Exactly why are we making other translations beyond the King James Version of 1611? The King James Version has been the primary translation of the Christian community for 400 years (1611-2011). There is no doubt that this Bible alone has affected the lives of hundreds of millions and has influenced the principles in Bible translation for the past four centuries.

Before we delve into what makes for a good translation, let us pause to consider the translation policy of the KJV translation committee. We can hardly talk about the KJV without looking at the translator William Tyndale (1494-1536), the man who published the first printed New Testament from the original language of Greek. In the face of much persecution, William Tyndale of England followed with his English translation of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament text, completing this while in exile on the continent of Europe in 1525.

Tyndale respected and treasured the Bible. However, in his days, the religious leaders insisted on keeping it in Latin, a language that had been dead for centuries. Therefore, with the purpose of making it available to his fellow citizens, Tyndale was determined to translate the Bible into English. While the idea of Bible translation being against the law may be unfamiliar to the modern mind, this was not the case in Tyndale’s day. He was educated at Oxford University and became an esteemed instructor at The Cambridge University. Because of his desire to bring the common man the Bible in English, he had to flee from his academic career, escaping the Continent. His life became one of a fugitive, but he managed to complete the New Testament and some of the Old Testament, before he was finally arrested, imprisoned for heresy, and strangled at the stake, with his body being burned afterward.

The Complete Guide to Bible Translation

Tyndale’s work sparked a widespread translation project that produced a new revision every couple of years, or so it seemed. The Coverdale Bible of 1536, the Matthew’s Bible of 1537, the Great Bible of 1539, the Taverner’s Bible of 1539, the Geneva Bible of 1560 (went through 140 editions), the Edmund Becke’s Bible of 1549, the Bishop’s Bible of 1568, and the Rheims-Douay Bible of 1610. The King James Version is a revision of all these translations, as they too were of their predecessor, the Tyndale translation. The KJV translation committee was ordered to use the Bishop’s Bible as their foundation text and was not to alter it unless Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthew, Cranmer or the Great Bible, and the Geneva agreed, and then they were to assume that reading. Thus, the King James Version is unquestionably 90 percent William Tyndale’s translation.

There is no other translation, which possesses more literary beauty than the King James Version. However, there are several reasons as to why there was a need to revise the King James Version. The first reason is its textual basis, which is from the period of 1611. The Greek text behind the KJV New Testament is what is known as the Textus Receptus, a corrupt Greek text produced by a scholar in the 16th-century, Desiderius Erasmus. Concerning this text, Dr. Bruce Metzger wrote that it was “a handful of late and haphazardly collected minuscule manuscripts and in a dozen passages its reading is supported by no Greek witnesses.” (Metzger 2003, 106) While most of the corruptions are considered insignificant, others are significant, such as 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 John 5:7; John 7:53-8:11; and Mark 16:9-20. However, we cannot lay the blame at the feet of the translation committee of the KJV, for they did not have the textual evidence that we possess today.

The second reason is that it comes from the 17th-century and contains many archaic words that either obscure the meaning or mislead its reader: “howbeit.” “thee,” “thy,” “thou,” “thine,” and “shambles.” An example of misleading can be found in the word “let,” which meant to “stop,” “hinder” or “restrain” in 1611, but today means “to allow” or “to permit.” Therefore, when the KJV says that Paul ‘let the great apostasy come into the church,’ it is completely misleading to the modern mind. In 1611 “let” meant that he ‘restrained or prevented the apostasy.’ (2 Thess. 2:7) The KJV at Mark 6:20 inform us “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him.” Actually, the Greek behind “observed him” means that Herod “kept him safe.”

Choosing Your BibleThe third reason is that the KJV contains translation errors. However, like the first reason, it is not the fault of the translators, as Hebrew and Greek were just resurfacing as subjects of serious study after the Dark Ages. The discovery of papyrus writings in Egypt, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, has helped us better to understand the common (Koine) Greek of the first century C.E. These discoveries have shown that everyday words were not understood as well as had been thought. The KJV at Matthew 5:22 informs the reader “whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council …” The ESV renders it, “whoever insults his brother will be liable (a term of abuse) to the council …” Scholar Walter C. Kaiser has said, “the actual insult mentioned by Jesus is the word ‘Raca’ as it stands in the KJV. The precise meaning of ‘Raca’ is disputed; it is probably an Aramaic word meaning something like ‘imbecile,’ but was plainly regarded as a deadly insult.”

