Bible translation in light of the Confessions

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Bethel

Puritan Board Freshman
The LBCF (as well as the WCF) states in Chapter 1:

Paragraph 8. The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded in the fear of God to read, and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope.​

Both confessions state that the OT Hebrew and the NT Greek are the inspired word of God, but that these original tongues should be translated into the vulgar language. So are the English translations of the Bible inerrant and infallible or is it just the manuscripts in the original language that are inspired, and therefore, inerrant and infallible?

I have a difficult time reconciling the proclamation that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God, followed by a proclamation that a particular verse has been mistranslated. If my Bible has a translation error, then it is neither inerrant or infallible. The nagging question in the back of my mind is "Why should I bother spending so much of my time reading and studying my Bible when I'm just going to be told that it's wrong?". Should the people of God know the original tongues?

I appreciate any input to help me clearly think through this issue.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Bethel, the reformed have addressed this under the heading of authority. Translations have authority in res; the originals have authority also in verba.

The presupposition is obviously that translation is possible - and anyone who speaks two languages knows that this is the case, but also knows that with the possible exception of the dryest documents known to man, translation also involves transposition - choosing an equivalent tone and manner, rather than being able to genuinely reproduce all the subtleties of the original.
Take as an example these lines from José Gorostiza:
¿Quién me compra una naranja,
para mi consolación?
Una naranja madura,
en forma de corazón.
You can translate that into English. "Who will buy for me an orange, for my consolation? A mature orange, shaped like a heart." The thought is preserved; but many of the features that add to the poetry (the consonance between "compra, consolación and corazón", to mention just one) as well as the whole tone and atmosphere are not conveyed in such a rendering. Now obviously someone with time and talent could not only translate it, but transpose it, so that it has a similar effect in English to what it has in Spanish; but it will never be identical. And yet the thought is there.

So in Scriptural translation: the res, the thing, the substance, is there in any decent translation. There is authority in the translation, and sufficient authority for ordinary purposes, because the substance is there. But you cannot lay tremendous weight on the details of the translation - on assonances or internal rhymes, on phrasing or use of synonyms. Only the originals can answer if such features are there and what significance they ought to have; the original has authority also in verba. That is why the originals are to be appealed to in controverted points, rather than a translation being accepted as definitive in verba as well as in res.

It is not terribly often that the whole meaning depends on something so subtle and obscure, that could be missed in the original as well as in any translation. Most of the time, the scope and context of the text will do more to clarify the substance than the verbal details. Take Isaiah 9:6 as an example - there is a closed mem in the middle of a word there, which is highly unusual, since the closed form of the letter normally appears at the end of words. Does that have some great significance? Probably not - certainly nothing to compare with the significance of the current and structure of Isaiah's thought: and that can be preserved and transmitted adequately in translation, even when such a verbal detail cannot.
 

arielann81

Puritan Board Freshman
The person that seemed to explain this in a way that helped me understand it most was Ravi Zacharias. One such time Ravi spoke on an apologetic for the bible can be found here: Why the Bible? Ravi Zacharias at the University of Illinois - YouTube. He also has an apologetic in written format here: http://www.rzim.org/justthinkingfv/tabid/602/articleid/29/cbmoduleid/1374/default. He has a way of breaking it down piece by piece with such logic and clarity which I appreciate. Don't take my word for it though, you can make your own opinions.

I think the strongest part of the apologetic on the Bible is that eye witness accounts have come from primary source documents and it passes the biographical test, the internal evidence test, and the external evidence test found in testimony of history, historians, and the testimonies of archaeology. Of course I still like the apologetic approach of the unique structure of it. That it is 66 books with over 40 authors from a span of some 1500 years or so that still maintains perfect unity and consistency throughout. Books on History,Literature, Theological thinking, Philosophical thinking, and Systematic Thinking to name a few. This means that if you look at it from any of these perspectives you can evaluate it for historical errors, philosophical errors or any systematic errors along those lines. The level of prophecies fulfilled alone during this time span gives it credibility. Ravi gives an example of the prophecies in Daniel in AD 500 as an example leading up to the reign and fall of Alexander the Great in AD 300s hundreds of years later but being so specific in form. Another is Zachariah's of the crucifixion of Christ. Its awesome hearing it put that way. Also speaking of it's uniqueness in Spiritual works (compared to the Quran for example) and explanations for that.

I'm sure we all have our favorites but this is one of mine. Hope this lends to your query and adds to your journey. :)
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Hello, Bethel – some questions for you before I answer. First, where do you see "a proclamation that a particular verse has been mistranslated"? And what Bible are you currently using? This matter you bring up is a very important one for every Christian, as it is imperative we have confidence in our Bibles. Myself, I use the old King James – and I have confidence in its translation – yet as I read I will compare with other modern versions (I like to compare with the NIV, ESV, NKJV, MKJV, and NASB), and I also will look up any words or phrases I don't quite understand clearly in commentaries and Greek or Hebrew lexicons and word studies. I will also look in these various helps to get insight into other shades of meaning that might be in the original language.

