Which Translation of the Bible is the Best?
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. Norman Geisler; ©2009|
|A viewer writes: “I am a little frustrated with all of the English translations I have encountered having some sort of problems in the translation that I am concerned I may not be aware of if I am just reading the Bible on my own. …I just would like to know which version is the most correct translation the largest percentage of the time,…”|
A viewer writes: “I am a little frustrated with all of the English translations I have encountered having some sort of problems in the translation that I am concerned I may not be aware of if I am just reading the Bible on my own. …I just would like to know which version is the most correct translation the largest percentage of the time,…”
Dr. Ankerberg and Dr. Norman Geisler addressed the issue of translation accuracy in their series How Can You Know the Bible is the Word of God?
Dr. John Ankerberg: 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? Are they 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, 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, 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 New International Version [NIV]; 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 me”), I’d like to give them a quiz. 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. 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 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 AD, Sinaiticus 350; Chester Beatty Papyri 250 BC; Bodmer Ppapyri 200; John Rylands fragment from the first quarter of the second century – maybe as early as 114 AD. 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 AD 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 AD 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: Alright, 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, if you missed our previous four programs, 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 showed 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.
OU HAVE WON $10 MILLION.
YOU HAVE WON $10 MILLON.
YOU HAV WON $10 MILLION.
YOU HAVE WOM $10 MILLION.
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 last word. 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. 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 have won $10 million – 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. [Num. 21; 2 Kings 18:4]
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. This book in our hand 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% accurately copied. And the .1% 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.
[This article is excerpted from the series How Can You Know the Bible is the Word of God? The entire series is available in our online catalog.]