The translators that have come after the King James Version can draw much direction in what makes a worthy translation by considering the principles of translation that were followed in the production of the world’s most influential Bible. The translators endeavored to discover the corresponding English word for the actual original language word of Hebrew and Greek.

According to Alister McGrath, the translators felt obligated to . . .

  • Ensure that every word in the original was rendered by an English equivalent;
  • Make it clear when they added any words to make the sense clearer, or to lead to better English . . .
  • Follow the basic word order of the original wherever possible.[1]

A Worthy Translation is an Accurate Translation

If asked what the number one priority in translation is, most translators would argue that the biggest responsibility is accuracy. However, if this conversation were between a translator of a literal or verbal corresponding (word-for-word) mindset and one of the thought-for-thought (sense-for-sense, meaning-based) mindset, the next question would be, ‘what do you mean by accuracy?’ The thought-for-thought translator would most certainly say, ‘to render the Biblical meaning of the original language text as accurately as possible into English.’ The literal side would return with, ‘to render the words and style of the original language text into a corresponding English equivalent word or phrase as accurately as possible.’ The dynamic equivalent translator is attempting to re-express what they believe the original language text meant into English, removing the need of interpretive reading for the modern-day Bible student; the literal translator wants to re-express what the original language text says into a corresponding English equivalent, leaving it up to the reader, to determine the meaning for himself.[2]

Do We Still Need a Literal Bible

How does the Bible reader know what the Bible means if they do not know what it says? If the reader is given what a translator has determined the meaning as, and not what it says, how does the reader determine its meaning as being accurate? Are they not shortchanging the reader from the right of having access to the very words of God; but instead, feeding them a regurgitated interpretation of what another thinks it means?

A word-for-word corresponding equivalent translator expects the reader to ascertain the meaning of the words that were used by studying and researching the text; with helps of course: word-study dictionaries, lexicons, commentaries, and the use of exegetical principles, as well as by the Christian person who is carrying out a Bible study with them. Many sense-for-sense translators actually believe that the reader is too ignorant and too lazy to ascertain the meaning by study and reaching within those helps, so they provide it for them. If the reader has the meaning already in front of him by way of the translator, he has no way of getting back to what the texts say, to determine if the meaning is, in fact, correct. All translators know that there is theological bias in all of us, and we will at times, bend things to have it our way. Looking at the worst-case situation first, some translators violate grammar and syntax to get a theologically important verse to read according to their doctrinal position, and we are to trust them to give us a translation already interpreted for us?

1 John 2:5, 15; 3:17; 4:9; 5:3 (New American Standard Bible)

in him the love of God has truly been perfected

If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him

how does the love of God abide in him

By this the love of God was manifested in us

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments

1 John 2:5, 15; 3:17; 4:9; 5:3 (New International Version)

love for God is truly made complete

If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them

how can the love of God be in that person

This is how God showed his love among us

this is love for God: to keep his commands

1 John 2:5, 15; 3:17; 4:9; 5:3 (New Living Translation)

. . . obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him

when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father

how can God’s love be in that person

God showed how much he loved us

Loving God means keeping his commandments

“Love of God” and “love of the Father,” what did the apostle John mean when he penned those words? Was he referring to the love that God has for us, or to our love for God, or the love that comes from God and is expressed through us to others? B. F. Westcott understood this to mean “the love that God has made known,” while F. F. Bruce came to an opposite conclusion: as meaning “our love for God.”[3] The reader of John’s epistle would have had to determine what John meant by the words that he used. Today’s reader should be given the same opportunity and responsibility; he must determine what was meant by the corresponding English words in a literal translation. The sense-for-sense dynamic equivalent translations have come to opposite conclusions, meaning that both cannot be right. Therefore, it is best that the reader be given what was said, and carry the responsibility of determining what was meant by what was said.

Romans 8:35-39 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being put to death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 But in all these things we are more than conquerors through the one having loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Romans 8:35-39 The Message (MSG)

31-39 So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

Eugene Peterson in The Message is simply adding to God’s Word to support his theological position. There is not one single verse in the entire Bible that says nothing can separate us from Christ. However, there are verses that say there is nothing that can separate Christ from us. Think about it (1) blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is an unforgivable sin, and it will certainly separate us from Christ. (2) Why does Scripture, speaking to those who are saved believers, warn us against “drifting away,” “begging off,” “turning away,” “falling away,” “drawing away,” becoming sluggish,” “becoming hardened by the deceptive power of sin,” “tiring out,” or “shrinking back to destruction,” if it were not possible for something to separate us from Christ. (3) Why do the New Testament writers warn us of “false teachers,” “divisions,” “stumbling other Christians,” “temptation,” “false prophets,” or even “Satan the Devil,” if these things are incapable of separating us from Christ? Again, we can be separated from Christ, but there is nothing that can separate Christ from us.

