Can Our Bible Translations Be Trusted?

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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 100 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Even though there has been a serious decline in Christianity over the past 70 years, the Bible is still the bestselling book throughout the world. In fact, it seems that since 1960 there have been dozens of new translations over the years. Most of them have reached sales of hundreds of thousands of copies (GOD’S WORD Translation) and, in some instances, even millions of copies (New American Standard Bible, English Standard Version, Christian Standard Bible, New Living Translation) or tens of millions copies, the King James Version and the New International Version are the latter.

Some may wonder ‘Why keep on publishing new translations year after year? There are in English the King James Version, Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard Bible, and other older translations. Why do we need new ones yearly?’ There are two reasons why Bible translations have become so popular in the last 20-30 years: (1) sales for publishing houses and (2) translation philosophy differences. There is a third reason for the Updated American Standard Version.

The literal Updated American Standard Version is based on the 1901 American Standard Version English translation, the 1881 Wescott and Hort Greek text and the Nestle-Aland 28th edition, and the Hebrew Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. It came to realization because other translations decided to abandon the literal translation philosophy, such as the 2001 Essentially Literal English Standard Version and the 2009 edition of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) and the major revision of the 2017 Optimal Equivalence Christian Standard Bible. It also came about because the only truly literal translation, the New American Standard Version cannot let go of the interpolation readings of the King James Version, which they retain in the main text.

The P52 PROJECT THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS 4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS

Other Reasons for New Translations

There are several good reasons for new translations but the most important is that language is always changing. This can make older translations difficult to understand and even misleading at best, contradictory at worst.

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 the King James Version’s 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 the KJV 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.”

The 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 fourth reason is that the KJV has over a thousand words in it that do not mean today what they meant in 1611. Words change over time, some even meaning the opposite. For example, the word “let,” as used in the King James Version, meant ‘to stop,’ ‘to prevent,’ or ‘to restrain’ in 1611. Today “let” means ‘to allow,’ ‘to permit,’ or ‘consent to. Thus, in 1611, when the KJV was published, 2 Thessalonians said that Paul “let” the great apostasy come into the church, which meant that Paul actually “stopped” or “restrained” the great apostasy from coming into the church. Now, those who do not know that in 1611 “let” meant, “prevent,” “stop,” and “restrain” in 1611, it was correctly translated. However, today, the English reader would be getting the opposite meaning from that 2 Thessalonians 2:7.

9781949586121 BIBLE DIFFICULTIES THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS
2 Thessalonians 2:7 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; but only until the one who is right now acting as a restraint is out of the way.

2 Thessalonians 2:7 King James Version (KJV)

For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.

Another example, the English word “coast” in the days of the 1611 KJV did not refer just to a seacoast. It was used in those days as the side or border of a country. Thus the 1611 King James Bible says of the apostle Paul, “And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples.” (Acts 19:1) The Updated American Standard Version reads, “And it happened that while Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the inland regions and came to Ephesus and found some disciples.” Why the revised rendering? First, the Bible record shows that Paul “went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.” a journey that would have taken him nowhere near a seacoast! (Acts 18:23) The Greek (ἀνωτερικός anōterikos) refers to an area that is, in fact, situated away from an areas coast or border, the inland, interior, upper regions of an area. Many similar examples could be cited.

BIBLE DIFFICULTIES

The translators who 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]

[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.

The primary purpose of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV) is to give the Bible readers what God said by way of his human authors, not what a translator thinks God meant in its place. The UASV’s primary goal is to be accurate and faithful to the original text. The meaning of a word is the responsibility of the interpreter (i.e., reader), not the translator.

