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.