Additional Thoughts on Bible Translations, part 2

By Tom Wacaster

I was once asked, “Why all the furor over translations?  Isn’t a poor translation better than no translation at all?”   The problem with such reasoning is that neither choice is acceptable.  Why do we seek to get the Bible into the hands of the lost?  It is because they need the word of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16).  Why is it important to get a good translation into the hands of the lost?  Because a bad translation fails to give them the life-giving word as intended by God.  If it is the case that God inspired the apostles with the precise words He intended to use (1 Cor. 2:13), then the failure to use the exact equivalent of that word in a “target language” fails to convey the same thought.  This is precisely why we must seek to get into the hands of all men an accurate translation of what God revealed to the apostles.   Additionally, some very important truths in God’s word center around the use of just one word.  As one author noted, “Verbal, plenary inspiration demands precision!” 

In my previous article I touched on the Process of translation, and the Proliferation of translations in the English language.  In this article I want to provide you with some Preferences, along with some reasons why some translations are better than others.   I am fully aware that there is no perfect translation.  For this reason I have acquired a number of translations for study purposes.  Comparisons of these various versions helps in determining the meaning of a word, or of a phrase.  There are shades of meanings of a word that are sometimes captured even in a bad translation.  But when it comes to my public preaching and writing I want to use a very reliable translation; one that is as precise as humanly possible.   If you desire a more in-depth study of the various translations I strongly recommend the Ninth Annual Shenandoah Lectures, A Handbook on Bible Translations.   

The King James Version: Published in 1611, the KJV was the fruit of more than six years of diligent work by scholars commissioned by King James I of England.  The translators had a high regard for the sacred Scriptures.  The KJV translators did not have many of the manuscripts that we have available today, but they still produced a remarkably accurate translation of what was available to them.  For that reason the KJV has some weaknesses that center mostly in words that have changed meaning.  For example, Acts 3:19 reads, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.”  The words “be converted” should be rendered “turn again,” seeing that the verb is active rather than passive.  Perhaps the most glaring error in the KJV New Testament is in Acts 12:4 where the word “Easter” appears.  The Greek word should be translated ’Passover,’ and any explanation as to why the KJV translators selected not to use the proper word is a mystery.   To suggest that the use of ’Passover’ indicates bias on the part of the translators is simply a rush to judgment.  Trench noted that their use of that word may have been an oversight rather than an attempt to promote the error of celebrating Easter as a religious holiday.   There is nothing in the KJV that indicates bias on the part of the translators, or that would mislead with regard to doctrine. 

The American Standard of 1901:  In 1870 the Church of England decided to sponsor a major revision of the KJV.  Though initially only British scholars were appointed to the task, it was later decided that American scholars should be invited to join the task.  Work began in 1872 which eventually produced the English Revised Version.  But after the completion of that work the American scholars decided to pursue a translation that would give the public a Bible as close to the original Greek and Hebrew.  These men had a tremendous awe and respect for the sacred Scriptures, and in 1901 the ASV was published.   Guy N. Woods, a Greek scholar in his time, considered the ASV “on the whole, the finest of all English Versions of the New Testament in popular use today.”  George DeHoff said that the ASV of 1901 “is probably the most accurate word for word translation ever made. Indeed, it is sometimes called ‘slavishly’ accurate.”   The ASV is not without its weaknesses.  First, it is more difficult to read than other popular English versions.  I would note, however, that I would sacrifice ease of reading for a more accurate rendering in an effort to get closer to the original meaning.   The ASV also has some passages that have, in my estimation, been poorly translated.  For example, Matthew 28:1 reads, “late on the Sabbath” rather than “after the Sabbath.”  In 1 Corinthians 16:2, “the first day of the week” rather than “the first day of every week.”  The ASV places the confession of the eunuch in a footnote rather than the text. 