Ruben put it well in how he explained the difference in translation and original.

As you can see here in this section of PB, we have vigorous discussions over the various translations and the underlying original-language texts used for them. Some of the translations use a "formal equivalence" method – as literal a rendering as possible – and others use what is called a "dynamic equivalence" – seeking to get the sense of the original. An example of the former would be the KJV and NASB, and the latter the NIV. I think all the Bibles do a fairly good job of translating regardless of their approach (except the looser paraphrase types – the Living Bible, etc, though even this one can help get a sense of the meaning, but I wouldn't call it trustworthy). People will be critical of how every version listed above translates a word or phrase here and there; you might as well expect that. There is also the issue of which original-language texts are used for the translation you choose. The bottom line, I think, is you should study this matter (if you don't already have a favorite Bible) and get some understanding of the issues.

As an aside, my wife uses the NIV (which her dad gave to her many years ago) and she loves it. I use the KJV, and love it. I am amazed at her knowledge and love of the Scriptures. She knows my views and preferences, and I think is strongly influenced by my attitude to retaining certain readings which are not recognized in her version – though she has full liberty of conscience to hold to the Bible she loves and obeys, for it is the word of her Lord.

I hope this is helpful.
 

Bethel

Puritan Board Freshman
Ruben: Thank you, your post was very helpful.

Ariel: I like Ravi Zacharias too. It's not that I don't believe the Bible, I'm struggling with the different translations and the "errors" cited in the different versions.

Steve: I did find your post helpful as well. My family uses the KJV. Our church uses the NASB, but the members use a wide variety. The proclamation is the from pastors/elders that I listen to on-line and pastors/elders in-person (current and past, my church and other churches that I've attended). It's not that I've never heard that my Bible was mistranslated (it was said when I used the NIV as well; when I used the NASB, verses could have been "written more smoothly"). Now that I'm intellectually aware of the sovereignty of God, along with the confessions and the sola scriptura doctrine, the thought that my Bible is incorrectly translated has struck a nerve and created doubt. I have researched the different Bible versions and their underlying manuscripts, but I have a superficial lay-person's view of differences.

Thanks to all!
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Bethel, as I said, expect to hear such things whatever edition of the Bible you use. It's your attitude when you hear it that matters. Both the KJV and the NASB have good reputations for translation (even though in various circles both will be trashed ruthlessly). I go with the KJV because of the Greek and Hebrew texts that underlie the English – despite these texts being fiercely disputed and spoken against; I'm sufficiently confident and learned to withstand and rebut it. Having said that, is it possible that words in the KJV could have been translated differently? Sure, not many will deny this. But I trust that both the quality of the translators and the providence of God ensured a faithful-to-the-original translation. The providence of God is a strong element in my understanding and confidence. Ditto as regards the Hebrew and Greek and other sources made available to the editors and translators. Ultimately my trust is in the providence of God overseeing the whole process – over centuries – to the end result. This presuppositional – or theologically supported – view is valued by some and trashed by others. In these days – primarily because of a large number of differing and/or competing versions – one must consider the various factors involved and make an educated choice.

The necessity of such an educated choice is compounded by virtue of the fact that more and more – as the end of days draw closer – we have highly educated (apostate) textual scholars declaring not just that things could have been translated better or "more smoothly", but that our Bibles are thoroughly unreliable in many respects. This is the danger that confronts the church today, and this is to be the proving ground for an adequate defense of God's word for His people. We have the Lord's promise, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matt 24:35), and as He said through Isaiah the prophet, "As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, from henceforth and forever" (Isa 59:21). I believe Him. We have an omniscient and omnipotent God, and His supernaturally preserved Book. To trust Him fully we need to trust the word of His that we have. The Bible I hold to is the Bible that came out of the Reformation, and out of the Hebrew and Greek texts referred to in the 1689 and Westminster Confessions. Not a bad pedigree, whatever the world nowadays might say!
 

Ajf777

Puritan Board Freshman
Bethel, as I said, expect to hear such things whatever edition of the Bible you use. It's your attitude when you hear it that matters. Both the KJV and the NASB have good reputations for translation (even though in various circles both will be trashed ruthlessly). I go with the KJV because of the Greek and Hebrew texts that underlie the English – despite these texts being fiercely disputed and spoken against; I'm sufficiently confident and learned to withstand and rebut it. Having said that, is it possible that words in the KJV could have been translated differently? Sure, not many will deny this. But I trust that both the quality of the translators and the providence of God ensured a faithful-to-the-original translation. The providence of God is a strong element in my understanding and confidence. Ditto as regards the Hebrew and Greek and other sources made available to the editors and translators. Ultimately my trust is in the providence of God overseeing the whole process – over centuries – to the end result. This presuppositional – or theologically supported – view is valued by some and trashed by others. In these days – primarily because of a large number of differing and/or competing versions – one must consider the various factors involved and make an educated choice.