Words and Meaning

The Dynamic Equivalent translator believes that somehow meaning exists apart from words. When asked in an interview for Christianity Today Magazine, “What do you consider your most important contribution to Bible translation?” Eugene A. Nida responded, “To help people be willing to say what the text means, not what the words are, but what the text means.” The interviewer goes on to ask, “How did you develop your ideas about Bible translation 50 years ago?” Nida replied:

When I was at the University of California, Los Angeles, our professors would never let us translate literally. They said, “We want to know the meaning. We don’t want to know just the words.” I found that a number of the Greek classics had been translated very meaningfully, much better than the Bible had been translated. I thought it a tragedy to have the Scriptures in a form that most people misinterpret. Why should the Bible be so much more poorly translated than secular texts? I studied linguistics, Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, and I decided that we’ve got to approach the Scripture as though it is the message and try to give its meaning, not just to repeat the words.[4]

What Nida left out of this discussion is that the goal of every literal translator is to convey the meaning of the Biblical language into the English language. The difference is that they believe this is best accomplished by giving the reader what was said, while Nida and his followers believe that the translator has to go beyond what was said into the realms of translating what is meant by what was said, because “they [you the reader] don’t understand the text,” so says Nida.

Does the translator seek to render into English what was said in the original language as correspondingly as possible? Take note that an accurate translation is not one that is going beyond the English equivalent, in search of rendering the meaning of those words, but is one that seeks to render the words of the original language text into the English equivalent (corresponding) word or phrase as accurately as possible. A translation is certainly inaccurate if the English edition does not correspond to the original, like a mirror reflection, in any of the following ways:

  • if all of the original words are not accounted for by an English equivalent;
  • if the translation has added to or taken away from the original in any way (this does not negate the fact that words may need to be added to complete the sense in the English translation);
  • Finally, if the meaning that the reader could derive by the corresponding English words has been affected, changed, in any way by an interpretive method.[5]

Roughly, six months after John started preaching, Jesus comes to him at the Jordan. Jesus asks John to baptize him. At once John is in opposition to such an idea: “I have need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Yet, despite John’s objection, Jesus insists:

Matt 3:15 (NU)[6]

having answered, but the Jesus said to him, “allow now thusly for fitting it is to us to fulfill all rightness” Then he allowed him.

Matt 3:15 (LEB)

But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it now, for in this way it is right for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted him.

Matt 3:15 (CEV)

Jesus answered, “For now this is how it should be, because we must do all that God wants us to do.” Then John agreed.

The reader of the Lexham English Bible, RSV, ESV, NASB, and UASV will be reading the very words of God as they correspond in English: “to fulfill all righteousness.” The reader of the Contemporary English Version will get the interpretation of God’s words as, “do all that God wants us to do,” which the TEV renders as “do all that God requires.” The TEV’s interpretation is similar to a number of other dynamic equivalent translations (NEB, NLT, and NIRV). The literal translators give us the corresponding English words of what the Bible says, while the dynamic equivalent translators interpret those very words to mean “obedience,” as understood by these translation committees.

What is meant by “permit it now,” by “for in this way,” by “it is right”, or by “for us to fulfill all righteousness”? It is up to each reader of the Bible, to determine what is meant by these words. It is not the job of the translator to interpret what was said, but to give the reader what was said, for interpretation. Just looking at one of the phrases, what is meant by “to fulfill all righteousness”? Is it referring to the doing of all that God asks or requires, in other words, obedience? Does it mean that John and Jesus were righteous individuals? Does it mean, by baptism that Jesus would be entering a path of a right relationship with his Father, a symbol of presenting himself to doing the will of his Father? Again, it is up to the reader to make the determination as to what was meant by the words that Jesus used. Sadly, the reader of the CEV, TEV, and other dynamic equivalent translations do not have that choice, because a committee has made the choice for them.

A Worthy Translation Must Be Clear

The Dynamic Equivalent translators have given a high priority to the quality of being clear in their translation(s). In the process of expressing these worthy goals, they also infer that only the translation philosophy of dynamic equivalence can do this, and to be literal, is to be unclear. In addition, they further infer that the literal translation is willing to sacrifice being clear for the sake of “word worship.” These inferences could not be further from the truth. From the first printed translation of William Tyndale (1536) to the present, the goal of literal translations has been to be clear.

