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Why Are There So Many Bible Translations?

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With so many different translations and copies of the Bible out there, how do we know that we’re reading the right one?

How did the english-language Bible even come about in the first place let’s find out in the back of the pews here we have these black heart backs and you can tell from the side that they are the King James version of the Bible this is the version I use probably most often I grew up hearing it so I’m more comfortable reading from it I have my smartphone and on it I have a Bible app maybe you do too and on that app I have well probably over a hundred different translations I was born and raised in America and I speak English obviously and if you’re watching this video there’s probably a good chance that you do too so if we ask the question which Bible translation should I choose and we’re looking for an English version of the Bible how many English translations would we have to choose from well it turns out over a hundred though I know now I know what you’re thinking why are there so many translations of the same source material for the same language and if that material translated could result in over 100 variations in English alone how do we know what’s accurate and what’s not well those are valid concerns to have and in order to ensure that what we’re reading in English is what the author intended we have to look back at the source material that we’ve been provided now the original manuscripts of the Bible were written in three languages Hebrew Greek and a little bit narrow Mayock using a variety of translation techniques English versions of those writings have been created for our study and benefit now I want to talk to you about three forms of biblical translation techniques that are being used today and where each popular Bible version falls under each of them so we’ve got a 2,000 year stretch between the manuscripts and where we are today and somehow we have to move from ancient Hebrew Greek and Aramaic to modern-day English that’s 2,000 years of language variation and obviously that presents a bit of a challenge I mean it’s hard enough to translate modern-day languages like Japanese to English because of the geographical and cultural divide but once you throw in two millennia of separation it becomes even more of a daunting task you don’t believe me just consider that this is what English looked like just 500 years ago and while you might be able to Swit look hard at it maybe pick out one or two words good luck trying to skim through it like you would a modern day news article also consider the problem that sometimes certain words or phrases just don’t translate well consider from Japanese yo Ghomeshi translate that literally word-for-word into English and you’ll end up with horizontal rice huh this is a phrase used by the Japanese when expressing stress over having to speak or write in a foreign language like English because Japanese is normally written vertically in most modern-day languages are written horizontally that’s horizontal rice now I know what you’re thinking that just doesn’t translate well into English and for hundreds of years bible translators have had to face the unique challenge of properly translating ancient languages into modern ones right so there are three schools of thought when it comes to modern-day biblical translation we have formal equivalence dynamic equivalence and free paraphrase let’s talk about all three formal equivalence is the process of a literal word-for-word translation if there’s a word used in the original Greek manuscripts find a direct definition for that word and then use that word or that definition in the English translation and they use that process for the whole writing dynamic equivalents is different as opposed to literal word-for-word it’s functional more like thought for thought in areas in the original manuscripts where there might not be an easily understood direct translation an equivalent spot is used to convey the meaning and thirdly we have free paraphrase which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like it’s a paraphrase of what the writer penned the theory is not exactly to use the exact words in the original manuscripts but to convey the overall idea in a way that the reader can appreciate now let’s put these three methods down and see where we would place our popular English translations and the methods used to create them it would look a little something like this now on the left end of the spectrum we have our literal word-for-word translations like the King James and the New King James these translations are all about formal equivalence they take the original manuscripts and they provide a translation of the words issued and nothing more now as we move a little bit to the right we begin to find books like the English standard version and the NASB now these translations still chose word-for-word literalness but in certain passages that were determined to be a little tough for modern-day readers changes were made in the direction of using more current idioms and modern-day vernacular now here in the middle we find a shift to dynamic equivalents and here we find translations like the NIV now the writers of the new international version claim a balance between word-for-word and thought for thought but I would argue it bends far more toward the latter these translations hold that the focus should be less on literalism and more on ease of understanding for the common reader the entire sentence structure of many verses is completely rearranged to become more palatable to modern readers and in many cases this results in the omission of a lot of words present in the original manuscripts over here on the far right of our diagram we have what we would call the more extreme examples of dynamic equivalence and really free paraphrase as a whole these translations barely even resemble the original manuscripts and often when you read them you’d probably think you were just