Monday 29 October 2018

"Uniting as Christians" and "not dividing" over literal translations of the Bible in English

We all acknowledge that non-literal translations of the Bible exist, and therefore not all translations can be validly used in public worship. This would include "The Message" or the German People's (Volk's) Bible which should not be used public (and I would say also privately). These loose translations do not even attempt to be faithful to the original Greek or Hebrew text.

However, there are a number of literal Bible translations which seek to be faithful to the original manuscripts of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. Sometimes people get heated over the use of their favourite Bible translations. Literal translations in English would include, in my opinion, the King James, the New King James, the English Standard Version, the New American Standard Version and the New International Version (excluding the 2011 NIV edition, which deliberately seeks to feminise its translation work-- see my blog post on this, on this blog by using the search engine).

2 Timothy 3:16-17 "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work".

The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1 "Of Holy Scripture", 1:8:

1:8. 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 unto them. But, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have 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 common language of every nation unto which they come1 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.

Our Confession makes plain that the original manuscripts "being immediately inspired of God, and by his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic". This is a wonderful statement. There are several streams of New Testament Greek manuscripts from North Africa, late Byzantine and others. We do not yield that one stream is better than any others, because that would be to go against our confession of faith and to undermine our confidence the Lord's providence.

Let us encourage Christians to read their Bibles with confidence and let us seek to build up the unity of the faith and not seek to undermine anyone's confidence in the precious Bible that we hold. After over 25 years I have seen much "heat" at times over English Bible translations. May the grace of Christ help us to walk humbly together in unity and love and to all seek together to know the Lord better, as we walk in the light of His Word.


Unknown said...

thanks kevin-I agree on an an edifying & proper discussion - but we surely need to take seriously the very pertinent observations about the serious defections of the westcott-hort stream /alexandrian stream of manuscripts , and the unacceptable doubt placed by modern translations on such lengthy passages as opening of John 8 and ending of marks gospel.There is quite a wide variation in the English translations(you mention) & used today which never existed in previous generations, that in itself breeds alot of confusion and doubt and also difficulty in memory learning. Clarity on acceptable and unacceptable translations is surely greatly needed in churches today,which you yourself have done with your own list- but ESV (RSV) and NIV especially in the NT would not be on my own list- even though )90% would be ok - it seems to me to open the door to the other defective streams.
At the very least I would think that to be made aware of the x2 broad streams of Greek NT manuscripts underlying the various English translations would be a helpful starting point. I would take issue that the streams of Greek manuscripts are equally valid,I don't believe the confession would mandate that perspective --on the contrary I believe there is a huge attack upon the authenticity of NT manuscripts and indeed the providence of God has surely led his church to fight against error and fight for and maintain the preserved text purely down through the centuries---and weed out defective manuscripts.
This is a big issue but one that calls for careful and considered thought and assessment,and thanks for raising it again.

Kevin Bidwell said...


It is exciting to interact on such an important issue. We all need to learn on these matters and open discussion is the way forwards. I have a lot to learn on this subject and I am no expert. But I can check with people who do have reliable information and are solidly evangelical. You will be aware that Erasmus was not evangelical and actually a humanist.
The KJV and NKJV are based for the New Testament are based on the Erasmus Greek Text, the Textus Receptus (TR), as you know. Were you aware that the TR is based on only 7 Greek Manuscripts? There have been 5000 more Greek manuscripts found since Erasmus's work. Did you know that there are around 5000-6000 Greek Manuscripts overall, not counting Latin, Coptic and Syriac copies of the New Testament? To rely on 7 is problematic in my opinion.

The ESV is based on the OT the Biblical Hebraica (1983 Edition) and for the New Testament the Nestle Aland Greek Text (27th Edition). In principal the Nestle Aland draws on all of the Greek manuscripts.
Do you have any specific evidence on so-called defective texts that are used? The WCF makes clear that God by his providence has preserved his manuscripts. Can you cite specific concerns with evidence of where you think there may be a manuscript problems? I want to learn,
Kevin Bidwell

Unknown said...

Thanks Kevin, there are quite alot of useful resources I have used. The trinitarian bible society is probably the best fount of UK up to date information. Perhaps the definitive rebuttal of the original revised version was 'the revision revised 'by dean John Burgon--well worth getting a copy of this book. Also see Dabneys excellent rebuttal too in his discussions vol. 1 pages 350ff + 391ff.. All the old chestnuts you raise have been more than satisfactorily answered by excellent scholars both now and previously.
David Cloud also has an extensive database on resources. The issue is not necessarily numbers (or age) of manuscripts , I suppose thats a bit like saying the issue is not necessarily size of congregation!!! Its all about quality--and there are good reasons for the few Erasmus had--he was certainly well aware of the heretical manuscripts, but deliberately did not make use of them. I don't believe there is much disagreement on OT text--its the NT where the battle lies. Nestle Aland simply perpetuate westcott-hort principles. For example see the reference below:
its a huge subject--i'm no expert--but I believe its a similar (not as serious perhaps) problem to literal creationism.