Ted J. Thrasher, Olathe, Kansas
Text: 1 Pet. 1:24-25 "For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you."
According to Peter in this passage, our life in the flesh is temporary and fleeting -- all the glory of man is compared to the flower of grass, which shall wither and fall away with the passing of time. Contrasted to this is the enduring nature of the Word of God. God's Word will never wither and pass away as the grass, as our bodies of flesh or as the things in which man often glories. No, the Word of the Lord will endure forever.
The Word of God does not consist in the paper, ink, leather and binding of our Bibles, but in the living truth which is communicated to us through the medium of the words we read therein. Jesus said in Jn. 6:63, "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life."
Because of this great truth, God's eternal Word shall never be destroyed! It shall be standing when this earth and all the things of this earth have been destroyed! It shall be present in the day of judgment; It is the standard by which all men shall either stand or fall (John 12:48)! How thankful we should be that we can read and study God's Word, in our language, and know the truth of God whereby we may be free of the guilt of sin (John 8:32)! This is made possible because of the painstaking work of 148 men who accurately translated from the original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into our English language, what we know as the King James Version and the American Standard Version.
However, we should recognize that there are some today, for various reasons and motives (some apparent and some not), which are producing what they call "Bibles" or "Versions" of the Bible which are not really God's Word. They will not succeed in destroying God's Word, for, as we have seen that is impossible. But, they very well may succeed in deceiving many people by binding their productions in attractive forms and printing the word "Bible" on it somewhere and passing it off as a "new and improved version" of God's Word. Therefore, we need to understand that not every book which claims to be the "Bible" is, in fact, God's Word.
I am deeply saddened by the confusion which surrounds this issue -- A confusion which I firmly believe is the work of the devil and his agents to destroy the power and influence of the Word of God on the hearts of men and women. I am further saddened because people are now asking "Which Bible Should I Study?" which in essence, equates to the same question as, "Where Can I Find The Word Of God?" or "Which Version Is The Word Of God?"
Brother Goebel Music in his excellent book on the Easy To Read Version (p 127-149, 154-57), listed 133 different versions and 7,000 Editions or Styles which have been set before the public and presented as some form of the Word of God. He lists some of the various styles as: Children's Bibles (Toddler's Bible, Children's Bible in 365 Stories), Recovery Bibles (Helping The Addicted And Codependent...), Bibles With A Point Of View (Pick a denomination), Issues-Oriented Bibles (The King And The Beast, for teens, which deals with drug abuse, homosexuality) and Scriptures For Him And Her (Appealing to the Needs of Man and Woman).
Could everyone of these possibly be the eternal Word of God -- the standard by which we will be judged? And if not, which one, if any, is the Word of God? And even if some have a reliable translation of the Bible, yet it is often weaved in among the false doctrine taught in the comments and footnotes. Amid this type of confusion, how can one find the Word of God? How can one know, out of all these various books, claiming to be the Word of God, which to choose? Or if we should choose any of them?
Certainly we are sobered by the responsibility set before us to deal with the issue of translation and versions of the Bible. The work of translating God's Word from the original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into another language is a complex process which is far beyond the limited abilities and resources which most students of the Bible possess. In a study of the various methods of translation, we are concerned with "how" the translation is done or the philosophy of the translator(s) and this, by it's nature, is a technical subject.
Thankfully, we do not have to be able to do the work of a translator to study the various methods which are used. And we do not have to be able to study the original languages and translate them ourselves in order to know the Word of God. (Although a study of the original language is often helpful to those interested in discovering some of the shades of meanings which are conveyed in the original. For instance, there are three Koine Greek words which are translated "love" in the New Testament. The first is the highest form of love: agape; the next is philos which is friendly love and the third is storge which is the love of kin, relatives, family. With just one English word to express all three types of love, we must rely on the context to define their usage. However, a study in the original easily yields the distinct meaning.)
Virtually everybody who studies the Bible depends upon a translation of the original languages for their knowledge of God's Word. Since, "...faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17) it is imperative that the translation we use be an accurate translation of God's Word from the original, rather than the opinion of some theological expert, or worse, the doctrinal bias of some denominational teacher eager to insert his false doctrine right into the text! If it is not, then our faith will be based upon man's word rather than God's Word.
I. Definition Of Terms.
Since we are dealing with somewhat of a technical subject, we need to define some of terms, so we can understand it clearly.
1. Translate/Translation. If you consult an English dictionary, it will give the definition of the word "translate" as, "1. To give the sense or equivalent of in another language; change into another language" (F&W 1422) Or "carry over into one's own or another language." Obviously, this definition is too broad and loose when used in the context of the important work of translating God's Word. This definition is almost the same as "interpret" which means to explain in other words. This would accommodate all the loose methods currently being used by liberal "translators" today.
