Bible Translations FAQ
Bible Translations FAQ
This FAQ file is the result of frustration with the number of times I have answered the questions involved. Most of the questions are ones I have received in e-mail or been asked in the various forums in which I participate. Some are implied questions. Many of the answers are intended to be humorous. If you are a KJV-Only advocate, under which heading I include anyone who believes that the KJV Bible and only the KJV is inerrant as a translation, then you aren’t going to like my answers. I won’t sneak them up on you. I believe that the KJV-Only position is utterly without merit, and lacks even one single valid argument in its support. If you want to save time and send me your annoyed e-mail now, here’s the link: email@example.com. Just be aware that I’m unlikely to bother to answer your e-mails if they contain nothing of substance.
Note: Throughout this document I use KJVO advocate, KJVO and KJVOs interchangeably to refer to those who uphold the KJVO position. I refuse to use the term “Bible believer” or “KJV supporter/advocate” in reference to KJV-Only advocates as both of those labels give a false impression regarding their actual position.
How about some Video?
This is a video I made in answer to the frequently asked question, “Why do you hate the KJV?” It is hosted on YouTube.
Check out the following Energion.com pages on Bible translations:
- What’s in a Version?
Pamphlet about Bible translations designed to help you select the best one for a particular use. Some of the basic information that the book What’s in a Version? builds on.
- What about the KJV?
Is the KJV Bible the best Bible to use? Is it the only one we should use? On the other hand, is it a flawed version which should be avoided? Is it OK to use it if that is what you are comfortable reading?
- Bible Version Selection ToolA PHP generated page that allows you to select certain characteristics of versions and get a list ordered according to your selected criteria. It is an excellent tool for selecting the best Bible version.
- Notes on the Major Bible Versions
Notes no various Bible versions, useful for those who prefer this to the programmed method.
- Choosing a Bible with Study Notes
1. I take the KJV-Only position on faith alone. I realize it seems foolish to worldly judgment, but I know in my heart that it’s true. Why do you attack my faith?
If you take the KJV to be the sole word of God on faith alone, then I have no quarrel with you. Go ahead and take what you wish on faith. However, as soon as you attack someone else for taking a different position on either logical grounds or faith, then you open yourself up to attack, because you claim that what your faith tells you personally must apply to someone else. If you present an argument for your position which masquerades as a logical argument or appeals to the evidence, then you are no longer taking it on faith, and in addition you are trying to present your view in a way which will compel someone else. You can’t have it both ways.
2. Why don’t you believe that God can preserve his word faithfully in the English language?
I believe God can do anything. The correct question is what God has done. Almost every KJVO advocate with whom I have discussed or argued this issue tries to judge everyone else’s faith based on whether they accept the particular act the KJVOs believe God has performed. Let me emphasize this: Believing that God has not performed an act does not believe God cannot perform the act. I believe God could have chosen to make the earth a cube in space. I’m quite certain he has not. I believe God could have given the Bible to English-speaking people who would have written it in that language. He did not. I believe he could have preserved it word for word in all manuscripts. He did not. I believe he could have made a single, indisputable text to which all others could be compared and known as counterfeit. He did not.
3. Doesn’t Psalm 12:6 & 7 say that God’s words will be faithfully preserved forever?
No, this is another instance of KJVO advocates quoting Bible passages out of context in order to make them prove something completely unintended by the Biblical author. Psalm 12: 6 & 7 reads:
6 The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
7 Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.
Now KJVO advocates use these verses to demonstrate that God will preserve his words forever in the Bible, and more specifically in the English language. If this was true, of course, the text would then simply be false, because the words of scripture have not been 100% preserved from the time of writing. However, should one actually read the context, one would discover that something quite different. Verse 5 contains a specific promise made by God, according to the author of the Psalm, and it is to this promise that the words of verses 6 and 7 refer. Thus, the translation of the New Jerusalem Bible is somewhat more accurate in conveying the meaning of the text to the reader than that of the KJV:
6) Yahweh’s promises are promises unalloyed,
natural silver which comes from the earth seven times refined.
4. If I quote lots of out of context Bible texts at you, will you believe me?
No. I am not impressed by the misuse of scripture. Since there is not one text or phrase of the Bible that even remotely suggests anything like the KJVO position, any text quoted in support of that position is being misused.
5. Why do you hate the KJV?
I don’t hate the KJV. I like it and pay it much greater respect than the KJVO advocates. I do this by giving it credit as what it actually is: an excellent translation within the confines of the knowledge and material available at the time it was written.
6. How do you judge translations?
I judge a translation by its faithfulness in conveying the message of the author to the readers of the translated work. All translations must be judged by the text in the original languages, specifically by their faithfulness in conveying the meaning of that text to readers in the receptor language.
7. Who are you to question the translators of the King James Version?
Who are any of the KJVO advocates to question the translators of any of the modern versions? On the other hand, I do read Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew, and I respect the source texts written in those languages, something which cannot be said with a straight face of KJVO advocates.
8. You don’t believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God. Nobody should listen to anything you say.
This is not a question. The texts mean what they mean whether I believe they are inerrant or not. Indeed I do not believe in Biblical inerrancy, neither of translations nor of the autographs. My view on inspiration can be found in my essay on Biblical Inspiration and Sources of Authority for the Christian.
9. What would your missionary parents think of your stance on Biblical inspiration?
My parents already know what I believe about Biblical inspiration. (This question is usually asked in a context that indicates I should be terribly ashamed to have my beliefs communicated to my parents.)
10. How dare you call yourself a Bible teacher when you don’t even believe in the Bible?
I am a Bible teacher, so all other things being equal I call myself one. In addition, I can do so because the board of Pacesetters Bible School has designated me as director of that school.
11. Perhaps I should write to the board of Pacesetters Bible School and tell them you don’t believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God!
They already know.
12. Don’t the majority of the manuscripts of the New Testament support the Textus Receptus?
No, the majority of the manuscripts of the New Testament, quite logically, support the so-called majority text. In some cases the Textus Receptus has readings which are found in no Greek manuscripts at all, particularly in the last two chapters of Revelation. In the case of the Johannine Comma, a tiny minority of very late manuscripts supports the reading of the Textus Receptus. Any KJVO advocate who claims that he supports the reading of the majority text in all cases is simply lying.
