The Bible: Has It Been Translated Correctly?

[This article is part of the transcript for our series “How Can You Know the Bible Is the Word of God” Check our catalog for the complete series which is available in video, audio and transcript formats.]

Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome. What evidence does the Bible offer that it comes from Almighty God? Well today, Dr. Norman Geisler continues to present the evidence that shows that fact. The question we want to address today is this: “How Do We Know That the Bible Has Been Translated Correctly?” What about all the modern translations? As you will hear, we think some of the new translations are very bad; some of them are good; and some of them are better. Which are which? I thought you might be interested. Listen:
Dr. Norman Geisler: The Bible: Is it translated correctly? We’ve asked some very important questions in preceding programs. We asked, “The Bible: Who wrote it? The Bible: Are there any errors? The Bible: Is anything missing? The Bible: Which books belong in it? And now we want to ask the question, “What about modern translations? Is it translated correctly?”
Well, basically, the answer to that is, there are many, many translations of the Bible. Some of them are bad; some of them are good; and some of them are better.
First of all, let’s take a look at some of the translations. The translations of the Bible actually go back hundreds and hundreds of years in English–back to the 700s. We’ve listed over 1200 translations of the Bible into English alone since 700 in our book, General Introduction to the Bible. So we have a lot of translations. But some of the main ones are listed here. We all know about the King James, and the American Standard Version, and the Revised Standard Version, and the New International Version, and the New King James. I think what we’re all asking ourselves is, of all of the numerous Bibles out there, numerous translations, are any of them really bad, really dangerous? Are any of them really good? And what about the ones in between?
First of all, let’s talk about the bad ones. I’ll mention just one here. Some of the cults have made their own translations of the Bible. The New World Translation of the
Jehovah’s Witness cult is a bad translation. Take, for example, John 1:1. They translate it: “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was a god.” That’s a bad translation. As any good Greek scholar can tell you that when the definite article is not used, it’s referring to the nature rather than the individuality of it and it should be trans­lated: “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was of the very nature of God.” In fact, Jesus is called God many times in the New Testament. He­brews 1:8 uses the definite article, saying to the Son, “You are God.”
So that’s a bad translation. They tend to distort the verses on the immortality of the soul, the Deity of Christ, and a number of others. So stay away from translations like that.
On the other hand, I would say most translations of the Bible are good. And by “good” I mean, all the essential doctrines, all the fundamental doctrines, all major and minor doc­trines come through correctly in the translation. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s the King James, which I’ll say more about in a moment, which is archaic and the language is out­dated, right on up to the NIV, the New International Version–none of them deny the Deity of Christ. None of them deny the substitutionary atonement or the bodily resurrection, or any of the fundamentals of the faith.
So they’re all good in that sense. Now, some of them are better than others. For ex­ample, I personally believe that the King James is archaic–it’s out of date. The words don’t even have those meanings anymore. For example, anyone who thinks the King James was let down on a string from heaven–it was good enough for Paul and it’s good enough for them–I’d like to give a quiz to. What does, “He that letteth will now let” mean (2 Thess. 2:7)? It means “hinder.” See, the word “let” which means “permit” today meant just the opposite in 1611. So if you’re reading the original King James, you’re getting the wrong meaning because you’re getting a meaning that is just the reverse of what it meant in 1611.
Or try this one: “The superfluity of naughtiness” in James 1:21. What does that mean? You don’t have the foggiest idea. It means, “The overflowing of wickedness.”
Or what does this mean: “We do you to wit of the grace of God” (2 Cor. 8:1). We do you to wit? We just don’t talk that way anymore. It means “We want you to know of the grace of God.”
Or, “Quit ye like men.” What are they quitting about? Actually it means, “Be strong like men” (2 Cor. 16:13).
So here we have verses that people don’t even know what they mean and they say this is the Bible to be used. It’s a good Bible; it was very good in its day. It lasted for a long time–hundreds of years. It was beautifully translated, has beautiful poetry and rhythm to it. But it’s archaic and needs to be retranslated. So we move to what I would call the better translations of the Bible.