In answering the question "What Is A Translation?" Francis Steele writes, "The liberties taken by many so-called translators is seen in their violation of the limits of true translation in distinction from paraphrase. Any technical definition of `translation' must emphasize the meticulous accuracy with which such limits must be observed, especially by scholars who profess to believe in scriptural revelation."
He then gives this wonderful definition of the word translate/translation, "A translation should convey as much of the original text in as few words as possible, yet preserve the original atmosphere and emphasis. The translator should strive for the nearest approximation in words, concepts, and cadence. He should scrupulously avoid adding words or ideas not demanded by the text. His job is not to expand or to explain, but to translate and preserve the spirit and force of the original... Not just ideas, but words are important; so also is the emphasis indicated by word order in the sentence" (Translation or Paraphrase? 1-3).
Brother Wayne Jackson wrote, "A `translation' is simply the rendition of the original Biblical text (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) into one's native vernacular. Everyone, unless he reads the Biblical languages is dependant upon a translation" (Handbook On Bible Translation 532).
In the one sense of the word, a "translation" is the act of translating from one language to another; in another sense, it is also used to refer to the end result or the finished product which has been translated. Here is where we also meet the need to define another word which is often used in connection with the second definition of the word "translation"...
2. Version. This word is defined as, "A translation from one language to another" (F&W 1489) and especially when referring to an updated translation of the Bible. (Although version can also be defined, "A description or account as modified by a particular point of view." This definition would seem to more closely define what most of the modern speech versions are in fact -- just their author's point of view.) In this sense of the word, there is truly only one "version" which matters, and that is God's Version -- His Inspired Word.
However, some of the modern speech versions attempt to use the word "version" in the sense of "revision. They take the good name of an accurate translation and then tack the word "New" in front of it, in order to promote their product. For instance, the NASV sounds like it is a revision of the ASV, but in fact it is a completely new translation and does not follow in the same principles of translation accuracy as the ASV.
3. Revision. The word revision means exactly what it sounds like, "1. To read or read over so as to correct errors, suggest or make changes..." (F&W 1151). When one makes a revision of the Bible, he may go back to the original language for comparison and correction, but the major work is to re-read the translation and correct minor errors in the text or bring the text up to date. For instance, the KJV has been revised several times since it was first translated in 1611 to change the spelling of words and to change some of the words which are no longer part of our vocabulary (needs to be done again). However, the major work of translation still stands as accurate as when it was first translated.
Many of the versions which bear the name "Revised" in their titles are actually new translations and go much further than just revising the version which are they are supposed to follow. The RSV is one example of this. It is supposed to be a revision of the KJV. But it is not an accurate revision of the KJV because in many places it changes the very structure and accuracy of the text and teaches error in several passages (Isaiah 7:14 among them).
II. Some Of The Things We Are Not Discussing.
Before we engage in the study of the philosophy and methods which have been used to translate from the original languages, we need to list some of the things we are not discussing in this lesson. Some of these need to be discussed in other lessons, but they are outside the scope of this lesson.
1. Textual Criticism. Textual criticism is the work of scholars who compare the minor differences which occur between different copies of the original Hebrew or Greek texts. We do not possess the actual "autograph copies" but thousands of copies or fragments of them. In addition to this we also have thousands of copies of what are called the "patristics" which are the writings of the early church fathers, which quote the Scriptures. Over the years, there have been several discoveries which continue to add to the credibility and accuracy of the original text of the Bible.
Some today may argue over the differences in the Greek text of the Textus Receptus (Received Text, used by KJV) or the Westcott-Hort (Critical Text, used by ASV) but most admit that there are very little substantial differences in them. Geisler and Nix wrote, "...both texts convey the contents of the autographs, even though they are separately garnished with their minor scribal and technical differences" (General Bible Introduction, 464). Therefore, we do not and should not doubt the accuracy or credibility of the original texts.
2. Interpretation Of Existing Translations. This is what is generally called "hermeneutics" or Biblical interpretation. Some regard translation as a part of hermeneutics because of the need to interpret the word from one language to another. This may be the case, but translation is not interpreting or giving the meaning of an existing translation in the same language. A translator may sometimes function in the role of interpreting from the original to the native language because of some unique concept which is not easy to translate. But, his primary work is to correctly translate the text, rather than interpret the text.
3. The Concept Of A "Perfect Translation" Most any one who has studied this issue knows that we do not have a perfect translation in our possession. Francis Steele wrote, "It is impossible to make a perfect transfer from one language to another in any translation" (Translation or Paraphrase, 7). All translations have some minor errors or mistakes. This should not be taken to mean that all so-called translations are the same. Some have many more errors than others. However, in our best translations, the mistakes are so insignificant and trivial, that we can honestly say that we have the Word of God in our language. The same cannot be said for some of the perversions available today.