In the majority of cases, the Textus Receptus and the Majority Text are in agreement, thus many KJVO advocates get by with hiding under the mantle of the majority text position. The KJVO position and the Majority Text position really have very little in common. The Majority Text position itself is flawed, however, though it has a much better foundation than the KJVO position (no great mastery). The fact is that the vast majority of the manuscripts of the New Testament are very late, and thus a simple counting of the manuscripts gives an advantage to those copies most distant from the original texts.
Recently, in response to an e-mail, I wrote a bit more on this on my blog at KJV Only: Anatomy of an Argument.
13. What is dynamic equivalence and how does it differ from formal equivalence?
One of the ways in which KJVO advocates tend to demean modern translations and translators is by referring to the theory of dynamic equivalence. Unfortunately, as with pretty much everything else, they don’t understand what dynamic equivalence is. Dynamic equivalence is a method of translation that aims to produce the same effect or understanding on the audience in the receptor language that the source text would have had on the original audience. In other words, it is an attempt to convey the meaning as precisely as possible to the reader of the modern language. KJVO advocates tend to be concerned with whether someone can, after much study comprehend the words on the page, but real translators are concerned with conveying meaning.
Formal equivalence is the attempt to match the forms of the source language with equivalent forms in the receptor language. The intent is still to convey the meaning, but the additional constraint of trying to match as closely the words and forms of the source language is added. No translation is employs fully one method or the other; all use some paraphrasing to convey the meaning. One judges the translation method both by statements of the translators in their preface or foreword, and by the amount of variance there is from the most formal possible translation.
14. Isn’t the NIV a dynamic equivalence translation?
The NIV is very close to the center between the two types of translations.
15. This isn’t really about the KJV, is it? You are actually just a Bible critic who doesn’t believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and so you are setting out to destroy people’s faith in any version of the Bible.
It is true that this issue is not about the KJV. The KJV is a fine translation produced by highly qualified translators who understood the process of translation. Rather, the issue is about KJVOs who abuse scripture, logic and physical evidence in order to support an untenable position.
The issue is also not about inerrancy. Many people who support Biblical inerrancy also find themselves opposed to the KJVO position. These folks include James White, author of The King James Only Controversy, an excellent dissection of the major KJVO proponents and my friend Elgin Hushbeck Jr., author of Consider Christianity. Pretending that the issue is inerrancy is a dishonest way of avoiding the issue of the absence of favorable evidence.
I am properly described as a Biblical critic, since I am an advocate of critical thinking in all areas, and of critical study of the Bible. I make use of the historical-critical methodologies in my Bible study.
16. Aren’t the publishers of the modern versions just in it for the money? That’s what all this production of new translations is about, isn’t it? That’s why all these new versions have copyright notices!
This is one of the sleazier arguments of the KJVOs and goes well with their constant attacks on the characters of Professors Westcott and Hort, about which more later . . .
Originally, the KJV was also produced under license and one had to have the permission of the king of England to print copies. This copyright equivalent has long since expired, and thus the KJV is available freely for anyone to copy. [I have been informed by e-mail that the crown privilege in this case does not expire. In practice, it is apparently defunct, but technically no.] Incidentally, one can do the same thing with the English Revised Version of 1885. When the NIV is as old as the KJV, it will also be in the public domain.
Further, Bible translators have to eat too; as laborers, they are worthy of their hire. The production of Bibles costs money. In fact, producing KJVs is cheaper than producing modern translations, since the publishers don’t have to pay anyone royalties.
Some motivations for producing new translations include: the archaic language of the KJV, the new manuscripts and new linguistic knowledge which has been discovered since the 17th century, new audiences (children, young people, persons for whom English is a second language) who would like to read the scriptures in language they can understand.
In addition, a copyright is necessary to keep control over people producing corrupted versions of any work.
17. What about all those marginal notes? Translators shouldn’t put such notes in Bibles because they weaken people’s faith in the reliability of God’s word. The KJV doesn’t have such notes!
The only reason *your* copy of the KJV doesn’t have such notes is that modern versions don’t print them! If someone who has studied the source materials–in this case the original edition of the KJV–makes this claim, then he or she is dishonest. If someone makes this claim without studying the source materials, one has to wonder on what basis he or she makes any claim at all!
Thomas Nelson Publishers have produced a word-for-word reprint of the 1611 KJV, presented in roman letters for easy reading. This version shows the material that was included in the original version of the KJV. Most modern reprints of the KJV leave these things out:
These include notes about alternate translations which the KJVOs criticize in modern versions
- The Translators to the Reader
This section explains the method and philosophy of the KJV translators and destroys the KJVO position.
- The Apocrypha
Often KJVOs criticize modern versions which include the apocrypha, but here it is, in the original edition of the KJV!
An interesting case in which this is important is the understanding of Isaiah 14:12 and the use of term “lucifer.” The marginal reference in the 1611 KJV reads “Or, O day-starre” which corresponds with most modern translations. For a note on this verse see my “Bible Questions Answered” on Isaiah 14:12. (link coming soon)
18. How do you recommend that people go about selecting a good version to use?
In response let me post a copy of a message I posted in the Christianity section (2) of the Religion Form on CompuServe (GO RELIGION):
Since a number of KJV-Only supporters in this forum have been asking for a list of modern translations, I thought I’d give a summary of how I handle that question when I hear it from someone who sincerely wants to make an informed choice of Bibles. I’m currently working on a guide for the Bible student who does not know the original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) on how translations are made and how one would choose from those available.
I work from the following list of translations which I have personally reviewed. By reviewing a translation personally I mean that I have read 80 or more chapters, and have also checked a number of key texts against the original languages. I don’t expect anyone to simply take my recommendation on any of these. I work from the following list, which is entered in order from least idiomatic to most idiomatic1:
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
New King James Version (NKJV)
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
New American Bible (NAB)
New Jerusalem Bible (NJB)
New International Version (NIV)
Gods Word (GW)
Revised English Bible (REB)
Living Bible (LB or TLB)
New Century Version (NCV)
Today’s English Version (TEV)
Contemporary English Version (CEV)
The Message (TM)
1One would generally expect a more idiomatic translation to be more readable for the average reader. Readability can depend on taste to a great extent, however.
