April 1, 1986 Issue
by Jerry Cutter
There are so many Bible translations, each in some way claiming to be superior (else why exist), that people are becoming confused. Also, doubts are raised: do we really have the Bible, or can any translation be trusted?
First, yes, translations can be trusted and we do have the Bible. Translations are needed simply because the Bible was handed down in another language, Greek. New translations will always be needed because, among other reasons, English as a living language is always changing, and new translations make the original Greek current, or up to date. As an example, money, weights, distances etc., would generally be meaningless unless made current by translators. This may even be called interpreting, but it is necessary, and in a small way points to the difficulty in translating the Bible from a 2000 year old society.
Translators use a variety of Greek texts, each with slight variations, but none of which affects any vital doctrinal issue to the point of a misunderstanding concerning salvation. It is the method or means translators use that present problems with translations. Some translators use the eclectic approach. This is explained to mean selecting or selected from various sources. Here we have our first warning flag. Those who push the eclectic approach almost invariably prefer to ignore a word for word, or literal, translation, often even where possible. They tell us that they prefer to express the original Greek meaning in natural English equivalents. This is the method preferred, seemingly, by most modern translators. The danger is this is the method most likely to harbor (to the innocent, hide) the translators' religious bias (or error). This is done by "helping" the Greek say what no Greek text says or was ever meant to say. By using "natural English equivalents," one can easily see how much more difficult it becomes to detect a corrupted translation. This is also sometimes called the "dynamic equivalent approach." We are told that this approach makes for easier and more interesting reading, which is true, but we are not told it makes for more accurate reading.
Conversely, there is the literal approach to translating. With this approach the translators strive to preserve as much of the original language as possible. Some of those considered literal are the King James Version (KJV), American Standard Version (ASV), Revised Version (RV). and to a lessor degree the Revised Standard Version (RSV). Some of those using the dynamic equivalent approach are the New International Version (NIV), The New American Bible (NAB), The Good News Bible (GNB), The Jerusalem Bible (JB), and The New English Bible (NEB).
Also, among the latter is The Simple English Bible (SEB), translated for the churches of Christ.
Space will not allow me to comment much on any particular translation. However, I will give some specific examples of what happens when translators leave the original Greek and cover up their religious bias by using the dynamic equivalent approach. Especially on doctrinal points, I want to know what the original Greek said, as nearly as possible, and not what some translators say it meant. In short, we have every right to look the word up, or study the context, and make the decision for ourselves as to what is really being said.
We will use as an example the NIV translation. It is easy to read and generally correct. However, when one gets to the critically important book of Romans, I cannot recommend it. There the evil doctrine of Calvinism is promoted under the guise of translating eclectic style. By Calvinism, I mean the doctrine of original sin. As one example, in Romans 13:14 the simple Greek word sarx or FLESH is found. It is so translated in the KJV, RSV, NASV, ASV and RV. The NIV translators changed sarx (flesh) to "the sinful nature." Put all your Greek texts together, use your eclectic approach, dynamic equivalent, or any other, and one cannot get it to say "the sinful nature." But one says that that is what it means. Let the translators translate faithfully, using whatever method best suits their purposes, but don't change the basic meaning of any word, and "sinful nature" is not what the text says. In this case the translators left out the original word, flesh, and put in two new words not found in the original texts, meaning different things. This is one of many examples that could be given showing the original Greek has been changed.
I now feel compelled to say something about The Simple English Bible (SEB), translated for the churches of Christ. As brother Ballard pointed out in his article, it is a very corrupted translation. It cannot be used as one's primary text, or Bible.
The translators of the SEB used the modern, eclectic approach. In other words, it does not qualify as a "literal translation." If one were to accept this as the true and only translation of the Greek texts into English, there would never be another baptism into Christ, or another church of Christ in the world, because neither of these words is used in the SEB. Notice the following from the introduction of the SEB: "In translating the original words of the Holy Spirit, great care was taken to find those exact English words which tell God's message both simply and precisely. Also, because some traditional 'religious' words (e.g. saints, baptism, church, justification, redemption, etc.) do not teach the root meanings of the original Greek text, a special effort was made to translate these terms into expressions which can be understood by everyone, especially by those who have never read the Bible." Let me ask: Is "I will build my community..." (SEB), simpler than "I will build my church" (KJV) (Matt 16:18)? My guess is that the very brethren who put out this translation still preach concerning baptism, the church, saints, justification etc., just as they always have. They cannot even preach from their own translation.
I now give some simple advice. You will never be a successful Bible student until you settle on one (and only one) translation as your basic text. For your basic text you should use one of the more literal translations (several are mentioned above), and use all others as study helps, along with the Greek lexicons (dictionaries). (As a rule, you will not even be able to tell where to begin looking for a word in the Greek by using a modern, eclectic translation.) Also, for teachers in the church, if you use an eclectic translation you will make it very difficult (not easier) for most to follow your lesson, unless every member settles on the same translation. The literal translation are enough alike that anyone can easily follow along.
Finally, as a student of the Bible, I usually use at least two Greek texts (interlinear), and many translations. When I get ready to teach I always use a literal English translation. Other translations may help explain difficult texts. I use Greek words publicly rarely. I want to know what the Greek says, thus the lexicons, but my audiences are English, and thus I speak in English.
I hope I have written something that will help you better under stand, appreciate, and use translations.
Other OPA Article Links:
Jerry Cutter 1986 OPA Main Page Home