4. Translations Other Than English. There can be no doubt that the availability of translations in English far outnumber any other language. Further it is apparent, (from those who are preaching in other countries), that there is a great need for accurate translations from the original text in these nations. Many of the so-called Bibles which are being used are merely translations from English versions into the native tongue. Some have selected poor English versions from which to translate (such as the NEB) and then compound the problem by translating their error along side the original error!
III. Methods Of Translation.
There are four basic theories or methods of translation which have been used by those who do the work of translating from the original languages.
1. Literal or Highly Literal. This is where the exact words, word order and syntax are as literally followed and translated into English as possible. Many of the interlinears, such as Berry's Interlinear are examples of this method of translation. Young's Literal Translation is another example of this method of translation.
Even though these are highly accurate to the Greek, yet often times they are difficult to read in English. For instance YLT reads in John 3:16, "for God did so love the world, that His Son - the only begotten - He gave, that every one who is believing in him may not perish, but may have life age-during." Berry's Interlinear reads, "For so loved God the world that his Son the only begotten he gave, that everyone who believes on him may not perish but have life eternal."
Although these are accurate translations, due to word order and syntax they are difficult to read in English. They are best used as tools for those who wish to study the literal English translation along side the original language. And for those who are more concerned with the structure of the original than the structure of English. They would be difficult to use in public readings or even daily Bible reading.
2. Formal Equivalence, Form-Oriented or Modified Literal. This is where the actual words are translated and then adjusted slightly in order and syntax to conform to the target language. This method respects the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. It focuses on the form or the very words of the text and translates them. It is based upon the philosophy that each and every word of the text is important and carries a meaning of its own which is possible to express in another language.
This method involves a single process whereby the words are directly translated from the original to the target language. The emphasis is given to translating the words and the various parts of speech as closely as is possible without distorting the meaning. This means that nouns are translated as nouns, verbs as verbs, articles as articles, adverbs as adverbs and adjectives as adjectives. Close attention is given to grammar so that tenses, moods, numbers and persons are translated as closely as possible. The KJV is especially accurate in translating the second person plural as "ye" (a distinction which is lost in many versions by translating both singular and plural numbers as "you").
This method is sometimes recognized (and criticized) as the word-for-word method of translation. It is the most accurate of all methods of translation in versions which are readily available. It is the method which was employed by the KJV, ASV and NKJV translators. Because of these translator's respect for each word, when they added English words which did not correspond to a Greek word, they italized these words, so that the reader could know that these words were supplied by the translators. This type of honesty and ethical responsibility cannot be found in the modern-speech versions today.
3. Functional Equivalence, Context-Oriented, Idiomatic or Dynamic Equivalence. This method of translation departs from the formal equivalence method in two areas: (1) It is concerned with the thought of the writer, (as if they knew!) and (2) The reaction of the translated message by the person reading it (as if they could predict it). It is based on the underlying theory that communication takes place, not in word form, but in sentence form or that the sentence is the smallest unit of communication. (Although we recognize that the definition of words must be considered in their context, this does not mean that words have no meaning of themselves or do not communicate themselves. Just yell "Fire" real loud in a crowded place sometime and see if a single word can communicate. Or whisper "Shop" or "Sale" to a woman and see what happens next).
This method of translation is defended by such men as Eugene A. Nida and Charles R. Taber in a book entitled The Theory and Practice of Translation. In contrasting what they term the "new focus" (Dynamic Equivalence) and the "old focus" (Formal Equivalence) they write, "The new focus...has shifted from the form of the message to the response of the receptor. Therefore, what one must determine is the response of the receptor to the translated message. The response must then be compared with the way in which the original receptors presumably reacted to the message when it was given in its original setting" (p 1).
In order to achieve this result they go through a three step process which involves: (1) Analyzing what they think the inspired writer meant; (2) Transferring the thought to the target language; and (3) Restructuring it to fit what they think the person reading it will understand (Ibid. p 33). This last step involves a number of subjective judgments and decisions based upon emotions, attitudes and even doctrinal bias. The result is more interpretation than translation.
The fundamental difference between Formal Equivalence and Dynamic Equivalence is that FE is a word-for-word translation (which derives doctrine from God's Word) while DE is a thought translation which allows the translator's doctrine to determine what he thinks the Word of God should say. Needless to say, we reject the Dynamic Equivalence approach to translation as being an accurate or valid method of translation.
4. Paraphrase or Unduly Free. This method is hardly worthy of being called a method of translation, since it is not concerned with the words or sometimes not even the meaning of the original. It is so loose that it will allow excess words, whole sentences or even paragraphs to be inserted into the text without any justification other than the paraphraser's belief that he is producing a product which is easier to understand than the Word of God. Most are nothing but commentaries and very poor ones at that, since they are packed with the false doctrines of the author of such works.