The New King James Version was published by Thomas Nelson company in 1982.  Like the KJV and ASV, its translators demonstrated a high regard for the inspiration of the Scriptures. In fact the translators signed a statement affirming the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible.   The NKJV attempted to use 20th century words to replace many of the archaic words and claims it left the “theological words” unchanged.  One excellent example is the replacement of “Easter” with “Passover” in Acts 12:4.  Grammar and punctuation were also updated for clarity. 

The New International Version is one of the more popular translations to come along in our generation.  Popularity, however, does not guarantee accuracy.   The New Testament was published in 1973, the Old Testament in 1978.  The translation committee acknowledged that it is “more than a word for word translation.”  It is evident from even the most casual of readings that it adopts the dynamic equivalent approach in translation, providing the readers with what the translators thought the passage meant rather than what it said. It leas heavily on the Calvinistic doctrines of predestination, direct operation of the Holy Spirit, salvation by grace alone, and original sin.  Psalms 51:5 has David saying, “Surely I have been a sinner from birth.”  David may have been born “into” a world of sin, but he was not born a sinner.  Romans 7:18 translates the word “flesh” as “sinful nature,” expressing the Calvinistic doctrine of total depravity.   1 Peter 2:8 implies predestination: “They stumble because they disobey the message – which is also what they were destined for”; 1 Peter 3:21, baptism is a “pledge of a good conscience”;  2 Timothy 1:8 reads, “Don’t be ashamed to testify about our Lord Jesus Christ…” changing a noun (“testimony”) to a verb (“testify”) and a possessive (“of”) to a direct object (“about”).  This is a clear indication that the “philosophy” of the translators was one of dynamic-equivalence, and that they had little regard to what the passage actually says. 

The Revised Standard Version uses the formal equivalence philosophy in translation.  Though more literal in its rendering than those translations that use the dynamic equivalent approach, this translation is not without its serious errors.   Isaiah 7:14 translates the Hebrew word alma as “young woman” rather than “virgin.”  Matthew, writing by inspiration, was not hesitant to translate the Hebrews word properly using the Greek word for virgin.  The RSV gives credence to premillennialism in Acts 3:21, and Romans 11:20 reads, “Only through faith,” adding “only” to the text.  Acts 10:43 is rendered “does what is right,” rather than “righteousness.” There is a world of difference between the two. 

Next week I want to address the most recent English translation to hit the market, The English Standard Version.  Though it has been endorsed by some respectable brethren, it is not without its serious errors. 

Additional Thoughts Regarding Bible Translations, Part 1

By Tom Wacaster

One of the most astonishing traits of our God is that He choses to communicate with man.  Created in the image of God, mankind has proven himself to be a great disappointment to the Creator.   Yet in spite of our stubbornness, “ the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us, to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world” (Titus 2:11-12).  Observe from this passage that the grace of God “instructs” us. It teaches us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).   This “communication” from God has existed since the “beginning” of time (Matt. 19:4; Romans 1:20).  Each dispensation wherein God has communicated with man has had its peculiar means of achieving that task.  This is clearly taught in Hebrews 1:1-2.   The process by which the Lord communicates with us today is through His Son (Heb. 1:2), and more specifically, through divine revelation revealed in the New Testament.  In a previous article we traced the process of that divine communication.  It originated with God, was revealed to man, secured in its accuracy by inspiration, and transmitted to the written page, “combining spiritual things with spiritual words” (1 Cor. 2:!3).  Today we benefit from what was originally written in Hebrew and Greek through the process of translation.  A lack of understanding on any of these vital points has led to a disrespect for the word of God in general, and a virtual explosion in modern translations and/or versions that leave the average person confused and bewildered.   Does it really matter what version I use as a study Bible?   What should I look for when trying to determine what version is “good,” “bad,” or even “dangerous”?  In this article, and the one for next week, I want to pursue this thought under the headings of Process, Proliferation, and Preferences. 