The only reason I have excluded the New Living Translation (NLT) from this list is that I have not completed my personal review of it. My impression from having read several books from it is that it will turn out less idiomatic than the Living Bible, but more formal, i.e. closer to the form in the original languages.
The following list presents the same versions in order of least formal to most formal:3
*** [translations above this point I consider paraphrases, or very loose translations]
Contemporary English Version
Todays English Version
Revised English Bible
New Century Version
New Jerusalem Bible
*** [translations above this point I would consider dynamic equivalence translations]
New International Version
New Revised Standard Version
New American Bible
New American Standard Bible
New King James Version
[These five translations I would call formal]
The more formal a translation is, the more it reflects the structures of the source language, i.e., it will be closer to one word in the receptor language for each word in the source language. Note that this does not necessarily mean more accurate.
When I am asked what version an individual should use I would ask some of the following questions:
1. Is there a Bible commonly used in your church, Sunday School class, or study groups you attend? Can you understand that version? Are you comfortable reading it?
2. Did you grow up on a particular version? (The most common version for people to “grow up on” is the KJV.) If so, and you understand it clearly, there is no real need to change unless one of the factors below apply.
3. Do you read English easily? At what level? (If you can tell on some other basis, such as you are talking to a third grader, then don’t bother to ask.)
4. Is the Bible you are choosing to be studied seriously or read for pleasure?
Since I have already eliminated the sectarian translations and those made from doubtful texts, I only need to eliminate a few with each questions. For example, if there is a version in common use in one’s church, and that version is comprehensible to the individual asking, I will usually suggest getting the same one. Many Bible teachers or group leaders are put off by having too many versions in a class, though some aren’t.
If a person doesn’t read English easily, I usually will recommend one the TEV, CEV or NCV, with the NCV reserved for the lowest level of English reading skill.
If a Bible is to be chosen for serious study, I will not recommend a paraphrase, and I suggest to my own students not to use the Living Bible, but I consider The Message and Phillip’s NT to be useful adjuncts to study, though not study Bibles in themselves.
I hope this helps some folks.
19. Is the Good News Bible, also known as the Today’s English Version (TEV) a paraphrase? Is it a good translation?
Again, let me quote from a message I wrote to someone in response to a question very close to this:
The determination of what is a paraphrase is somewhat subjective, but I don’t think the TEV (Good News) is a paraphrase. The Living Bible, of course, *is* a paraphrase by one man from English. He used mostly the ARV. His paraphrase is often inaccurate, and tends to add meanings rather than just express the meaning in another way. I think the gospel makes it through alright, which is remarkable to me considering the poor methodology.
A while back I posted a message trying to get a discussion started on translation methodology. Let me quote from it here to illustrate my point. (This was message 1161127, August 25, 1995, subject Translation Methodology.) [This message was originally posted in the Christianity section of the Religion Forum on Compuserve.]
To illustrate my approach, let me give two definitions, taken from Eugene A Nida, “Toward a Science of Translating”, pp 165, 166. He basically identifies two approaches to translation: Formal Equivalence (F-E) and Dynamic Equivalence (D-E). Translations fall between those two poles. His abbreviated definitions are:
” . . . an F-E translation attempts to reproduce several formal elements, including: (1) grammatical units, (2) consistency in word usage, and (3) meanings in terms of the source context.”
“A dynamic-equivalence (or D-E) translation may be described as one concerning which a bilingual and bicultural person can justifiably say, ‘That is just the way we would say it.’ . . . a D-E translation is directed primarily toward equivalence of response rather than equivalence of form, . . .”
No translation totally matches either definition; full translation of all formal elements of a source language is impossible, and sometimes the formal elements of source and receptor languages match rather well. Translations generally fall on a continuum somewhere between these two. Occasionally, I think, a paraphrase such as the Living Bible falls off the far end of D-E.
To illustrate, John 1:4 contains the Greek phrase ‘ti emoi kai soi gunai;’ literally “what to me and to you woman”. The following translations may illustrate the continuum:
NRSV “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?”
NIV “Dear woman, why do you involve me?”
TEV “You must not tell me what to do, . . .” (does not include translation of ‘gunai’)
No single verse should be used to characterize an entire translation; literal translation in one case may be followed by significant paraphrasing in another, but I think this gives the basic idea.
I began to re-examine this issue when reading a collection of poetry by a German poet (Christian Morgenstern’s “Galgenlieder”) published with English translation. I enjoyed the translation a great deal, because the feel of it was very much the same as that of the original. I began to question why I would prefer a more literal Bible translation, especially for reading in quantity for pleasure, while in a secular work I would so strongly prefer the more dynamic, and even consider it more accurate. Shortly thereafter, I started to read the Revised English Bible through in order to get a feel for the quality of the translation. In reading the Psalms from that translation, I got a similar feeling; I felt much the way I do looking at Psalms in Hebrew. The rhythms were not the same, but the overall feel was. The entire book of Psalms (and much of the rest of the translation) was a distinct pleasure to read.
Now it seems to me that all translations (bar an interlinear) partake of some paraphrasing; that is simply part of the process of translation. The problem is determining when someone gets away from presenting the author’s intent and begins adding to, subtracting from or simply changing. In my view, the Living Bible has exceeded the bounds of translation (that is, it is not even the most open of D-E translation) while the TEV has not. I do fault some of the readings, but many may be the result of their attempt to keep the reading level low. The New Century Version has difficulties on this same point, I think, when Biblical concepts are expressed by words and phrases which at best convey only a fraction of the original meaning.
20. Was the text of the Hebrew Scriptures (or Old Testament) fixed in the time of Jesus? Can we be certain which Old Testament text Jesus used?
Note: This question was not asked of me by a KJVO advocate, but rather by a quite intelligent individual with whom a carried out a very nice dialog on the subject.
Again, I quote from a message I posted related to this topic:
>>I do feel that, however, that the detractors of this theory often seem to be reacting to the idea that the bible text may not have been securely “fixed” as late as the beginning of the Christian era. Does this possibility bother you?<<
No, this near certainty does not bother me. The proto-Masoretic text was likely in existence at the time of Christ (1st century AD) but had not attained dominance at the time. When the evidence in question largely concerned the LXX vs the Masoretic text, it was easy for textual critics to simply claim loose translation practices on the part of the LXX translators. Since DSS material has now been found which supports the LXX readings in a number of cases, especially in Samuel and in Jeremiah, one has to take more seriously the possibility that they were workingf from a different Hebrew text.