Further, some of them include words and thoughts which are vulgar and disrespectful of the dignity which should befit the Word of God. Such liberties are taken in this method that even liberal scholars do not recognize this as a valid or accurate method of translation. Neither should we!
While we recognize that there is a place for paraphrasing and commenting upon the Scriptures, honesty demands that we call it a commentary or a paraphrase of the Scriptures rather than trying to pass it off as the Word of God in a more readable or understandable form.
IV. Some Examples Of Various Methods Of Translation.
In order to understand these methods of translation better, we now present some examples. Since, very few would regularly read from an interlinear or the result of the highly literal method and since all agree that they are accurate, we will not include them in our examples. The real debate is between the thought (DE) translations and the word (FE) translations.
However, since paraphrases are readily available and some people are deceived into thinking they are obtaining the Word of God by the packaging of such, we shall also give some examples of these. One of the ways we can determine the translators' method is by reading the Preface and Introduction of each.
1. Paraphrases. In this category we have such works as:
A. The Living Bible: Paraphrased by Kenneth Taylor. As the title indicates this is a paraphrase or loose commentary. In the Preface of this book, he writes that "...a paraphrase is guided not only by the translators' skill in simplifying but also by the clarity of his understanding of what the author meant and by his theology. For when the Greek or Hebrew is not clear, then the theology of the translator is his guide, along with his sense of logic..." (Preface of LBP, 7th Ed. from Handbook 458).
Notice his emphasis is on simplifying and attempting to interpret what he thinks the author meant (as if he knows the mind of God better than the inspired apostles). This is nothing more than his commentary based upon "his theology." He makes it clear that when in doubt about the original, insert your own theology. He was obviously in doubt a great deal about the Hebrew and Greek because he inserted 126 words in the first 5 verses of Romans 4!
Some styles of this paraphrase also use vulgar and irreverent pictures and thoughts in titles and in the text itself! (Refer to Wallace 594-610).
B. The New English Bible is another example of the paraphrase method of translation, even though some may place it in the DE method of translation. C.H. Dodd, who served as the General Director of this project, admitted this in the introduction, "The line between translation and paraphrase is a fine one. But we have had recourse to deliberate paraphrase with great caution, and only in a few passages where without it we could see no way to attain our aim of making the meaning as clear as it could be made." (Handbook 731-2).
He also admits in the Introduction that the method used was different than a word-for-word translation: "This meant a different theory and practice of translation...Fidelity in translation was not to mean keeping the general framework of the original intact while replacing Greek words by English words more or less equivalent." That he followed the paraphrase method of "thought" or "sentence" translation is further seen in this statement of the "freedom" of the translator from the Introduction: "...he is free to exploit a wide range of English words covering a similar area of meaning and association he may hope to carry over the meaning of the sentence as a whole." (Handbook 731).
Unfortunately, neither the meaning of the words or the sentences was carried over from the original in many passages of the NEB! Brother Foy Wallace in his review of the NEB in A Review Of The New Versions lists 80 different New Testament passages in which words have been omitted, inserted, mis-translated or paraphrased. Among them are:
Acts 20:7 being changed to read "Saturday night" instead of the first day of the week.
In 1 Cor. 12:10; 14:26 it has the Corinthian brethren speaking in "ecstatic utterances" (following the Pentecostal's doctrine) rather than "tongues" (or languages).
Eph. 5:19 being changed from "making melody" to "making music" and leaving out the word "spiritual" altogether.
Professor O.T. Allis of Princeton, at the end of his Comparative Study Of The New English Bible wrote of the NEB that it, "is to so marked a degree a paraphrase or interpretation of the Biblical text that it cannot be regarded as a `faithful rendering' of it, and therefore cannot be accepted as a worthy substitute for or successor to the great historic Version of 1611 which it aims to supplant." (Wallace 525). We can say "Amen" to that!
C. Other Paraphrases. There are several others in this category such as:
Goodspeed in The New Testament -- An American Translation has the eunuch of Acts 8 sitting in a "car"! (Handbook 457).
Philips in his New Testament In Modern English Foreword makes an admission that he "occasionally" wrote "what appears to be a paraphrase" but that he had "always been careful to avoid" it. Apparently he could just not avoid it in 1 Pet. 3:21 for where the Bible says, "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth now save us", he wrote, "And I cannot help pointing out what a perfect illustration this is of the way you have been admitted to the safety of the Christian `ark' by baptism, which means, of course..." (Wallace 611). In the introduction to the book of Acts Philips says that "Luke's sources of information were probably first-class" (Wallace 613). Therefore, not inspired of God, but probably the best he could get!
Cotton Patch Version which irreverently garbles Acts 2:36 to say, "...let all America know beyond any doubt that God has made this same Jesus, whom you lynched, both President and Leader." Such irreverence is sickening! All of these should be rejected as nothing more than the opinions (and very poor opinions) of the men who produced them. They are the work of man, not of God and certainly not worthy to even be considered as any part of the Word of God.