Process

One point that begs consideration has to do with the difference between a translation and a version.  A translation is exactly what the word suggests: a translation from an original language to a target language.  A version, on the other hand, is a particular publication of the translation process based upon what the body of scholars doing the translation considers a proper rendering of the original language. Sometimes a version is an attempt to improve a previous translation. Hence such names a “Revised Standard,” “New English,” “New American Standard,” etc.    But a “version” is still a “translation,” so we turn our attention to the process of translation.    Webster says that translation means “to hear or change from one place, condition to another; to turn into one’s own language.”   When I travel abroad I have to use a “translator” to preach the gospel.   The translator takes what I say in English and renders it to the audience in Hindi, Telagu, Russian, et al.  There are several factors that affect the quality of translation, whether written or oral. 

First, there is the ability of the translator in both the original and target language.  Lack of proper knowledge of either the original language, the target language, or both will not produce an accurate translation.  If a person is not skilled in the original Hebrew or Greek, it is impossible to properly translate the Bible into another language.  

Second, a proper understanding of the “mechanics” of translation.  How do you address nouns, verbs, adjectives in each language.  I have learned from experience that occasionally an entire sentence has to be spoken before the translator can provide to the audience a proper rendering. This is because nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. do not always appear at the same place in the construction of the sentence.   Mechanics of translation also involves an appreciation for terms such as “formal equivalence” and “dynamic equivalence” when it comes to the translation process.   Sometimes in an effort to smooth out a sentence in the target language, the intended meaning of the original is not properly conveyed.   “Formal equivalence” is an attempt to translate the words and nuances of the original as literally as possible.  This was the aim of the King James  and  American Standard Versions.  The ASV translators stated that their aim was to bring the “plain reader more closely into contact with the exact thought of the sacred scriptures.”  F.F. Bruce conceded that the ASV is the most meticulously accurate version in the English language.  Therein is the strength of the “formal equivalence” approach to translation.  But if a translation is too literal, it may be overly difficult to read. In an effort to avoid being too literal, a body of translators may adopt what is called the “dynamic equivalence” approach.  This method attempts to convey the meaning of the text in free and idiomatic English without much regard for the exact wording of the original.  Whenever a translator uses this method of translation, and feels that a literal rendering of the original is too obscure or difficult, he will proceed by choosing his own words to tell the reader what he thinks the passage means.   Admittedly word for word translation is not always possible, but the further one moves toward the “dynamic equivalence” method, the greater the danger of mistranslation.  In view of the divine nature of the word of God it seems that the honest seeker of truth would desire something as close to the original as humanly possible rather than a mere equivalent of what the translator thinks the passage means.     

Third, loyalty to and respect for the reverence of the Bible as God’s word will most certainly affect the translating process.  Disrespect for the divine inspiration of the word of God may influence someone to render a passage according to some theological error which he might imbibe.  The body of so-called “scholars” who produced the  New International Version leaned heavily upon the “dynamic equivalence” approach and they were heavily influenced by their Calvinistic dogma.  I’ll have more to say on that later. 

Proliferation

There has been a virtual “explosion” of English versions of the Bible over the past fifty years.  In order to give you a “feel” for what has been produced, I provide here a list of what I have found:  (1) New World Translation (Jehovah’s Witness, 1950); (2) The Authentic Version (Brotherhood Authentic Bible Society, 1951); (3) The Amplified New Testament (Lockman Foundation, 1958); (4) The NT in Modern English (J. B. Phillips, 1952); (5) The New English Bible (1961, 1964); (6) The Living Bible Paraphrased (1962, 1971); (7) Beck’s Translation in the Language of Today (1963-1964); (8) The Anchor Bible (William Albright, David Freedman, 1964); (9) Good News For Modern Man (1966); (10) The Jerusalem Bible (1966); (11) William Barclay’s NT (1969); (12) The New American Standard (Lockman Foundation, 1963, 1970); (13) The New American Bible (1971); (14) King James II (J.P. Green, 1971); (15) The Bible in Living English (Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1972); (16) The New International Version (1973); (17) Easy-To-Read Version (1978); (18) English Version For The Deaf (1978); (19) The Everyday Bible, New Century Version (1987); (20) The Youth Bible, New Century Version (1987); (21) Serendipity New Testament (1987); (22) McCord’s New Testament Translation (1st Edition, 1988); (23) The New King James Version (1989); (24) The English Standard Version (2001).  Extreme versions include:  (1) Olive Pell Bible; (2) Reader’s Digest Bible; (3) The Satanic Bible; (4) The Cotton Patch Version of Luke and Acts; (5) the X-Rated Bible; (6) The Original African Heritage Study Bible; (7) The Queen James Bible, dubbed “the gay Bible; (8) The Gender Neutral Bible. 

