10 talking points on Bible versions, manuscripts and languages

stack-biblesA brother asked a preacher to speak on Bible versions. The preacher asked his friends for ideas and points. I thought of these. What might you add to the list?

  1. The Scriptures were originally written in Hebrew, a bit of Aramaic, in the Old Testament, and Greek, in the New. The Greek used in writing the New Testament was the common language of the day, not the literary language used by the historians and authors of the time.

  2. The original documents are not available today. None signed by Moses or Peter, Paul or Matthew. Instead, we have thousands and thousands of copies made by hand, of varying quality, but which provide the Bible, far and away, the best attestation for any of the ancient works.

  3. Today, we have the science of determining the best biblical text because there are variations, albeit minor, in the manuscript copies.

  4. The variations do not affect any doctrine. Often, they’re trivial, such as the difference between “Jesus Christ” and “Christ Jesus.”

  5. Translations are made for different purposes, and should not, generally, be condemned, for all have their strong and weak points.

  6. Paraphrases like The Message are not translations, but a total recasting of the text, more commentary than translation.

  7. There is no such thing as a literal translation. Such things as word order and the omnipresent idioms would make a literal translation unintelligible. The nature of language makes a word-for-word rendering impossible.

  8. Using several translations can help to avoid giving improper emphases or drawing bad conclusions from a given text.

  9. God created man’s language. Language is capable of transmitting meaning and truth. We can know what God’s will is and what the truth is by reading a Bible version.

  10. For those who don’t know the original languages, a translation is sufficient to know the plan of God, since it expresses his very will.

J. Randal Matheny

Be pithy.

9 thoughts on “10 talking points on Bible versions, manuscripts and languages

  1. I’m doing research on all aspects of the Bible, from the original writings to the English translations. I will be teaching a class in Dec (plenty of time to do due proper research).

    A couple of things that have struck me odd. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek (everyday language). Meant to be understood by everyone. Jerome’s Latin translation was called the Vulgate (vulgar) meant to be understood by everyone. Over the centuries the vulgate became corrupt (poor copying). It wasn’t until Erasmus copied the known greek manuscripts that Protestant leaders recognized that their “bible’s” were poor translations that an effort was made to make “better” translations. Even then, the translators were bound by current church doctrine and prejudice when they released their translations.

    John Wycliffe translated the first English translation, but from latin. He did not translate the word baptism. Therefore, all translation after him used the transliterated word, instead of translating word to mean to dip,immerse. Since this is part of the new birth (John 3, Rom. 6) How important is it to have proper translation of that word?

  2. Study from various versions and use a Strong’s Concordence for extra knowledge of the actual Greek/Hebrew words used in various texts. Avoid paraphrases such as The Message, The Living Bible, Phillips, etc. With Young’s and Strong’s concordences and three or more actual translations a person of elementary level English reading skills can get a good grasp of what God meant to say. Try to leave the things you’ve heard on the back shelf while reading.

  3. Excellent thoughts. A brother on an e-mail list made a reference the other day to “the dependable translations.” I started to ask him for a list, then decided not to make trouble.

    The only thing I would add is that no serious student of the Bible should rely solely on one version. All translators make decisions when translating; looking at several versions helps us see what choices were made and give us options as to other ways of expressing a text.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  4. Thanks for the comments. Jeff, I find that the versions also translate the Greek “en” as “with” when referring to immersion. Fits their theology, rather than “immersion into the Holy Spirit,” we have “immersion with the Holy Spirit.” The transliteration allows them to keep from turning the King’s English on its head.

    Jeff, you’re right that the concordance is a basic study tool. I don’t know why we don’t teach that to people. Maybe because the preacher is right there and sometimes likes to be the answer man?

    Tim, one reason I like the NET Bible is because of the notes which attempt to show the choices the translators made and their reasons. With 60,000 notes, that’s a lot of background.

  5. Reading the Preface to a Bible version is another valuable tool to understand what the intentions and philosophy of the translators.

    All translations are valueless if we don’t get inside of them and study regularly.

  6. Any version of the Bible is necessarily subject to the scholarship, biases, and understanding of the fallible human(s) who produce(s) it. Anyone who claims that a production of the Holy Book in modern languages is free from bias is deluded. This is why comparing versions and further research (concordances, dictionaries, commentaries, secular history) is necessary for deeper understanding of the original Message.

    However, I have found no English version of the Bible (taken as a whole) that does not accurately present God’s Good News, sufficient for salvation. Individual verses of any version can be cited as “incorrect” or “not the best” rendition. Many scholars consider the Septuagint (translation by 70 scholars of the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures into the Greek of the day) to be inferior to most modern versions, yet the Messiah and his talmidim (disciples) quoted from it and called it “Scripture” or “God’s Word”.

    Readers of English are especially fortunate in that we have such a variety of versions to compare and so learn of the Lord of heaven and earth and His redemption plan, but this wealth brings a responsibility for comparative study. There are many languages with only one version available, and many of those versions were produced by a single scholar/missionary. Yet we bicker in our wealth.

    The producers of each version of the Bible perceived a particular need of Christians that no other available version met and gave their best effort to meet that need. I am not aware of any version produced “just for the fun of it” or to intentionally mislead readers and listeners.

    I have intentionally used the term “version”, which includes translations and paraphrases. Both translations and paraphrases range from mostly word-based (“formal equivalence”) to thought-based (“dynamic equivalence”). Different languages (and different forms of the same language) do not have word-for-word equivalence, so even adherents of formal equivalence necessarily reflect a bias in their choice of words.

    I do have my preferences with regard to the versions I use. Based on my (limited) knowledge of languages and of the Scripture, I consider some versions more accurate (producing the same understanding in the target culture as was produced in the original culture). Yet I am open to learning new aspects of God’s Truth from any honest effort to help me understand, whether it be translation, paraphrase, commentary, teacher, or other resource.

    My current top preference is _The Complete Jewish Bible_, produced by David Stern, a Jew who accepts the Messiah. He devotes many pages in the preface to openly explain his goals in producing this version. I like this Bible because it gives me more new insights (not change of doctrinal belief, although I am willing to consider that my understanding of the Word is flawed) than any other version I’ve read. _The Message_ and _The New Living Translation_ are high on my list too, for the same reason. But I grew up with the Authorized (King James) Version, and it’s generally what I quote from memory.

    I love God and His Word. Although I’ve made attempts to learn to read the original Hebrew and Greek, I do not understand those languages. I am dependent on other scholars to learn of God and His Word. I use my best judgment about what version is best for a particular purpose, and I humbly present that judgment for others to consider, but I will not bind it as authoritative for anyone else.

  7. If I could put together a bible just the way I wanted it I would make a parallel with a reliable version of the Greek and Hebrew, KJV, NKJV, and ASV. Then I would throw in some study notes at the bottom of the page from a reliable source, and maybe some outlines and notes to start the books. I guess everyone has noticed that you can’t pick up a study Bible that has honest notes on verses such as 1Peter 3:21 and Mark 16:16. I guess until someone publishes this I’ll have to rely on the multiple versions I have laying around. Oh yeah and the internet is pretty nice too.

    For my one version I lean a bit to the ASV. I have heard that Jehovah is a mistranslation. I personally like the use of the personal name Jehovah in the Old Testament for God. Many of these writers such as David and Moses were in a personal relationship with God. They often used His name in what I feel was a personal way. I like this about the ASV. I also have heard Hugo McCord say several times that it was the most accurate translation that he knew of. With his education I could not argue with him.

What do you think?