I think the question should be divided into five parts: 1) Was the proto-Masoretic text largely fixed in the first century? 2) Was it dominant in the first century? 3) Were there alternative recensions? 4) What were the recensions? 5) What was the provenance of each?
Thus, we can be fairly certain that the answer to 1 is a qualified yes, since we have proto-masoretic exemplars in the DSS, though we can’t prove this for the entire OT. 2) It was apparently strong, but did not have exclusive authority. It is unlikely that exclusive authority came until the actual Masoretes did their work in the 6th through 9th centuries. 3) There were alternate recensions. The idea of a single fixed Hebrew text for the OT is just as ephemeral as the same hope for the NT. 4) We can answer with less confidence, but nonetheless be certain of at least the three recensions. Were there others? The evidence may well be lost. 5) Establishing the geographical provenance for manuscripts is difficult with the paucity of the evidence available. It should, at least, be a matter for little heat, once one has realized that there *are* recensions.
21. What do you see as the basic, relevant issues in deciding the quality of a translation?
This question has rarely been asked in that form, but it is one I’d like to answer, so I have combined a few separate questions into this one. I will then respond by quoting three major messages which I posted in response to this hypothetical question.
I would divide the issues in translation into the following very broad categories:
1. Who should translate? A great deal of the KJV-Only debate centers on this issue.
2. What text should be translated?
3. Into what language and/or style should the text be translated? I consider this category broad enough to consider *how* one transfers the meaning into that language/style in terms of how idiomatic the style should be in the receptor language.
In this message I want to address the question of who should be involved in translation.
I believe that the best translation is likely to result from a committe of persons with diverse beliefs, *all* of whom are committed to translating without allowing those beliefs to interfere. (A *bias* in favor of accurate translation would be entirely appropriate, and could not be said to interfere.) Since I believe nobody is entirely free of bias, the best defense against bias is diversity. However, diversity in which one simply averages out the results of the various biases still leaves too much room for inappropriate results, so I believe the one committment all members of a translation committee should make is to accurate translation within the context of the methodology chosen under question #3.
Among the various questions which I have heard in opposition to these views are: “Should I use a translation in which a Roman Catholic was involved?” “Should I use a translation in which a Jew was involved?” “Should I use a translation in which an agnostic was involved?” and “Should I use a translation in which people of doctrinal beliefs opposed to mine were involved?”
All of these questions partake of one giant error: That theology and doctrine come before translation. Yet Bibles have been burned, discarded or returned to publishers because of just such considerations.
Floyd Jones in his book “Which Version is The Bible?” page 9 (hereafter “Jones”) states that his argument is not “ad hominem.” He says this despite having passages of considerable length describing the character, as he sees it, of various people in the other camp. He states: “In order to fully expose the wickedness of these wolves within the flock of God, we shall have to review the story of the 1881 revision and contrast it to that of the 1611 King James translation. It is quite a story and in order to disclose it, we shall have to examine the lives and beliefs of some of the men involved. As a result, some might say that our thesis is an “ad hominem” and therefore not valid, for it draws on emotions and feelings — that it is a personal attack upon the men involved. Such is not the case. . . .” In the following paragraph he continues with the rather startling statement that “. . . no unsaved person can teach us ANYTHING [emphasis his] about the Bible that we really need to know.”
Incredibly, this paragraph appears directly under the heading “NOT AN ‘AD HOMINEM'”. I’m afraid that Jones has missed the boat on the definition of “ad hominem.” Indeed, the definition he is using, “…draws on feelings and emotions…” is a definition of “ad hominem” but not the one commonly used in debating. That is definition 2 as shown in Webster’s IIIrd International Dictionary: “2. marked by attack on an opponent’s character rather than by answer to his contentions . . .”
Now using that definition, consider the following paragraph from Jones, page 39:
“Both of these men [Westcott and Hort] denied the deity of Christ Jesus and they denied the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture. Moreover, Hort spent the last eight year of his life working with Westcott in translating the Books of Wisdom and Maccabees, two uninspired writings.”
Tsk, tsk! What would Jones say if they had translated Aristotle as well? This is certainly attacking an opponent’s character rather than answering his contentions.
Let me conclude by discussing what is actually the most common question I hear about the NIV: Were homosexuals involved in translating it? Now Kenneth Barker of the NIV Translation Center has responded to this one, but I am as disturbed by his response as I am by the original accusation. I am working from a quotation by Barker in James White’s “The King James Only Controversy.” If I have misunderstood Barker’s explanation I hope someone will correct me.
Barker notes that “Virginia Mollenkott was consulted briefly and only in a minor way on matters of English style. At the time she had the reputation of being a committed evangelical Christian with expertise in contemporary English idiom and usage. Nothing was known of her lesbian views. Those did not begin to surface until years later in some of her writings. If we had known in the sixties what became public knowledge only years later, we would not have consulted her at all. But it must be stressed that she did not influence the NIV translators and editors in any of their final decisions.”
From this it appears to me that 1) Mollenkott’s credentials were adequate to the task, 2) If her work was unsatisfactory, nobody noticed, yet 3) she would not have been hired had her “lesbian views” been known. (I am uncertain as to what “lesbian views” are. I was under the impression that the word “lesbian” denoted a sexual orientation, not a viewpoint.) This whole argument and procedure seems to me to be blatant discrimination, since Barker establishes that Mollenkott’s skills were adequate, he in no way criticizes her work, yet if he had known her sexual orientation she would not have been consulted at all. I guess it is OK to use persons whose sexual orientation is unknown, but not those whose orientation is known.
This message deals with the second question: “What text should be translated?”
I would think this would be easy for fundamentalists to answer, since they believe that God dictated (or something close to that) the original texts and thus they are inerrant. They would, it would seem to me, want a text as close to that original as possible. I will leave the question of preservation of the text out for the moment, since it is clear to me that we do not have any exact copies of the original. If we somehow do, these copies are lost in a crowd of manuscripts, each different from one another–thus textual criticism.
It is pointless to argue against textual criticism. All Bible versions must be based on one form or another of textual criticism. Erasmus performed textual criticism in producing his text; so do modern scholars. The real question is how the criticism should be performed.