This massive proliferation of English Bibles is the fruit of an attitude that seems to permeate our modern age: “Whatever your age or religious leaning, there probably is a Bible tailored to your interest”; “To jazz up the 2,000 year old message from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, some Bibles have added a few words by Brooke, Jodi, Kara, Rick and Julio”; “American publishing would soon bring forth a version of the Bible trimmed and shorn…Simon and Schuster has labored and brought forth a Bible…Leviticus was down from 45 pages in the KJV to two and a half.”  And the beat goes on….  [to be continued]
~~~~~



Rewriting the Bible



By Tom Wacaster

It seems that the 20th and 21st centuries may go down in history as the age when men sought to rewrite the Bible and present to men what THEY want to hear rather than what God wants them to hear.  The modern versions (for the most part) are the product of an attempt to put INTO the Bible the creeds and doctrines of men rather than an honest evaluation and translation of what God communicated to mankind.   Calvinism is embedded in the New International Version and modernism is manifest in the Revised Standard Version.  Now we are hearing of the Gender-Neutral Bible in which every masculine gender reference to God, Christ and/or the Holy Spirit has been changed from He, Him, or His to “it.”  That version barely hit the market when the homosexual activists decided it was time to produce a so-called ‘Bible’ that either removed or edited every reference to homosexuality so as to put the vile practice in a positive light.   So the beat goes on, and men in their stupidity think they can eliminate what they don’t like by simply rewriting the Bible.   With the exception of the New King James Version, every modern translation to hit the market in the last 50 years or so has propagated some kind of error, and the more liberal the translation, the more error will be found therein. 

Attacks upon the word of God are as old as man himself.  Satan sought to place doubt in the mind of Eve by suggesting that God did not say what she thought He said.  Satan was likely the first one to rewrite Biblical history in an attempt to achieve his desired end.   The liberal theologians (if we dare call them theologians) of our day and age are also attempting to rewrite Old Testament history.   Not to be confused with textual criticism, ‘Higher Criticism’ is an attempt to reconstruct the Bible by taking a cut and paste approach to the Scriptures, with more of a cutting than a pasting!  For those who have not had the opportunity to study Higher Criticism, Textual Criticism, Modernism, and/or post-modernism, let me assure you that it is not one of my favorite fields of study.  I react to such disrespect for God’s word like so many fingernails scraping across the proverbial blackboard; it just rubs against the grain.  For the most part, all such theologians take a very critical approach to the examination of the Bible.  They begin with a “no miracles allowed” mindset, deny inspiration, and then attempt to attribute every prophecy of the coming Messiah in the Old Testament to a later date than when it was written, the obvious reason being to avoid any such thing as predictive prophecy; that would demand a miracle, and miracles are not allowed in their way of thinking.  According to some “scholars” the book of Genesis is a “myth,” filled with tales and fables with no more value than Mother Goose or Dr. Seuss (if even that).  One of the most recent attempts to rewrite the Old Testament was headed by (get this) the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.”  A well-known rabbi, Harold Kushner, has co-edited what they call an “adventure” in which the publishers will “bid adieu to the childish version of the Bible.”  Archaeological evidence, in their opinion, is lacking to support most of the Old Testament stories that have come to be appreciated by Bible believers.  Influenced by the “no absolutes” mentality of their kissing cousins in the field of philosophy, these new found spiritual leaders for our generation are quick to point out that “you just can’t be sure about these things.”  One of the central themes of modernism and post-modernism is that you can’t be sure about anything except what science proves, and sometimes you can’t even rely on science!  But with their human wisdom asserted, and the badge of stupidity displayed for all to see, they declare that “the Bible is a grossly overrated book” and that “no one today seriously accepts” any of the miracles of the Bible.  I guess they took a poll that led them to that “overstated conclusion.” I wonder why I was not asked to participate in that poll?  As it turns out this “adventure” never received serious attention, and the project was abandoned a few years back.  We are the better for it. 