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS

Constructing a Text

The churchgoer may ponder in his or her mind, ‘if there are 5,830+ original language Greek New Testament manuscripts, how can a Bible translator, who desires to consider all of these manuscript discoveries, not to mention the many more thousands of versions (Syriac, Latin, Coptic, Armenian, Gothic), possibly check every verse in all of these different available manuscripts? This would seem like it would take a lifetime to carry out such a task, right?’ No, this work has already been accomplished over the past 400+ years by literal hundreds of renowned textual scholars who have given their lives to research these manuscripts manually, to compare and analyze these texts. We now have tools like computer software to search manuscripts, digitized images, and publications that have gone through many editions by world-renowned textual scholars that have done this work for us. On a translation committee, the translator or textual scholar can use these resources too, and they can always look at the digitized images to verify the work of others. Also, consider the words of Dr. Hort notes: “The great bulk of the words of the New Testament stand out above all discriminative processes of criticism, because they are free from variation, and need only to be transcribed. If comparative trivialities . . . are set aside, the words in our opinion still subject to doubt can hardly amount to more than a thousandth part of the whole New Testament.” – The New Testament in the Original Greek, Vol. I (1974), 561.

Textual Critic: a scholar whose goal is to reconstruct from extant manuscripts either the autograph or the initial text of the NT from which all existing copies originated. The methodology is the same in either case. The critic uses mental, and computer-based toolsets to decide between variant readings among the manuscripts. There are different schools of thought, which tend to prefer either the early manuscripts with more difficult readings or the later manuscripts exhibiting what has been called the Majority Text.

Textual Criticism: the art and science (some would say only art) of determining the original text from variant readings exhibited by extant manuscripts. At present, a good deal of scientific methodology seems to be used as statistics, and computer processing is heavily employed. At the same time, however, TC is also faith-based (at least among conservative theologians), and the results are arguably impossible to verify. Faith plays a role in the belief by many that God has preserved His word somewhere among extant Greek manuscripts, which makes conjectural emendation unnecessary and unacceptable. As to verification, logic and the genealogical relationships between texts that can be constructed are often very convincing, but sometimes a decision is somewhat tenuous. Some critics would claim that no decision can really be verified, but many theories are accepted today without physical verification, on the strength of reasonable probability. As one example of the work of textual scholars, consider the Bible verse 1 Timothy 3:16.

4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2
1 Timothy 3:16 King James Version 1 Timothy 3:16 Updated American Standard Version 1 Timothy 3:16 English Standard Version 1 Timothy 3:16 Christian Standard Bible
16 … God was manifest in the flesh, … 16 … He was manifested in the flesh, … 16 … He was manifested in the flesh, …

 

16 … He was manifested in the flesh, …

Why the difference?

ΠΡΟΣ ΤΙΜΟΘΕΟΝ Α΄ 3:16 (WH NU) [BRD] All modern-day translations

16 καὶand ὁμολογουμένωςconfessedly μέγαgreat ἐστὶνis τὸthe τῆςof the εὐσεβείαςreverence well μυστήριον·mystery; ὋςWho ἐφανερώθηwas manifested ἐνin σαρκί,flesh, ἐδικαιώθηwas vindicated ἐνin πνεύματι,Spirit, ὤφθηwas seen ἀγγέλοις,to angels, ἐκηρύχθηwas preached ἐνin ἔθνεσιν,nations, ἐπιστεύθηwas believed ἐνin κόσμῳ,world, ἀνελήμφθηwas taken up ἐνin δόξῃ.glory.

א* A* C* F G 33 Didymus

variant 1 ὃ εφανερωθη
“which was manifested”
D*

variant 2/TR θεος εφανερωθη
“God was manifested”
אc Ac C2 DΨ 1739 Maj

1 Timothy 3:16 King James Version 1 Timothy 3:16 Updated American Standard Version 1 Timothy 3:16 English Standard Version 1 Timothy 3:16 Christian Standard Bible
16 God was manifest in the flesh, … 16 He was manifested in the flesh, … 16 He was manifested in the flesh, …

 

16 He was manifested in the flesh, …
English Bible Versions King James Bible KING JAMES BIBLE II

“who [or he who] was manifested in the flesh” was the original reading based on the earliest and best manuscripts (א* A* C*), as well as F G 33 Didymus. There are two other variant readings, “which” (D*) and “God” (אc Ac C2 DΨ 1739 Maj). Using Comfort’s system, “A superscript c or numbers designate corrections made in the manuscript. An asterisk designates the original, pre-corrected reading.” The witnesses (manuscripts) that support “who” or “he who”is very weighty. We can see from the above that there were many manuscripts that made what they perceived to be a correction in their manuscript, which clearly comes across as a scribal emendation. Certainly, the pronoun “who” is a reference to Jesus Christ.