Ankerberg: Next, what do we consider to be the better translations of the Bible, and what evidence shows that they ARE better translations? Listen:
Geisler: The better translations of the Bible in my opinion fall into two classes: those that are more literal and those that are more literary.
Those that are more literal would be like the New American Standard Bible. I person­ally believe that is probably the best literal translation of the Bible. It was done by conser­vative scholars. It was done by a group of scholars, not just one person. It gives you the literal meaning of the original language. I believe it is the best study Bible. If you want to know accurately what the original said, get yourself a NASB–New American Standard Study Bible and start studying it.
On the other end of the spectrum, those Bibles that are translated by conservative scholars and a group of scholars that are more literary. Anyone who studies the NASB knows that it’s literal but it’s kind of wooden. It doesn’t flow well. It’s not very memorizable; whereas, the New International Version is much more literary and done by all good schol­ars, all basic doctrines are the same. And by the way, those who say that the NIV left out certain verses on the blood, you know, this simply isn’t true. What they’re doing is, they’re going by the earlier and better manuscripts. In the same chapter that they supposedly left out a verse on the blood, there’s another verse on the blood in that same chapter. And if they were trying to get the verses on the blood out, they would have taken them all out. That’s not the point. The point is, after 1840–from 1840 and following–we discovered a lot of earlier manuscripts. When the King James Bible was translated in 1611, we had no manuscripts of the Bible that went back into the second, third, fourth, or fifth, even the sixth century. All of the manuscripts were very late. Just Beza, around 550, was used a little bit in the King James and that was the earliest manuscript that was even used. From 1840 and following we found Vaticanus manuscript around 325 A.D., Sinaiticus 350; Chester Beatty Papyri 250 B.C.; Bodmer papyri 200; John Ryland fragment from the first quarter of the second century–maybe as early as 114 A.D.
And so what they did, these earlier manuscripts had a little different wording and differ­ent verses in certain places than others. Classic example. 1 John 5:7 says, “There are three that bear record in heaven: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are One.”
The reason it’s important to take a look at these earlier manuscripts is because they were closer to the original. If your manuscript comes from 1000 A.D. and the book was written on the time of Christ, then you’ve got a thousand-year gap between it and you can’t be sure how accurately it was copied. But if you have a manuscript from 200 A.D. and 300 and 400, then you’re closer to the original. And these earlier manuscripts give us some different readings on certain verses. For example, 1 John 5:7: “There are three that bear record in heaven: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are One.” You say, “That’s a great verse on the Trinity. It’s right in the King James.” But if you look in the NIV, you won’t find the verse there at all. They take part of one verse and make another verse, but you won’t find what I just quoted there.
You say, “Why did they cut that verse on the Trinity out of the Bible?!” Because, when Erasmus did his Greek Testament in the 16th century, there was not a single Greek manu­script that had that verse in. In fact, he challenged anyone of his day because they said, “You’re taking the Trinity out of the Bible.”
He said, “I’m not taking the Trinity out of the Bible!” Matthew 28:20 is still there: “Baptize in the name”–singular–“of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Matthew 3:16 is still there, Father speaking from Heaven. Holy Spirit’s descending. Christ is being baptized. We’ve got all kinds of verses on the Trinity.
“Well, why did you not put that verse in your Bible, then, Erasmus?”
He said, “Because I can’t find a single Greek manuscript with it in. And if you can find one, I’ll put it in.”
So a few days later they came back and said, “Here’s one.” The ink was still wet on it, and Erasmus was forced to put it in his Greek Testament. That became the basis ulti­mately, the Textus Receptus, the Received Text, from which the King James was based and it got in the Bible.
Then from 1840 and following, when scholars discovered that we don’t have that in any Bible in the second century, third century, fourth century, fifth century–that it was not in any of the early Bibles at all, they said, “Look, we’ve got to be honest and say that was a little gloss, a little note written in the margin of some Bible that some later scribe incorporated into the text and it really wasn’t in the original. We’ve got to be faithful to the original.” And it was taken out.
