘saved’
or ‘saving’, and once as ‘delivered’. This very example from the English
Bible, then, only serves to underscore the importance of making an equally
clear distinction between the Spanish words for ‘health’ and ‘salvation’.
Furthermore, the RV 1909 Bible translates this same Greek word as ‘salvación’
ten times; once again it should be pointed out, then, that the use of
this word in the revision in no way represents a ‘modernisation’ or ‘simplifying’
of the original Spanish. Rather, by substituting the word ‘salvación’
in place of ‘salud’ wherever the original word most clearly means ‘salvation’,
doctrinal accuracy and faithfulness to the original Greek are more consistently
employed and, as a consequence, all ambiguity is removed for
Spanish readers worldwide.
The overwhelming majority of changes being made to the RV 1909
Bible, however, do not involve translational changes, but rather involve
changes in syntax (the order in which words are placed in a sentence) and
grammar that reflect the norms established by the Real Academia Española,
the universally recognised body governing the Spanish language and its
usage. The RAE periodically releases updated dictionaries and other publications
outlining proper Spanish grammar, orthography and additional
linguistic norms. (The RAE’s most recent dictionary represents its 22nd
edition!) In turn, most Latin American countries have their own Academia
de la Lengua (Academy of Language), which regularly publishes the norms
regarding present-day Spanish usage as established by the RAE, along with
some of that particular country’s specific regionalisms and other linguistic
Some of the syntactical anomalies employed by the RV 1909 translation
are no longer understood or easily read by a vast majority of Spanish
speakers in the world today. Thus, many of the changes being made in the
revision do not involve any change at all to the words used, but rather to
the order in which these words are placed in the text. Such changes will
produce a Bible translation that is accessible to millions of Spanish speakers—
particularly in Latin America—who had previously struggled with
the syntax employed by the RV 1909 Bible and who, for this reason, had
either never used the RV 1909 Bible at all, or had formerly used the
RV 1909 Bible but had since resorted to reading one of the numerous modern
and corrupt translations that have more recently been made available
to the Spanish-speaking world. By carefully employing many simple
changes in word order, while not relinquishing any of the reverence in the
original Spanish translation, the RV 1909 Bible will be transformed from a
Bible which was once considered difficult or impossible to read by millions
of Spanish readers, into a Bible that will be understandable to every
Spanish reader. One example will suffice to illustrate clearly this most
The RV 1909 Bible makes frequent use of what are termed ‘enclitic pronouns’.
This involves the placement of unstressed personal pronouns
(sometimes referred to as ‘clitics’) acting as the direct or indirect object of
the verb, and which are attached to and follow the verb. Perhaps the most
common example of such a construction in the RV 1909 Bible is the word
‘Díjole’ ([He/she] said [un]to him/her), where ‘dijo’ is the third-person past
tense of the verb ‘decir’ (to say), and ‘le’ (him, her) is the personal pronoun
employed as the object of the verb. Most Spanish literature from centuries
past included this grammatical structure. However, the use of the enclitic
pronoun began to decrease over the past century, and in present-day
Spanish the use of the clitic pronoun attached to and following the verb
(rendering it an enclitic pronoun) is restricted to only a few specific grammatical
Concerning the use of enclitic pronouns, the RAE states the following
in its most recent publication, El diccionario panhispánico de dudas
(The Panhispanic Dictionary of Doubts): ‘The placement of the unstressed
pronoun before or after the verb is not arbitrary, but is subject to certain
rules which have varied over time. These are the norms by which the placement
of clitics is governed in general educated Spanish…’.9 In subsequent
pages, the rules concerning the placement of unstressed pronouns are then
explained in detail. In summary, these norms state that unstressed pronouns
may only take on the enclitic form (that is, be attached to and follow
the verb) when the verb is in the simple form of the infinitive (e.g., Voy a
leerlo [I am going to read it]) or gerund (e.g., Llevo horas leyéndolo [I’ve
spent hours reading it]), or when the affirmative imperative (e.g., Léalo
[Read it!]) or subjunctive exhortative mood (e.g., Leámoslo [Let’s read it])
is employed.10 All Spanish readers will easily understand any of the grammatical
structures above, since they make up a significant part of their
written and spoken language.
Any other use of the pronoun attached to the verb and following it, however,
is considered obsolete and grammatically incorrect. Moreover, the
RAE’s scholars affirm: ‘In present-day usage, clitics [unstressed personal
pronouns used as direct or indirect objects of the verb] are always placed
before the simple indicative form [of verbs]… In written language, at times
they appear after [the verb], generally at the beginning of a sentence or
after a pause. The expression then acquires an archaic tone that is only justified
if the intention is to recreate the language of ages past’.11
The assertion has occasionally been made that the use of the many
archaic grammatical structures in the RV 1909 Bible provides the Spanish
Bible with an eloquence and reverence in much the same way that ‘thee’,
‘thou’ and other such pronouns and their corresponding verb constructions
lend an elegant and reverent language style to the English AV Bible.
