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Article 0132 - Different Translations

A Study of Different Translations

Jon Gary Williams

People have on occasion asked me what I think about the many different translations of the Bible, upon which my general response has been, "Some are good, some are not so good and some are bad." A man once approached me holding a Bible and asked, "What do you think about this translation?" He had noticed a few passages he felt were distorted and this bothered him. I explained to him that it is important to be aware that some translations contain mistranslated passages and that we should be cautious when using them.

Since the first English translation of the Bible by John Wycliff in the 14th century, there have been more than one hundred-fifty translations published, with the majority being produced during past fifty or so years. Of the dozens in my library I have found that many of them are, for the most part, beneficial. It is good to have several different translations to use for comparative reading and study.

However, some translations can be misleading. It is necessary to understand that some so-called "translations" are not actually translations -- they are actually interpretations or paraphrases. But even these works can sometimes be helpful in helping to understand the meaning of difficult passages.

When evaluating translations one should be aware that people tend to trend toward two extremes. First, some make a point of condemning almost all newer translations. They are suspicious of anything other than the King James Version. Just because a translation is new does not mean it has no value. When the King James version first appeared in 1611, it was regarded with great suspicion. Even the popular "revisions" of the original King James version (even the one presently used) were not well accepted. It is necessary to be careful not to be dogmatic when appraising translations.

But then, there is the opposite extreme of openly endorsing every translation that comes along. This should be cause for genuine concern. Over the past fifty or so years several translations have been published that contain distorted passages - - some translations contain passages which have been changed to make them fit particular doctrines, while other translations have either removed or added particular passages. It is because of this that caution is necessary. In determining the value of a translation, several important things should be considered.

Where was a translation done?
This is important because it is necessary to know the background under which a translation was produced. There are things that could adversely affect the credibility of a translation. Some of the more recent translations were composed by theologically liberal schools or organizations and may contain liberal bias.

Even the King James version was influenced by the country in which it was created, England. For example, the word "baptism" is not a translated word. Rather, it is a transliteration - - the word was left in the original Greek form (baptisma) and given an Anglicized ending. Why was this done? In England sprinkling was the practice of the Church of England and it would have been embarrassing to literally translate baptisma as "immerse," which is its meaning.

In Acts 12:4 the word "Easter" is found. Actually, the original Greek word is "pascha," meaning "Passover." When considering the popular traditions of that day, it is not surprising that the word "Easter" was supplied. Some of the more recent translations show a more blatant, liberal bias. Why? Because liberal theologians participated in the translating.

When was a translation done?
With passing of time some words acquire different meanings. For example, in Ephesians 4:22 the word "conversation" is used. Today, this means to "communicate." However, the Greek word here means "behavior" or "manner of life." In Romans 1:29 the word "debate" is used. The current understanding of this word is to have a polemic discussion, but the Greek word here means "strife." In Romans 1:13 the word "let" is used. Yet, the original word here means to "to prevent." When we are unfamiliar with the changes in words through the years, misunderstanding can result.

There is also the issue of the translators' access to the manuscripts from which translations are made. Through the years more Greek manuscripts have been discovered which help shed light on the meaning of various New Testament texts. For example, the translators of ASV in 1901, had access to many more manuscripts than translators of King James Version of 1611.

Who did the translating?

This has much to do with a translation's credibility. If translators were not knowledgeable of the original languages, it would be unwise to place any trust in their work. The so-called New World Translation of Jehovah's Witnesses is a classic example of lack of understanding of the original languages. This so-called "translation" shows no knowledge of either the Greek or Hebrew and this group refuses to provide the names of the "translators." When asked who did the translating, their response is often: "Those who did this work do not want to be given credit."

Someone may value a particular translation but may be unaware that the translator's aim was to give support for false teachings. For example, to show that Jesus was not a part of the godhead, John 1:1 in the New World Translation reads, "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was a god." This verse ends with the Greek word "theos" which is properly translated God, not "a god."

In the Catholic Douay-Rheims translation, I Corinthians 9:5 reads, "Have we not the power to lead about a did Cephas..." The Greek word "gunaika" does not mean woman, but is properly translated as "wife." This text also shows that the apostle Peter (Cephas) was married. Also, in Titus 1:5 the Douay-Rheims version mistranslates the Greek word "presbuteros" as "priest." This word actually means "elder" or "overseer."

How many people did the translating?
For a translation to be considered credible, the number of people working on it is extremely important. The more people participating in a translation, the greater the range of scholarship and the less likely that it will contain errors. For example, a group of 54 Greek and Hebrew scholars worked on the King James Version. The American Standard Version had a group totaling 101 scholars with the well-known Henry Thayer as chairman. In contrast, the New English Translation had only a handful and the Today's English Version was drafted by only one man. So, in such instances the scholarship was very limited.

What procedure was used?
How were translators assigned to do the work? Did they all work together or did they work separately? Some translations were done by distribution, that is, different men were assigned to translate different parts of the Bible. This would obviously detract from the accuracy of a translation.

On the other hand, the accuracy of a translation is enhanced when all participants work together on every book. They can compare their work by checking and cross examining. Regarding the King James Version and the American Standard Version, the translating was done with the joint effort of all the members of the committees. They could compare their work and make adjustments accordingly.

To assign men to different books of the Bible is a dangerous practice as it would allow for interpretation instead of translation. An example of this is found in the New English Translation where Acts 20:7 reads, "On Saturday night..." whereas the Greek text reads, "And upon the first day of the week..." It is true that the Lord's supper mentioned here was partaken of on what would in our time be Saturday evening, for the Jewish day began in the evening hours. Nevertheless, to be true to the text the rendering should be, "And upon the first day of the week..."

What translating method was used?
Most translations emphasize a "literal word" translating. This was the case with all of our standard translations. However, during the middle part of 20th century a new method was introduced known as "paraphrasing" or "thought translating." The idea was to phrase the wording in a way that would convey the meaning of Bible passages making them easier to understand. In essence, this is the same as "commentary."

Though these paraphrases have some value as comparative texts, they should never be used as base texts. Though they may fairly convey the text, caution should be taken. The fact is, some of the paraphrase translations have taken too much liberty, having injected into passages what they consider to be the meaning. The problem here is that they may have inserted their preconceived doctrines.

For example, in Romans 1:17 of Today's English Version, the word "alone" has been added, making it read, "The just shall live by faith alone." In the New International Version, Matthew 19:9 has replaced the word "fornication" with the generic phrase "marital unfaithfulness." This completely alters this passage's meaning. It is this type of subtle rendering that can mislead! Caution must be observed with such translations.

What about added features?
Many Bibles include various kinds of helps - - on the pages of texts or in separate sections. Some helps, such as center-column or in-text references, are practical and useful in cross-referencing. Footnotes and center-column notes are helpful in showing alternative translations of words and may show where Old Testament passages are cited in the New Testament.

Some Bibles contain a concordance which is valuable in locating passages. Bible dictionaries are useful in defining words and giving general information on Bible topics. Maps are helpful in locating where events took place. Many Bibles have helps such as charts, outlines and graphics.

However, some Bibles contain features that are harmful, promoting false doctrines. For example, the Christian Helpers New Testament teaches the doctrine of salvation by "faith only." The Scholfield Bible teaches the false doctrine of premillennialism.

At no other time have people been so blessed with such an available access to the Bible. With such a great supply of God's word there is no excuse for anyone not knowing what God expects of us.

How much attention do we give to the Bible? Do we read and study as we should? How much time do we spend with the Bible? In judgment, God's word will be opened. We will all be judged by it. "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him; the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). In judgment the Bible will be extremely important, and for that reason it should be important to us now.