Another point that’s very important is, when they were making up the Creeds and debat­ing the Deity of Christ and the Trinity, this verse, 1 John 5:7, was never quoted. If it had been there in the original Bible and had been in the manuscripts of their day, they surely would have quoted an important verse like this.
Ankerberg: All right, we’ve seen that one example of a bad translation of the Bible is the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s bad because the translators were not honest in translating the words. They inserted their own ideas into the text rather than allowing the text to accurately convey the meaning of the biblical writers. Second, we have talked about the good translations. These translations convey all major and minor doc­trines of the Bible correctly. Next, what should you keep in mind when you are looking to purchase a translation of the Bible? Dr. Geisler explains. Listen:
Geisler: So we’ve got really three kinds of translations–the bad ones like the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ that are distorting the essential truths; good ones where all the essential truths are there, but better ones. And I would think that “better ones” would include the New American Standard Bible, but it’s very literal; the New International Version, which is more literary; and then there’s some that are kind of halfway in between, that improve on the King James and are literary but still literal–that would be the New King James Version of the Bible. It still has the rhythm and cadence of the old King James but it got rid of the archaisms like “He that letteth will now let” and “Quit ye like men” and so forth and then updated it in modern language, but it’s not very much of a paraphrase or interpretive.
Here’s what you have to keep in mind when you’re looking at translations of the Bible. Who are the people that translated it? Were they biased? Now, obviously the people who translated the Revised Standard Version were biased. These were liberal scholars and when they came to Isaiah 7:14, they said, “Young maiden” instead of “virgin.” Well, it had to refer to virgin because the verse is quoted in Matthew 1:21ff. It says, “A virgin shall conceive.” So it’s a bad translation and it comes out of the bias of the particular translators. Whereas, the New American Standard Bible, the New International Version are not done by biased liberal scholars, and another important thing about these translations is they’re done by a committee of several scholars, not just one person ultimately like say, for ex­ample, the Living Bible that was done by Ken Taylor. Fine Christian, fine believer, doing it for his children, paraphrased it. But it’s not a literal translation, it’s a paraphrase and often it’s a devotional paraphrase and people get blessed by it. But it’s one person and it’s a paraphrase.
If you want a more accurate Bible, you need to get a Bible where a committee of people [translated it] and it’s not really a paraphrase but is a translation, and that would be Bibles like the New International Version and the New King James Version of the Bible. But again, let me emphasize, all of the translations are good. We’re not talking about bad versus good, we’re talking about good versus better. Because all the essential truths are there. They haven’t been distorted. And you can pick up any of these translations apart from the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ and a few other cultic translations and all of the essential truths of the Gospel are present.
Ankerberg: Now, before we move on, I asked Dr. Geisler to quickly summarize the evidence that proves the Bible came from God. Listen:
Geisler: Let me put this thing in focus. We’ve been talking in this whole series about the Bible from God to us, a chain reaching from God right down to the Bible in our hands. The first link in the chain is, who wrote it? Inspiration.
The second link in the chain is really transmission. Has it been transmitted down the centuries correctly? And we saw that the original was written by men of God, inspired by God. We show that it has been copied accurately down through the years.
The third link is canonization. Which books belong in it? How did we get these 66 books? Now, once you get it inspired, transmitted accurately, collected correctly, then the next and final link is translations into modern language. And we must remember that all these translations are based on the same Bible, the same Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament. The question is, if you put it French, if you put it in German, if you put it in English, you put it literally in English, you put it in a paraphrase in English–that’s the same Bible. It’s just different renderings of the same Bible–some more literary, some more literal. But we’re not talking about different Bibles. We’re talking about the same Bible based on the same Hebrew and Greek that brings the same truths across to us in different ways of stating it.