Nomina Sacra

This simply solved textual issue caused many problems in the nineteenth century and really with the King James Version Onlyists, it still does today. The Bible scholars entered the fray because they thought the textual scholars were undermining their doctrinal position that God became man. The early argument by some textual scholars as to how the variant 2/TR came about was that the Greek word translated “God,” which was abbreviated to the nomen sacrum (sacred name) ΘC, had initially looked like the Greek word OC, which means “who”  or “he who.” They argued that a horizontal stroke showing faintly through from the other side of the vellum manuscript page, and a later hand added a line across the top, which turned the word OC (“who”) into the nomen sacrum contraction ΘC (“God”). However, it seems highly unlikely as comforted commented: “how several fourth- and fifth-century scribes, who had seen thousands of nomina sacra, would have made this mistake.” We would agree with Comfort that it was clearly a doctrinal motivation, wanting it to read, “God was manifest in the flesh.”

alexandrinus4 Codex Alexandrinus, 1 Timothy 3.16
Codex Alexandrinus, 1 Timothy 3:16-4:3 theos

Codex Alexandrinus, 1 Timothy 3.16

Metzger rates “He was manifested in the flesh” as certain, saying,

The reading which, on the basis of external evidence and transcriptional probability, best explains the rise of the others is ὅς. It is supported by the earliest and best uncials (א* A*vid C* Ggr) as well as by 33 365 442 2127 syrhmg,  goth ethpp Origenlat Epiphanius Jerome Theodore Eutherius Cyril Cyrilacc. to Ps-Oecumenius Liberatus. Furthermore, since the neuter relative pronoun ὅ must have arisen as a scribal correction of ὅς (to bring the relative into concord with μυστήριον), the witnesses that read ὅ (D* itd, , ,  vg Ambrosiaster Marius Victorinus Hilary Pelagius Augustine) also indirectly presuppose ὅς as the earlier reading. The Textus Receptus reads θεός, with אe (this corrector is of the twelfth century) A2 C2 Dc K L P Ψ 81 330 614 1739 Byz Lect Gregory-Nyssa Didymus Chrysostom Theodoret Euthalius and later Fathers. Thus, no uncial (in the first hand) earlier than the eighth or ninth century (Ψ) supports θεός; all ancient versions presuppose ὅς or ὅ; and no patristic writer prior to the last third of the fourth century testifies to the reading θεός. The reading θεός arose either (a) accidentally, through the misreading of ος as ΘΣ, or (b) deliberately, either to supply a substantive for the following six verbs, or, with less probability, to provide greater dogmatic precision.

How to Interpret the Bible-1 INTERPRETING THE BIBLE how-to-study-your-bible1

Are They Really So Old?

The Bible critics have argued: ‘How can one be so sure those Dead Sea Scrolls and other manuscripts are as old as the textual scholar claim? What evidence is there that they are?’

See PALEOGRAPHY: Dating Ancient Manuscripts

Why We Can Have Confidence?

The art and science of textual criticism and related areas like paleography go back hundreds of years. Over the last 140-years, textual research has become more certain and exact every year. And each new literal Bible translation that builds upon this foundation in an honest impartial manner, becomes more pure and accurate. Thus, the last 400 years, especially the last 140-years can give us complete confidence that the literal Bible translations are a mirror-like reflection of the originals, the unaltered Word of God.

Philip W. Comfort, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary: Commentary on the Variant Readings of the Ancient New Testament Manuscripts and How They Relate to the Major English Translations (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2008), 662–663.

Bruce Manning Metzger, 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), 573–574.

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