Acommon questions that is often asked is which translation should I use there are so many of them. First it must be acknowledged that not all translations are of the same quality and theological level. Those who need to use modern translations of the Bible the most are those who don't know Greek and Hebrew and therefore are not able to pass judgment on technical questions of the text. Unfortunately those who need them most are the least able to evaluate them critically.
Why so many?
The question arises why so many translations? There are many reasons for this.
Since not everyone can read or understand Greek and Hebrew it becomes necessary to translate the Bible into different languages. It is important to understand what God is saying to mankind.
Secondly, there are so many translations because the English language continues to change. Since the earliest Bible translations into English the language has changed so much that the versions of 600 years ago are barely intelligible to the ordinary reader today. And language is still changing, with new words and expressions coming into use and old ones becoming obsolete and, in time, unintelligible. If the Bible is to be understood and believed by present-day people it must be in a language which conveys a clear meaning to them. As long as English continues to be a living language there will be a need for new and improved translations of the Bible in English and the other languages of the world.
New manuscripts have been discovered in recent days which give a clearer understanding of the text as a base for translations. Since the time the King James Version was produced there have been three great discoveries of previously unknown manuscripts which have greatly increased the available resources for reconstruction of a thoroughly accurate and trustworthy text of the Scriptures in the original languages, thus making possible more accurate and faithful versions.
A. Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph) discovered in 1844 in the monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula by Tischendorf. 4th Century.
B. The NT Papyri a series of fragments discovered in Egypt in 1895.
C. Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in caves near the Dead Sea beginning in 1947. Portions of almost every book of the Old Testament were found hundreds of years older than any previous manuscripts. They strongly confirmed the authenticity of the Hebrew text.
Biblical scholarship has progressively advanced making greater accuracy possible. This development has occurred in two areas, textual criticism and linguistics.
The study of textual criticism has been greatly developed where during the time the King James Version was translated it was non-existent. But exactly what is textual criticism. The apostles and prophets were inspired by God and they wrote God's message on parchments. In fact we have over 7000 New Testament manuscripts alone. There are between 30-35,000 Latin copies. 1200 years after Plato we only have one of his manuscripts. Textual criticism compares these many manuscripts to determine the best reading.
Now while 'Paul's paper' was entirely perfect because of God's immediate inspiration, the 'copies' having been made by uninspired people who made mistakes common to men, and as a result were not entirely perfect. So the copies have words misspelled, a word or two left out, wrong punctuation, etc. Now these errors would be copied over and over again with each new copy.
At first glance it would seem that the text was doomed to progressive corruption but not so. God preserved the sacred text by his providence. The original manuscripts were divinely inspired. The copies were divinely preserved. God determined that many early copies of the original would be made. True each may have erred in a slight degree but they did not all err in the same points. So by the majority testimony of the early copies, the error would always be witnessed against.
We do not have the original manuscripts and so God by His singular care and providence has guarded their being copied, so that we might have a Bible without error, mistake or corruption to use authoritatively. We do not have the original manuscripts but we do in essence have the original text. This does not mean to say that the thousands of ancient manuscripts now discovered are identical in every detail, but that regardless of their age they agree in a truly remarkable way.
There are two different approaches to textual criticism. One follows the rules set down by Westcott and Hort that most modern translations are based. The other approach is based on the Textus Receptus which was originally used for the King James Version.
Now even thought there are so many different manuscripts to compare only four hundred or so affect the reading of the text and fifty are of minor significance affecting spelling and punctuation. And perhaps most importantly there is no essential teaching of the New Testament affected by any of them. So after all is compared, what is left is the very word of God in all of it's authority and integrity.
The study of languages has also advanced. Much more is known about Akkadian, Ugaritic and other ancient languages. This helps translate some rather obscure words with more certainty. We may not be able to study the text in the original languages but God has wonderfully provided for the common man to study God's word.
Importance of its Message
Because the Bible is such an important book with an eternal message it demands that it's message is made as understandable to humanity as possible. Because it is God's message to man it should be made available in the best possible versions which will most faithfully reproduce in English the thought of the original, and can most easily be understood by the modern reader. Anything less is keeping the word of God from the people. English translations will not produce faith but it will remove one of the language obstacles to faith and thus provide the way for the Holy Spirits work of regeneration through a clear understanding of the Word.
