TGOC Bible Class Cirricula – How To Study The Bible (1st Quarter) - Lesson #5 - Translations of the Bible
The subject of translations and versions of the Bible generally sparks controversy among those who discuss it. Those who have an affinity for a particular translation often feel compelled to defend it lest it fall into disuse, or more likely because it has some particular teaching which does a great job of emphasizing a crucial doctrinal issue.
Translations are necessary because few men today speak in the language in which the Bible was written. However, all translations are the product of men and some do a much better job than others. While we boldly declare our belief in inerrancy for the original writings, we do not make the same claim about the translations. This is not to cast doubt on the message we have to read, but it is to open our eyes to the weaknesses and strengths found in the various translations.
Why Are There So Many Translations?
It is not because the word of God is contradictory.
The Bible is the word of God written by men moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21).
God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).
There are two primary reasons why there are many translations.
(1) One has to do with the type of philosophy one holds on how the original languages, put forth in varying copies, came together to form the text of the Bible that we use to translate God’s word.
(2) The other has to do with the type of philosophy one holds on what is the best way to translate God’s word from the text of the various copies we have.
The Issue of Text Philosophy
We do not have any of the original, handwritten books of the Bibles (called autographs) penned by Moses, Isaiah, Paul, etc.
Instead, we have copies of copies of those originals.
The Old Testament was copied by scribes who followed rigid rules for their work such as: (1) only clean skins were used, (2) the page was first lined, 3) they used black ink, (4) each word was pronounced before written, (5) the pen was wiped before writing the name of God “Yahweh,” and (6) every word and letter was counted.
The New Testament was copied and circulated by the early Christians (Galatians 1:1; Colossians 4:16; 2 Peter 3:15-16).
Over the course of generations of copying, variations developed among the manuscripts.
How did many of these variations occur?
Sometimes it was by the (1) confusion of similar letters, (2) incorrect division of words, (3) confusion of sounds, (4) omission, (5) repetition, and (7) scribal glosses (a good exercise for you to try: take the page of a book and write it out word-for-word; see how many times you invert letters, misspell words, omit words, etc.)
Is this a cause for alarm? No.
We have thousands of copies to check against each other (over 5,800 NT manuscripts, many dating within 100 years of the original; compare this superior authenticity to Caesar's Gaelic Wars, for which we have just ten manuscripts and the earliest is a thousand years later than the original.)
We know exactly where the variations are, and there are very few significant variations among the New Testament manuscripts (not even 1/10 of 1% is in question as to what was in the original).
None of the variations change any Bible doctrine.
Example: 1 Thessalonians 2:7 - “we were gentle” or “infants”?
Example: Acts 8:37 – the confession of the eunuch (was it in the original or not?)
The Philosophy Behind The Text
Since we do not have the originals, scholars seek to reproduce the text by judging which manuscripts are most likely to be the original. This is called “textual criticism”.
Broadly speaking, there are two philosophies of textual criticism.
View A: The more reliable text is determined by the older manuscripts (closer to the time of the autographs) - even though there are relatively fewer of them.
View B: The more reliable text is a consensus of the majority of manuscripts - even though they are relatively newer (further in time from the autographs)
The KJV and NKJV follow philosophy B, and all other translations follow philosophy A. This explains some of the differences between these families of translations.
The Issue of Translation Philosophy
Translating from one language into another is very difficult. It involves the balance between being faithful to the intent of the original language while being readable in the receptor language.
For example, it would be hard to translate into Korean the English idiom: “Someone popped your bubble.” We would have to first translate literally what that means in English: “Someone destroyed your expectations.”
Broadly speaking, translations fall along the following spectrum: (a) literal – “word-for-word” translation; or (b) dynamic equivalence – “thought-for-thought” translation.
Different translations choose a different target along this spectrum.
On the most literal side of the spectrum would be the ASV of 1901, NASB, ESV (English Standard), KJV, NKJV, and NRSV (New Revised Standard). In the middle of the spectrum would be the NIV and HCSB (Holman Christian Standard). On the more readable scale would be NCV (New Century) and NLT (New Living).
There are also several paraphrases like the Message and the Living Bible.
