As we continue our Bible Origin series this post focuses on various bible translations. Please reserve judgment until you read the post all the way through, as it may surprise you. This being a blog post and not a text book, we’re barely scratching the surface of a plethora of historical facts concerning how we’ve received the bibles we have today. There will be more along this vein in later posts.
The original bible texts were penned in Hebrew, Greek and some Aramaic.
The King James Version (KJV) translation of the Bible used 7 texts from which to translate the New Testament scriptures. They were the 5 editions of Erasmus, the 1550 edition of Stephanus, and the 1598 edition of Beza. Those were the seven printed Greek texts that the King James translators used between 1604 and 1611 to produce the New Testament of the King James Version of the bible. Erasmus only had between six and twelve manuscripts from which to draw. Today we have over 5700 ancient manuscripts from which to translate the New Testament. The KJV translation became known as the textus receptus (received text). So from the 1600’s to the late 1800’s that was pretty much the text that was used, even though it had a very small early manuscript tradition behind it.
As better manuscripts from the early centuries were found, naturally there was a drive to create increasingly critical editions of the scriptures which rigidly scrutinize earlier, more accurate manuscripts. We now use much earlier manuscripts than what the King James translators used.
Erasmus wanted to use Vaticanus, one of the oldest manuscripts of the Greek Bible of both Old and New Testaments, which is one of the four great uncial codices and is largely extant today. It was written on 759 leaves of vellum in uncial script. Through paleographic dating it has been determined to be from the 4th century AD. But Erastus was unable to access it, because it was in Rome, housed at the Vatican, which is where it gets its name Vaticanus. Viewing it was reserved for a narrowly select group who were at the top of the religious hierarchy: the religious pontiffs of Roman Catholicism which acted as a ruling body wed to the government. The manuscripts used to translate into the King James Version were documents about 1200 years later than the ones available to us today. But just because we now have those many older manuscripts available to us, in no way guarantees the integrity of the translators of modern versions of the scriptures. Granted, some of them have unscrupulous agendas, whether those working on the new translations are aware of it or not.
Any translation you pick up whether King James, American Standard, Holman Christian Standard, English Standard Version, or a host of others, there are going to be a few words that you disagree with. When translating from Greek, Aramaic and especially Hebrew, some meanings are extremely difficult to convey in English. But there are many dozens of other translations in other languages around the world, of which we have no idea how accurate they are because we do not speak that language and must rely on linguistic scholars to compare them. There is an Arabic bible translated from the Van Dyke text, but how many of us speak Arabic and have the ability to judge its accuracy? One thing is certain: God superintended the writing of His words. The bible is God breathed. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” 2 Timothy 3:16 KJV
By the way, in the above verse the NIV uses the more literal, more accurate translation of “God Breathed” in place of “by inspiration of God,” because they didn’t understand it, so they changed it. Today we know it means that God literally spoke the words of the bible through His Spirit. In other places it’s the other way around where the King James translation is more accurate than the NIV’s.
“For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. “ 2 Peter 1:21 KJV
So let’s take the above verse as an example to point out a fact. Do you see those three words in italics? In the King James as well as in most all other translations, the italics indicate that those particular words do not appear in the manuscripts that were used to translate into English. But reading the text we see that it helps convey the true meaning of the text, as it specifies that it was the “holy men of God” who were “moved”. In no way does it change the meaning, rather it expounds the meaning. But then, when other transitions do the same thing many of the “King James only” advocates yell “foul!”
There are several fine newer translations that take into consideration not only the earliest Greek texts, but also the texts of earlier codices penned in various languages, including the Arabic, which was the language of the business world in the Apostles’ day; much like English is the prominent language of business today.
There also exists what are called AMPLIFIED translations. They don’t claim to be word for word verbatim of the original manuscripts. They write it in words they hope will help today’s readers understand the original writer’s intent. But they don’t always get it right, and that’s why amplified versions can be very detrimental when read by those who are reading the bible for the very first time. A case in point which I strenuously warn against for first time studiers is the “Good News” or “New Living” bible translations.
I’d like to inject here the necessity of using more than one translation when studying the bible. Even more importantly, we are to study prayerfully, in communication with the Lord. God through His Spirit is the literal author of the book, and He dwells within believers. Jesus promises that His Spirit will lead us into all truth. The Spirit renders the true meaning of any translation of scripture to those who are seeking God with all of their heart (In a later post I will point out the specific books that people claim are God’s word but are not). If one is not a believer they need only ask God to reveal truth to them as they read, and the Spirit will help them understand too! Only for them, He will do so from without, rather than from within. The Holy Spirit even moves upon unbelievers to set up circumstances as God wills, as demonstrated in the Old Testament. In the book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar was used to testify of the one true living God and he was definitely an unbelieving pagan.
On the other hand, for example, the most popular translation of scripture in America today is the New International Version (NIV), which many leading biblical scholars do not like. But because it is so popular, many contemporary bible scholars and theologians of Reformed Evangelical Christianity have been compelled to help the NIV readers understand what the original texts actually say. A case in point is that Dr. John MacArthur created an NIV study bible, and yet he speaks as if he does not like the NIV. He came out with an NIV bible that includes notations on every page which straightens out the misleading wording used in many places within the NIV. This is wise. If people are determined to read the NIV, then we need to have NIV’s that have notations explaining the true meaning of the text, rather than allowing fallacious thinking which can be derived from the translation itself.
There are Satanic and nefarious attempts to poison God’s word. Again, for the sake of example, I say that one of the driving forces behind some modern bible publishing firms is the attempt to create a more egalitarian view of scripture concerning gender roles, such as Zondervan. This is infection from the world. It was motivated by the age in which we live, with the majority of the populous wanting to embrace certain aspects of the demonic feminist movement. And there are other nefarious agendas as well.
Our goal should never be to condemn those who are seeking truth, and yet who may be misled by bad translations. They are reading what they believe to be the bible—they are seeking truth. Why not expound the truth to them rather than condemn them? Unless, of course, hatred and pride has so embittered our hearts that we no longer care about evangelizing the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus went to where the sinners were. He met them at their level of understanding and lifted them with truth. We should do no less. Our motives come from the love of Christ, abhorring even the garment stained with sin, while holding aloft the truth as the Spirit has; revealed, superintended the writing of, and expounded through preaching and teaching.
Yes, we are angry at Satan and the twisted work he has perpetrated in our world. We hate falsehood and lies because of the souls it corrupts and deceives. We want to rescue those deluded souls, not see them condemned! We always confront error head on with the truth, in the hopes that every soul will be saved, because we are driven by the Love of Christ (we don’t know who the chosen are). Let’s stop with the hate speech and bashing each other over the head because of what translation of scripture we like best. We need to come alongside, humbly, and take this case by case, verse by verse to teach sound doctrine, explaining the differences in wording through the leading of God’s Holy Spirit.
Trust me, I understand the fervor and the zeal of many, just like Jesus’ fervor when He cleared the temple of those with minds fixed on monetary gain. But love for His (and our) Father and His house of prayer, as well as Jesus’ love for the worshippers was His motivation in driving the vendors out with a whip (see Psalm 69:9).
Let’s not taint our witness and our testimony for Christ by acting in a worldly manner, while trying to proclaim our translation is the only correct one. God needs no help in preserving His word of truth. But He will use us to preach and teach accurate doctrine. His truth is shed abroad in our hearts along with His love, as the Spirit translates God’s word to us. Blessings!