Bible Translation

As there are many different bible translations e.g., NIV, NASB, NLT etc. and each of them have a different way of explaining things, Is it feasible that one could say “Saying” and the other “Singing” as far as worship in heaven is concerned? Which version of the Bible is the closest translation from the original text? and if so should all of us use it?

Let’s deal with saying and singing first. (Those of you who don’t know what this is about need to read the earlier question called “Worship in Heaven“)

The difference between the two words is in the original languages of Greek or Hebrew, not just from the translation. Is that a satisfactory answer to that bit?

Now onto the different translations.

It is true to say that there are many different translations of the Bible in different languages, and even within a language, there are often many different versions.

But any reputable Bible you pick up should have been translated directly from the original Hebrew and Greek.

So they should all say the same thing.

Er, no.

Why not?

For several very good reasons:
1. Languages change over time. Thou doest not speak in 1600s English, using “Thee” and “Thou”, dost thou?

So thou needest thy books to be written in a language “understanded of the people” (which was a phrase used by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer to explain why the Anglican Prayer Book was written in English, not Latin).

So what Language is understanded by you?

Thou art not a 1600s person who useth thee and thou, but are you a person from the early 1900s who converses in an somewhat formal and archaic form? Or maybe you’re an ordinary bloke from the 60s who needs your basic common talk? Or, like yer up ta date guy wot wants sunnink, like, ter feed the fing wot yer fink wiv. Init?

Or maybe a University professor who wants total accuracy, no matter how many words it takes and how unwieldy it sounds. Or maybe a young child who needs pictures and the simplest English?

Or a preacher who wants to “move” his hearers by reading the text in the most poetic and stirring language possible?

Each one of these will need slightly different lingo. That’s NOT different meanings – notice I just used “lingo” when I could have used “language” – SAME meaning, but different words for a different target audience.

2. Another reason for different versions is translation itself, and its cousin, interpretation.

Translation is to change the words into the words of another language. Interpretation is to assess the meaning of the author and express that in the other language.

So if we translate exactly from Isaiah 1 18 “Laban KeHaSeleg”, we find out that our sins shall be made “white as the snow”.

This would be fine for the 1600s, but these days we would actually SAY “as white as snow”, putting an extra AS in, and leaving out the THE. Doesn’t mean any different, it’s just expressed in modern speech.

Now ask yourself what you would do if you were translating the Bible for people on a Pacific island? As white as WHAT????? So what is this stuff, “snow”? How can we understand if we have never seen it?

So you then do more than just translate, you INTERPRET. “OK, let’s find something really white that these people HAVE seen, and use that instead.”

As white as wool? As white as the full moon? it’s up to you. and the version you produce will be different from all the others, but it WON’T BE WRONG!

3. Then again, remember that every language is different, and the words develop independently of each other, so some words have ‘flavours’ or ‘nuances’ in one language that they don’t have in another.

So it is said that Eskimos have lots of different words for different kinds of snow. If we wanted to translate Eskimo into English, we’d have to use lots of words to say that ‘it’s the sort of snow which falls in little tiny flakes and is all powdery on the ground”, for example.

(Apparently Japanese has just one word which means, ” the sort of woman whom you think is going to be good-looking when you see her from behind, but turns out to be not so good-looking when you see her from in front”!)

So, back to our subject. here are some examples:
Agape is Jesus’s word for “love” but it doesn’t mean quite what you’d think from OUR word “love”.
Agape is a cold, calculating, decision to put the needs of someone else above your own wishes, and sacrifice yourself for their greater good.

So, how would YOU translate that? Well, it depends on your target audience.

Pisteuo is the New Testament word for “I believe”. But in Greek it has other overtones of meaning, “to have faith in”, and especially “to trust”.

So the words you use might be different, according to how detailed you want the text to be.

As an example, the Amplified Bible gives ALL the shades of meaning, so it is great for study, but it is nearly incomprehensible when you read aloud from it – so it’s NOT helpful when reading a long passage at church (it takes all day), though to quote one or two phrases from it can be useful.

In the next section, I’ll discuss what versions I think various people will find useful.

When I became a Christian in 1969, there were three common Bible versions.

One was the Version Authorised by King James in the 1600s, nicknamed the AV, or nowadays referred to as the KJV.

This has two problems, first it hath all the thees and thous in. Next, AFTER the KJV was produced, there have been several minor advances in understanding some of the more obscure Greek and Hebrew words, (as archaeology has dug up more examples of text).

(By the way – NONE of the main meanings of the words which influence our faith have been changed by these discoveries, it’s only minor issues.)