The various view on the NT text have been discussed to death in prior messages. I want to address a different subject: the boundary between pure textual criticism and other critical methodologies (aka “higher criticism”). In the case of a book written in one version and more or less at a sitting, such as a Pauline epistle, there is a clear boundary: Paul writes the letter; people copy it, and textual criticism takes over. Occasionally there may be editing, but there is no lengthy period of traditional adjustment with which to deal. In the case of books such as the gospels or the Pentateuch, however, we have a different picture.
For example, take Matthew 6:13. In the final redaction (last *major* one at least) one assumes that the Lord’s prayer is taken from traditional material, and, judging by the evidence, it appears that the prayer at that time did not include the phrase “For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen.” (Mt 6:13 NRSV, note h). Now if one views Matthew as a collection of material taken from an oral tradition, or as material taken from sources which were taken from oral material–the particular source theory doesn’t matter here–is it necessarily true that the “best” snapshot to take of the tradition is the one of the final redactor?
I, for one, certainly want to know what the snapshot was at that time, especially since I think the tradition was much more “alive” at the time. However, that is certainly a preference of mine and not a particularly objective view. What, for example, makes the Lord’s Prayer as recorded in the book of Matthew originally greater than the Lord’s prayer as used in the Greek Orthodox liturgy. Indeed, the prayer as used in modern liturgy in the church I attend includes this line, while the Bibles we read from do not.
The Pentateuch as well may have a mixture of both textual and redactional elements in its transmission over a period of time. For example, compare the following translations of Deuteronomy 32:43:
Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people:
for he will avenge the blood of his servants,
and will render vengeance to his adversaries,
and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people. (KJV)
Rejoice, O nations, with his people,
for he will avenge the blood of his servants;
he will take vengeance on his enemies
and make atonement for the land and people. (NIV)
Praise, O heavens, his people,
worship him, all you gods!
For he will avenge the blood of his children,
and take vengeance on his adversaries;
he will repay those who hate him,
and cleanse the land for his people. (NRSV)
NRSV here uses a text reconstructed using the DSS 4 Q Dt 32 which has 6 lines to the MT 4. (Source: Ernst Wurthwein, Der Text des Alten Testaments” p 136).
One has to ask if the removal of these lines represents scribal or redactional activity. What might we find if we had more manuscript evidence from the early days of the Pentateuch? It is often assumed that the OT text is more solidly established than the new, but this is largely due to arguing from the absence of evidence. The largest amount of variation in a text will occur early in its transmission history, before it is considered sacred and before detailed rules are established for its preservation.
Another good example might be the book of Jeremiah which is 1/8 longer in the LXX than in the MT, but that is a whole subject in itself.
I personally prefer translation of the text in its most primitive form, but I admit this is *preference*. In addition, it is complicated by the difficulties of drawing the line at which one says: “This tradition is now fixed.”
I think that in the case of the OT text, as well as the synoptic gospels, the boundaries between the “higher” and “lower” criticism is not quite so well drawn as we might prefer.
In the first message quoted above, I promised to inflict a series of 3 message threads on you concerning translation. The first was “Who Should Translate?” The second was “Text to Translate.” The third deals with the language and style to translate into.
First, I have noticed a complete lack of participation in these threads by the KJV-Only advocates. I think this may result from the complete difference in approach, i.e. comparison of theology to determine whether the translation better fits one’s beliefs or attempting to get back to the most accurate text and representation of that text possible.
The language and style question deals with communicating the meaning of the chosen source text in the receptor language. Eugene Nida introduced the terms formal equivalence (FE) and dynamic equivalence (DE) to designate translations trying to approximate the formal elements of the source language and those trying to attain an equivalent effect or function. These terms have come under criticism, especially from those who object to dynamic equivalence, but I think that the problem people have with DE is that they misunderstand the nature of language (I should also mention that many dislike the term because it has been so misunderstood). The same misunderstanding is reflected in the use of the dichotomy of literal vs paraphrase, the implication being that translating one word at a time from source to receptor language is more “accurate” than doing so more freely–that is, attempting to accomplish the same effect in the reader or listener as did the original.
I used to use the term “paraphrase” to mean more or less a DE translation that went too far. I have since decided that this use of the term, besides being inaccurate (though in accord with lay usage), does injustice to the idea of dynamic equivalence. It is clear that, since the aim of DE translation is to create as close as is possible the exact effect on the reader in the receptor language as did the original on its readers, it is not possible to be *too* DE.
It seems to me there are a number of additional questions which impact on *how* a DE translation is constructed. Certain methodologies used may result in a translation, rightly or wrongly, being regarded as a paraphrase. These are:
1. Conversion of weights and measures
2. Translation of cultural referents, such as food types, animal types, etc.
3. Translation of geographical references into modern equivalents from the same area
4. Translation of geographical references into those which would have a similar meaning to the modern reader.
5. Introduction of explanations of details and background material which is not included in the source document.
I don’t know what one would call a translation with all or most of these characteristics, but the term in common use is paraphrase. Unfortunately, “paraphrase” is also being used for translations such as the TEV, CEV, and NCV which are certainly translations. I don’t think the term paraphrase can be rescued from this misuse, so either we need to bow to the change in language or come up with a new term.
The key issue for a translator should be the understanding of the text by the reader, including the feel of the text. I am planning to get the Pentateuch in “The Five Books of Moses” (Schocken Books) which takes a different view of understanding by trying to copy the rhythms and feel of the Hebrew text. I have not been too impressed by the small selections I have read, but I will see how the whole text works. This Bible could be a serious new addition to the study selection of those who don’t read Hebrew by giving them a bit better way to get the “feel” of the text–presuming it lives up to its advertising claims.
22. Isn’t it incredibly arrogant of you to claim a greater knowledge of the scriptures just because you have studied Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic? I have the Holy Spirit to teach me!
There is a simple fact: I can read the original languages. If you can’t, I have the advantage over you in understanding them. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I will understand them better, but it means I have that tool.
When we extend this to commenting on translation, or the quality of translation in a particular passage and version, knowledge of both the source and the receptor languages is simply the price of admission to the discussion. If you don’t know these languages, don’t bother telling me that a translation is inaccurate. You can say it doesn’t make you feel good, that it disagrees with your theology, or that you just know it couldn’t say that, but without a knowledge of the languages involved you simply have no basis for comment.