Questions and Objectives
When a translation is produced, what should be some of the objectives? The following list of questions should draw attention to the problems in producing a translation. Should a translation strive for literal accuracy or should it strive for a greater reliability and opt for a dynamic equivalence? What should be done with unique words, that is, words which do not have a corresponding word in the language into which the version is being translated? Should these words be transliterated (that is, the writing of letters or words in the characters of another alphabet/language, such as the Greek Beta is the English letter “B”, etc.)? How should idioms be dealt with, that is, those words or phrases which are peculiar to a particular people or language? For example, we use the phrase, “you are pulling my leg” to indicate that someone is joking with us. However, how would one get that meaning into another language?
There are some things which one should look for in attempting to find the right translation. Realizing that even though the original writings of God's word are perfect, the translation is not. One should definitely look for the best translation that most accurately represents the original meaning and, at the same time, communicates well in the language into which it is translated. For, after all, one cannot afford to be wrong about something which is as important as heaven and hell. Usually, it is better to seek a translation which was produced by a group of men versus a “one-man” translation, thereby reducing the likelihood of the translator's views creeping in. Also, one should look for a translation which has no doctrine or ideology to push. Many of the translations on the market today are designed to promote a particular false doctrine. And, certainly important is the respect that the translation exhibits for the nature of God's word. Some translations, like the Cotton-patch Version, handle the Bible as if it were a storybook and are very flippant in the words chosen. Along with this point, the translators should definitely believe in the inspiration of the Bible. The presuppositions of the translators are very serious. If a translator does not believe in the miracles of the Bible, then he will be disposed to rationalize them away as much as possible. And such will be seen in the following survey of some of the strengths and weaknesses of some of the major translations.
King James Version
Strengths: This translation has stood the test of time and many critics. It is available almost everywhere and provides a consistent standard from which to work. It is accurate and represents a beautiful and dignified language.
Weaknesses: The translation is somewhat aged and some words have changed their meaning while others have ceased to be used altogether. For instance, “concupiscence” (Romans 7:8; Colossians 3:5), “harbergeon” (Exodus 28:32; 39:23). Other words which could be looked up in a concordance are: “almug”, “algum”, “chode”, “charashim”, “chapt”, “kab”, “nard”, “pilled”, “stacte”, “wimples”, “tatches”, “brigadine,” “purtenance.” These do not present an insurmountable problem, but they do lessen the effectiveness of the translation.
A more serious weakness is the Calvinistic influence seen in such passages like “such as should be saved” (instead of, “those who are being saved” - as they gladly receive God’s word, repent and are baptized, Acts 2:38, 41, 47). The translation does not always make a needed distinction between two Greek words. For example, hell and hades (Matthew 16:18; Acts 2:27); devil and demons (James 2:19), and “Easter” in Acts 12:4, which should be translated “Passover”.
American Standard Version (1901)
Strengths: The ASV was an attempt to bring the KJV up to date, resulting in 36,191 corrections (most of them being the correction of spellings and updating of archaic words). The translators of the ASV were very concerned for accuracy and thus produced a very literal translation. They did, however, opt for the oldest manuscripts for their primary text rather than the Received Text of the King James tradition. It, however, did retain the dignity of the KJV.
Weaknesses: While bringing many of the archaic words up-to-date, it still left many uncorrected. It's strong attempt toward literalness resulted in a very difficult to read and awkward worded text. While having a better textual base to work from, the ASV was too quick to delete words from the text (e.g. Acts 8:37, again due to relying primarily on the older manuscripts). Also, in some places the translation itself is poor (e.g. 2 Timothy 3:16).
Revised Standard Version (1952)
Strengths: Since the ASV was not received as expected, the RSV was an attempt to update it. Not only did it use the oldest manuscripts as its text, but it also used other helpful sources, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. It shows a strong concern for the English style. The translation eliminated most of the archaic words.
Weaknesses: The translators were inconsistent with the pronouns “thee” and “you.” In some instances, the translation is inaccurate. For example, Genesis 12:3; 22:17,18: “bless themselves” (c.f. Galatians 3:16). The translators had a very unscriptural mindset, even denying certain miraculous elements of the Scriptures (cf. Isaiah 7:14). Also, they were too eager to relegate certain passages to brackets and footnotes (e.g. Mark 16:9-20; John 7:53-8:11, again relying too heavily on the earlier manuscripts).
New American Standard Bible (1970)
Strengths: The NASB was an attempt to modernize the language of the Bible following the goals of the ASV (though it was not an attempt to revise it). The NASB attempts to be very faithful to the text, like the ASV and is much more readable than the ASV. The NASB shows a strong attention to the tense of the Greek verbs.