2. Examples Of The Dynamic Equivalence Method.
As we pointed our earlier, the goal of those who embrace this method is not to translate the very words of the original, but to translate what they think the writer of the original meant (in sentence form) and then restructure the result of that process to what they think the person reading it will be able to understand in his own language. One of the most notable examples and widely accepted versions in this category is:
A. The New International Version which is a production of the International Bible Society which began this work in 1965 and continue to change it from time to time. In the Preface it says, "There is a sense in which the work of translation is never wholly finished." Why not, if it is done accurately? There may be a need for slight revisions, as a living language changes, but not retranslation. The fact is the NIV has changed as pressure has been exerted from various religious groups seeking to change what it says.
Again in the Preface it is stated of the translators, "...they have striven for more than a word-for-word translation. Because thought patterns and syntax differ from language to language, faithful communication of the meaning of the writers of the Bible demands frequents modifications in sentence structure and constant regard for contextual meaning of words." Notice, the emphasis is not upon the words of the writers of the Bible, but the thoughts or contextual meaning. This is at the heart of the DE method of translation, to overlook the words and focus on what they think the inspired writers meant.
Further the NIV boasts of being "transdenominational in character" and this was supposed to protect it from "sectarian bias." However, it would seem from an examination of what it teaches, instead of protecting it, it insured that it was written into the text. It shows it sectarian bias in such areas as:
(1) It mistranslates the Greek word sarx in numerous passages as "sinful nature" thus teaching the false doctrine of original sin or total hereditary depravity.
(2) It tries to eliminate Mark 16:9-20 from the inspired text by stating, "The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20." (1978).
(3) It teaches faith only or that salvation comes at the point of faith or confession in such passages as Eph. 1:13, Rom. 10:10 & 1 Pet. 3:21.
These are only a few of the areas where it teaches false doctrines and presents them as God's Word! Even though a great number of our liberal brethren have accepted and use the NIV, it is not an accurate translation of God's Word and should not be accepted as such!
B. Today's English Version: TEV (Also called "Good News For Modern Man). Most place the TEV in the Dynamic Equivalence method, even though in places it borders on being in the paraphrase category because of it's extreme looseness and overall irreverence for the Word of God. When it first came out it was called the two-bit version because it cost 25 cents. Those who read it with discernment quickly found out it wasn't worth it!
In the Preface of Good News For Modern Man it says, "As a distinctly new translation, it does not conform to traditional vocabulary or style, but seeks to express the meaning of the Greek text in words and forms accepted as standard by people everywhere who employ English as a means of communication. ...there has been no attempt to reproduce in English the parts of speech, sentence structure, word order and grammatical devices of the original language" (Preface of GNMM p iv from Handbook 765-6).
One of the most predominant errors of the TEV is the removal of the word "blood" from the text. It is eliminated in 16 of the New Testament passages referring the blood of Christ, and in 20 passages of general reference (Wallace 531-2). Thus it shows their preference for modernism and disdain for the precious blood of Christ shed for our forgiveness.
It changes Acts 20:7 to read, "On Saturday evening we gathered together for a fellowship meal" instead of translating it as the first day of the week breaking of bread. It uses vulgar language in Acts 8:20 and teaches that Peter, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, told Simon, "May you and your money go to hell..." There is absolutely no reason or excuse for this type of irreverence and irresponsible handling of inspired truth!
C. The New American Standard Version has been placed (by some) in the same category as the KJV and ASV for its accuracy, yet it does not deserve a place along side them in the FE method of translation. In keeping with the DE method, the translators of the NASV have tried to anticipate what the reader would be able understand and/or accept and then translate it accordingly.
Under the heading of Principles of Translation the Editorial Board of the Lockman Foundation wrote, "When it was felt that the word-for-word literalness was inacceptable to the modern reader, a change was made in the direction of a more current English idiom." In the translation of Greek tenses it is stated, "...the translators took care to follow English rules rather than Greek in translating Greek presents, imperfects and aorists." Which means, again, that the reader's supposed understanding is more important than the accurate translation of the Greek to English.
Even though the NASV deceptively bears part of the same name as the honored and tested ASV, suggesting that it may be a revision of the ASV, it in fact is a completely new translation, as the Introduction states, "...in 1959, a new translation project was launched, based upon the ASV." But, if one reads further, it also says, "...in the preparation of this work numerous other translations have been consulted along with the linguistic tools and literature of biblical scholarship." Actually, the NASV could more closely be called a revision of its Lockman parent: the Amplified Bible, for it follows its text much closer than the original or the ASV (Wallace 584).
