Still More Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s

This is the third installment of my series “Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s.” Pastorally, these kinds of questions arise frequently, but I think Christians are often a bit embarrassed to ask them. So you know, you are not the only one who wonders about these things… There are many others who do too.

Anyway, here is a couple more Bible translation Q’s and a couple more simple A’s.

1) What is the best Bible translation today?

This is a hard question to answer… for a few reasons. First, assuming you are interested in an English translation, there are several good ones to choose from. Each has distinctive features that contribute to the overall value of the translation. It is hard to say that one is ‘better’ than another, simply because they each aim at different targets. While every faithful translation is the most valuable book you could own, they are not all the same, nor do they seek to be.

Second, your own personal perspective is going to have an impact on the Bible translation that suits you best. If you grew up with the King James Version (KJV), and you memorized passages and familiarized yourself with your Bible, then you may find it a bit frustrating to move away from that translation. On the other hand, if you are new to Christianity, and you are not familiar with the Old English dialect, then the KJV could be a barrier to growth in understanding. Your life experience, your education level, your willingness to learn, and your spiritual maturity may all factor into the answer I might pastorally give for which Bible translation is best for you.

Third, new material, better scholarship, and even higher levels of technological advance are major reasons for the explosion of Bible translation in the 20th and 21st centuries. This means that there are advances in Bible translation being made at warp speed (comparatively speaking). Many pastors, theologians, and average Christians are finding that multiple translations and digital forms of textual comparison and critical analysis are a great way to dive deeply into the biblical text.

I like the English Standard Version (ESV) for personal reading, memorization, and preaching. I find it to be a faithful and accessible translation. I think the New American Standard Bible (NASB) is a great translation for study, but it can sometimes be not-so-smooth in its readability. A newer Bible on the scene is the NET Bible. I like this one for higher levels of study and sermon preparation because it includes a plethora of translator’s notes beneath the Scripture. This way, the reader can not only see what the translators believe is an accurate translation, the reader can also get a quick defense of the rationale behind the text.[1]

2) What is a Study Bible? And, aren’t they all the same?

In short, a Study Bible is a book containing both the biblical text and some interpretive commentary, definitions, and even articles. The best Study Bibles include book introductions that answer basic questions of authorship, dating, audience, purpose, genre, structure, and specific theological features. Additionally, Study Bibles will sometimes insert a brief article on an especially foundational or complex or lofty idea. All of this can be a great help to the reader.

Of particular interest to many Study Bible readers is the commentary on the bottom of each page. Numerous scholars have contributed to or personally compiled notes for use in a Study Bible. With ease, the reader can find the footnote number beside a difficult-to-understand word or passage and match it with the interpretive note below. It is like having a Bible scholar beside you as you read the Bible, except you don’t have to feed him or listen to him ramble on and on and on… about the stuff you are less interested in learning about at the moment.

Study Bibles are not all the same, and this is my first of two cautions regarding Study Bibles. Only the word of God is inerrant and completely trustworthy, so you must place your trust in Bible teachers carefully. Furthermore, keep in mind that even the best Bible teachers have areas of greater and lesser familiarity. Not only should you be thoughtful about the teachers you trust, you should also know that whoever you trust (even if he or she is awesome) is not going to get everything perfect. Most of the recently published Study Bibles, aware of this reality, have included notes from many contributors – each an expert in a different field of study. I like the ESV Study Bible, the Reformation Study Bible, and the Gospel Transformation Bible (each having different strengths).

My second caution to those who treasure Study Bibles (as I do) is to always remember that Scripture stops when the notes begin. I have met and talked with many Christians who have diligently read their Study Bibles and greatly benefitted from the interpretive notes. However, some of those have proved themselves unable to accept any counter-interpretation to the one they read on the bottom of their Study Bible page.

It may well be that the contributor to your Study Bible is a wonderful exegete, and he or she may have marvelous insight, and the interpretation you see there may sound quite convincing to you, but it is (at best) an educated interpretation of holy Scripture. Faithful Bible students will do well to humbly submit themselves to quality Bible teaching, and they will do better still to humbly submit themselves to the word of God itself. Only Scripture, God’s holy word, is capable of perfection on every count.

I hope that these brief answers have been a help to you. As I mentioned above, this is the third post in a series. Be sure to check out “Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s” and “More Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s.”

Also, let me know about your Bible Translation Q in the comments below. I’d be glad to try and help.

Thanks for reading.

 

[1] I once was a fan of the New International Version (NIV – 1984 edition), but I no longer recommend using the NIV. Here is another post I made to briefly explain why: “Is the NIV Good or Bad?

More Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s

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.[1] 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.

 

[1] 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.

Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s

One of the benefits of expositional preaching (preaching through books of the Bible) is the inevitability of stumbling upon some topic you would have otherwise neglected. Recently, at FBC Diana, I attempted to explain why there are a couple of verses missing in some translations of John chapter 5.[1] This is not a topic that I would have chosen out of the blue, but I think it is an important one nonetheless.

