The Living Gospels of Jesus Christ, by J. B. Phillips. New York: The Rutledge Press. 190 pp. $24.95.

According to a book jacket by his first American publisher, the Macmillan Company, ''J. B. Phillips began to translate the Bible during World War II for study by youth groups of the Anglican church in London of which he was then vicar. . . .'' The Four Gospels came out in 1952 and the rest of the New Testament was completed by 1957.

Phillips's painstaking efforts to achieve a clear, comprehensible translation in modern English, while remaining true to the spirit of the original text, resulted in a version of great beauty and inspiration. Although not fully accepted at the time by some in academic circles, being considered a paraphrase instead of a bona fide translation by critics, it nevertheless quickly became very popular with lay readers. It has remained so to this day because of its smooth-flowing, easy-to-read prose, which yet loses none of the enduring vitality and reverent tramsmission of the much-loved King James Version.

This new edition of his Gospels is illustrated throughout by full-color photographs of beautiful Christian artworks, mostly paintings but including mosaics and stained-glass windows. Many of the artists represented are well known to connoisseurs, but some are lesser known or unknown. Some of the most impressive illustrations fall in the latter category; for example, an exquisite old sepia of the ''Madonna and Child'' and a compelling picturization of ''Christ Before the High Priest'' by an artist identified simply as Honthorst.

This points up one of the major deficien

cies in the book, the lack of a detailed list of credits. Another shortcoming is the omission of any word about the translator and his work, which could have been met most satisfactorily by inclusion of the translator's foreword by Phillips himself.

Aside from these limitations, the volume is a nice addition to the growing number of biblical books combining good scholarly research and fine-art illustrations.

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