Faithlife Sermons

The History of Bible Translation

Mark L. Ward, Jr.
Bibliology Sunday School  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  52:57
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I played the lead role of William Tyndale in a play at Heritage Christian School in Woodbridge, Virginia, my senior year of high school. I got to utter the stirring words to a packed house: "If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause that the boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!" And Tyndale did it. I didn't drive any plows back in high school, but I did push a lawnmower quite a lot—and by the end of 12 years in Christian schools I had been taught a great deal of Bible. I am so grateful to AWANA leaders, junior church teachers, and my parents for insisting that I live out Tyndale's vision.

The KJV draws heavily from the work of Tyndale, particularly in the New Testament (he died a martyr for the Bible before he could complete the Old). And his God-given brilliance is one of the biggest reasons why, nearly 500 years later, I love the KJV.

But his insistence on "vernacular" translation—putting the Bible in the language of the people—is the leading reason why I don't use the KJV exclusively. I want to understand the Bible, and sometimes I have difficulty with the beautiful, elegant, elevated, but 400-year-old KJV English. So I make regular use of other English Bible translations.

Today I want to talk about Bible translation in general and English Bible translations in particular. I'll talk about two things: the history of Bible translation and the current practice of Bible translation here and around the world.


• LXX: The first translation of the Bible happened before the Bible was complete: the LXX. The LXX is quoted in the NT. Christianity is a global religion requiring translation. And the NT is meant to be understood; it's not a mystic code. Paul uses careful reasoning he expects readers to follow. John uses artful narrative he expects readers to grasp. Certain things within the NT are translated, like the name of Tabitha, or "Talitha koumi." Nehemiah 8:8. The NT writers validate Bible translation in general, too, by quoting the LXX.

• Syriac - Peshitta ("simple") probably second century; oldest thing we have

• Vulgate - 400–1530 was the dominant text in Europe

• Wycliffe - 1320s to 1384. Translated from Vulgate. Lollards

• Luther - Luterbibel. He goes from My conscience is captive to the Word of God, Here I stand I can do no other, to being captive in a castle. He was captured by his friends in order to be protected. And there he translates the NT into the vernacular in 1522. OT in 1534.

• Tyndale - Tyndale actually spent time in Wittenberg and Worms, and translated the NT into English in 1524.

• KJV - 1611 Hampton Court Conference not "Authorized" holds sway

• RV - 1881 NT; 1885 OT.

• ASV - 1901

• RSV - 1946 NT; 1952 OT.

• NIV 19731978, NKJV 1982, NASB 19711995, ESV 2001, HCSB 1999/2004, NLT

THE CHALLENGE OF BIBLE TRANSLATION: "The less one knows, the quicker one can form an opinion."


THE CHALLENGE OF BIBLE TRANSLATION: Moisés Silva further indicates the following: A successful translation requires (1) mastery of the source language—certainly a much more sophisticated knowledge than one can acquire over a period of four or five years; (2) superb interpretation skills and breadth of knowledge so as not to miss the nuances of the original; and (3) a very high aptitude for writing in the target language so as to express accurately both the cognitive and the affective elements of the message.

THE CHALLENGE OF BIBLE TRANSLATION: "The key point is that communication is not just a matter of proclaiming something. It requires that the message sent out be received—and not only received but received in such a way that the reader (or viewer or listener) actually “gets it.” In Bible translation, faithfulness to the original meaning of a text is important, but it is not enough. The other critical test is what it enables its readers to understand. Translation is all about communication, and communication is by its very nature dialogical. It cares about its source and it cares about its audience. It is about what actually transfers from a point of origin to a destination."

THE CHALLENGE OF BIBLE TRANSLATION: Translation is not as straightforward as converting Fahrenheit temperatures to Celsius or Roman numerals to regular numbers.

All successful translations of literature (for example, contemporary German novels) sound natural, as though they had originally been written in English (while also preserving a feel for the original cultural setting).'

The multiplicity of modern Bible versions, while thought by many to be a great disadvantage for the church today, is instead reason for exultation. To be sure, the differences among these versions can create confusion; new problems have surfaced that still have not been solved. It remains true, however, that contemporary Bible readers, precisely because they are not bound to one or two versions, enjoy certain remarkable advantages over previous generations. For them, Scripture, read through different lenses, shines all the brighter. 

◦ THE CHALLENGE OF BIBLE TRANSLATION: Word-for-word translations typically demonstrate great respect for the source language . . . but often pay only lip service to the requirements of the target language. . . .When translators of Scripture insist on reproducing every lexical and grammatical element in their English renderings, the results are often grotesque.

◦ NIV sometimes makes the passage too easy. A man of many friends will come to ruin? Look that up?

• 1 sam 2:2 my mouth is open

• 1 Cor 7:14 (12062006) It's interesting that the ASV, BBE, DBY, and two Catholic versions (NJB and NAB) are the only ones to render literally here: "the brother."

• “And” “and” “and” —and the lack of punctuation in the ancient world.

• “And he answered them, saying,” works in the KJV because the KJV has no punctuation. But Put, I pray thee shows us we need it!

• Dave Brunn Ps 44:14

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