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Bible Transmission & Translation

How do we know we can trust the Bible  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Bring to session – various translations & Greek New Testament, especially NET New Testament
Bring to session – various translations & Greek New Testament, especially NET New Testament
How many of you routinely carry to worship a print version of the Bible? Today, buying a new Bible is not as common to do because of the accessibility of electronic Bibles; however, I am still a fan of having a print Bible for the purpose of study. So, let’s say you decide you are going to buy new print Bible. You go online to shop for one or you go to a bookstore and you start to see all of the available choices. You see The Open Bible, The Thompson Chain Reference Study Bible, The NRSV Access Bible, The Life Application Study Bible, The NIV Study Bible, The Ryrie Study Bible, The NKJV Women’s Study Bible, The KJV Promise Keepers Men’s Study Bible, The Spirit-Filled Life Bible, and about a thousand other possibilities. Which Bible should you buy?
First of all, let me say, “What a wonderful problem to have!” We have so much access to God’s Word available to us, which has not always been the case and in some parts of the world is still not the case. The proliferation of the Bible is a blessing which brings great responsibility.
So as you consider your choices, what kind of criteria do you use to select a version of the Bible? Everyone needs a translation of the Bible, unless you want to become an expert in Hebrew, Greek, & Aramaic, which are the original languages of the Bible.
In order to answer the question, “what version of the Bible is best for you?” – Let’s begin by looking at how we got our English Bible. Then, we will look at how the Bible has been translated into English from the 14th century until now and the two main approaches to making a translation of God’s Word. Finally, we will attempt to give guidance to you in order to answer the question, “Which translation is best?”
How Did We Get Our English Bible?
The Word of God, as I am sure you are aware, was not written in English. The original languages of the Bible are Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
Here is a chart which will help you understand how the English Bible came to be:
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The Bible is entirely the Word of God (divine authorship), but it is at the same time the writings of human authors. The theologian John Stott phrased the concept clearly. He wrote:
Out of whose mouth did Scripture come, then: God’s or man’s? The only biblical answer is “both.” Indeed, God spoke through the human authors in such a way that his words were simultaneously their words, and their words were simultaneously his. This is the double authorship of the Bible. Scripture is equally the Word of God and the words of human beings. Better, is the Word of God through the words of human beings.”
says, “All Scripture is God-breathed (inspired) and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.”
God worked through human authors using their backgrounds, personality, cultural context, writing style, faith commitments, research, and so on to produce the inspired original text of the books of the Bible.
The original documents of Scripture, referred to as autographs, no longer exist. We do possess numerous copies of the originals. Over 5,000 handwritten manuscripts of all or part of the New Testament are in existence today. In 1947, Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament were discovered in the caves of Qumran near the Dead Sea. The so-called “Dead Sea Scrolls” contain a portion of almost every book of the Old Testament. These scrolls date back to the 1st & 2nd century putting them within a hundred years or so after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
People who made hand-copies of the Scriptures are called scribes. Now, if you have every tried to copy something by hand, you know you can easily make mistakes. Even though the scribes were very careful and had many protocols about how they did their work, they made mistakes. There is no debate about the vast majority of the text of the Scriptures. Estimates are about 97% of the New Testament can be reconstructed without doubt, for the Old Testament about 90% can be reconstructed without doubt.
The discipline of determining what text is most likely to reflect the original text is known as textual criticism.
The standard critical text for the Hebrew and Aramaic Old Testament is known as Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. (Bible Hebrew Stuttgart, a city in Germany)
The standard critical texts for the Greek New Testament is published by the United Bible Society (GNT) or Novum Testamentum Graece (New Testament Greek).
Once the critical text is selected, the translator or translation committee will translate the Bible from the source languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, & Greek) to the receptor language (in our case, English).
Summary: God spoke through human authors who composed an original text, called the autographs. The autographs were copied and recopied by scribes. Textual critics do their best to determine which copies are most likely to resemble the original autographs and produce a modern critical edition of the Old & New Testament text in the original languages. The translators work to move the critical edition of the Old & New Testament texts to our language, English, so we can hear God’s Word in our own language.
Approaches to Translating God’s Word
The process of translating from ancient language to modern languages is difficult.
Example: Word for Word Translation of
Kai epetimesen auto ho IesouV kai exelqen ap autou to daimonion
And rebuked it the Jesus and came out from him the demon
Kai enqerapeuthe ho paiV apo teV horaV ekeinV
And was healed the boy from the hour that
D.A. Carson named four things which make translation a complicated endeavor:
· No two words are exactly alike. (Judas kisses Jesus as an act of betrayal)
· The vocabulary of any two languages will vary in size. (English, Love; Greek, eros, phileo, agape)
· Languages put words together differently to form phrases, clauses, and sentences (syntax). (English – adjectives generally go before the nouns they modify; Hebrew – adjectives go after the noun they modify and carry with them a definite article)
· Languages have different stylistic preferences. (Hebrew poetry will sometimes use an acrostic pattern impossible to translate to English – )
With these understandings, we should not assume literal is equated to accurate.