It is important to know that not all versions of the Bible have been translated using the same objectives. Some only differ in their style and format and then it is only a matter of literary preference or which style you like the best. But there are some notable differences.
Verbal Accuracy (Formal Equivalent)
The first method used is that which seeks to follow the Greek and Hebrew text as closely as possible in a word by word pattern. They try and keep the words as close to the original language as possible even to the word order. It's strength is in it's emphasis on word order and verbal structure. But it's weakness is it's cumbersome and awkward style. To translate any document from one language into another makes for difficult reading.
If you translate Romans 9:1 directly from the Greek it would read like this. 'Truth I say in Christ not I lie witnessing with me the conscience of me in Spirit Holy.' An example of this method is the New American Standard Bible. These versions are excellent for study purposes but awkward for normal or public reading.
Concept Accuracy (Dynamic Equivalent)
This method is the predominant method of modern translators. The emphasis here is in the clear transmission of the meaning of the original languages. The goal is to make it as readable in English and not loose the meaning of the original. Since words put together produce thoughts or concepts, the goal is to produce an accurate copy of the thoughts or concepts of Scripture. Examples of this method would be the Revised Standard Version and the popular New International Version.
The challenge in Bible translation is to try and not be awkward in the language while conveying the words and meaning of the original writers. The original Scriptures consisted of God's specific words, not his general ideas; they were verbally inspired, not vaguely implied. This means that the translator is not free to pick and choose which words he will include or leave out. He is called to translate the text, not tamper with it. In choosing a translation accuracy as well as clarity are two essential ingredients.
This is really an expansion of the concept method without the care taken about the original languages. It elaborates the text to make sure it is well communicated but sometimes at the expense of the accuracy. Examples of Paraphrases are J.B. Phillips, Good News For Modern Man, Living Bible, Amplified New Testament. In these the emphasis is on readability and relevance to modern thought patterns. The more they move in this direction the greater the danger of distortion. The great danger is the distance from the original words and even meaning.
The Bible, the first book to be printed in 1450 A.D. is the best selling book of all time. Probably 30,000,000 copies a year are produced. This number of Bibles, if stacked one on tip of the other, would stand over 63 miles high. The circulation of most books are calculated by the thousands while the Bible is counted by the millions.
Some part of the Bible has been translated into over 1,090 languages and dialects. The whole Bible has been translated into over 200 languages. Shakespeare's works have only been translated into 40 languages. The scriptures transcend all national boundaries with a message for all peoples. This might be called the journey of the Bible. This saga from the original languages to the English is unparalleled in all of history.
Translations can be used to compare the text and bring out the shades of meaning and depths of insight of the original words. This is especially important to someone who does not know the Greek or the Hebrew. Two or more different translations can be used to compare the text.
The Septuagint (LXX)
This was the first translation of the Bible. This is the Hebrew Old Testament which was translated into Greek about 250 B.C. The Latin word septuaginta means seventy, and it is thought that about 70 Jewish translators were involved in this work. With Constantine coming to the throne and Christianity becoming the official language of Rome, Constantine ordered 50 copies of the Septuagint for use in the churches in his capital city.
The Latin Vulgate
Under Diocletion's persecution the Scriptures began to flourish despite the opposition. The Bible was translated into Latin, Syriac, Egyptian, and coptic. The next important translation came in 404 A.D. when Jerome who lived in Bethlehem completed a Latin version of the Bible called the Vulgate. (Latin 'to make public' ) It wasn't popular at first but it became England's Bible for a thousand years and at the Roman Catholic Council of Trent in 1546 was declared to be the only authentic Latin Bible.
No one know for sure when the words of Scripture were first translated into English. Some appear as far back as the 7th century. The first major step at translating the entire Bible into English came late in the 14 th century (1380) with the help of John Wycliffe. ("The Morning Star of the Reformation") The first 'Wycliffe' edition, translated direct from the Vulgate, appeared about the time of his death, and though its reading was forbidden by law, its hand-written copies circulated widely, and about 170 of them still exist today.