Them’s just the facts!
23. When you talk about your knowledge of Biblical languages aren’t you just depending on human wisdom?
Certainly I am human, and any knowledge I possess is therefore human knowledge. I can argue based on my faith that the source is divine, but it is still my knowledge. Those who don’t have the necessary skills, and yet comment on translations, are still depending on human wisdom; it’s just much lower quality human wisdom.
24. Floyd Nolen Jones, Th.D., PhD. has written a book, Which Version is the Bible? in which he clearly proves the truth of the KJV and the danger of the modern versions. You should read that before you say the KJVO position is unscholarly.
This, frankly, is as funny as they come. A correspondent recommended Jones’ book to me in similar words to the ones I chose above. My response to him was fairly intense, and I’ll reproduce it as I wrote it at the time, with the name of my correspondent removed.
I’m not surprised that you consider Floyd Jones’ material so helpful, since you have shown as much of an ability to ignore facts as he seems to have, but *I* got my material from him yesterday, and I must say I was somewhat surprised. Considering the number of errors per sentence in the quotations I’ve seen in the forum, I expected that the book couldn’t actually be that error packed, and there might actually be a reasonable number of truthful passages. Indeed on page viii he describes the process of collecting the book with the sentence: “The author then began to better organize his ‘accumulated ignorance.'” Because of the quotation marks I expect that was tongue-in-cheek, but it shouldn’t have been. That appears to be pretty much the nature of the work.
On page v, “TO THE READER – THE SOUNDING OF AN ALARM” Floyd Jones indeed says some alarming things. For example, he says that the Hebrew word for star is “kokavey” (transliterated by sound) which is actually the plural construct of the word, not the singular absolute (if you don’t know what these terms mean [name], you have no business commenting on the translation of a Hebrew verse). He then confuses his Hebrew word order, saying that the phrase “morning star” is “boqer kokab [Jones’ transliteration]” which he follows by the supposed phrase in Hebrew characters. Unfortunately that phrase is “boqer kokavey” a line which is definitely not Hebrew–the actual phrase in Hebrew is “kokavey boqer” (Job 38:7). It’s too bad I don’t have a Hebrew font, because this looks really ridiculous that way. Just in case someone might think that Jones is modifying the Hebrew word order just for presentation to his English readers, he presents the phrase “heylel ben shachar” in the *correct* Hebrew word order, though he fails to put the nun on “ben” in the proper final form.
Linguistically, he is just as far out of his league. He implies that one cannot translate the phrase “heylel ben shachar” as “morning star, son of dawn” because the word “star” doesn’t occur. How would one translate a word which means Venus when it appears as a morning star? I do think the rendering “morning star, son of dawn” is not the best English; I would prefer a simple “morning star” to translate the entire phrase.
The entire page on which I am commenting looks like it was constructed by someone who knew no Hebrew and was getting his material from some combination of an interlinear and possibly using a resource such as Strong’s concordance. Indeed, I see in the Bibliography the Interlinear Hebrew/Greek English Bible by Jay Green, so perhaps we have a source (I *love* source criticism!).
At the bottom of the page is the bold quotation “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.” (Mark 13:31) They may not pass away, but they sure will get mangled when someone approaches them without knowledge.
Some may think I’m being too hard on this book and that my attitude here is unchristian. I think that this kind of misinformation and sheer ignorance paraded as Christian scholarship needs to be condemned in the strongest terms. There have been many quotes from this book put out on this forum. I intend to respond to these quotations with quotations and evidence showing how *unreliable* the information in this book is.
In the interest of honesty in Christ,
25. Can you kindly elucidate on each of the nine [errors in Hebrew which I have claimed that “Dr.” Floyd Jones made in just the introductory page to his book]? Thank you.
Certainly. You’re Welcome . I will distinguish between the one error I think could be editorial and the remaining eight.
It is difficult to illustrate some of these with transliterated Hebrew, so for those who may read this who know Hebrew, I use capital English letters to represent the long vowels and put each vowel following the consonant (‘=aleph and c=ayin). I do put a “y” or “w” in when yodh or vav are used as vowel letters, following the vowel. An underscore ahead of the letter indicates shin (_s) and _het (_h). A colon will be used for shewa, both simple and composite. I won’t try to distinguish the hard and soft forms of letters. Hopefully this will make clear which Hebrew characters I’m representing, considering that I’m representing some things which are in error.
(All of these occur in the 6th paragraph (counting independent single lines as paragraphs of p. v of Jones: Which Version is the Bible?)
1. The final nun of ben-_sa_har is not in final form. This could easily be editorial and I wouldn’t even mention it if it were not combined with the other eight. As a matter of fact, one of my students brought it to my attention.
2. The transliteration “shachar kokab” is in the wrong order. The correct order would be “kokab shachar”. This is a construct followed by an absolute and the following errors with the plural construct form make clear that Jones is not aware of this.
3. The Hebrew word for star (despite the notation above) is given in Hebrew characters as kOwk:bEy, which is the construct plural form.
4. The construct plural form given above is transliterated kokab–is Jones not aware that he transliterated something different than what he printed in Hebrew characters?
5. “boqer kokab” is again given as the transliteration for “morning star” which is in reverse of the correct word order.
6. The Hebrew in parentheses for number 5 is given as “bOqer kOwk:bEy” in which the word for “star” is again given in the plural construct form.
7. Number 6 (Hebrew in parentheses) would be a correct representation of the Hebrew plural “morning stars” (literally stars of morning) except that it is given in the wrong word order. This is remarkable, considering that Jones gives a reference in the Hebrew scriptures (Job 38:7) which contains the phrase, of course correctly. One would assume he could at least copy it correctly from that source.
8 and 9. Simply repeat errors 6 and 7 two lines down, demonstrating that it was not a fluke, but rather that the author or editors thought it was correct that way.
This is a good demonstration of the point of having material reviewed by competent scholars before publication. I can easily believe that errors in language can creep in–one has only to read my English messages for a demonstration of this –but anyone who knows Hebrew will pick up on them quickly and at least *most should get corrected before a work is published as a work of *scholarship. I want to note also that I am not criticizing his transliteration as such, except in terms of word order or when a clearly different form is transliterated. The difficulties of transliteration, especially when dealing with a limited character set are amply shown by the lengthy preamble I presented.
