I recently posted a couple of answers to some common questions regarding Bible translation, but I realized that there are several questions along this line of thinking that I’d like to address. Neither my first post nor this one (nor any further post in this series) is designed as an exhaustive address. Instead, I am trying to offer simple answers for common and basic questions.
For more thorough information on this subject, I have compiled a handful of resources, which I recommend to the interested reader. See my list of books and articles, titled, “Pastoral Counsel on Bible Translation Questions.”
If you are looking for a simpler and shorter answer to some basic questions, then here are a couple more for you.
1) Is the Bible in my hand the word of God?
When someone begins to think about the possible or actual errors a translation might have, it is likely that they will wonder if the translation is trustworthy at all. While this does seem to be the logical progression, it is not where the analytical progress should end. A multitude of questions will further impact one’s answer to the main question here.
Just how many textual variants are there in my translation? If one word out of every 1,000 is questionable as to whether it is original, then the reader may be quite content that the message is getting through loud and clear. It is quite encouraging to note that the textual variants among the biblical manuscripts and the resulting translation issues are minuscule.
Do any of these variants impact the message of the biblical text, or are they dealing with lesser content? The reality of variants does not necessarily mean that there is any variation in the message and/or content. In fact, it is often noted that the textual variants we do see among biblical manuscripts and translations are almost all inconsequential. This means that even those words or verses that translators still question almost never have anything to do with the actual message of Scripture.
Does my Bible have anything missing? This is the assumption that often causes the most grief among Christians. People assume that a textual variant means that they do not have the complete word of God. However, this is simply not the case. If we were putting a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle together with 3 or 4 pieces missing, we would have a big problem. But, if we had 107 pieces, then we would still have work to do, but the situation is not dire at all. This is the case with the biblical text. We are not missing anything, but we do find extra pieces sometimes.
These are just a few of the questions we should ask before we dismiss a translation of Scripture. When some translation errors are known, it is cause for further investigation, but we need not fear that God’s word is no longer available to us. In fact, we may have great confidence that the word of God is exactly what we have in our hands – if we have a faithful and accurate translation of the Bible.
2) How do I know if I have a faithful and accurate translation of the Bible?
Let’s all take a deep breath… You do not have to be an expert in ancient languages, or in Church history, or in textual criticism to know if your translation of the Bible is accurate and faithful. Nor can anyone live very long as a hyper-skeptic. If you assume everyone is wrong (or, worse, malicious), then what will you eat for lunch? You have to trust at least several restaurant employees, the grocer, the transporter, the manufacturer, the harvester, the farmer/rancher, and a host of other people along the way.
If we are willing to acknowledge that credible translators are generally trustworthy, that they tell the truth about their methods and intentions (which we should be willing to do), then a helpful place to begin is the preface of your Bible translation. Each translation of the Bible on my desk right now (NET, ESV, NIV, and CSB) has a section at the beginning (titled “Preface”), where the translators explain their methodology and purpose behind their particular translation. This gives the reader the opportunity to know and understand some of the basic background of the Bible in their hands.
Additionally, some research can be done on any translation of the Bible by simply surfing the web for articles and websites that will further one’s knowledge of the who, the what, and the how behind it. Scholars (and especially Bible scholars) love to speak and write about academic things, and it should not be hard to find more information than you want about the scholarship undergirding your translation.
Allow me to make one more note on this question, and this is more important than everything else I have said earlier. One cannot overestimate or overstate the importance of the local church and the combined resources of many local churches.
If you do not have a pastor, you should drop everything and find a way to attach yourself to a good one. If you do have a pastor, then you should ask him about Bible translations and his recommendations. He will likely be overjoyed that you care about this and that you desire his input.
If you cannot get in touch with your pastor, then you don’t actually have a pastor, and you need to (as I said before) drop everything and find a way to attach yourself to a good one. A pastor is responsible for the care of your soul, so if your pastor is inaccessible, then he and/or you have a wrong impression of what a pastor is.
If he doesn’t know about translation issues, then give him time to research it. It may have been a while since he studied these issues, or he may not be aware of textual critical issues just yet. A good pastor is always learning, and he and you will both benefit from his research. If he doesn’t feel capable in this area, he may point you towards quality resources, and this too will benefit you. If he doesn’t care about or avoids translation issues, then find another pastor.
Furthermore, bring this topic up with your small group or Sunday school class. You might be surprised to learn that there are others who have the same questions you do, and you might even learn that someone in your group can be a good help.
All of this is to say that faithful Bible translations come from and are maintained by faithful communities of Christians. The Church, the body of Christ, is the pillar and buttress of truth (1 Tim. 3:15), and the biblical text is that which we are to uphold and preserve and pass on, so that others may do the same.
There are still another couple of questions that I have not yet addressed, so I will post another addition to this series very soon. Look for “Still More Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s.”
Don’t forget to add your Bible translation Q in the comments below.
Thanks for reading.
 While there are numerous trustworthy English translations, there are also deep concerns regarding the fidelity of other translations. Some translations make intentional adjustments, which are unnecessary and potentially damaging (such as the “Today’s New International Version of the Bible” or TNIV). Some translations make ideologically-motivated adjustments, which are theologically erroneous and heretical (such as the “New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures” or NWT). This is why I said, “credible translators are generally trustworthy… they tell the truth about their methods and intentions…” One should seek credible sources of scholarship, and the help of a pastor and church family is greatly recommended.