Weaknesses: The initial release of the NASB contained many typographical errors and poor printing. It was produced by a private organization which has refused to release the names of the translators. Although it has gained some popularity in recent years, it has not received a very wide distribution. Perhaps the most serious flaw in the translation is the outright contradictions it makes (c.f. Matthew 5:17; Ephesians 2:14). The NASB does some things well but on a whole, it is not the same quality as the original ASV.
Living Bible Paraphrased (1971)
Strengths: The paraphrase has been very popular with young people. It is also very readable.
Weaknesses: First and foremost, it is not a translation but a paraphrase, and makes no claim to be faithful to the original text of the Bible. It is quite often inaccurate. It is nothing more than a tool to push the unscriptural views of its author (c.f. Romans 4:9,12; Colossians 1:2,3; Isaiah 2:3; 2 Timothy 4:1; John 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21; et al.) Pure vulgarity is found in 1 Samuel 20:30 and John 9:34.
Today's English Version (“Good News Bible” - 1978)
Strengths: It is simple to read. Its translators had as a goal to produce a translation with a very simple vocabulary, like that of an ordinary newspaper. The TEV was produced by the United Bible Society, and thus the translation has received a very wide distribution.
Weaknesses: The translators show a lack of real ability in several passages. For example, Acts 20:7 “Saturday evening,”; Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16 teaches no obedience to law; and Acts 8:20 uses profanity. The translators had an aversion to using the word “blood”. And, what was believed to be a strength, its simplicity, is also a weakness in that it is too simple in some places by not conveying the sense of the original (in essence, subtracting from God’s word).
New International Version (1978)
Strengths: The NIV is a more reverent and dignified translation than many of the other modern speech versions. It is also accurate in many (but not all) places. It has very precise renderings in some places (e.g. “God-breathed” in 2 Timothy 3:16). It enjoys a wide-spread popularity among the young.
Weaknesses: A strong Calvinistic slant is seen in many of the passages. There is absolutely no justification for rendering the Greek word sarx, commonly translated “flesh” by most standard translations (translated as “sinful nature” by the NIV). The doctrine of original sin is brought into Psalm 51:5 and other doctrinal problems are seen in Ephesians 1:13; Romans 10:10; etc. While the NIV had the potential to be an excellent translation, its translators were obviously intent on inserting their doctrinal tenets is the translation, thus making this version more of a perversion.
New King James Version (1983)
Strengths: The NKJV returns to the same type of textual base as that of the original KJV (Received text that favors majority text versus the oldest manuscripts available). The translation attempts to be very accurate (as is demonstrated by “antitype” in 1 Peter 3:21). Also, the NKJV removed any Calvinistic slant from certain passages where it appeared in the original KJV (Matthew 19:32; Acts 2:47; 2 Corinthians 5:14; Galatians 5:17). In addition to all of this, the translation is dignified. This is the English translation we highly recommend you use as your main study Bible.
Weaknesses: As the original KJV had passages which had a Calvinistic slant, the NKJV has a similar problem with dispensationalism (cf. Matthew 24:33; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 1:10; 3:2). Also, the NKJV has been accused of failing to put the text fully into the language of the modern day man on the street. This may not be a just criticism upon reflection. It is the case that sometimes the “language on the street” becomes outdated very quickly. Therefore, the use of standard words versus the common street language may turn out to be a strength for the NKJV.
Which Bible Is the Right One?
There is always the strong concern with those who love God's word that they are actually reading God's word in their translations. With the multiplicity of translations increasingly being put forth, this becomes a more difficult problem. For one translation teaches this, and another teaches that. The older translations have stood the test of time and are sure and reliable. The KJV and ASV are excellent for a person's study Bible. If one feels the need for a more modern rendering, the NKJV is the best. The other translations have problems of such a nature as to render them unreliable. One cannot be sure if he is reading a place where “they got it right” or “they got it wrong.” A good translation can go a long way in helping one properly understand God's word. Always keep in mind that there is a vast difference between “human” error in translating (where the translators made a mistake that does not result in false doctrine) versus “fatal” error (where the translators purposely inserted a false doctrine into the text that would result in a person losing his/her soul if followed).
Why is the subject of translations often a controversial one?
What are some of the problems which a translator would have?
What are some things one should look for in a translation?
List some of the strengths and weaknesses of the KJV.
List some of the strengths and weaknesses of the ASV.
List some of the strengths and weaknesses of the RSV.
List some of the strengths and weaknesses of the TEV.
List some of the strengths and weaknesses of the NIV.
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