I also realize that discussing something like this can cause some heartburn for many Christians, so I’d like to offer a brief encouragement. When I first became exposed to textual criticism (the study of the compilation and transmission of a text), I admit that I too was quite intimidated.[2] The whole area of study felt strange to me, and I struggled with several aspects of the discipline. However, I have come to appreciate the honesty and solidarity such a discipline produces when one practices it appropriately.

If you will allow me, I would like to present my encouragement in the form of direct answers to several common questions.

1) Why do people think they can change the Bible?

Translators do not set out to change the Bible (at least not usually). Translators endeavor to make the original text in the original languages accessible to contemporary and language-specific readers. In other words, they want to make the words of the prophets and Apostles known to a particular people group.

English-speaking people cannot usually read or understand Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, so translators seek to do the hard work of translating the text for them. The very act of translating from one language to another will inevitably lead to some (at least minor) variation in vocabulary. Figures of speech and poetic phrases only further complicate the matter.

So, translators do not maliciously change the Bible. But, they do seek to make the best use of the resources they have by translating the words of the Bible in a way that makes them understandable and faithful to the original text. This is a task of great value, and it benefits all Christians everywhere.

2) Doesn’t Jesus warn us about taking anything away from the Bible?

Well, yes and no… The warning of Jesus, in Revelation 22:19, specifically refers to the prophecies found in the book of Revelation. I think the warning may also apply to the broader text of the Bible too, and it is never a good idea to reject any words from Christ. Therefore, yes, we ought not to take anything away from the biblical text.

However, this is not what translators are doing when they remove some portions of previous translations of the Bible. Let me explain.

In the portion of Scripture we recently covered at FBC Diana (John 5:3-4), we saw that later translations of the Bible either noted the textual variant (telling the reader that the verses were not part of the earliest biblical manuscripts) or they excluded the verses altogether. But the translators did not “take away from the Bible.” Instead, they sought to include only what the Bible originally included, and exclude what the original biblical text did not include.

Since Bible translation began, each generation of translators has had to compare translations with the best available evidence for the original content. This has always caused translators to add to and subtract from previous translations, but they do not add to or subtract from the biblical content itself. The question we should ask is not, “Why did they remove that from my Bible?” Instead, we should ask, “Was that portion removed because it was included in my translation of the Bible in error?”

Translators do sometimes remove verses or portions of them from previous translations, but this is never an attack on the biblical text itself. Translators are simply seeking to make the original text known, and keep the unoriginal text from getting in the way.

This post is already longer than I intended, so I will pick up with some more questions on a later post. Look for “More Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s.”

Please comment with your Bible Translation Q. I’d be glad to try and help.

Thanks for reading.

 

[1] For an academic address of this issue regarding the specific text, see Gordon Fee’s “On the Inauthenticity of John 5:3b-4

[2] For a very basic introduction to textual criticism, see my own brief article titled, “A Simple Introduction to Textual Criticism

Pastoral Counsel on Bible Translation Questions

On my blog, I have posted a series of Q & A’s regarding Bible translation questions (“Simple A’s for Common Bible Translation Q’s“). This series is meant to be an introduction, only simple answers to some common questions, but I thought it would be helpful to throw out some more extensive help. Since there are others who are much more capable than I in this area of study, and since I have benefitted from the work of others, I am happy to share these with you.

These are some good resources for anyone interested in more deeply investigating Bible compilation, translation, and textual critical matters.

How We Got the Bible” by Dr. Timothy Paul Jones

This author is easy to read, and his material is great. This will be a great introduction to the topics of canon, the reliability of the biblical text, and the accuracy of the Bible we have today.

Scripture Alone” by Dr. James White

This author is also easy to read, but he will also bring added technical analysis to the reader. Dr. White is a strong defender of orthodox, conservative Christianity at a high level of academia. This will be a great introduction to understanding the Bible’s authority, in addition to its accuracy and authenticity.

The Question of Canon” and “Canon Revisited” by Dr. Michael Kruger

This author is for more proficient readers, and his work is some of the best in this field. This book will also delve deeply into the issues of biblical authority, reliability, and (of course) canonicity. A fresh voice with a sharp mind grounded in historical and authentic Christianity, Dr. Kruger’s work will be a great benefit to anyone who takes the time to read it.

The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations?” by Dr. James White

As noted above, Dr. White is both technical and easier to read than many scholars. While this book is particularly addressing textual issues related to the King James translation of Scripture, Dr. White engages in textual criticism at a good pace here. Textual criticism can be an intimidating and vast area of study, but this book is a great place to start.

New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties” by Gleason Archer

Every diligent Bible student is going to eventually come across verses and/or passages that are difficult to reconcile. This is a great book to have on hand as you arrive upon those difficulties. While wrestling with the Scriptures in community and fellowship with other believers is the best way to grow in biblical maturity, it is nice to eventually be able to look up the right answer somewhere. This is that kind of book.

I hope these will be a benefit to you.

May God grant us grace and wisdom as we seek to know and love Him better through His magnificent word.