This comparison is neither fair nor valid, however. First of all, no reverence
is lost whatsoever when, in keeping with the current rules of Spanish
grammar, the position of a pronoun simply changes from that of following
the verb to preceding it! Secondly, as the RAE tacitly affirms in the
preceding paragraph, the use of these archaic enclitic pronoun structures
is only justified when the writer is specifically intending to ‘recreate’ the
language of former ages. Benjamin and Butt, in what is considered by
many to be the best and most comprehensive English explanation of
Spanish grammar, A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish, state:
‘[While] in pre-twentieth-century literary style, object pronouns were
often joined to verbs in finite [indicative] tenses…this construction is
now extinct for practical purposes. [It] is still occasionally found in burlesque
or very flowery styles’.12 Furthermore, no English linguistic
authority or Academy of Letters, to our knowledge, has ever officially
stipulated that any of the linguistic or grammatical constructions used in
the Authorised Version are grammatically incorrect. Thus, while the
RV 1909 Bible is replete with grammatical constructions involving the
archaic use of the enclitic pronoun, many of these structures are not
familiar to the average Spanish reader. A combination of factors contributes
to this phenomenon.
The need for a revision of the Spanish Bible: literacy
As a whole, the Spanish-speaking populace of Latin America—which
does not include Brazil, where Portuguese is spoken—has made great
strides in the past decade in improving literacy levels. UNICEF reports
that in 2005 the average adult literacy rate in Latin America was 90%—a
relatively high percentage when compared with a world average of 89%.
When examined more closely, however, these figures reveal that approximately
85% of primary school entrants in Latin America reach Grade 5,
and only 44% of males and 51% of females attend secondary school.13
Thus, while the majority of Latin Americans can indeed read, and
although Latin American countries, as a whole, are continuously improving
their literacy levels, the statistics above reveal that the average reading
level of Latin Americans is not higher than primary-school level.
Furthermore, Spanish grammar is taught according to the norms established
by the RAE; hence, the archaic manner of employing the obsolete
enclitic pronoun structures is no longer taught in traditional Latin
American educational systems.
It should be noted, however, that the above-mentioned statements in no
way imply that the revision of the RV 1909 Bible is at all a result of comparatively
lower literacy levels in the Spanish-speaking community. Nor is
the revision of the Spanish Bible in any way geared to a readership with
only a primary-level reading ability. If, however, the revision of the RV 1909
Bible for translational and grammatical accuracy inherently results in a
Bible translation that is far more understandable to Spanish readers
throughout the world, how much more should we rejoice, since the principal
and prayerful goal of any Bible Society should obviously be that of
reaching as many people as possible with the pure, uncorrupted and
unsimplified Word of God.
The need for a revision of the Spanish Bible: an example
Because a very significant number of the changes being employed in the
word order of the RV 1909 Bible revision involve obsolete and archaic
enclitic pronoun structures that do not follow the norms as stated above, it
is fitting to offer here, by way of explanation, a specific example of the
changes being made, and at the same time to reinforce the fact that by subsequently
changing the word order in the RV 1909 Bible revision to
conform to the linguistic norms governing both written and spoken
Spanish today, the original words of the Spanish translation are in no way
being simplified or even replaced. Rather, by simply changing the order in
which these words appear in the sentence, the revised RV 1909 Bible will
effectively be a translation that is much more accessible and understandable
to readers of all ages, social status, and literacy levels in the entire
The first part of John 10.7 in the RV 1909 Bible reads as follows:
‘Volvióles, pues, Jesús a decir…’ (Then Jesus said [un]to them again…). In
this phrase, the pronoun ‘les’ (them) acts as the indirect object of the verb
‘decir’ (to say). However, the position of this enclitic pronoun, apart from
being completely contrary to the rules of Spanish grammar (the archaic
word ‘volvióles’ is unfamiliar to the average Spanish reader), is also distant,
relatively speaking, from the verb it modifies, and is attached to the verb
‘volver’ (the phrase ‘volver a’ means ‘to do [something] again’), which it
does not modify. By simply changing this phrase to read: ‘Volvió, pues,
Jesús a decirles…’, the entire meaning of this phrase becomes much clearer
for the reader, since the construction ‘decirles’ (to say [un]to them) is
very common in everyday written and spoken Spanish. The verb ‘decir’ is
in the infinitive form here—one of the specific instances where the current
norms of Spanish grammar allow the enclitic pronoun. This example
clearly illustrates the type of change being made in numerous places to the
RV 1909 Bible. The discerning reader will see that no new vocabulary is
introduced, no simplification of the language is undertaken, and the eloquence
and reverence of the original Spanish is completely maintained. A
relatively small but important part of this phrase—the object pronoun—
has simply been moved to ensure grammatical accuracy and fluidity. The
result is a commonplace Spanish phrase that will be understood by any
The need for a revision of the Spanish Bible: doctrinal faithfulness
One final type of change that is being carried out in the revision of the
RV 1909 Bible has to do with ensuring that the Bible is doctrinally faithful
to the meaning of the original languages and, as much as is possible, free
from ambiguous or confusing passages. There are relatively few of such
changes, but one example will illustrate what this type of change entails.