The next breakthrough came when Scriptures in English were printed for the first time. The key figure here was William Tyndale, whose determination to get the Bible into the hands of the common people in their own language is best expressed in what were perhaps the most famous words he ever spoke. When a famous clergyman was sent to convert him, Tyndale brought the conversation to a stop with these words. 'If God spares my life, I will take care that a ploughboy shall know more of the Scriptures than you do.'
Driven out of England by the Church authorities, he found refuge in Germany where he completed the first English translation of the New Testament from the Greek, and had it published at Worms in 1526. Tyndale then began to translate the Old Testament from the Hebrew text, helped by Miles Coverdale. Tyndale was eventually strangled and burnt to death in 1536, but not before the first printed version of the whole Bible in English was released under Coverdale's name.
Tyndale started something and before long other revisions and translations began to appear. There was the Matthew's Bible (1537), a version of Tyndale's work edited by John Rogers under the pen name of Matthew Rogers.
Then there was the Geneva Bible (New Testament 1557, Old Testament 1560) translated in Switzerland by a group of exiles and dedicated to Elizabeth I. The men who actually did the work of translation were William Whittingham, Anthony Gilby and Christopher Goodman all scholars in their own fields. This was the finest translation of its time based on Tyndale's work and the best of the original languages. It was written in the purtian traditon with marginal notes which upset the royal family and anglican Church. They tried to stop the distribution and use of the Bible but it remained in print for 80 years and became one of the major Bibles of the 16th century. It is interesting that King James I opposed the notes and financed the translation of his own Bible, the King James version. But the Geneva Bible was the Bible of Shakespeare, the Puritans and was carried overseas by the Plymouth Pilgrims in 1620.
A new Geneva Study Bible has recently been published to carry on the traditions of the Reformation theology, based on the New King James translation.
King James Version
But all of these were soon to be eclipsed by the most famous English Bible of all time. At the Hampton Court Conference in 1604, King James I of England agreed to a suggestion that work should go ahead on a new translation. King James was trying to reconcile the religious parties in His Kingdom so he agreed to the project of one Bible only for use in the public worship services of the Church of England. (Anglican) forty-seven of the finest Hebrew and Greek scholars of that day, divided into three groups, worked for over two years, and in 1611 the Bible which later became known as the Authorised Version was published. This was the best English Bible produced to that date and for 300 years this was to be the Bible for the entire English speaking world, and its impact on succeeding generations has been nothing short of monumental.
However much of the language has become out of date. The English it contains is the English of the 17th century. It has been calculated that about 300 words used in the KJV had a different meaning than they do now. Doest, wouldest, hadst are old verb forms. Thou, thee, thine are old pronoun forms. It is not consistent in the translation of the Holy Spirit - Holy Ghost. Jehovah, God, Lord.
1 Cor. 13 Charity - love.
1 Thess. 4:15 Prevent - precede.
Philippians 1:27 Conversation - behaviour.
Rom. 1:13 Let - prevented.
2 Corinthians 6:12 Bowels - heart. Their lack of affection.
2 Corinthians 8:1 'Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God.'
Gen. 25:29 'Jacob sod pottage.'
These things are especially important when we remember that the heart of the Bible's message is the Gospel, which means its for everyone and not just Christians who have a special vocabulary.
The King James Version is based on the Textus Receptus manuscripts. There have been many older, and significant manuscripts discovered since it's translation. Manuscript discoveries since the sixteenth century have greatly enriched our knowledge of the original texts because they have been closer to the original autographs. However there is a debate over the use of manuscripts. One group claims the older manuscripts and the translations they are based upon are more reliable. (Most modern translations) The other group says that the newer manuscripts (i.e. Textus Receptus) and the translations they are based upon to be more reliable. (King James and New King James) However it should be pointed out that most textual variants have no practical effect on translation or doctrine making the debate somewhat pointless.
It is a beautiful translation that has stood the test of time. However for communicating the truth of God without confusion it has some serious drawbacks. Not that the original translators were purposely misleading. They held a very high view of the inerrancy of Scripture however the English language has changed over the years and with the change a need for translations which convey the original languages in clarity and truth.
