On Bible Translations

I really feel led to address a few things regarding Bible translations.

Now, I’m by no means a Biblical languages scholar.  I’ve only taken introductory courses to Greek and dabbled with continuing self education on the topic.  However, I have grappled with the various translation issues over time, and I’ve seen sincere Christians really struggle with legitimate questions that arise when looking into Biblical translation.

So I’m writing this from the perspective of a preacher and teacher of God’s Word that was born again while reading a translation that I no longer use as my primary translation, and has, in all matters, trusted the Holy Spirit alone to be my guide into all truth.

I’m not going to address the credibility of any specific translation on this post.  There are many wonderful resources on this topic that have been written by men far more qualified than I am, and I encourage you to take time to patiently study resources that address this topic on  your own.

My hope is that this post will serve to encourage your study and pursuit of God’s Word while posing a few challenging questions that I hope will be genuinely considered, and not dismissed outright.

IDOLATRY

There’s nothing better than just jumping right into a subject, so let’s just jump right into things!

What I’m going to say in my first observation may anger many of my beloved brethren upfront, but, I am writing these things specifically because I love you and am charged as a preacher of God’s word to declare His counsel to those that are running into error.

There are many brothers and sisters who are walking in compromised faith because they are placing their faith and trust in the scripture, counting themselves more righteous and enlightened than others because of the translation they use, rather than firmly committing their trust to Christ Himself.

Hold the stones for a moment please!

I’m not trying to diminish the inspiration, authority, or sufficiency of God’s Word, neither am I advocating that His word can be changed to suit culture, lifestyle, or preference.  Jesus Himself warns us in scripture about the result of looking to the scripture for life (John 5:39), and tells us that it is the scripture that testifies of Him! What I’m driving at here is a very fine point between looking to the scriptures itself for life, and looking to Jesus through the testimony of the scriptures.

Believing that you are more righteous, knowledgable, or spiritual because of the translation that you use is incredibly shaky ground to stand on, not because the scriptures are shaky, but because God did not appoint “translation work” to be the anchor of our soul.

As much as I am against using some contemporary translations that have strayed from sound Biblical interpretive methods, I am against boasting in a translation, and we can simply look at the fruits of this misplaced faith to see how vain it truly is.  Just look at how many congregations that take this stance regarding one translation or another and see how equally cold, equally calcified, equally dead graveyards they are as other congregations that use other various flawed translations.  One may have smoke machines and pastors wearing skin tight jeans with pierced noses, and the other may have heartless singing and pastors wearing suits with no love of Christ in their heart, but they are both equally dead!  They are both equally misplaced in their faith!  One was led astray because they received a counterfeit gospel because of their translation, and the other because they received a counterfeit faith through the traditions of men!

Please don’t blind yourself by thinking that I’m just speaking to the “KJV-only” crowd; almost every major translation has it’s own “only-er” following.  Academics tend towards the ASV or NASB., while I’ve met some charismatics who seem to think the “really spiritual people” use the ESV.  The problem exists with anyone who climbs on the pedestal of their version to look down on other Christians!

The fundamental mistake is that they forget that the LORD protects His word!

Yahweh’s words are flawless words, as silver refined in a clay furnace, purified seven times.  You will keep them, Yahweh.  You will preserve them from this generation forever.” ~Psalm 12:6-7 (WEB)

Shall we join the secessionists and say that God’s promise of protecting His word has ceased along with His promise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit?

This is a contentious error that needlessly divides the body, nourishes pride, and casts doubt on the faith of weaker brothers and sisters.

This is not much unlike the “Latin-Vulgate only” Catholic Church who sought to stop the translation of God’s word into the language of the day.  They believed they had the only inspired word of God and that the language could not be altered.

Likewise, I’ve heard brothers say that they believe their version of the Bible is perhaps more inspired than the Greek manuscripts that we have.

I believe the gospel has been preserved in many of our finest translations today. And let me encourage my brethren to repent of any engagement they may have had in this error.

TESTING ALL THINGS

Does this, however, necessitate that all translations today are genuine translations?  No, it most certainly does not, and they most certainly all are not!

What this does necessitate is that we “test all things, for not every spirit is from God” (1 John 4:1), and as faithful stewards who must study to show themselves approved of by God, able to rightly divide the word, we must test those translations that we trust.

I am writing this to you as a Christian that was born-again while reading a version of the Bible that I no longer use as my primary Bible; a version that I believe is stripped down by unnecessary simplification of words.  I then, almost immediately after being born again, moved to a word-for-word version for my primary translation for a couple years before moving to the NKJV.  Not only did the Holy Spirit enter my life, testifying that I am a Child of God, but He began producing fruit in my life.  It was the Seed of Christ that produced fruit in my life, not the translation that I used!  I continue to study under numerous translations that I trust (I have about 6 translations that I use).