Psalm 37.7 in the RV 1909 reads as follows: ‘Calla a Jehová, y espera en él’.
This states: ‘Silence/quiet/be still/be silent [to] Jehovah, and put your hope
in/trust in him’. The Hebrew lexicons14 concur that the word translated as
‘calla’ is defined as ‘be still, keep silence, be silent’. Dr. Gill writes that the
original Hebrew signifies ‘Be silent to the Lord’.15 The present translation
in Spanish does not clearly convey this meaning, however. The Diccionario
panhispánico de dudas affirms that ‘lately, the transitive use of the verb
“callar” has been extended to include the causative meaning of “hacer
callar”’,16 (to make or to cause [someone] to be silent]). Thus, this passage
could even be misconstrued as a command to ‘quiet’ or ‘silence’ the Lord!
When the original Hebrew word is taken in the context, however, it is clear
that the Psalmist is exhorting to be patiently and submissively silent before
the Lord. Thus, the preposition used in this text has been changed, and the
text now reads: ‘Calla ante Jehová, y espera en él’ (Be silent/be still before
the Lord, and put your hope in/trust in him), effectively removing any possibility
of confusion or ambiguity.
The need for a revision of the Spanish Bible: conclusion
In conclusion, then, it can be emphatically and unequivocally stated that
the revision of the RV 1909 Bible is in no way an attempt to simplify or
modernise the Spanish Bible. Rather, a prayerful revision is being carried
out to ensure that the Spanish Bible is, above all, faithfully accurate to the
Biblical language texts. At the same time, the language of the Bible is being
modified only when this does not conform to the present-day rules of
proper Spanish grammar, spelling, syntax and semantics. The Society
requests your prayers for the revision of the Spanish Bible, as well as for the
many other revision and translation projects underway. May the Lord give
wisdom and light to those involved in these labours, and may the blessed
fruits of the Spirit of the Lord be evident in the lives of all those who read
and hear His precious Word.
1. ‘Improving Our Bibles’, Trinitarian Bible Society Quarterly Record no. 574,
January-March 2006, p. 9.
Trinitarian Bible Society – Quarterly Record
2. César Antonio Molina, ‘Spanish, a Language for Dialog’,
www.cervantes.es/docs/guias/GuiaICIngles.pdf, 16 May 2007.
3. Real Academia Española, Diccionario de la lengua española, Vigésima Segunda
Edición (Madrid, Spain: Editorial Espasa, 2001), p. 1803. The Real Academia
Española in Madrid, Spain, commonly referred to as the RAE, sets and publishes
the official rules governing the proper use of the Spanish language.
4. Summer Institute of Linguistics, ‘What is Jussive Mood?’
17 May 2007.
5. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early
Christian Literature. Chicago, IL, USA: University of Chicago Press, 2001.
6. Joseph Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI,
USA: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 1996.
7. RAE, p. 2017.
8. RAE consultation service,
9. RAE, Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española, Diccionario
panhispánico de dudas (Bogotá, Colombia: Distribuidora y Editora Aguilar, Altea,
Taurus, Alfaguara S.A., 2005), p. 527.
10. Ibid., pp. 527–530.
11. Ibid., p. 527.
12. John Butt and Carmen Benjamin, A New Reference Grammar of Modern
Spanish, 3rd Edition (Chicago: McGraw-Hill, 2000), p. 141.
13. UNICEF, ‘Latin America and Caribbean’,
www.unicef.org/sowc07/docs/sowc07_fastfacts_tacro.pdf, p. 3.
14. For example, Francis Brown, ed., The New Brown, Driver, and Briggs Hebrew
and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (London, England: Oxford University
Press, 1907), p. 198.
15. John Gill, The New John Gill Exposition on the Entire Bible, Psalm 37.7.
16 May 2007.
16. RAE, Asociación, p. 111.