Issues in Bible Translation
1. The key issues:
- Choosing a reliable textual basis.
- Choosing sound principles of translation.
- Avoiding the influence of philosophical and theological bias.
2. The choice of text.
A. Like most classical literature, we do not have the original manuscripts of the Bible. We only have copies of copies with minor variations and omissions due to copying errors and geographical circulation. We establish the reliability of the biblical text as it has come down to us by comparison to the readings of the oldest surviving manuscripts, as well as to the readings of the majority of surviving manuscripts. There are over 2,400 surviving manuscript copies, portions, fragments and quotations of the New Testament dating from about A.D. 125 to 850.
(1) The oldest surviving manuscripts recently discovered:
(2) OT Textual Traditions:
- The Masoretic Text.
- The Septuagint Text.
- The Samaritan Text.
- The Dead Sea Scrolls or, Qumran Text.
(3) Greek NT Manuscript Traditions:
- The Alexandrian Family.
- The Byzantine Family.
- The Western Family.
- The Caesarean Family.
3. Modern reconstructed NT Greek Texts based on the variant readings of the Manuscript Traditions:
(1) The Received Text. The text of the New Testament, often called the “Textum Receptum”, Latin for “Received Text” (and often misspelled and mispronounced as “Textus Receptus”), was compiled by Erasmus and reflects the readings in the NT as they have been handed down by tradition to the Church through scribes. This text-type, based primarily on the Western Family of manuscripts, but with comparison to the Byzantine Family, was the basis of the Latin Vulgate, the King James Version, Luther’s German Bible and William Tyndale’s English New Testament.
(2) The Majority Text. The text of the New Testament based on the Byzantine Family and the readings of the “majority” of surviving manuscripts. (The New King James Version and the New American Standard Version are based on this text type.)
(3) The Critical Text. The text of the New Testament based on the Alexandrian Family of manuscripts because of their antiquity. 19th and 20th century scholars applied modern methods of literary Textual Criticism hoping to produce a purer form of the Greek NT text than the supposedly edited traditional text. (Most modern English versions since 1881 have been based on this Text-type, including the Revised Standard Version and the New International Version. Unfortunately, the English Standard Version, which is a Conservative translation of the Bible, also follows a “Critical” text-type.)
As a result, the following passages are disputed because they are not found in the earliest manuscripts:
- The ending of Mark 16.
- Jesus sweating blood in Luke 22:43-44.
- The woman taken in adultery in John 8.
- The Trinitarian rendering of 1 John 5:7.
- The longer ending to the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:13.
- Reference to the angel stirring the water in John 5:4.
4. Translation methods:
- Complete Equivalence. This is the traditional and historical method of translation used by the translators of the Latin Vulgate, Luther’s German translation, the Geneva Bible and, of course, the King James Version. Modern translation that continue to follow this method are the New American Standard Version and the New King James Version.
- Essentially Literal. Translations that use this method are the Revised Standard Version (as well as the New Revised Standard Version) and others, which take liberties to translate certain verses with non-traditional words, simply because it is a “possible” rendering of the original. For example, the word “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14 is often rendered “young maiden”. The English Standard Version also follows this method, but keeps “traditional” renderings and places “alternative” in the margin.
- Dynamic Equivalence. This translation method was pioneered by the translators of the New International Version. (It is based on the presumption that not the words, but the “idea” behind a passage of Scripture is inspired.)
- Paraphrase. The “paraphrase” was made popular by the Living Bible and Good News Bible, but has been around since the Middle Ages in order to simplify God’s Word for the uneducated.
5. Influence of philosophical and theological bias on modern Bible translations.
Negative influences on translations based on the educational training of the translators:
Positive influences on translations based on the theological convictions of the translators:
- Belief in Biblical Inspiration.
- Belief in Biblical Infallibility.
- Belief in Biblical Inerrancy. (Note: One may believe in Biblical inspiration and infallibility without believing in Biblical inerrancy.)
- Belief in Providential Preservation.
6. Should the Apocryphal and Deuterocanonical books from the Intertestamental period be included in the Bible?
- Some modern English translations include these books either in the Old Testament or between the Old and New Testaments.
- Although not held to be inspired Scripture by Jews and Protestant Christians, some of these books have historical value because they record events that took place during the 400 years between the Old and New Testaments.
- The Apocrypha was included in the original publication of the Authorized King James Version of A.D. 1611, but were later removed by the Puritans.
- All Catholics, both Eastern and Western, hold these books to be inspired and include them in all their English translations, such as, the Douay–Rheims version, the New American Bible, the Jerusalem Bible, and the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition.
- Some Protestants involved in the World Council of Churches or the Ecumenical Movement also place these books between the Old and New Testaments. An example is The New Revised Standard Version.
- Although the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament (285-247 B.C.) contained the Apocrypha, even Hellenized Jews that read that version did not accept the Apocrypha as inspired Scripture.
- Not Jesus nor any of the New Testament writers quote from the Apocryphal and Deuterocanonical books.
The Traditional Order of OT Canonical Books according to the Jewish Talmud:
- The Law – Chronological (from the creation of the world to Moses’ death): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
- The Prophets – Narrative books (from the entry into the Promised Land to the Babylonian exile): Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings. Oracular books (in descending order of size): Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, The Book of the Twelve (The twelve ‘Minor Prophets’).
- The Writings – Lyrical/wisdom books (in descending order of size): Psalms (with Ruth prefixed), Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations. Narrative books (from the period of exile to the return): Daniel, Esther, Ezra–Nehemiah, Chronicles.
This Canon of the Old Testament is confirmed by Jesus:
Luke 24:44 – “Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’”