Until 1881 the Authorised Version reigned without any sign of a serious rival. Then after ten years of work, partly based on manuscripts not available in King James's time, the first part of the Revised Version was published in England. It was considered such a significant event that two Chicago newspapers printed it in full in their Sunday editions, telegraphed from New York to beat the publishing deadline. But neither the Revised Version or its counterpart the American Standard Version published in 1901, ever won popular appeal. This was mainly because in trying to be so minutely accurate in following the original languages word for word they failed to translate the result into naturally fluent English. The literal word for word translation into English make it stilted and wooden. Nevertheless it was the first real challenge to the Authorised Versions monopoly.
Revised Standard Version
The copyright of the ASV was later acquired by the International Council of Religious Education, and in 1937 the Council authorised its American Standard Bible Committee to undertake a new revision. A total of 32 scholars and 50 advisers worked on the task, and eventually the New Testament was published in 1946 and the whole Bible in 1952. The RSV then is a revision of a revision of the AV.
Many archaic words have been more or less eliminated. Thee and Thou have been replaced except where God is referred to. However many conservative Christians have serious reservations about it. They criticise it's liberal tendencies in the way it handles things like the Deity of Christ in Romans 9:5 and the Atonement where it translates propitiate as expiate, changing the meaning of propitiate "to appease a person's wrath by means of a sacrifice" to expiate meaning merely to remove. Expiation leaves out the whole idea of God's anger as a personal quality. The Bible does not only teach that on man's side his sin must be removed, but that on God's side his wrath must be removed and that man's sin can only be removed when the wrath of God is removed. Expiation only involves getting rid of a problem, propitiation involves getting right with a person.
New American Standard 1960-1971
Like the Revised Standard Version this translation stems from the American Standard Version 1901, which had a lot of work put into it. So when it became aware to the Lockman foundation that the 1901 version was fast disappearing it prompted them to produce a new revision.
The work of 32 scholars began with the Gospel of John in 1960, and the entire Bible appeared in 1971. As with the RSV thee, thou, and thine were replaced with you and your except when referring to God presumably with the intention of conveying a sense of reverence. In addition, the NASV puts all Divine personal pronouns in capital letters.
A good point to mention is the marginal notes that are included in many of the better editions. Things like weights and measures, literal meanings of original words, etc.
The forward says that it was produced with the conviction that the words of Scripture as originally penned in the Hebrew and Greek were inspired by God. Its claims for theological soundness are generally borne out very well. In the test verse Romans 9:5 it is consistent in its translation of propitiation. Its greatest weakness is its failure to convey its very fine translation into natural everyday language. Romans 8:23
New World Translation 1950-1960
Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, this is the Bible of the sect called the Jehovah's Witnesses. It is flawed throughout by its very obvious bias in favor of the particular doctrines of the cult which produced it. But even as a translation it is of uneven quality. Sometimes it is stiff in its literalness and then other times it is loose in its us of everyday language.
Berkley Version 1945, 1959
This version was revised in 1971 and became known as the Modern Language Bible. The important point with this one is that it is evangelical and the scriptures are treated as the infallible Word of God. It is written in a Modern English style. One of the good points of this version are the helpful and numerous footnotes that help the reader grasp the meaning of the text.
New English Bible 1961, 1970
This was not a revision but a completely new translation from the Greek and Hebrew. It is modern yet dignified English. But it is too sophisticated and has serious liberal biases and lacks theological precision. Philosophical ideas are introduced for the nature of man. The reader who does not know Greek can be seriously misled by it.
Jerusalem Bible 1966
This is a Roman Catholic version which first appeared in England. It was started in Jerusalem by a group of French scholars and that is why it is called the Jerusalem Bible. It includes a commentary on the same pages as the text. It certainly reflects the catholic doctrine of Justification by Works. It also contains the Apocrypha.
Good News Bible 1966, 1976
The New Testament was first published in 1966 under the title of Good News for Modern Man by Dr. Robert Bratcher. It was inexpensively published for mass circulation, and received some popularity. One of its distinctive features is the more than 500 line drawings to illustrate the text. Sometimes they are very striking whereas the portrayal of Jesus as a matchstick man is of poor taste. Besides the chapter and verses it is also divided by subject headings which most of your modern translations do. In attempting to present the New Testament in very simple form, the richness of Biblical thought has sometimes been lost. It uses `put right' for justify. Romans 9:5 does not hold up translating propitiation as the means by which our sins are forgiven. There are certainly other translations to choose from.