Jones’ discussion of the terms “hEylEl” and “ben _sa_har” also show a lack of understanding of Hebrew syntax.
26. What are some of the errors you would cite in Riplinger’s New Age Bible Versions?
Again, quoting from a previously posted message:
I missed this part in my last response. I will provide several in brief form. James R. White has a much more extensive list in his “KJV-Only Controversy” and he also has a pamphlet which he says covers many more errors (I haven’t seen it). These are my favorites:
All references from New Age Versions:
P. 126, incorrectly identifies the deity in question in Ephesus (Diana vs Artemis). Uses the term “asiatic deity” to indicate that Artemis was Roman. The best translation is Artemis, which is precisely what the Greek text says.
P. 455, inserts a period instead of a comma in Isaiah 26:3 thus distorting the comparison between the NASB and the KJV concerning that verse.
Compare p. 4 where she says she emphasizes the NIV and the NASB with the chart on page 464. In four passages compared, she cites the NIV once and the NASB in no cases. If you check each chart, the translation contained in the NASB and the NIV (where not cited) DOES NOT SUPPORT HER POINT. If you compare other versions you will find that in each case only those versions which support her point are cited.
Sheer slander (or possibly lack of historical knowledge):
P. 231 concerning Edwin Palmer “His ‘Five Points’ form a Satanic pentagram.” When did the five points become the invention of Dr. Palmer? When did they become a Satanic pentagram. The heading is “New Version Editors Reject Scriptural Salvation.” (read pages 230ff for a full idea).
Abuse of the evidence:
pp. 232, 233 – abuse of textual evidence. Listing the versions supporting a reading often appears impressive without citing those opposed. And this from a woman who holds that textual critics are out to deceive. In addition she uses the linguistically insupportable comparison of the missing Greek letter sigma on a word with the English “s” for sin. The Greek word for “sin” has no hissing s in it (“The added ‘s’ here is the hiss of the serpent.”)
Failure to understand the English language??
p 232: Seems to believe that “For they did not continue in my covenant . . .” and “Because they continued not in my covenant . . .” mean different things. She accuses the “Calvinist NASB editors” of distorting “the clear respo9nsibility of man . . .” (The passage is from Hebrews 8:9)
There are many others, in fact, I just noticed that last one while I was citing some of the others.
The ones I cited in that message are only a small fraction of the incredible number of errors and deceptions practiced in that book.
27. How many variants are there in the manuscripts? How certain can we be of the text? What makes translations different?
The following is a message I posted in the Religion Forum on Compuserve concerning these questions.
Seein’ as you took my name in vain a few lines down–some commentary. (Well, I guess not quite in vain since I’m responding!)
>In several cases, there might be three of four different textual variants.<
This is actually a modest claim on your part. Some difficult passages show many more options than that. On just the issue of the story of the adulteress (John 7:53-8:11) there are 7 options in the manuscripts: include the story at the position indicated; include it, but mark it with asterisks as questionable; include it after John 21:25; include it after Luke 21:38; include it after Luke 24:53; include it after John 7:36; and omit it entirely.
>>Textual scholars try to hash out which text is closer to the original, but that is of course an inexact science, and there is much disagreement on it.<<
It is inexact, but there is a large range of agreement on its function, except among sectarians trying to support particular doctrinal positions. KJV-Only advocates who wish to support a particular version, or people who wish to support a particular doctrinal position, create arguments on the fly to support what they *want* the text to say. There are a number of cases in which the evidence is closely balanced, but the vast majority of the NT text can be considered scientifically settled, at least from the time of final redaction forward.
>>That is why there are several dozen different versions of the bible in English, because they begin with different manuscripts as their source text.<<
Actually there are a number of factors that lead to multiple Bible translations. The majority of modern versions (the NKJV is an exception) start with essentially the same text. A number will state that they use an “eclectic” text, but the various eclectic texts agree to a great extent to one another, and differ greatly from the Textus Receptus and/or from the Majority text (which are not the same thing, BTW).
Basically, translations divide themselves up by target audience, selection of translation committee, theory/philosophy of translation, and source texts. The New Century Version (NCV) for example tries to keep its vocabulary very small for children, or people for whom English is a second language, the Contemporary English Version (CEV) has a similar goal, though they are less restrictive in accomplishing it. The Message, translated/paraphrased by Eugene Peterson has the goal of being fun to read.
Translation committees (or individuals) may range from one or a few people, to many dozens, they may come from many denominations, or from one. An example of a denominational translation would be the New American Bible (NAB) which is a Catholic translation (and a fine piece of work, too). The NIV is interdenominational, but entirely evangelical/conservative in orientation. The NRSV is the work of a broader range of translations and is often the choice of Bible scholars.
Translation theory varies from what is known as “formal equivalence” (FE) to “dynamic equivalence” (DE). When someone takes some liberties with the text by paraphrasing extensively, changing illustrations, changing geographic references, etc. the result is referred to as a paraphrase, though this isn’t the technical definition. FE translations attempt to match each grammatical form in the source language with a similar form in the receptor language. This is essentially an impossible task, so a truly pure FE translation doesn’t exist. DE translations attempt to match the impact on the target audience, with the ideal being producing the same response in the modern reader as the original had on its audience. This is also an impossible task, so translations tend to fall between those two poles. Examples of (close to) FE translations include the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the New King James Version (NKJV), the NRSV and the KJV. Versions which ride the line between the two include the NIV and the NAB. DE (or nearly so) versions include the Revised English Bible (REB, and a favorite of mine), the CEV and the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB).
The text is only the major distinguishing factor between the modern versions which take advantage of the progress in scientific textual criticism, and those which do not. The KJV did not, but that was because those advances had not occurred at the time it was translated. The KJV panel took into account all the material they had available and did a tremendous job with their resources. It is ridiculous and in fact insulting for people to use the KJV as a block to progress in understanding the text, an attitude which the KJV translators themselves would deplore, and in fact *did* deplore (see the “Translators to the Reader” section if you can find one in a KJV anymore. The Thomas Nelson 1611 replica edition has it.) The NKJV is simply obscurantist in trying to claim that they are following anything resembling a good text. Almost all the other modern versions use a modern, eclectic text which generally will resemble the UBSIII/IV (United Bible Societies IIIrd/IVth edition), or NA26/NA27(Nestle/Aland 26th or 27th edition) text in Greek and the Masoretic text, informed by the ancient versions for the Hebrew scriptures.