KJV 1611: Make it clear when they added any words to make the sense clearer, or to lead to better English syntax …

NKJV: “… an English text that is both accurate and readable.”

NASB: “… a clear and accurate rendering of divinely-revealed truth.”

ESV: “… to ensure the fullest accuracy and clarity.”

The dynamic equivalent camp would make the argument that to be clear is to be immediately understandable. When they ask if the translation communicates the meaning that the author intended, they are focused on there being absolutely no barriers between the reader and the translation:

  • Idioms:[7] a land that is “flowing with milk and honey” (ESV) “live in that rich and fertile land” of the (TEV) Deuteronomy 6:3
  • Similes:[8] “the corpse of Jezebel shall be as dung on the face of the field” (ESV) “Her body will be left to rot on that piece of land.” (NIRV) “Jezebel’s body will be as waste on the field” (NLV)
  • Metaphors:[9] “the eyes of Jehovah are in every place.” (ASV) “The Lord’s eyes see everything” (NCV) Proverbs 15:3
  • Technical Terms: “Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.” (NASB) “What is the use of the Law? It was given later to show that we sin. But it was only supposed to last until the coming of that descendant who was given the promise. In fact, angels gave the Law to Moses, and he gave it to the people.” (CEV) Galatians 3:19
  • Vocabulary Level: KJV Reading Level (12th) NASB Reading Level (11th) ESV Reading Level (8th) GNT Reading Level (6th) CEV Reading Level (5th) NIRV Reading Level (3rd)
  • Religious Vocabulary: “to give his life as a ransom for many” (ESV) “will give his life to rescue many people” (CEV) Matthew 20:28

For the thought-for-thought translator, “being clear,” means that nothing in the words of their translation is to be difficult to understand. They hold to this concept, even in the face of the Apostle Peter’s words about the Apostle Paul’s letters: “there are some things in them that are hard to understand.” (2 Pet 3:16) Why did Peter find Paul’s letters hard to understand? The 27 books of the New Testament were written on different levels. However, one could argue for the most part; they are not literary, and they are not common as a whole, more in the middle. For instance, Paul wrote at times in a literary Koine,  as is true of Luke as well. Peter, Mark, and John, on the other hand, wrote on a much lower level. Regardless of this, idioms were still idioms, similes were still similes, metaphors were still metaphors, technical terms were still used, as well as higher levels of vocabulary, and religious terms. Moreover, the King James Version is at a 12th-grade reading level, and it was used for centuries. Are we to believe that our modern world is less intelligent than that of the 17th to the 19th centuries?

Being clear to the Dynamic Equivalent translator also means being transparent (able to see through). In other words, they are simplifying and removing on all levels, to allow today’s reader to see through time, and fully grasp what was meant [as per the translator’s interpretation], by the words of the original writer to the original reader, as though they were there. This is a fallacy in thinking, as we just learned from Peter, who did not readily understand Paul’s letters, even though he was an apostle of the Christian congregation at that time, let alone the lay congregation member of the first-century. Therefore, obviously, it is too much to assume that all the early readers of the Greek New Testament readily understood the text, just because they readily understood the Greek of the day.

For the literal translator, they too see being clear as being transparent (able to see through). However, they work to bring the text to the reader, not the reader to the text. They wish to make the original text transparent to today’s reader, by using words that correspond to the original. However, it is much more than bringing the original language words of Hebrew and Greek to the modern reader in a corresponding English word. The Bible is full of idioms like “flowing with milk and honey.” The simplest figure of speech is the simile (“you are the light of the world”). Though simple, it is very effective. The Bible is rich with metaphors, like “he is like a tree planted by streams of water.” The world of the Bible is filled with whole other cultures that span 4,000 years of time, covering a variety of homes, foods and meals, clothing, home life, marriage, health, education, cities, and towns or a nomadic lifestyle, and ways of spending time.

We will look at some scriptural examples, with the purpose of seeing if any of the following three principles are violated,

  • If all of the original words are not accounted for by an English equivalent;
  • If the translation has added to or taken away from the original in any way;
  • Finally, if the meaning that the reader could derive by the corresponding English words has been affected, changed, in any way by an interpretive method.
Literal Translation Dynamic Equivalent
Corresponding English Interpretation of Words
Psalm 34:5 (UASV)

5 Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.