Amplified Bible 1958, 1965
The New Testament came out first then the old. It tries to bring out the meaning of the text more fully. It uses parentheses and brackets to try and do this. But such amplification sometimes can lead the way for debatable interpretation. Many times the amplification is redundant. It doesn't make any difference or even help. All the words just get in the way. This version can be a help for study but certainly could not be used in public reading or common use.
Paraphrases LIVING BIBLE 1972
Now this is not a translation but rather the KJV put into modern English. In fact the particular language of Ken Taylor. They are easy to read but the danger is that the human author may give the English reader something that the original writer did not mean to say. Its popularity has soared because of it's ease of use. However there are many questionable interpretations introduced into the text. Acts 13:48 is a good example to compare. The many ways Ken Taylor has changed the meaning are totally contradictory to the original meaning.
J. B. PHILLIPS
This is also called the New Testament in Modern English. This is another paraphrase instead of a translation. It is easy to read because it is a free rendering of the text. Hebrews is the letter to Jewish Christians. The first letter to the Christians at Corinth. It is much more faithful as a paraphrase than most.
New International Version N.T. 1973, O.T. 1978
It took thirteen years in the making with a Transdenominational translation Committee. Each book was developed by a separate team of experts, then submitted to their successive editorial committees. It may well be that no other translation has been made by a more thorough process of review and revision from committee to committee than this one. Since it's editors represented many different denominations, the translation is free from narrow, sectarian bias and thus acquired it's international name.
As for the traditional pronouns "thou", "thee" and "thine" in reference to the Deity, the translators judged that to use these archaisms would violate accuracy in translation. Neither the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek use special pronouns for the persons of the Godhead. To use language that was common place in King James' day does not serve the modern reader or enhance his understanding.
From the beginning it was the translators purpose to provide an accurate translation which could be used in all areas of ministry from memorisation Old Testament public reading in Church services without violating the original languages. The committee included very beneficial footnotes. There is theological as well as translation accuracy .
New King James Version 1979
The New King James Bible was an attempt to improve on what was already tried and true, the original King James. They were not trying to re-invent the wheel. Every participating scholar had to sign a document of subscription to the plenary and verbal inspiration of the original autographs of the Bible.
It is understood that our language, like all living languages, has undergone profound change since 1611. So special terms for God like Thee and Thine have been replaced with modern equivalents but all pronouns which refer to God are capitalized. King James doctrinal and theological terms, for example, propitiation, justification, and sanctification, are generally familiarly to English speaking peoples and are kept.
The real character of the Authorised Version does not reside in its archaic pronouns or verbs or other grammatical forms of the seventeenth century, but rather in the care taken by its scholars to impart the letter and spirit of the original text in a majestic and reverent style.
There have been subject headings added to assist the reader to identify topics and identify change of thought. Verse numbers in bold type indicate the beginning of a paragraph. Poetry is structured as we would understand it. Important textual variants are recorded in footnotes.
Guidelines for picking a translation
A common question is what translation should I use? The cry of the Protestant Reformation was Sola Scriptura - Scripture Alone. Many of the Reformers such as William Tyndale died to bring God's word into the language of the people. So the translation you use is no trivial matter. We are not talking here about Shakespeare but rather the very Word of God. So following are a few guidelines to use when selecting a translation.
The first thing that should be considered is how accurate is it to the original languages. You want to be using a faithful translation. So immediately that rules out the paraphrases. How good were the translators at doing their jobs. You want those who have studied the original languages and consider the Bible to be inspired and trustworthy.
How easy is it to read? Do you need a dictionary to read it because of all its sophisticated words or is it so easy to read that it is an insult to your intelligence or sacrilegious. It must be reverent and dignified English and at the same time readable.
What helps are in it? Does it have cross references, maps, concordance, footnotes?
Copyright © 1995 David Graves & Jane Graves, Electronic Christian Media