Translation entails “reproducing the meaning of a text that is in one language (source language) as fully as possible in another language (receptor language).”
Two main approaches to translation: the formal approach (sometimes called word-for-word) and the functional approach (sometime called thought-for-thought)
Translation tend to fall on a scale
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More Formal More Functional
A Brief Survey of English Translations
English Translations Prior to 1611
Jerome translated the Bible to Latin around A.D. 400. Jerome’s translation is known as the Vulgate meaning “common.”
John Wycliffe was the first to translate the Bible into English. The New Testament was translated in 1380. The Wycliffe Bible is a word-for-word translation from the Latin.
John Purvey revised the Wycliffe Bible in 1388.
William Tyndale translated an English New Testament in 1526 from the Greek text; however he was executed in 1536 before he could complete translating the Old Testament.
Miles Coverdale produced a translation of the entire Bible into English in 1535.
John Rogers completed the Matthew Bible, using mostly Tyndale’s work. In 1539, Coverdale revised the Matthew Bible, which become known as The Great Bible due the size of the work. The Great Bible was the first English translation authorized to be read in the Church of England.
William Whitingham made a complete revision of the English Bible in 1560. The Geneva Bible became popular was is known as “the Bible of Shakespeare, the Bible of the Puritans, and the Bible of the Pilgrim Fathers.”
Matthew Parker, the archbishop of Canterbury, was asked to oversee the revision of the Great Bible. The revision became known as the Bishop’s Bible and was completed in 1568.
The Authorized Version of 1611
Due to the factions within the English Church, none of the English translations were satisfactory. In 1604 King authorized a new translation of the whole Bible to be used by all the churches of England. The leading university scholars in England produced the Authorized Version of 1611, commonly known as the King James Version. The 1611 King James Version (KJV) contained the Apocrypha, a group of Jewish books recognized as being part of the Bible by the Catholics, but not by the Protestants.
The goal of the KJV translators was to translate the original Greek and Hebrew texts into the language of ordinary people with enough dignity to be read and used in church.
Because languages change over time, the KJV needed to be revised. Major revisions took place in 1629, 1638, 1729, 1762, & 1769. The 1769 version is the edition still in use today.
There two major obstacles with the KJV and the modern audience. First, the translators of the KJV worked from an inferior Greek text constructed from only a few, late New Testament texts. Second, the KJV employs archaic English words and phrases which do not communicate to the modern readers.
For example:
– “And the men that died not were smitten with the emerods.” (What are emerods?)
– “Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing.” (Property managers and brokers beware!)
– “And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing.” (The inner child in me is giggling)
Many people will argue we should still use the 1769 KJV edition today, yet to argue for the 1769 KJV is to admit the necessity of revising a translation. There have been many revisions from the 1611 KJV to the 1769 KJV. Why not continue the process of revision by drawing on the latest in biblical scholarship and using language today’s readers can understand? Anything less seems to violate the intent of those who translated the original KJV.
English Translations Since 1611
The English Revised Version (ERV) was the first such revision and the first English translation to make use of modern principles of textual criticism (1881-1885).
In 1901 American scholars produced a revision of the ERV, the American Standard Version (ASV).
The Revised Standard Version (RSV) attempted to follow in the footsteps of the KJV in style and readability (1946-1952).
The New American Standard Bible (NASB, 1971, rev. 1995) claimed to be a revision of the ASV, but really was a new translation.
The New King James Version (NKJV, 1979-1982) attempted to update the language of the KJV.
The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV, 1989) was a complete revision of the RSV.
The New International Version (NIV, 1973-1978) was translated by a large committee of evangelical scholars and sought to find middle ground between word-for-word translations and thought-for-thought translations.
The New Century Version (NCV, 1987) and the Contemporary English Version (CEV, 1991-1995) utilize a thought-for-thought translation of the Bible as does the New International Reader’s Version (NIRV, 1995-1996).
The New Living Translation (NLT, 1996) is a fresh thought-for-thought translation.
The Message, written by Eugene Peterson (1993-2002) claims to be a translation, but really is more of a paraphrase due to the loose rendering of the original languages.
Today’s New International Version (TNIV, 2001) is a revision of the NIV reflecting changes in culture and language.
The English Standard Version (ESV, 2001) is a word-for-word translation, using the RSV as a starting point.
The Holman Christian Standard (HCSB, 1999-2004) uses a word-for-word translation approach, while allowing for clarity and readability.
The New English Translation (NET, 1998) began as an electronic version, includes copious translation notes, and uses a word-for-word translation philosophy.
Which Translation is Best?
1. Choose a translation that uses modern English.
2. Choose a translation that is based on the standard Hebrew and Greek text.
3. Give preference to a translation by a committee over against a translation by an individual.
4. Choose a translation that is appropriate for your own particular purpose at the time.
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