The necessity of such an educated choice is compounded by virtue of the fact that more and more – as the end of days draw closer – we have highly educated (apostate) textual scholars declaring not just that things could have been translated better or "more smoothly", but that our Bibles are thoroughly unreliable in many respects. This is the danger that confronts the church today, and this is to be the proving ground for an adequate defense of God's word for His people. We have the Lord's promise, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matt 24:35), and as He said through Isaiah the prophet, "As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, from henceforth and forever" (Isa 59:21). I believe Him. We have an omniscient and omnipotent God, and His supernaturally preserved Book. To trust Him fully we need to trust the word of His that we have. The Bible I hold to is the Bible that came out of the Reformation, and out of the Hebrew and Greek texts referred to in the 1689 and Westminster Confessions. Not a bad pedigree, whatever the world nowadays might say!

I appreciate this defense of the KJV.I too,love the KJV.I think that there is nothing wrong with preferring the KJV over modern translations.My question is,why prefer the KJV over the NKJV?Im not a original languages scholar but I do see that is a better overall translation.Btw,I prefer the ESV.i think the critical text is closer to what the original authors wrote & I think the ESV is a faithful & beautiful translation of the critical text.1st post.God-bless!
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
When possible, I think it is incumbent upon us as lay readers to gather as much information about the text as we can. I rarely study with just one translation open. When listening to sermons, I make sure I'm listening to people who are well-educated in handling the original languages. I realize that many will not have the resources to do this. In that case, we can look to other parts of the WCF that talk about differences in the clarity of the text. What needs to be known for salvation is abundantly clear unless the text has been handled by a heretic (like the Jehovah's Witnesses).
 

Grimmson

Puritan Board Sophomore
So are the English translations of the Bible inerrant and infallible or is it just the manuscripts in the original language that are inspired, and therefore, inerrant and infallible?”
Hopefully this will be helpful
Are the English translations the Word of God? The answer is yes they are, even though there maybe translational mistakes; just like when the preacher preaches he preaches the word of God to that church congregation. Now does that mean that the preacher as he stands before the congregation is infallible in all that he says to the congregation even to the point of his own translation? I would hope that you would say no. The issue of inerrancy is not with the Greek and Hebrew texts that have survived today, but is instead the original manuscripts that are infallible, the original autographs of the biblical writers themselves. This is important because there are errors in various Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. And it will not take long in studying the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts before you realize this. Now most of the errors are truly of no consequence and one should find confidence in the text because of that. But one would be mistaken to raise Sinaiticus, the Vulgate, Leningrad, even the Textus Receptus with Johannine Comma to the level of inerrancy. However this does not mean that these texts are not able to teach you all that you need to know of doctrine and how to live out the faith. Translators can make mistakes in how best to render a word or phrase, but our reliance is not on a single word or phrase but all of scripture. And this is also where church historians are important in studying the what the great doctors of the various ages taught concerning their own reading of scripture, so that we are not alone slaves of modern textual theories. There are difference between various English translations and some translations are superior or inferior to others. And some English texts that probably should not be read. Due to this point one should look to the church that has received the scripture to help those within her in assisting which translation one should read in their own language so that they may understand the scriptures. But remember copyists and translators are sinful mortals are can make mistake, which is why some manuscripts of the original language of a book could be mistake and mistakes found in one’s translation today. However despite this God has preserved all that we need to know about him and of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ as reflected by the manuscript traditions and I suggest taking that as a comfort.
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Bethel,

I was going to PM you this, but I don't think you have that option enabled, so here it is for all: In the event your search for a trustworthy Bible leads you to consider the King James (or even the New King James, which I mention with some small reservations), I would suggest reading Dr. Thomas Holland's excellent intro to the subject, Crowned With Glory: The Bible from Ancient Text to Authorized Version.

I appreciate you are one of those folks to whom certainty even down to the individual words of your Bible is of great importance – I started out on this same quest some 40 plus years ago, and have come to where I am now. Regardless of which edition of the Bible you eventually choose, you will always – or at least often – have to justify your choice against opposing views. It is a shame it has come to this – it was not this way a century and some ago, when the Reformation Bible was the standard – but these days are something else. That I have a Bible I can trust thoroughly is more important to me than the time and effort it costs me to have to defend my choice. I do not have to live with doubt about having God's words in the minutiae or not. Here is another resource in this same vein – posts I have written here at PB on the topic. I hope all this will be of help to you, and I will be praying for you in your search for understanding.
 
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