I have several books in my library in which the authors present irrefutable evidence of the reliability of both the Old and New Testaments.   There are literally thousands of manuscripts, fragments, and copies of the New Testament compared with a mere handful of some of the great classics of literature.  This makes, as one author declared, “the Bible the best documented book from the ancient world.”  The evidence is squarely on the side of the reliability and authenticity of the Bible.  But then, modernists are not concerned with evidence.  The modernists believe the old lie that if you tell someone something long enough and loud enough, they will eventually believe it, no matter how foolish it might seem to be, or how lacking in evidence to support their claim.   While these modernists are bold and brash in their claim, I would simply ask: “Where is the evidence?”  There is, on the other hand, sufficient evidence to the honest seeker of truth to prove that the book you hold in your hand is, beyond any shadow of doubt, the inspired word of God, all the modernists notwithstanding.

If, as the modernists would have us believe, the Bible is not reliable, that it has become corrupted, or that it is nothing more than a myth or fable, then why stop with the few translations we now have?  Why not produce a ‘bible’ for every imagination of mankind?  Is that not where we are headed?   I’ll close with an incident that occurred about two years ago.   There was a debate being held on the Senate floor regarding a bill having to do with abortion (if I remember correctly). I do not recall the nature of the bill, but it is not what was in the bill as much as the reaction to it.  Those sponsoring and supporting the bill appealed to the Bible as the basis for the legitimacy of the bill.  One Senator, opposed to the bill, simply responded by saying, “Well, men wrote the Bible; men can change it!”  How foolish of man to think he can, with the stroke of a pen, change the eternal truths contained therein.   Modern man has come a long way in technology, science, medicine and electronics.  But I can say without fear of contradiction that he has taken one giant leap backward when he thinks he can rewrite the Bible.

Unified In Relativism and Allegiance To Equality



by Tom Wacaster


It has been more than twenty years since I read Alan Bloom’s book, The Closing Of The American Mind.  It still occupies a place on my bookshelf, and although published in 1987 it remains a popular and profitable book for the inquiring mind who desires to know what is happening to our society and why.   An oft quoted part of that book is very revealing:

There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative...The students' backgrounds are as various as America can provide.  Some are religious, some atheists; some are to the Left, some to the Right; some intend to be scientists, some humanists or professionals or businessmen; some are poor, some rich.  They are unified only in their relativism and in their allegiance to equality [emphasis mine, TW].  

The fruits of that kind of thinking are coming to fruition, and the harvest is not encouraging in the least.  This particular philosophy (if we can call it that) has literally saturated the American society, yea, the whole of the western world.   Part of that fruit is the insane stress on political correctness and the inability and lack of desire to judge any behavior as wrong or sinful.   Like any other philosophy “falsely so called,” this one is insidious and runs contrary not only to scripture, but to plain old common sense.  The most recent example of political correctness is the furor over the Washington Redskins football team.  A week or so back the Federal patent office stripped that club of its exclusive rights to the name “Redskins” in an effort to appease a small handful of native Indians who find the name “Redskins” offensive.   Even though 9 out of 10 native Americans do NOT find the name offensive, the small percentage who do have won the day, and  political correctness has claimed yet another victim.   I am not a big football fan, but the intrusion of the government into matters that ought not to concern them is just another example of modern day sophisticated silliness.  What concerns me, however, is the impact that this 21st century philosophy is having on our morals as a nation and the Lord’s church in particular. Let me explain.