Ankerberg: Now, what about the so-called errors in the Bible? Well, there is an illustra­tion that Dr. Geisler gave to us which I asked him to repeat that will help you understand copyists’ errors. We do not believe there are any errors in the original manuscripts. Today, we believe we have accurate copies that have come down to us conveying what the bibli­cal writers wrote. Now, in some of those copies we notice mistakes were made by the copyists. But because we have so many thousands of manuscripts that have come down to us, we know where the mistakes were made and what should have been written. Dr. Geisler presents the evidence for this fact. Listen:
Geisler: Let me return to an illustration we used several programs ago to get the point across here. Let’s take a look at the visual. Now, notice the first one. It’s pretty clear it means you have won $10 million, even though there’s an error in the first letter. And the second line, there’s an error in the second letter. But they all say the same thing, even though each one has an error in a different point.
Now, a lot of people are concerned about the so-called errors in the translations–why does this one put it that way and the other one put it another way? Because you can get the same meaning across even though there are minor errors in translation. There is no one that wouldn’t pick up their $10 million if they got that telegram or got that message saying that they’ve won 10 million dollars. And you shouldn’t put your Bible away because you’re afraid that there are little errors in the translation. One hundred percent of the mes­sage comes through even though there are minor errors in the translation. Just like 100 percent of the message in this visual comes through. You look at that and 100 percent of that message – You won 10 million dollars – and that’s a big message that came through even though there’s an error there. Likewise, the minor errors in translation don’t obscure getting 100 percent of the message that God loves you, Christ died for you, rose from the dead, and you can be saved just by believing in Him and trusting in Him. That’s the mes­sage of the Bible. It comes through clearly in almost all of the major translations of the Bible.
Another point we should keep in mind is that we have 5,686 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and maybe 10,000 of the Hebrew Old Testament in fragments and complete manuscripts. That’s a neat thing, you know. We don’t have the originals but the fact that we don’t have the originals doesn’t really hurt anything. Number one, if we had the originals, somebody probably would be worshipping it. Remember the snake in the wilder­ness that was put on the pole. They were later worshipping it.
Number two, if we had the original, somebody has to be custodian, right? They could tamper with it. But if you don’t have any one original in the custodianship of any one group, and that group would claim to be the true Church, of course because they have the origi­nal, then you have it spread all over the world. Some of it in Russia, some in England, some in the United States. There’s no way that anyone can tamper with all the copies.
God has actually preserved His originals in the copies and He has preserved it from the possibility of worship and He has preserved it from the possibility of distortion.
Ankerberg: Now, after hearing all of this evidence proving the accuracy of the Bible, how should this impact you? How should you read and live your life in relationship to the Bible’s teachings? Dr. Geisler explains. Listen:
Geisler: Let me kind of summarize this whole thing, the entire series. This book in our hand can be trusted because originally God inspired the writings that were given through Apostles and the Prophets who were given miracles to prove that they were men of God who made supernatural predictions. Jesus confirmed it to be the Word of God. Archaeol­ogy has confirmed it. The unity of the Bible. And furthermore, it has been so accurately transmitted down through the ages that whereas Homer’s Iliad is only 95 percent accurate and the Mahabharata 90 percent accurate, this has been 99.9 percent accurately copied. And the point one doesn’t affect any doctrine, any major teaching of the Bible. The transla­tions of the Bible are good, so when you pick up this Bible, you’ve got the Word of God, confirmed by acts of God, confirmed by the Son of God, accurately transmitted, and you have the very voice of God in your language speaking to you and to me.
Now, that puts the burden on us. If this is the Word of God and we can pick it up and read it, then we are obligated to obey its message. We are obligated to live by this book. The Bible, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. If you need something that you can count on, remember the words of Peter when he said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”
Check in the Theological Dictionary section for four articles by Dr. Geisler on “Alleged Errors in the Bible.” (August and September 2000)



