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Bible Translations

As Christians we all know and affirm, at least I sincerely hope we do, that the Bible, in its original documents, is the inerrant and God-breathed Scriptures. Also, we know, hopefully, that there can be, at times, mistakes in copying those original documents and then translating those copies of the original documents. Because we do not have any of the original manuscripts of the text of the Bible, many people throughout the centuries have stated that what we have today is a fabrication of the Bible. However, there has been a long line of preservation of the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, and the Greek copies of the original manuscripts of the New Testament have been well preserved for us since the first and second centuries.

It is easy to see, with just a little, unbiased research, that the manuscripts have been well preserved, but what do we do with translation issues? Well, aside from everyone in the world learning Greek and Hebrew, we must have Bible translations in the languages that are spoken. This has been the motivation of every translator throughout history. However, as we all know, there are sometimes words that do not translate easily from the ancient languages into modern languages. Even Jerome, just a few centuries removed from the original writers of the New Testament, had difficulty translating some words from Greek to Latin. This is what caused Martin Luther to reconsider the idea of penance and repentance in the sixteenth century.

Even with some difficulty in translation, I hope we all agree that it is necessary to have the Bible in the language of the people. As I said earlier, this has been the motivation of every translator throughout history: Jerome into Latin, Luther into German, Tyndale into English, Peter Waldo into French, and the list goes on. The fact is clear, once the Bible has been translated into a version that the people can understand, what follows is a people who learn what the Bible says, and they are then transformed by the words they read.

What happens when a translation becomes outdated? It is a natural phenomenon that occurs over time, and some people find it irritating, but languages change. The French of Peter Waldo’s time is not the same as the French of today. The same goes for English. The English that was spoken, written, and read in 1611 when the King James Version (Authorized Version for our Anglican friends) was completed, is not the same English that we speak, write, and read today. In fact, the KJV that we have today is not the same as what was produced in 1611. If you do not believe me, go look at a true 1611 version of the Bible and compare it to one that is published today.

I am not trying to stir up controversy with people who believe that the KJV is the only version English speaking people should use, but I think the idea that language changes over time should give some of those people a little pause. Do we speak, in normal conversation, the way the KJV reads? Of course, we don’t. Not unless we live in a world of medieval reenactors. Should we try to find a translation of the Bible that reads more similarly to the way we speak today, yet remains as true as possible to the original text? I believe we should. I do not get lost in the world of paraphrases and craziness, but a true translation in modern English is, and should be, acceptable. Otherwise, we fall into the same trap that the Roman Catholic Church found itself in with the Latin Vulgate.

Jerome translated the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures into Latin so that the people could have it in the common language. (That’s what Vulgate means. It is where we get the word vulgar, which means common.) However, the RCC loved the Latin Vulgate so much that they forbade people, by punishment of death, to translate the Bible into any other language. However, by the time of the Protestant Reformation, no one even understood Latin so the reading of the Bible wasn’t doing the common people any good. They took what was meant for everyone and locked it away for only those who were trained (usually poorly) to handle it.

But it doesn’t need to be this way today. We can overcome this minor difference and come together on what matters most, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have good friends, brothers and sisters in Christ who I love dearly, who are on the other side of this argument from me, but I know that at the end of the day, we still see eye to eye on the things that matter most, and this does not become a seed of division for us.

Let us remember this, every translation has its issues, but we can find one that suits our individual needs, that remains as faithful as possible to the original text (or a copy thereof), and makes the Bible easy for us to read and understand. Because, at the end of the day, it is all about being able to understand what the Word says and how to apply it to our lives.

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Feb 15

One need only return to the movies and books of the 1930s & '40s to see a difference in language compared with today, much less back to when the KJV was first translated. It is basically a different language all together! So the idea that in the end there can be only one correct translation of the Bible is a bit ludicrous. I would say that comparing and contracting each translation, along with what we have of the original manuscripts and with a healthy dose of help from Holy Spirit, would be the best way to understand what God intended to say to His people through His word. Otherwise, it's like watching a foreign film without subtitles. You may get…


Feb 15

Agreed. KJV isn't even the most "word-to-word" accurate translation. Additionally, it's not just Greek you'd need to learn, either, it's ancient Greek. For those interested in the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic manuscripts, a great tool is The site puts multiple tools together (lexicons, Strong's concordances , etc.) to enable you to study the original languages of a single verse from multiple manuscripts alongside an English translation.

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