Psalm 34:5 (CEV)

5 Keep your eyes on the LORD! You will shine like the sun and never blush with shame.

Psalm 63:11 (UASV)

11 But the king will rejoice in God;
everyone who swears by him will exult,
for the mouth of those speaking lies will be stopped.

Psalm 63:11 (CEV)

11 Because of you, our God, the king will celebrate with your faithful followers, but liars will be silent.

Ecclesiastes 9:8 (UASV)

Let your garments be always white, and let not oil be lacking on your head.

Ecclesiastes 9:8 (NLT)

8 Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne!

Romans 1:5 (UASV)

through whom we have received grace and apostleship for the obedience of faith among all the nations on behalf of his name,

Romans 1:5 (NCV)

5 Through Christ, God gave me the special work of an apostle, which was to lead people of all nations to believe and obey. I do this work for him.

A Worthy Translation is Consistent

Consistency is of the highest importance when it comes to finding a worthy translation. True the translation does not want to take this principle to the extreme but is has been almost completely removed from the Dynamic Equivalent sense-for-sense translations, and should be considered more in your literal translations as well.

As has been well observed, “There must be consistency in the translation of technical words with a rather sharply fixed content of meaning, not allowing translation to blur the distinctions carried by different words in the original. In the New Testament, there is a distinction between ‘Hades’ and ‘Gehenna.’ The former is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew ‘Sheol,’ the world of the dead; the latter is the final place of punishment for the wicked.”—Why So Many Bibles, American Bible Society.

(Interlinear) United Bible Societies Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition, 1993

Matt 5:22: will be liable to the fire of Gehenna

Matt 10:28: can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna

Matt 11:23: will be brought down to Hades

Matt 16:18: and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it

How do the modern translations perform in reflecting the original language words of Gehenna and Hades? Do they use more than one English word to translate Hades? Do they translate both Gehenna and Hades as “hell”? Those that are consistent are the NIV, NASB, ASV and the HCSB. They translate both Gehenna (5:22; 10:28), as hell, and both Hades (11:23; 16:18), like Hades. Those that are inconsistent are the ESV, translating both Gehenna (5:22; 10:28), as hell, but rendering only 11:23 as Hades, with 16:18 being rendered as hell. The NLT goes even further by translating both Gehenna (5:22; 10:28), as hell, but rendering only 11:23 as ‘the place of the dead,’ with 16:18 being rendered as hell. Ironically, the forthcoming new translation UASV did the best in this exercise. They translate both Gehenna (5:22; 10:28), as Gehenna, and both Hades (11:23; 16:18), like Hades.

Another example of inconsistency can be found in the translation of doulos,[10] a purchased slave, diakonos,[11] a servant or minister. The Bible refers to Christians as slaves, as they were bought with the price of Jesus Christ’s blood; making them slaves of the heavenly Father and his Son, both being the master over these purchased slaves. A slave of Christ is not to be confused with hired servants, who may choose to quit when they please. The ESV, NASB, NIV, ASV, RSV, TEV CEV all shy away from using the word “slave” as a reference to Christians. However, who are we to set aside the choice of words by the inspired Bible writers, who chose “slave” over “servant.” Among the few that have not sidestepped this tough decision are the NLT, UASV, and HSCB. (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 7:23) Either we choose a translation that reflects what was written or a diluted version of what was written, or worse still, we chose an interpretation of what was written.

Repeated Units

Repeated units are one marker or signal that help the exegete (interpreter, us), to determine a book’s theme, by recognizing its boundaries and layers between the constituent parts of the whole.

Matthew 5:21-22 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

21 “You have heard that it was said to … 22 But I say to you that

Matthew 5:27-28 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery;’[12] 28 but I say to you that …

Matthew 5:31-32 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

31 “It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; 32 but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality,[13] ….

Matthew 5:33-34 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’[14] 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,

Matthew 5:38-39 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’[15] 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is wicked; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

Matthew 5:43-44 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor[16] and hate your enemy.’[17] 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Matthew 7:28 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

28 And it happened when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astounded[18] at his teaching;

Matthew 11:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

11 When Jesus had finished giving instructions to his twelve disciples, he set out from there to teach and preach in their cities.

Matthew 13:53 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

53 When Jesus had finished these parables, He departed from there.

Matthew 19:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

19 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he departed from Galilee and came into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan;

Matthew 26:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

26 Now when Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples:

These markers are far more likely to be lost in the Dynamic Equivalent, sense-for-sense translations, and far less likely to be lost in your literal translations. If lost in translation, their usefulness in helping to determine a book’s theme is lost with them. Therefore, you can either use a consistent literal translation or learn to read Hebrew and Greek.

