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Monday, January 26, 2015

Is the Bible Reliable Since Its Been Translated So Many Times?

When Google's translation page first came out, some friends and I would have a little fun translating the web page of our employer from English into another language like French or Japanese. We would then copy that text and paste it back into the Google translator and let the computer try to recreate the English. The final result was awkward and would produce pretty comical phrasing, with words implying something completely different from the original message.

The reason we attempted such silliness is to try and intentionally confuse the translating robot. We knew that churning out a translation of a translation would force mistakes to be multiplied, a realization that takes no scholarship at all. Yet, this is the way many people assume the scholars responsible for our modern bibles have worked. Yesterday, a gentleman at my church said he had been in a conversation with a Muslim who said, "Your Bible has been translated so many times challenged by a Muslim on the validity of the Bible as it compared to the Qur'an." This isn't an uncommon claim and many atheists and non-believers have tried to make the same point.



Take the Newsweek cover story published just two days before Christmas entitled "The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin." The article, which seems to take as its goal the undermining of biblical authority, is rife with inaccurate assumptions and misunderstandings about how biblical scholarship works. Interestingly, its very first criticism is at the problem of multiple translations. Author Kurt Eichenwald, under the heading "Playing Telephone with the Word of God," writes:
No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we've all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.1
That's the thinking that many people have. yet this perception is so incredibly wrong it takes my breath away. But Christians seem to not know how to respond to such accusations, as the question posed to the man at church shows.

Counting Up the Number of Translations to You

The first thing I emphasize when tackling the objection that we are somehow insulated from the real meaning of the Bible because of so many translation is to simply ask, "how many times do you think the Bible version you have has been translated from its original languages?" People are feign to guess, imagining perhaps ten, dozens, or more. The reality is that every modern Bible translation has been translated exactly once from the original Greek and Hebrew. Once. That's all. There is no "translation of translations of translations." Biblical scholars work directly from the Hebrew and Greek texts to create the English versions we have today. Eichenwald could have seen that if he had bothered to look at the prefaces to any Bible. Here's what the Translation Committee for Crossway, which publishes the English Standard Version states:
"each word and phrase in the ESV has been carefully weighed against the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, to ensure the fullest accuracy and clarity and to avoid under-translating or overlooking any nuance of the original text."2
Here's what the Lockman Foundation, who created the New American Standard Bible says:
The New American Standard Bible has been produced with the conviction that the words of Scripture, as originally penned in the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, were inspired by God… At NO point did the translators attempt to interpret Scripture through translation. Instead, the NASB translation team adhered to the principles of literal translation. This is the most exacting and demanding method of translation, requiring a word-for-word translation that is both accurate and readable. This method follows the word and sentence patterns of the original authors in order to enable the reader to study Scripture in its most literal format and to experience the individual personalities of those who penned the original manuscripts.3
Here's what the NIV translation committee explained:
In 1965, a cross-denominational gathering of evangelical scholars met near Chicago and agreed to start work on the New International Version. Instead of just updating an existing translation like the KJV, they chose to start from scratch, using the very best manuscripts available in the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic of the Bible.4
And just to show that this translation approach is not something that only began recently, here's what the translators wrote in the preface to the original 1611 King James Version:
That out of the Originall sacred tongues, together with comparing of the labours, both in our owne and other forreigne Languages, of many worthy men who went before us, there should be one more exact Translation of the holy Scriptures into the English tongue; your MAJESTIE did never desist, to urge and to excite those to whom it was commended, that the worke might be hastened, and that the businesse might be expedited in so decent a maner, as a matter of such importance might justly require (emphasis added).5
Note that the translators state that they look at the originals and then look at other translations (the "many worthy men who went before us," such as Tyndale) to be better informed on their own word choice. Consulting existing translations is actually a benefit, as it adds more counselors to the translation efforts, not fewer. Yet, each and every translation begins and is compared against the original languages to ensure accuracy and compatibility. Your Bible, no matter which translation you choose, has been translated only one time, and straight from the original languages to English.