There are two planks in this insidious philosophy.  The first is the desire for unity at any cost.  Bloom calls it “allegiance to equality.”  Redistribution of wealth, a government nanny state, entitlement programs, equal pay for everybody—the list is endless but the goal is the same.  All men must be brought to an equal plane in the name of fairness, regardless of the cost.   On the moral front this battle is being waged against those who want to “impose their morality upon others.” Have you ever noticed that certain words and phrases have a connotation that will actually bias the thinking of otherwise reasonable thinking men and women? “Homophobia” is a good example here.   The homosexual community is presently pushing for this particular kind of equality.  It is not an equality with regard to human rights, but an equality that wants acceptance, regardless of life style.  The bottom line is that they desire a muzzle be placed on the mouths of all those who oppose their practice.  This, my friends, is the kind of equality under consideration.  If law makers can be convinced that opposition to ungodly behavior is really inequality gone to seed, then the politically correct crowd will succeed in muzzling the mouths of those who presently oppose their practice by passing laws favorable to immorality.  On the religious front it is toleration and agreement to disagree.  It is not so much the desire on the part of the leaders to become united in practice as it is the desire to muzzle any opposition.  “You do your thing; I'll do mine; and let's not criticize one another.”    But in order to attain  such “equality” it is necessary that there first be a removal of any absolute standard.  Hence, the second plank:  the modern gospel of relativism.  “Nothing is absolute; nothing is certain; you can't know anything for sure.”  Now, one might expect the world to think this way.  Wickedness and error have always sought to cast off the restraints of God's will (Psalms 2:3).    But of late we are hearing some of our brethren advocate the same kind of thinking.  On the far left we find those who are nothing more than relativists.  They have climbed aboard the bandwagon of relativism and proclaim without fear of God or man, “You can't know anything for sure!” (I wonder how they can be so sure about that!).   But what is it that has backed them into this corner?  It is, I believe, the desire for the kind of equality spoken of above - equality to do as they please, and simply agree to disagree, while muzzling the mouths of those who might criticize.   Again, to accomplish their desired end, there must be a removal of any absolute standard.  This is the very reason some of our once faithful brethren have abandoned a proper approach to the Scriptures and are now calling for a “new hermeneutic.”  There is simply no way to authorize what they desire to practice, so every attempt is being made to approach the way we view Scripture.  “It is a love letter,” “We must focus on the ‘core gospel,’  “Doctrine is not important,” et al have all become the flag around which the liberals rally, all in the name of relativism and equality. 

We are presently witnessing a headlong plunge into a full acceptance of this two planked error in the Lord’s church.  First, there is the desire for some kind of unity.  A noble desire, based of course upon the prayer of our Lord recorded in John 17, but alas not the type of unity of which Jesus spoke.  Enter plank one: “Let's agree to disagree.”   Workshops are organized which invite men of every shade and color (doctrinally speaking) with no intention of addressing error, but rather presenting a “united front” regardless of differences in doctrine.   Known false teachers are not rebuked, but revered and respected.  Opposition is squelched by subjective thinking rather than objective reasoning.  No longer is it the false teacher who is the enemy, but those who cry out for truth and justice.  Enter plank two: remove or ignore the standard.  Lip service is given to a “thus saith the Lord” while sound, Biblical arguments are ignored. The “fruit” which error bears is looked at through colored glasses, and the circle of relativism and equality is now complete. 

The Lord is the epitome of truth and righteousness, and He never subscribed to the kind of nonsense plaguing the thinking of some.  To the contrary, He was plain, pointed, and precise in what He taught and practiced.  He rebuked error, refused to compromise in the least, and lived a life that was absolutely sinless in every respect.  His message, and that of His apostles, was anything  but political correctness.  Hear their message:  “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. By their fruit ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:15-16).  “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them” (Romans 16:17).  “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them” (Ephesians 4:11).  Does that sound like political correctness?  Quite the contrary.  I close with the admonition of the apostle Paul: “Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col. 2:8).