At the turn of the twentieth century, the KJV had been “Revised” to include these discoveries, but had still kept its 1600s language style. This was the Revised Version – the RV. I have one of these on my bookshelf.

When I became a Christian in 1969, a friend gave me a Revised Standard Version (RSV). This was like the Revised version put into mid-twentieth century language, so all the thees and thous had been replaced by “you”.

Very soon after that the “New English Bible” (NEB) popped up, which tried to put the “beauty” back into Bible language, (as some folk felt that the archaic form of the KJV had some sort of appeal which had now been lost because the text was now in the common language of the ordinary person).

To my mind the NEB was an atrocious version, obscuring the meaning with wordiness, rather than clarifying it. The NEB was popular with the “Liberal” wing of the church, where people go for the beauty of the surroundings and the language, rather than anything to do with God.

Then the Amplified Bible came out, helping us to understand all the shades of meaning. Not long after, the whole world got a shock when the “Living Bible” (LB) appeared.

This was the first true “paraphrase” -produced by American Evangelicals – where interpretation had been allowed free rein, and the accuracy of word-for-word translation had been sacrificed in order to get the main meaning across as punchily as possible.

We all thought it was brilliant. Then we discovered we couldn’t use it for many Bible studies, because we couldn’t dig deep into the meanings of the text. But for sharing our faith it was wonderful.

ALTHOUGH— it did have some surprises – so when the old KJV speaks about when Saul went into a cave in 1 Sam 24 3, it says he went in “to cover his feet”.

Mystified, you can turn to the RSV which helpfully explains the he went in “to relieve himself”.

But if you pick up the Living Bible (remember it was paraphrased by Americans) it informs you that Saul went into a cave “to go to the bathroom”!!!!

Then we had the Good News Bible, produced by Evangelicals, and aimed at young people.

Then along came the New International Version (NIV), which, more than all other versions, seems to have stormed the bastions of “thinking evangelicals” and become more or less the standard study Bible. It is clear, reads easily and is extensively accurate in translation (although I still have a few quibbles).

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) is a bit like the RSV, but using more American English phrasing. The NLT is an update of the Living Bible, now the New Living Translation – with a bit less paraphrase and a bit more word-for-word character in the translation.

Some people are now switching from the NIV to the New King James Version, which is, as it suggests, like an updated KJV with the thees and thous removed.

So which one then?

I find the NIV most useful for preparing and reading. I have got a computer program which puts it side-by-side with the KJV – which I find helpful, because the occasional disagreement I have with the NIV is usually made easier to detect that way.

You should use whichever version you find you get most out of – sorry if that sounds a cop out, but the most perfect translation which is left on a shelf isn’t a patch on a poorer version which is read regularly. You can always hone your knowledge once you have got it.

I want to mention the group of people who say “KJV only”, and also deal with what we believe about the Bible.

If you type KJV into Google, you’ll come up with loads of (mainly American) websites which say that all Bible versions other than the KJV are ‘satanic counterfeits’.

Some of these websites can get quite offensive in their language too.

What these people are saying, in a slightly humorous nutshell is “If it was good enough for St Paul, it’s good enough for you!”

(I’m sure St Paul was fluent in 17th century English;-)

It is noteworthy that these websites are nearly all American This is important for several reasons. Firstly they have kept a more archaic form of English there than we have here. “Whom” is still being used all the time, “thee”, “thou” have been kept till very recently, phrases such as “used OF God” where we would say “used BY God”, are normal speech. And many other KJV phrases which we would regard as archaisms are still in common use.

The second reason is that is is still very common for a resident of the USA never to travel outside his own country, or to meet ANYONE who speaks a different language.

If they lived in Europe, and within the size of two or three American States, they might find ten or more different languages, they might realise that insisting on one Bible version for everyone simply isn’t sensible.

This is NOT to say that all of their quibbles are irrelevant. Some of the points they make are good, and need to be taken on board by Bible translators, who on some issues can’t see the wood for the trees.

So finally, let me say a word about what we believe about Scripture.

2 Tim 3 16 says “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”.

We believe that God has “inspired” (that’s what God-breathed means) ordinary people like you and me to write exactly what he wanted to say, but in the way THEY would normally have said it.

We do NOT believe – as an article of Faith – that the Bible translators have always got it right. In fact we can show one or two insignificant places where they have got it wrong.

We therefore believe that the Bible is accurate AS ORIGINALLY GIVEN.

As it happens, we have access to the original Greek and Hebrew texts, and anybody who knows these can testify that the translations we have are remarkably accurate, and do not mislead in any significant matter of our faith.

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