A Worthy Translation is Faithful

What exactly do we mean by faithful, and faithful to what or whom? By faithful, we mean unwavering to the original, to the author himself. However, there are times when translation committees choose to be unfaithful to the original text. Obviously, theological bias should not affect its rendering.

Romans 9:5 (RSV) Romans 9:5 (NLT)

5 to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed forever. Amen.

 

5 Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are their ancestors, and Christ himself was an Israelite as far as his human nature is concerned. And he is God, the one who rules over everything and is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.

Romans 9:5: The Revised Standard Version takes ho on [“the one who is”] as the opening of a separate, stand-alone sentence or clause that is independent of Christ, which is referring to God (the Father) and pronouncing a blessing upon him for the provisions he made. Here and in Ps 67:19 in the LXX[19] the predicate eulogetos [blessed”] occurs after the subject Theos [“God”]. Textual scholar, Bruce M. Metzger made the following point:

On the other hand, in the opinion of others of the Committee, none of these considerations seemed to be decisive, particularly since nowhere else in his genuine epistles does Paul ever designate ho khristos [“the Christ”] as Theos [“God”]. In fact, on the basis of the general tenor of his theology it was considered tantamount to impossible that Paul would have expressed Christ’s greatness by calling him God blessed forever.[20]

A detailed study of the construction in Romans 9:5 is found in The Authorship of the Fourth Gospel and Other Critical Essays, by Ezra Abbot, Boston, 1888, pp. 332-438. On pp. 345, 346 and 432 he says:

“But here ho on [“the one who is] is separated from ho khristos [“the Christ”] by to kata sarka [“according to the flesh”], which in reading must be followed by a pause,—a pause which is lengthened by the special emphasis given to the kata sarka [“according to the flesh”] by the to [“the”]; and the sentence which precedes is complete in itself grammatically, and requires nothing further logically; for it was only as to the flesh that Christ was from the Jews. On the other hand, as we have seen (p. 334), the enumeration of blessings which immediately precedes, crowned by the inestimable blessing of the advent of Christ, naturally suggests an ascription of praise and thanksgiving to God as the Being who rules over all; while a doxology is also suggested by the Amen [“Amen”] at the end of the sentence. From every point of view, therefore, the doxological construction seems easy and natural. . . . The naturalness of a pause after sarka [“flesh”] is further indicated by the fact that we find a point after this word in all our oldest MSS. that testify in the case,—namely, A, B, C, L, . . . I can now name, besides the uncials A, B, C, L, . . . at least twenty-six cursives which have a stop after sarka [“flesh”], the same in general which they have after aionas [“forever”] or Amen [“Amen”].”

Therefore, Romans 9:5 in the Revised Standard Version is correct in its ascribing praise and thanksgiving to God (the Father).

The problem is compounded by the fact that there is practically no punctuation in the ancient manuscripts and we must decide for ourselves whether it is better to put a comma or a full stop after “flesh”; the former ascribes deity to Christ, the latter makes for a doxology to the Father. The grammatical arguments almost all favor the first position, but most recent scholars accept the second on the grounds that Paul nowhere else says explicitly that Christ is God; he may come near it, but, they say, he always stops short of it.[21]

Acts 20:28 (RSV) Acts 20:28 (NLT)

28 Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son.

28 So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock, his church, purchased with his own blood, over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders.

Acts 20:28:[22] The RSV reads that the church was purchased with “the blood of his [God’s] own Son.” On the other hand, the NLT reads that the church was purchased with “God’s . . . own blood.” Before we can begin determining which of these two renderings is correct, it should be noted that we have two textual problems within this verse. As we are a publication for the lay reader, we will cover the issues, but if any wishes a more technical answer, see A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.), by Bruce M. Metzger (1993), or the New Testament Text and Translation Commentary by Philip W. Comfort (2008).

Acts 20:28a has three different readings within the Greek New Testament manuscripts: variant (1) “the church of God,” variant (2) “the church of the Lord,” and variant (3) “the church of the Lord and God.” Variant 1 has the better manuscript support and is the choice of the Textus Receptus of 1551, Westcott and Hort text of 1881, the text of Nestle-Aland and the Greek New Testament of the United Bible Society of 1993. The expression “the church of the Lord” is found nowhere in the New Testament. “the church of God” is found eleven times, all by the Apostle Paul, and Luke, the writer of Acts, who was Paul’s traveling companion.