If the ASV is the only inspired English translation, for example, then an English speaking person will only ever be born again and bear fruits when hearing the ASV.  It is impossible to be born again when hearing a false gospel that is not His Word (Romans 10:17).

MANIFOLD WISDOM

So, how can it be that I believe what I wrote above about the Word of God being infallible, inspired, authoritative, and complete, if I also believe that there are translations that are stripped down of revelation?

Due to the nature of language and translation, especially within the English language, which is extremely dynamic and quite extensive, it is possible to convey one genuine side of God’s word while coming short of the other side.

The wisdom of God is “many-sided” (Ephesians 3:10).  Now, many of you understood what I just said even though Ephesians 3:10 actually uses the word “manifold”.  In fact, many of you understand “many-sided” to be the definition of “manifold”.   However, that is not a complete definition of the word “manifold”.

According to my Greek Bible Dictionary, the word translated “manifold” in Ephesians 3:10 is “ποικίλος (poikilos)” and means “many colored” or “various”.  Being “many colored” adds the perspective of “hue”, “tone”, or “depth”, while “various” clearly adds variation into the mix of this word. “Many sided”, however, is a flatter word.

Understanding this word in context of a flat “many sided” form will not prevent you from understanding this passage.  But, understanding the word “manifold” in terms of being “many colored” and “various” provides a deeper, richer depth to understanding what the scripture is testifying of regarding the glory of God’s wisdom.

So, we may read a translation that gives us a glimpse of one side of God’s wisdom, while another translation will give us a glimpse of another side of the same wisdom, a wisdom that is fully inspired and without fault, but that is just one hue of the many colors of God’s wisdom.

In the same way we can read 1st Timothy 2:1 in different translations will actually add depth to our understanding:

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men.  ~NKJV (same nouns as ESV)

I exhort therefore, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks, be made for all men.  ~WEB (same nouns as NIV)

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men.  ~NASB

The word in question here is “δέησις (deēsis)- strong’s #1189a” which implies to entreat on behalf of a need and is translated in all these versions as “entreaties, petitions, prayer/prayers, and supplication”.

The differences between these words are subtle.  The American Oxford English Dictionary defines supplication as “the action of asking or begging for something earnestly or humbly“, entreaties as “an earnest or humble request“, and petitions as “a formal written request, or an appeal or request, esp. a solemn or humble one to a deity or a superior.”  In fact, taking these definitions together may help you gain a deeper insight into the function of Paul’s teaching to Timothy. 

APPROACHING TRANSLATIONS

There are, however, examples where a passage may be incorrectly translated, where a word that does not convey the meaning of what was written is used based on “interpretation” or “alteration” rather than translating meaning into the target language.

So, how would I advise a brother or sister to approach the many Bible translations?

Prayerfully.

I firmly believe that unless you are walking in the Spirit as you follow the voice of your Great Shepherd, regardless of translation, you will go astray.

How do I know this?  I know this because some of the first Christians who were listening to the apostles themselves in their native language were going astray!  They went astray, as Paul wrote, “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now completed in the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3- WEB)

Approach Bible translations prayerfully and be diligent to follow up with prayerful, patient study of the translations you trust.  Compare new translations to sound translations like the KJV and the gospel of Jesus Christ that resides in you by the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

I glory in the Lord every time I read a verse in a translation that I trust and receive deeper revelation as various colors of the original wisdom of God is revealed in greater and greater clarity.

CONCLUSION

Languages from different language families will not always have exact matches for every word in a different language.  English and Greek are from different families.  Even the KJV, a translation that I love and regard very highly, uses words that do not meet the depth of what was given to us in the Bible.

An example is from 1st Corinthians 13:13:

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

The greek word used here is “ἀγάπη (agapē)”, which is gloriously rich in depth and hue, but is translated into the archaic word “charity” which today means “ the voluntary giving of help, or kindness and tolerance in judging others” (Oxford English Dictionary) and which meant in its archaic form “In a general sense, love, benevolence, and good will” (Webster’s 1828 Online Dictionary).  Through years of diligent study, the archaic English word did begin to take on a more comprehensive understanding that began to conform to “agape”, however, that meaning has since been lost in our language and most people do not understand “charity” to be the equivalent of “agape”.

Let me conclude by encouraging you to be diligent in studying the scriptures prayerfully in order that you may look to Jesus Christ through the testimony of the scriptures, but do not look to the scriptures as an end in and of themselves!

What I am most confident in is the sufficiency of God’s grace to convey His word to those of right-faith in its fulness regardless of our circumstances.

I sincerely pray that this article has encouraged you to patiently study the Word of God with your faith placed squarely on God to guide you into all truth by the promised Holy Spirit.

May His grace, mercy, and peace abound towards you all, amen!

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