reading a loose retelling of the scriptures given by someone and that’s often because that’s exactly what they are Eugene H Peterson who wrote the message claimed to use the original manuscripts as a basis but only a half second glance in that book and you realize his mission was not an all an accurate word-for-word translation more of a pleasant prose that could be read to an otherwise disinterested or unengaged audience so now that we know the theory behind English translations we would do well to ask ourselves the question are all translations created equal the answer is a resounding no just because something is available at a bookstore doesn’t mean that it’s an acceptable study tool for a Christian just because something has Holy Bible written on the front of it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the Word of God in 1631 Robert Barker and Martin Lucas the royal printers in London were hired to print copies of the King James Bible I wanting to save a little bit of money they hired younger inexperienced typesetters to put the printing plates together this proved to be a horrible mistake as the typesetters inadvertently omitted a really small but still really important word out of the ten commandments listed in Exodus where God had given the commandment thou shalt not commit adultery they accidentally left out the word not whoopsie talk about your type over the century they were called to court and fined 300 pounds they were stripped of their printing license and the business and their reputations were forever destroyed clearly not an accurate translation to use although accidental hopefully in more modern times we have writings that claim to be the Bible but are purposely altered to fit the authors and mission statement things like the Queen James Bible which is a translation meant to edit verses that antagonize the gay community or the cotton patch version which was written to appeal to blacks who worked in the cotton field to the south during the beginnings of racial integration the point being that some translations are not reliable to use the study material because they are not written for the purpose of study but to push a particular point of view and therein we start to see a big problem with free paraphrase and I would argue dynamic equivalence itself now don’t misunderstand me no translation is free of faults even the King James Version which I love suffers from a few errors and bad translations that aren’t present in other books about 300 words in the King James version of the Bible no longer bear the same meaning in the English language like suffer the little children to come unto me study to show thyself approved unto God those english-language words have changed in meaning from the time when the King James Version was first printed and obviously this causes some problems if you aren’t very well studied see what I did there very well studied study to show thyself approved another issues that the King James Version was edited by a man who was a Roman Catholic priest and because of this some terms used in the book are terms of Catholicism in not terms of first century Christianity sometimes we find the King James using words like bishop instead of elder or Easter instead of Passover these are things to look out for it’s always important to keep in mind who the translators were on these various versions to see if they might have pushed some of their own doctrinal beliefs into the text now a lot of people like the NIV and while it does get some things right there are some cases where the dynamic equivalence paradigm causes what I believe are bad translations and it’s why I personally don’t use the NIV all that often for example often when the NIV Bible talks about the virgin birth of Christ some interesting liberties are taken with the language and through the omission and rewording of certain terms one could argue the book actually denies the virgin birth and while we can argue about whether or not this is intentional on the part of the translators it is a cause for concern in fact I would argue that the NIV is habit of omitting words probably for the purpose of making things easier to read waters down the meaning of certain passages and actually omits biblical precepts and others sometimes the desire of making things simpler for the reader comes at the cost of the intended meaning of the original manuscripts and that is no more clearly Illustrated than when you open up a copy of the message here’s an experiment try reading the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5 from the message and something like the New King James Version at the same time it’s almost impossible try doing the same thing with another passage like 1st Corinthians the 11th chapter the teaching of scriptures completely thrown out the window and replaced by something that can barely even be described as paraphrasing these books and translations are not appropriate or effective for in-depth Bible study at all because you have stopped reading the original words that God gave to the writers and you’ve started reading the pablum of uninspired men on those particular verses when studying the Bible it’s important to use multiple sources to confirm certain truths or expose certain errors if you put too much focus on one particular translation you run the risk of blinding yourself to some of the problems present in it and you might just end up reading something that God never intended to put in the book in the first place so really which Bible translation should I use is not a good question you shouldn’t be subscribed to any one translation alone but rather you should study multiple translations and compare those to the original text and then make an educated judgment about what the most accurate translation of a particular passage should be the Bible is a book that can be read and understood but it requires of its students to be diligent in study and application it should be treated with respect and seriousness and should be followed to produce results

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