The textual criticism principle of what reading led to the other will be discussed in two parts. There is no doubt that variant 3 is simply a conflation (combination of variant 1 and variant 2). If “the church of the Lord” is the original reading, it could be that a copyist familiar with Paul made the change to “the church of God.” On the other hand, if “the church of God” is the original reading, there is the slight chance that a copyist was influenced by the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint), and changed it to “the church of the Lord.”

However, our other principle of textual criticism, ‘the more difficult reading is to be preferred’ (more difficult to understand), seems to be most helpful. This principle is also related to ‘the reading that led to the other,’ as the copyist would have moved to an easier reading. The reason being is that it was the tendency of scribes to make difficult readings easier to understand. There is no doubt that “the church of God” is the most difficult reading. Why? The following clause, which will be dealt with shortly could have been taken as “which he purchased with his own blood.” This would almost certainly cause pause for any copyist, asking himself, ‘does God have blood?’ Thus, the original was “the church of God,” which was changed to “the church of the Lord,” because the idea of saying ‘God had blood’ would have been repugnant. All things being considered (internal and external evidence), the correct reading is “the church of God.”

Acts 20:28b has two different readings within the Greek New Testament Manuscripts:

  • [literally, the Greek reads “which he purchased with the blood of his own”] “which he [God] purchased with the blood of his own [Son]” or “which he [God] purchased with his own blood” and,
  • [literally, the Greek reads “which he purchased with the own blood”] “which he purchased with his own blood”

Variant one has the best manuscript evidence by far, and there is no question that it is the original reading. Therefore, we will not use space debating the two but will spend our time determining how it should be understood. Textual scholar Bruce Metzger had this to say,

This absolute use of ho idios [“his Own”] is found in Greek papyri as a term of endearment referring to near relatives. It is possible, therefore, that “his Own” (ho idios) was a title that early Christians gave to Jesus, comparable to “the Beloved”; compare Ro 8:32, where Paul refers to God “who did not spare tou idiou huiou [“his own Son”] in a context that clearly alludes to Gn 22:16, where the Septuagint has agapetou huiou [“beloved Son”].

It may well be, as Lake and Cadbury point out, that after the special meaning of ho idios [“his Own”] (discussed in the previous comment) had dropped out of Christian usage, tou idiou [“of his own”] of this passage was misunderstood as a qualification of haimatos (“his own blood”). “This misunderstanding led to two changes in the text: tou haimatos tou idiou [“the blood of his own”] was changed to tou idiou haimatos [“his own blood”] (influenced by Heb. ix. 12?), which is neater but perverts the sense, and Theou [“God”] was changed to kuriou [“Lord”] by the Western revisers, who doubtless shrank from the implied phrase ‘the blood of God.’”[23]

In the end, we must draw the conclusion from all of the evidence; the Revised Standard Version has followed the evidence, with its rendering: “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son.” On the other hand, it seems that the New Living Translation publisher or committee has allowed theological bias, once again, to blind them from the evidence, as their rendering makes clear: “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock, his church, purchased with his own blood, over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders. Dr. Robert H. Stein said in a lecture at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, ‘God does not need our help [in translation]. Simply render it as it should be, whether it supports your position or not.’

 Another translation that is no longer being used, but can illustrate a lack of faithfulness to the original is Moffatt’s New Translation of the Bible. Repeatedly he arranges chapters and verses in a way to suit himself in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Greek Scriptures. Particularly in what he does with the book of Isaiah is open to censure, rearranging the chapters and verses to suit himself. The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, going back, as it does, about a thousand years earlier than the accepted Masoretic text, leaves Dr. Moffatt without any justification whatsoever for such rearranging of Isaiah. This makes it difficult to find certain Bible texts.

A Worthy Translation is Helpful

It is perfectly acceptable to insert words into the translation to complete the sense in the English text. However, this should be done sparingly and very cautiously as one could intentionally or unintentionally misinform the reader. An example of this is found in the Today’s English Version, attempting to make what they felt was implied, explicit. At 1 John 3:2 they have replaced “he” with “Christ.” However, this has misinformed their readers, as God is the one referred to here not Jesus Christ. The context of verse 1 and the first part of verse 2 make this clear.

