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Bible Translations

Over the past few days, I have had a great opportunity to talk to different people about Bible translations. The first discussion came with my Daughters return from Church Camp. She had been invited the past few years by her best friend and her boyfriend. Well, she went this year and just got back last Friday.

Anyway, she took my small New Living Translation with her (her copy is a hardback and a little bigger). When she got back she said that some people didn't like her Bible mostly because that it wasn't formal enough. Yep. You guessed it. They mostly used the King James Version. Which, once you think about it, it's kind of funny. For those of you who don't know, the KJV was produced for the Church of England, the Anglican Church, or the Episcopal Church of the United States of America. Just check out the preface sometime. The reason it's funny is this wasn't an Episcopal church camp. Well, I guess it's funny to me.

Anyway, after we talked about that (some not liking her translation) she said she would like a KJV. I told her that that was cool but that it wasn't a real good translation. She asked why.

Fast-forward to the Men's Bible Study. A couple of the men asked a similar question. We were on the subject (again!) of translations. One man is insistent that the Bible can't be trusted because of the difficulty in translation. He was a medical missionary in India and he knows the problems one has when trying to translate language. Because of this, he says that the Bible can't be trusted.

Another guy was asking about the translations that we have and which gospels should be included, bringing up the (supposed) 'gospels' of Mary, Thomas, and Judas.

My response to them was similar to my response to my Daughter.

The KJV of the Bible had a few manuscripts to work from and a handful of translators. Since then, however, we have discovered many more manuscripts and most of them date earlier than those used for the KJV. It is because of these manuscripts that a lot of the newer Bibles read the way they do. The majority of the most reliable texts may or may not have certain passages that people are familiar with. So, there will usually be a note. Something like, 'These verses are not in the earliest manuscripts'. Or, 'Some manuscripts have...' A perfect example of this is, of course, the 'Lord's Prayer'. In most modern translations the traditional 'end' will be 'missing' and in its place will be a footnote stating 'Some manuscripts add For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.'

Another thing to consider is how the text has been translated. That is, there are a couple of different ways of translating the manuscripts into any receptor language -- a 'literal' or 'word-for-word' translation and a 'dynamic' or 'thought-for-thought' translation. For the longest time I was all about the 'literal' translation. I wanted the closest English translation to the 'original' texts I could get. However, as I have gotten older, and perhaps a smidgen wiser, I find the 'dynamic' translation better. In some cases, superior. Here is the reasoning for that. Most of us use catch phrases and cultural idioms all the time. I'm sure we have heard (if not used) the phrase 'It's raining cats and dogs'. We know that we mean it is raining really hard. That a large volume of water is coming down outside. However, if we could travel two millennia in the future, that phrase would be completely lost. If someone translated that 'literally' there would have to be some way of figuring out what we were talking about. With a dynamic translation of the same phrase, they could say that it was raining very hard.

Now, I said all of that to say this. Most people I know prefer a mixture of both in Bible translations. While they may lean one way or the other, they prefer a rich mixture of both types of translation. And along that line, most people who actually study the Bible have multiple translations so they can compare them. They get a better understanding of the text when looking at the different versions.

Personally, I like the NLT for an every day reading Bible. I use it because I am familiar with more of the literal translations. I like something that will shake me up a little bit. That shocks me with what I'm reading. And that is my recommendation to others as well. We become so familiar with biblical passages that we just half read them. But when reading a version we are not familiar with, those passage come alive! It's quite shocking sometimes.

Well, that's about it...


Oh! What about the other 'gospels'? Well, this again ties into what we said about the earliest manuscripts. You see, people have the (erroneous) idea that there was no consensus about the texts of the New Testament. That a bunch of people got together and just picked some books from others because they had an agenda to bury the 'truth' and make a move in the material (read: political, financial) world. That is, the motivation was for power and greed.

The other misconception is that all of the texts under consideration were written around the same time period. However, neither of these views are completely accurate. They do contain a sliver of truth, but not much more than that.

For the most part, a church council did get together and look at the manuscripts and decided on what should be included in the New Testament. However, what they discussed and 'voted' on were books that they were already using. All of the 26 books of the New Testament were agreed upon except for the book of Revelation. There was a dispute, however, over a few other books listed in the New Testament: Philemon, Hebrews, the Letters of John (1John, 2John, 3John), 2Peter, Jude, and Revelation. However, as I said, all of them, save Revelation, were accepted. This took place in roughly 363-364 AD at the Council of Laodicea. Again, and I can't stress this enough, these were the letters that the churches were already using and had been using for a couple of centuries.