It makes some of the same mistakes as the other so-called versions in several passages:
In Matt. 5:17, Jesus is made to say that He would not abolish the law of Moses, but in Eph. 2:15 it says that He did abolish the "Law of commandments." An obvious contradiction which cannot be reconciled! God's Word does not contradict Itself. But, the NASV contradicts in these passages, therefore it is cannot be the Word of God in these passages. If it is not the Word of God here, what about other places?
Mark 16:9-20 are placed in brackets, indicating their doubt that they belong in the text and then in the footnote it says, "Some of the oldest mss do not contain vv. 9-20." As if this settles the issue that they should not be there!
I Cor. 7:25 & 40 has the apostle Paul giving "his opinion" about certain matters concerning marriage. However, Paul did not say that! He said he gave his "judgment" and that he had "the Spirit of God." Paul was not giving uninspired opinions, but was revealing truths which had not been revealed directly by the Lord in these passages.
Even though the NASV may not be as inaccurate or teach false doctrine intentionally, yet it still does not deserve the amount of defense or praise it receives from some of our brethren.
3. Examples Of The Formal Equivalence Method.
There are three translations which I believe fall in the category of word-for-word translations which are currently available today. They are the KJV, the ASV and the NKJV. The first two of these can be recommended without reservation as being accurate and reliable translations of the original language to English.
A. The King James Version was translated in England at the order of King James I from the Textus Receptus text beginning in 1604 and was finished in 1611. 54 of the world's best scholars of that day began the work, while 47 completed the translation in 1611. It has stood the test of 384 years of use and criticism and still stands as one of the most loved and used Bibles we have in the English language. Despite the attacks and ridicule of critics, both old and modern, it remains "the standard" by which other versions are judged.
From an examination of the 15 rules outlined to the translators of the KJV, we can reach the conclusion that these men were given the responsibility of producing a translation as close to the original language as possible, thus they employed what we would call the FE method or "word" translation. Notice some of the rules given by Gustavus S. Paine in The Men Behind The KJV:
"1. The ordinary Bible read in church, commonly called the Bishop's Bible, to be followed and as little altered as the truth of the original will permit.
4. When a word hath divers significations, that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by most of the ancient fathers.
6. No marginal notes at all to be affixed, but only for the explanation of the Hebrew or Greek words, which cannot without some circumlocution be so briefly and fitly expressed in the text." (Handbook 588-9).
Obviously, these men were concerned with the translation of the words not the thoughts of the text and used great pain to compare each word with the original, while avoiding the use of marginal notes. They were charged with translating the Word of God from the original, not inserting their thoughts or writing commentary in the footnotes.
This, however, does not mean that they did not have some doctrinal bias and failed in some areas to translate as clearly as they could. For instance, the word baptizo in the Greek was transliterated to "baptize" because the Church of England did not believe in immersion. This, however, is far from the rank error which is taught in many so-called versions. This is not error, but a lack of clarity in translation.
B. The American Standard Version began as the English Revised Version which was published in England in 1885. It was revised slightly by the American Revision Committee and published as the ASV in America in 1901. The underlying New Testament text of the ERV and ASV was the Westcott-Hort text.
The intention of the ERV and ASV was to revise the KJV and it differs from the KJV in some areas where the Westcott-Hort text differs from the Textus Receptus. However, even in those areas it is clearly seen, (thankfully) that the ASV translators more closely followed the KJV than the Westcott-Hort text. Clearly they utilized the FE method or word-for-word type of translation.
Brother George Dehoff wrote, "The King James Translation of the Bible brought the church to us. It was the translation that gave us the Restoration movement. The few inaccuracies in translation and obsolete words are not of any great importance but they were well taken care of in the American Revised (later called the American Standard) Version of 1901. The 1901 translation is probably the most accurate word for word translation ever made. Indeed, it is sometimes called "slavishly accurate." Whatever that means, it will never be said about the rash of new Bibles we are now getting. Accuracy is not one of their faults!" (Wallace xv).
In the preface of the New Testament the revisers stated: "by rule of procedure which the Committee followed, the translation of 1611 held its place in every instance until an alteration commanded the votes of two-thirds of the revisers..." (Handbook 568).
Brother Wayne Jackson wrote of scholars such as F.F. Bruce and others, that even though they promoted some of the more modern versions they still admitted that the "...ERV/ASV are the most meticulously accurate translations in the English language." (Handbook 568).
Both hostile and friendly witnesses attest to the accuracy and reliability of the ASV. It undeniably belongs in the category of the FE method of translation and even leans in places towards the highly literal method.
C. The New King James Version was copyrighted by Thomas Nelson, Inc. in 1979. It was designed to be a revision of the KJV, "as a continuation of the labors of the earlier translators" (Preface iii). Actually it is based upon virtually the same text as the KJV with minor modifications in those areas where discoveries have been made since 1611.