  1. Daniel Bovee on November 12, 2022 at 9:59 pm

    All translations of the Bible have a certain degree of translational bias connected with them. Over the course of many years, I have done a great deal of investigation into the languages which were used by the writers of the Old and New Testaments. Much of the early Books of the Old testament were originally written in Paleo-Hebrew. Paleo-Hebrew writing is very similar to the ancient Phoenician writing of that time. Moses wrote the first 5 Books of the Old Testament using Paleo-Hebrew (mainly writing by use of symbols). These Books, and the other early Old Testament Books, were then converted to square Hebrew during the 70 year Babylonian captivity of the Jews in about 586 BC. All other Old Testament Books written during the Jews captivity, and possibly afterwards, were written in the square Hebrew which we have become accustom to seeing and recognize. If we could somehow show Moses the Hebrew manuscripts which we now have and use, he would not be able to read the first 5 Books of the Old Testament which he, himself, had written. The square Hebrew writing was not yet created at the time of Moses. The written square Hebrew of the Old Testament is actually derived from the Chaldean languages in use in Babylon and the surrounding areas.

    The New Testament was originally written in the Koine Greek language (the common language used at that time and place). There is very little debate about this. Although, there are some people who contend that some (perhaps a good deal) of the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew. I do not believe that there is enough trustworthy evidence to definitively verify this contention and assertion. These are the basic facts concerning the original languages in which the original Bible manuscripts were written.

    As far as Bible translations are concerned, there are a number of problems to overcome when translating ancient languages into modern languages. Two of the major problems are these: 1) Some ancient Hebrew and Greek words and phrases can be very precise in their meanings, while other words and phrases can have numerous and expanded meanings and definition attached to them. Trying to convey an accurate and trustworthy translation of Hebrew and Greek words and phases, which can have numerous and expanded definitions and meanings connected to them, is a very difficult thing to do. 2) Every Bible translation has, to some degree, a biased and/or doctrinal agenda attached to it. Translations created by a committee are far more inclined to contain translational bias and doctrinal agendas than translations created by an individual. Here is why this is so: Bible translation committees are almost always paid to create their translation. Because of this, they are under a certain amount (usually a great amount) of pressure to translate according to the doctrinal beliefs and positions of the religious group or religious publishing company paying them for their translation. Translational compromises are usually made in order to accommodate and placate the group or publishing company paying for the translation. Also, the individuals involved in the translation process will not always agree as to how a word, or a phrase, or a verse is to be translated. This is especially true if the translation committee is made up of individuals from various denominational organizations. Because of this, much argumentative debate and doctrinal contention takes place during the course of the translation process.

    On the other hand, a translation created by individual translators have a far less doctrinal bias connected to the translation. This may be difficult to believe, but I shall show you why this is so. An individual who has committed himself/herself to translating the Bible, must do so with the understanding that it will normally take them many years to produce their translation; perhaps up to half of their lifetime to accomplish it. No individual translator, that I am aware of, would commit this much time and diligent study to Bible translation just to put forth and emphasize a personal and doctrinal agenda. He or she could just write a simple 50 to 100 page booklet to do that. Also, an individual translator seldom, if ever, is paid to create a Bible translation. Therefore, they are not monetarily obliged and pressured to submit to the doctrinal beliefs and positions of any religious group or publishing company. They are free to be led of the Lord to translate according to the most accurate manner possible. Individual translators are not perfect, but they are, more than likely, to be far more dedicated to being accurate than a paid-for committee is to be.

    Having said all that has written above, I wish to reiterate the fact that no translation is perfect and 100% accurate. It is simply not possible to create a perfectly accurate translation of the ancient Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. The many subtle variations and meanings of the words and phrases of these ancient languages, will not allow a perfectly 100% accurate translation to be created; especially in English, which is, itself, a confusing, and imperfect, hybrid/mongrel language at best.

    Translating ancient languages into modern languages is no easy task. Most professing Christians have no idea of what it takes to do so. Just getting the proper punctuation marks correct can sometimes be a daunting task for a translator. Since the original manuscripts of the Scriptures contain no punctuation marks, translators sometimes have to guess as to where a comma should go; or if a statement should have a period or a question mark at the end of it. Man’s prideful arrogance, in regards to his own educational ability to properly and accurately translate the Holy Scriptures of the Lord, is nothing short of being absurd and laughable. I suspect that the Lord will find a way to eventually bring us all to a place of true and unfeigned humbleness and humility. May He quicken the pace at which He will do so.


    An unworthy believer in Jesus Christ, my wonderful Lord and Saviour

Leave a Comment