References

1. Eichenwald, Kurt. "The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin." Newsweek 23 Dec. 2014: n. pag. Web. 26 Jan. 2015. http://www.newsweek.com/2015/01/02/thats-not-what-bible-says-294018.html
2. The Translation Oversight Committee. "Preface to the English Standard Version." About ESVBibleorg. Crossway, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015. http://about.esvbible.org/about/preface/.
3. The Lockman Foundation. "Overview of the New American Standard Bible." The Lockman Foundation. The Lockman Foundation, n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2015. http://www.lockman.org/nasb/index.php.
4. "The NIV Story." Biblica. Biblica, 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 26 Jan. 2015. http://www.biblica.com/en-us/the-niv-bible/niv-story/.
5."King James Version Original Preface." DailyBible.com. BibleNetUSA, 2006. Web. 26 Jan. 2015. http://www.kjvbibles.com/kjpreface.htm.

2 comments:

  1. You don't need a PhD to know the Bible is False

    "Instead of reading scholarly responses to (Bart) Ehrman as recommended, he (Gary) renounced faith. ...The pastors at Gary's former church were concerned as he sparred with capable disciples of Ehrman that he had not yet come to an understanding of Lutheranism. His formation as a Lutheran required time and inculturation. So, yes, in this sense I failed to form him as a disciple of Jesus and for that I am sorry." ---my former orthodox Lutheran pastor

    My former pastor is not alone in his assessment that my lack of knowledge is the source of my problem. Many a Lutheran pastor and layperson has accused me of not fully understanding Lutheran doctrine and teachings as the cause of my loss of faith and deconversion from Christianity. What's fascinating is that many an evangelical pastor and layperson has accused me of not understanding "true Christian" (evangelical) doctrine and teaching as the cause of my deconversion. Both groups have given me long lists of apologists (from their respective denominational flavor of Christianity only, of course) to educate me in the truths of Holy Scripture (as they read and understand it).

    But here's the thing: I don't need to understand the nuances of the Doctrines of Baptismal Regeneration, the Real Presence, Predestination, or Justification by Faith Alone, to know that the Bible is a book of nonsense. All I need is a high school education and a functioning brain.

    Here are the cornerstone beliefs of orthodox Christianity:

    1. The first human was created by an ancient middle-eastern god blowing air into a pile of dirt.

    2. Death, disease, and all the pain and suffering in the world are the result of the first humans eating an ancient middle-eastern god's fruit.

    3. This same ancient middle eastern god soon had pity on humans for inflicting horrific suffering and death upon them for eating his fruit, so he decided to send himself to earth, in the form of a human being, to sacrifice himself, to appease the righteous anger of...himself.

    4. This ancient middle-eastern god sent himself to earth in the form of a human being by having his ghost impregnate a young Jewish virgin, giving birth to...himself....as a divine god/man.

    5. This divine god/man grew up to then preach the news of eternal redemption and forgiveness for ancestral forbidden-fruit-eating; "good news" meant for all the people of earth...by going to one desolate, sparsely populated, backwater corner of the globe where he taught in riddles that not even his closest followers could understand.

    6. Even upon his death his closest followers had no clue what he was talking about. This god/man left no written instructions regarding what he required of mankind, only his confusing, often contradictory oral riddles. However, he allegedly left the job of written instructions to four anonymous writers, three of whom plagiarized the first, and, one bipolar, vision-prone, Jewish rabbi, who concocted contradictory wild tales of resurrections and ascensions into outer space.

    Dear friend: You do NOT need to read the books of Christian apologists, theologians, and pastors to determine if these assertions of ancient, middle eastern facts are true. No. All you have to do is use your brain. And what does your brain tell you: It is all superstitious nonsense.

    NO ONE in the 21st century with a high school education should believe this baloney.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Seems to make as much sense as a random sequence of accidents suddenly, and against statistically impossible odds, suddenly arranging themselves just so to create a single celled organism from inorganic material which includes the irreducibly complex properties of the human cell and information rich text contained within DNA (a process with such specificity as to have been mathematically calculated to reach well beyond the estimated age of the Earth)

      Delete

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