It clearly follows the word-for-word method of translation, as the translators state in the Preface, "Where new translation has been necessary in the New King James Version, the most complete representation of the original has been rendered by considering the history of usage and etymology of words in their contexts. This principle of complete equivalence seeks to preserve all of the information in the text, while presenting it in good literary form. Dynamic equivalence, a recent procedure in Bible translation, commonly results in paraphrasing where a more literal rendering is needed to reflect a specific and vital sense." (Preface iii).
The translators of the NKJV also are men who believe that God is the author of the Bible and in the verbal plenary inspiration of the Scriptures. "...it has seemed consistent with our task to cooperate with competent scholars who are governed by the biblical principle of divine authorship of the Holy Scriptures. Therefore, all participating scholars have signed a document of subscription to the plenary and verbal inspiration of the original autographs of the Bible." (Preface iv).
Despite their view to retain the dignity of the KJV, the NKJV translators eliminated the reverent pronouns such as "thee," "thou" and "thine" thus diminishing from the reverence which should be retained in God's Word. Further, the removal of the word "ye" for the second person plural pronoun takes away, rather than adds to the accuracy of the text. Further, the NKJV translated the Greek term porneia with the less than accurate phrase "sexual immorality" which is properly translated "fornication" in the KJV and ASV.
However, in following the KJV in honesty, the NKJV also placed the words supplied by the translators in italics. Certainly the NKJV belongs in the category of the FE translations, as do the KJV and ASV.
V. Principles Of Translation.
There are several factors which influence those who translate from the original languages of the Bible: Attitude toward inspiration, Character, Doctrinal Bias and the Number of People Involved in the translation process. Since these factors often effect the result of their work, we need to look at the translator's philosophy and beliefs concerning the Word of God. This is sometimes called principles of translation or philosophy of translation.
Before we pick up a new version and start to use it, we need to examine some the characteristics of those who produced it. Here is a list of some of the things we should examine:
1. The Translator's Concept Of Inspiration. Does he believe in the Verbal Plenary Inspiration of the Scriptures, that every word is God-breathed OR does he believe that God gave the apostles and other inspired writers the thoughts and allowed them the liberty to select their own words? Does He believe that the Scriptures are complete and that revelation has ended, or does he believe that the Holy Spirit is still revealing new truths which are not found in the Bible? Does he believe that every word is inspired and therefore every word of the text is God's Word or that just some of the words are inspired and some are the words of man? Many times we can find the attitude of the translators expressed in the Preface and Introduction of these versions. We should beware of all that do not express a firm belief in every word being God's Inspired Word.
Further, the translator's concept of inspiration has a bearing upon whether he believes in the inerrancy of the Scriptures or that there are no mistakes in the Scriptures. If a person believes that a part of the text is from God and a part from man, then logically he must accept that part is inerrant (God's part) and part could be error (man's part). The confusion this brings is: Who decides which part is God's and which part is man's? Which is error free and which could be error? Therefore, we must reject the spurious theory of partial inspiration and affirm full, complete, plenary verbal inspiration of the Scriptures and thus the inerrancy of the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16).
2. The Translator Should Recognize That Inspiration Is Not Lost In Translation. This does not mean that those doing the translating are inspired themselves, but that to the degree that they accurately translate the original the result is inspired. Otherwise, none of us can say that we have the inspired Word of God in our possession, without reading the original. Jesus and the apostles quoted from the LXX which is a translation from Hebrew to Greek (Mk. 12:36; Heb. 3:7; 9:8; 10:15).
Brother Guy N. Woods wrote, "The popular notion, `no translation is inspired' results from a mistaken concept of (a) what inspiration is, (b) to what inspiration extends and (c) how inspiration was achieved. ... The test of any translation is, does it reflect fully and accurately the mind of the Spirit as revealed through those chosen by the Lord to make known his will to man? If yes, the words, whatever the language, embody the meaning of the Spirit and are as inspired as the original presentation..." (Q&A II, p 240-242).
In the Introduction to Brother Foy Wallace's book, A Review Of The New Versions, brother George DeHoff wrote, "Inspiration resides not merely in the original Hebrew and Greek words but in the truth itself. Any correct translation is inspired. To the extent that it is correctly translated it is the inspired word of God." (p xiv).
It should be apparent then that when the Hebrew and Greek words are accurately and honestly translated into any language, that inspiration exists in the second language. However, many who claim to be translating today do not hold this view and some brethren have followed them in this false concept. Thus, we insist that the translator of God's Word must realize and respect this important concept and firmly hold to the principle that his work is resulting in the inspired Word of God in another language.
3. The Translator Must Work From An Accurate Text. There are essentially four different text families from which a translator may choose, however these have been compiled and form the basic underlying text for most translations. The Textus Receptus and Majority text are the foundation for the KJV and NKJV, while the Westcott-Hort text is the foundation for the ASV (although the translators of the ASV followed the KJV text in most differences). While most agree that the Majority text is accurate, with only minor difficulties (even Westcott and Hort admitted this), the Westcott-Hort text has been under severe criticism from advocates of the Textus Receptus/Majority text for doctrinal bias being inserted in the text and some portions of the Scriptures omitted which should be retained (John Burgon being the foremost).