Arguments among trained persons concerning the NT text will generally be on fairly obscure variants, especially in parallel gospel accounts. There is still some disagreement also on the text of Acts, though most of that text would be agreed. I don’t mean to imply total agreement–the field is still alive and variants are debated, but generally the ones we see cited as differences between versions are essentially settled.
The one cited here in Jude 25, for example, is not even cited in the UBSIII Greek text designed for translators. It is cited in NA26, but the evidence in favor of the text used by the NIV (and also by the NRSV–I haven’t checked further), is overwhelming. Nobody would argue over what was the original text of this passage except to make a doctrinal point.
In addition, let me note that talking about “added to the text” or “removed from the text” is only valid once one has determined what the original text is, and then only with reference to the scribe/editor who original added or removed the material, should we happen to know. Saying things like “this text was removed from the KJV by the NIV” is ridiculous beyond belief (or would be beyond belief if I hadn’t seen it done so many times) since the NIV is not revising the KJV, but rather translating from Greek manuscripts–different Greek manuscripts from those from which the KJV was translated in many cases. Any adding or removing was done by someone else, long before *either* translation was made.
For those KJV-Only types who may have been involved in previous discussions with me, I’m not going to bother with any significant response to “this verse is doctrinally inaccurate” claims or “what is the word of God in English” questions or any of that other complete garbage. I have one interest–what is the text as it was originally composed and how can a translator present that text to his/her target audience. I no longer have time for discussions with people whose obvious aim is to support their sectarian beliefs rather than to gain objective knowledge.
28. Why do you continue to use the term dynamic equivalence? Aren’t many scholars beginning to avoid that term because of the negative connotations?
I believe dynamic equivalence correctly designates that variety of translation which attempts to convey the meaning of the source texts as completely as possible in the receptor language. It is only because many people don’t understand the difficulties which must be overcome in translation that they reject this term. The process of Bible translation should be essentially the same as that used for translation of any other work. In abandoning the term, supporters of sensible translation practices for the Biblical texts tend to give in to this uneducated view of translation.
It is ridiculous that translating the Bible like a school exercise should be considered somehow more sacred than bringing all possible scholarship to bear on conveying the full meaning of the text.
29. 2 Chronicles 21:20/22:2 has Ahaziah beginning his reign at age 42 after his 40 year old father has just died, and Ahaziah is the youngest son! Modern versions read 22 instead of 42. What is the correct reading? Do you regard this as an error in the Bible?
*** Again, quoted from a message ***
First, the modern English versions are not 100% in agreement with the reading 22. I would cite both the NRSV and God’s Word translations as reading 42 and not even placing the variant 22 in a footnote. The reading 42 would clearly be historically inaccurate, since Ahaziah’s father has just died at age 40 (2 Chron 21:20). In addition, it contradicts the reading at 2 Kings 8:26. No amount of trickery or facile explanations can get around this. The phrases are identical in both passages except for the actual number: (using ‘c’ for ayin/e for shewa) “BEN ‘ARBcAIM USHeTAYIM SHANAH ‘ACHAZYAHU BeMALKO” in 2 Chron 22:2 and “BEN cESRIM USHeTAYIM SHANAH ‘ACHAZYAHU BeMALKO” [literally “son of 42 (or 22) years (was) Ahaziah at his reigning]. Trying to pretend these two formulaic phrases mean different things, other than the numbers is quite absurd. (I risk being charged with frothing at the mouth, but I’m actually grinning <g> see!)
The external evidence is interesting. All Hebrew mss read “42.” The LXX reads “20.” The Old Latin reads “16.” The Lucianic LXX, Syriac and Arabic read 22 with 2 Kings 8:26. (Source: BHS3 Apparatus). If one views the LXX and the Syriac as separate witnesses to an older Hebrew text, one would have at some time Hebrew mss which read three different things here. There is, I would suggest, no certainty that a correction to match the 2 Kings 8:26 passage didn’t occur afterward in the versions. There is certainly a strong temptation to do so. The same reasoning which can lead modern translators to prefer “22” might have led ancient scribes or translators to do so as well.
If one takes the listed versions as witnesses to independent Hebrew texts, then the external evidence would favor “22” vice “42.” OTOH, we have the “more difficult reading” standard, which would favor the reading “42.” On the *3rd* hand one might consider the reading “42” to be so inappropriate that one could not suspect it of being original. My own suspicion is that the “Chronicles of the Kings of Judah” originally had the correct reading (as reflected in 2 Kings 8:26) but that by the time of the Chronicler (Ezra or later) corruption had crept into the source records and the Chronicler simply copied what data he had before him. Thus, contrary to my earliest opinion in this discussion I would lean toward maintaining the reading “42” along with the realization that it is, in fact, wrong.
It is puzzling to me that anyone who supports Biblical inerrancy would support the reading 42, however, since it is so clearly inaccurate. The only reading which a true inerrantist could support here, I believe, would be 22. It is otherwise clearly a historical error in a Biblical account. Trying to twist one’s way around it only makes the matter worse. In addition I would not cite it as an error in the Bible myself, since there is an easily available alternate solution (which is not ridiculous, though I lean away from it) by accepting the reading 22.
30. _______________________ used the KJV and that’s good enough for me.
Among the ridiculous arguments for the KJV which have been asserted, this one is one of the more amusing. A few minutes of consideration should show anyone just how bankrupt this assertion is. For example, since the early church fathers used Greek manuscripts, that should be good enough for me, shouldn’t it? Since the New Testament writers generally used the Septuagint, that should be good enough for me too. One can say this about every translation that came along. Someone dedicated, or good, or respected used the translation. So what?
This argument is one that has been recycled through the various debates including those in favor of continuing the use of the Latin text in the church at the time of the reformation. Who needs to go back to the Greek and Hebrew? We have gotten along thus far on the Latin text!
I repeat again: The only basis on which a translation can be judged is its faithfulness to the original texts. This means textual criticism to determine as closely as possible what those original texts are, and then faithfulness and care in translating. Who uses the document has no impact on the value of the document.
To be continued . . .