The Bible reader today has a plethora of English translations to choose from and should search for the one that is beneficial to personal study, Bible research, as well as religious services. Numerous translations convey the very word of God (ESV, NASB, ASV, HCSB, and UASV) On the other hand; there are numerous translations that have become very popular because they are easy to read, sound very modern, and are immediately understandable. One must ask themselves, though, if their understanding is, in fact, the correct understanding. However, as we saw from the above examples, the DE also contain many errors by taking too many liberties in their translation principles. Accuracy, dependability, and being clear are best reflected in literal translations, as they are giving the reader what was said, not what one person or a committee feels the author meant by what was said. Any serious Bible student should be interested in getting the Word of God, as opposed to an interpretation of those words. If we want an interpretation, we should buy a commentary. In fact, this is exactly what the Dynamic Equivalent translations are, mini-commentaries.

We are not suggesting that our readers should not possess a Dynamic Equivalent. What we recommend is that for a study of God’s Word, use two or three very good literal translations, and two or three very good dynamic equivalents as a sort of quick commentary on Scripture. As to the literal translations, we would recommend the English Standard Version, 2001 (ESV), The Updated New American Standard Bible, 1995 (NASB), the American Standard Version, 1901 (ASV), the Holman Christian Standard Bible, 2003 (HCSB), as well as the forthcoming Updated American Standard Version, 2016 (UASV). As to the dynamic equivalent, we recommend the New Living Translation, 2007 (NLT), the Good News Translation, 1992 (GNT), and the Contemporary English Version, 1995 (CEV). We would also recommend two translations that are between the dynamic equivalent and the literal translation: The New International Version, 2011 (NIV) and the New English Translation, 2010 (NET).

 

[1] McGrath, Alister. In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture. New York: Anchor, 2002, p. 250.

[2] “The translator must re-express the meaning of the original message as exactly as possible in the language to which he is translating.” (Barnwell 1975, 23) “a translation that strives to translate the exact words of the original-language text in a translation, but not in such a rigid way as to violate the normal rules of language and syntax in the receptor language.” (Ryken 2002, 19)

[3] B. F. Westcott, Epistles of St. John, 48-49; F. F. Bruce, The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970, 51-2.

[4] Nida, Eugene A. “Meaning-full Translations.” Christianity Today, October 07, 2002: 46-49.

[5] These three means of inaccuracy are qualified by the phrase, ‘as far as possible.’ Certainly, there will be exceptions to the rule.

[6] Nestle-Aland 27th edition and United Bible Societies 4th edition Greek Interlinear

[7] An idiom is a fixed distinctive expression whose meaning cannot be deduced from the combined meanings of its actual words: “May I get a cup of mud please?” Of course, “mud” is not a cup of wet dirt, but rather a cup of coffee.

[8] A simile is a figure of speech that draws a comparison between two different things, especially a phrase containing the word “like” or “as,” e.g. “as white as a sheet.”

[9] A metaphor is an implicit comparison: the use to describe somebody or something of a word or phrase that is not meant literally but by means of a vivid comparison expresses something about him, her, or it, e.g. saying that somebody is a snake.

[10] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 260.

[11] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 632.

[12] Ex. 20:14; Deut. 5:17

[13] Sexual Immorality: (Heb. zanah; Gr. porneia) A general term for immoral sexual acts of any kind: such as adultery, prostitution, sexual relations between people not married to each other, homosexuality, and bestiality.–Num. 25:1; Deut. 22:21; Matt. 5:32; 1 Cor. 5:1.

[14] A quotation from  Lev. 19:12

[15] A quotation from  Ex. 21:24; Lev. 24:20

[16] A quotation from  Lev. 19:18

[17] A twisting of Deut. 23:3–6

[18] Astounded: (Gr. ekplēssō) This is one who is extremely astounded or amazed, so much so that they lose their mental self-control, as they are overwhelmed emotionally.–Matt. 7:28; Mark 1:22; 7:37; Lu 2:48; 4:32; 9:43; Ac 13:12.

[19] Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament)

[20] Bruce Manning Metzger and United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 461-62.

[21] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 349.

[22] * J. H. Moulton in A Grammar of New Testament Greek, Vol. 1 (Prolegomena), 1930 ed., p. 90, says: “Before leaving ἴδιος [idios] something should be said about the use of ὁ ἴδιος [ho idios] without a noun expressed. This occurs in Jn 111 131, Ac 423 2423. In the papyri we find the singular used thus as a term of endearment to near relations . . . . In Expos. VI. iii. 277 I ventured to cite this as a possible encouragement to those (including B. Weiss) who would translate Acts 2028 ‘the blood of one who was his own.’”

[23] Bruce Manning Metzger and United Bible Societies, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th Rev. Ed.) (London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 427.