Next, the church was in an intense 'battle' against different worldviews, namely gnosticism. This view is more of a platonic worldview than that of a Jewish holistic worldview. That is, it sees the physical world (and I am using a very big broad brush here) as a prison. The 'real world' is the unseen spiritual world. This world is to be 'escaped from'. It is to be seen as 'evil'. Now, granted, there are plenty of passages in the New Testament, left to themselves, where one may get this idea. However, and this was a key point for the council, the overall story of the Bible did not line up with the worldview of gnosticism.

As for the other 'gospels' and other gnostic writings, most of these were written well after most (if not all) of the New Testament was written. Furthermore, they are mostly just sayings without any context at all. The ideas they promote are just the sort that the council would have rejected anyway. However, the idea was not one of power and greed. It was a desire to unify the various churches with a set of documents that continued on with the biblical story.

Throughout its early history, the New Testament had gone through other councils to determine if newly discovered documents should be added. In every case, the 27 books of the New Testament were reaffirmed time after time. The other works did not represent the 'true' version of Christianity but a completely different worldview and were rejected.

Peace be with you.

+ OD


Ted Gossard said…
Good overview, OD. I love Eugene Peterson's treatement of this subject in his recent "Eat This Book", the last part of it. It was especially interesting in reference to the KJV and the difference between it and Tyndale and Luther as to translating Scripture.

I too like the NLT and used it for awhile in protest of the controversy over the NIV. But went back to the TNIV. The NLT second edition is a significant improvement over the first edition, they say.
Galen said…
Personally (and I do not want to get personal unless it is pertinent) it seems wrong to me to dislike any translation if the thing is supposed to be the Bible. Seems to me like you'd want to read as many as you have time for, and have faith that you'll get the idea from what is available because God would want you to succeed rather than fail.

I would have to read more of, not less of, the NLT in order to “not like it” since I have read KJV more “times than I would want to count anyway” and yet do not consider myself an expert. If I were, I could stop reading them all, couldn't I? I would know what was in them, unless they were wrong. They should not be wrong, should they? That would be wrong. Perhaps I have oversimplified something inherently complicated?

I like your blog and “fear” I might not have enough time to read all of it. Well, I could try, couldn't I? If I recommend reading anything to “go with” KJV it would be the Westminster Confessional where they somewhat admit we should not worship translations as being “perfect” anyway. That is like admitting the truth, isn’t it?

Thanks for “being” here, and saying things! :) ♥ ♥ ♥
Odysseus said…
Hey Ted,

Yeah, I have heard about Peterson's book but haven't read it yet. In fact, I have heard about in just the past couple of weeks. Hm... perhaps I need to take the hint.

Concerning TNIV: I have read a great article online about the debate between it and the ESV. Specifically, it was between Grudem and D.A. Carson. You can read it here. To me, the issue is a good one. We should really stop and consider our reasons for changing the words of Scripture. Personally, I don't think people intentually want to misrepresent what the text actually say. But perhaps I'm niave.

Yeah, the second edition of the NLT is better than the first. At least, I think it does.

Peace be with you, Brother.

+ OD
Anglican said…
Fascinating subject. I, too, much enjoy the NLT. As an Episcopalian, I often turn also to the NSRV, one of the few Bibles I have that *isn't* loaded up with commentary. (Not that commentary is bad at all, but once you start digging into it--and checking the credentials of the commentators, especially if they all seem to have come out of the same seminary--you can learn more about the theology of the modern translators than anything else.)

I would highly recommend checking out Adam Nicholson's "God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible," for much insight into how the KJV was created. See here for more: And here for a short interview with the author:
Odysseus said…
Hey Galen, thanks for dropping by. Stay around as long as you like.

I think, living in America, the first Bible any of us probably get given to us is the KJV. It's the one I cut my teeth on and I'm sure a lot of my friends did as well. However, I have found that I prefer other translations. I mentioned that, for serious study, one should use a variety of translations. I normally use the New Revised Standard Version and English Standard Version as well as a couple of Literal Translations and the Septuagint (LXX) if I'm studying and Old Testament passage. If you don't know, the LXX is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. This was the version used by Jesus and the Apostles, mostly.

Also, I agree with the notion of not worship any Bible. As a friend of mine put it, 'We have made the Bible the fourth person of the Trinity.' That should really startle us into looking at our understanding of the Bible again. A book I would highly recommend on the subject is Bishop Tom's book 'The Last Word'.

Peace be with you.

+ OD
Ted M. Gossard said…
Yes, Eugene Peterson in that book really takes literal translations to task; he's not a fan of them. It's most interesting reading, but the rest of the book might even be better; it may end up a classic.
Ted M. Gossard said…
...from what I've heard (and read myself).

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