There are also dangerous winds blowing now among some of our brethren who are calling for an acceptance of an "eclectic" text (where one chooses what he believes is the best or most accurate from all the various texts). This may sound good in principle, but, who among us, is adequately qualified to make such decisions? Further without an absolute text, it will be impossible to have an absolute translation which we can know is the Word of God. A faulty text will only lead to a faulty translation. When considering a new translation, check to see what text is used.
4. The Translator Must Believe In Word-For-Word Translation. Since the Holy Spirit guided the inspired writers in the selection of words (1 Pet. 1:19-20; 1 Cor. 2:13) we must insist that the translator also translate the words, not merely the thought or the idea. Often thought translations are based upon the erroneous concept of thought inspiration.
R.C. Trench wrote of the work of the translator, "The conscientious task is to take the actual word of the original and transplant it unchanged..." (Bible Revision from Handbook 399). It is not the work of the translator to try and figure out what the inspired writer was thinking or even what he meant and how it applies. It is his work to take the actual words and translate them, as accurately as possible. Further, it is not his work to decide what the reader may think or try to anticipate his "level" of thought and then place it on the level of his anticipated readers. Some of the paraphrases have this philosophy behind them. When one does this, he has ceased to translate and is producing a commentary aimed at a particular audience.
5. The Translator Must Recognize The Need For A Readable Translation. When we speak of a Word-For-Word translation, we do not mean that it must be so literal that it is practically unreadable. Each language has it's own peculiar concepts, rhythm and word patterns. The translator must therefore, strive for the closest possible match and then adjust the structure of the words to be readable in English. However, this should not be done at the expense of accuracy. These adjustments should be the exception, not the rule.
Some have criticized the ASV as being strong in Greek and weak in English. I do not believe this is a valid criticism, since it is very readable and understandable in English. However, if the choice must be made between readability and accuracy, we must choose accuracy. Most of the so-called versions available today may be quite readable in English, but they are not accurate. So what have we gained if we have a readable version, but it is not the Word of God? Except, perhaps, a better understanding of the false doctrine injected into the text.
An easy to read version is not what we need. What we need is to study the accurate and reliable versions we already have. Many of our ancestors in this country learned to read using the KJV, we would do well to follow their pattern instead of clamoring for an easy to read Bible!
Brother Gary Colley in the conclusion of his tract "New Translations" listed three fundamental rules necessary for Bible translating:
1. They must be accurate translations of the original text.
2. They must be clear; without doctrinal contradiction or confusion.
3. They must possess the dignity that befits the inspired Word of God.
One would think that every one who sets about to produce a new translation would gladly conform to these principles. But, not so! A brief study of almost any modern speech version will show that most fail on all three counts!
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION --
The paraphrase method is obviously not concerned with translating God's Word, but commenting on it. These, so-called versions should be regarded as just commentaries and many of them very poor commentaries because they are loaded with the false doctrinal views of their authors.
Regardless of what some liberal scholars and liberal brethren may say in defense of the NIV and the Dynamic Equivalence method, it is not an accurate or acceptable method of translating the Word of God, because it depends on the thought method and doctrinal background of the translator. Further it depends too much on what the translator thinks the reader will be able to understand, rather than just translating the Word of God and allowing the reader to understand at his own level.
Therefore we believe that the only proper method of translation is the Formal Equivalence or word-for-word method which respects the divine authorship of the Bible and the verbal plenary inspiration of the Scriptures. We have two accurate and reliable translations in the KJV and ASV which used this method. Some conservative brethren have declared the NKJV to be also. It certainly does not have all the problems of many other new versions, but to me it seems to add to the confusion which already exists in the church today concerning versions.
The ASV has been effectively taken out of the hands of most people today by the lack of publishers and availability. That leaves us with the KJV and while it is not absolutely perfect, as a translation, and as its critics complain that it contains archaic words, yet it still remains accurate, available, affordable, acceptable, reliable and understandable to most people who honestly want to study the Bible and know God's Word in the English language.
I, for one, would like to see a revision of the KJV (as it has been revised before) which would simply remove some of the words which have completely changed in their meaning in today's English (such as "let" "prevent") and correct minor mistakes (such as "Easter" in Acts 12) and yet would still retain the accuracy and reverence which the KJV has been noted for, for centuries.
I do not believe, however, that the NKJV is the answer to this desire. We do not need a
new translation to add to the confusion and difficulties which already surround this
issue, although I feel we will probably see many more line the shelves of book stores in
the future. As for me and my house we will continue to use the KJV/ASV!
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