September 30, 2011

Is my Bible Accurate?

All of this talk about Bible translation can be very instructive and edifying. But if we are not careful, it can also be quite disconcerting. With questions swirling in our heads about whether the KJV is based on the best Greek Testament; or whether the NIV’s translation theory is faulty, we may find ourselves wondering if we’ve been misguided all these years by faulty Bibles. So let me address that in this final article.

Have you been misguided by your Bible translation? Probably not. Yes, there are translations (such as those printed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons) that intentionally change key words to promote their heresies. But chances are you haven’t been reading those versions. Probably you’ve been reading one of the following: the KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB, HCSB, NIV, NRSV, or NLT. As I have been saying for the past five weeks, they are not all created equal. Some of them (particularly the NASB and ESV) are head and shoulders above the rest. But, if you grew up on the KJV or the NIV; or if you’ve been reading the NLT because of its ease of access, you will not have imbibed any heresy.

Here’s the mercy of God for you – though all translations have been put together by fallible men and women; and though there are noticeable differences in many of them … not one of those differences (in the mainstream translations mentioned above) will change the way a person believes about the cardinal doctrines of the faith.

Yes, the KJV has a few extra verses at the end of the book of Mark. The same is true in John 8, and in a few other spots. But the truths taught (or not taught) in those verses do not make or break the Christian faith. For the most part, the KJV’s additional verses just say the kinds of things that may be found in other places in the Scriptures.

And yes, the NIV and NLT sometimes frustrate me by telling me what they think Paul means instead of what he actually says. And sometimes, by doing so, some of the nuances Paul probably had in mind get ‘lost in translation’. But overall, even though they shouldn’t be interpreting for me, these translations get the interpretations basically right. You won’t be led into any serious errors if you’ve read the NIV your whole life long.

I hope that’s a relief to you. Surely there are better translations and worse ones. And yes, if you read one of the lesser ones, you will miss out on some things that God intends to give you. But I haven’t written this series of articles to undermine your confidence in the English Bible, but to strengthen it. I believe that, if you understand what you are holding in your hands, and how it was translated, and from what Greek manuscripts, and so on … you’ll actually be more confident that it really is possible, without knowing a word of Greek or Hebrew, to know exactly what Moses, Ezekiel, James, Paul, and John wrote … indeed, what the Holy Spirit wrote through them! I believe that, if you understand how translation works, and why it ought to work a certain way, you’ll see with all the more clarity the importance of reading from a good translation. And the better the translation, the better you’ll understand God’s word. And the better you understand God’s word, the more you will love Him; the more you will find yourself under the Spirit’s gracious influences; and the more you will grow into conformity to His Son. That’s worth a lot of effort … and a good translation!

1 comment:

Coni said...

Great mini-series, Kurt! This is a topic that interests me (as you know from previous conversations and book borrowing) and one that I think every Christian should carefully consider. Thanks for taking the time to lay it out so well for us.