A Few Essential Facts about Bible Translations
Wikpedia's introduction to Bible translations indicates the complexity of the topic. This article reveals why any claims about “what the Bible says” on any topic are directly related to the translation used to make the claim.
Ponder the first sentence of the article. “The Bible has been translated into many languages from the biblical languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. As of September 2016 the full Bible has been translated into 554 languages, and 2,932 languages have at least some portion of the Bible.”
Consider also this article by Wikipedia that identifies the list of English Bible translations
As you look at the list, notice the dates. You will notice how many of these Bible translations are very old. You will also notice how many translations are very recent. Also notice how many of the translations are done by committees and how many are the work of a single person. Notice also how many versions are translations of the New Testament only.
Once again, consider why any claims about “what the Bible says” on any topic is directly related to the translation used to make the claim.
Once again, it’s worth recognizing that the topic of Bible translations is huge. Any article can only touch briefly on a few issues. This article points out some significant problems with any claim that any one Bible translation is the best.
Pay particular attention to three paragraphs about the King James Bible. They briefly consider claims about the King James Version as THE best translation of the Bible. They also give reasons why this translation is misleading for contemporary English speakers. (Although the article does state that the official name of the original translation was the Authorized Version (AV), they do not point out that the one who did the authorizing was King James, not God.)
The article, 5 Tips for Picking the Best Bible Translation, by Jack Wellman is a detailed effort to answer significant questions about Bible translations.
According to the About page on What Christians Want to Know, he is a Christian author, freelance writer, and pastor who is also attending theological seminary. What he does not explain in his article is whether or not he has studied Greek and Hebrew. It seems that he has not.
This article is included as an example of a devout Christian believer and pastor who gives carefully thought-out reasons for readers to study more than one Bible translation. At the same time, he is limited in his own ability to evaluate the best translations because he apparently is limited to reading the Bible only in English.
For a dramatically different approach to reading the Bible and considering translations, consider the article by Sarah Shectman, How Do Biblical Scholars Read the Hebrew Bible? on the Bible Odyssey website.
Biblical scholarship goes beyond study of contemporary English translations to consider a wide range of approaches to original meanings. To cite just one example, consider these words from the second paragraph:
“First, scholars use textual criticism to try to determine the correct letters and words of the text in its original language. Because there are no existing copies of the Hebrew Bible from the period when it was written, this can be tricky.”
Yes, trying to figure out “what the Bible says” goes far beyond reading various English translations and it can be very, very tricky indeed.”
New Testament scholars also analyze ancient manuscripts written in various ancient languages. Consider these words from the second paragraph of this article.
“Text critics analyze the various manuscripts of the New Testament that have been preserved over the centuries, comparing them, dating them, and employing various techniques to determine which are the most reliable. Their goal is to reconstruct what the original manuscripts probably said, noting also variant readings when one or more of the copies that have been made over the years say something different.”
Read the whole article to get an overview of various disciplines within Biblical Studies.
[Original Post July 10, 2008]