Scripture and You

What's the most important ingredient for a trustworthy Bible translation?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
In a world shaped by postmodernism, the most important ingredient is a clear understanding of the supernatural nature of the Bible.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

You don't have to become an expert in theology, linguistics, and textual analysis to choose a Bible that is accurate and reliable.

The key is knowing the ingredients that produce a trustworthy translation. In a world shaped by postmodernism, the most important ingredient is a clear understanding of the supernatural nature of the Bible.

In the first three articles of this series, we discussed the right motive for Bible translation - to accurately and faithfully translate the text from the original languages into the language of the reader. We also saw that we live in an age of postmodern thinking about words and meaning. As one textbook on translation puts it, the focus of translation used to be on getting the message right, but today the focus is on the reader's opinion of the message (Nida & Taber, Theory & Practice of Translation; E.J. Brill, 1974; p. 1).

The Evil of Focusing on Reader Opinion

This evil mindset, the presumption that the reader may take the place of God in determining truth, has produced Bible versions in which translators often arbitrarily change the original words and meaning to please readers or suit an agenda. The result is the production of Bible versions that are linguistically and spiritually corrupt.

In our time, the evil motive of political correctness produces Bible versions that are gender-neutral where the original text is clearly gender-specific. Some even remove the male references to God to avoid offending certain readers. In one blasphemous feminist version of the gospels, Jesus becomes "Judith"! Some versions also mistranslate or even eliminate words of the original that deal with the sin of homosexuality, for fear of offending some readers.

These are extreme examples (but sadly, increasingly frequent ones). However, even some Bible versions that appear to be safe choices, ones that are endorsed by prominent Evangelicals and find wide usage in the church, have serious but sometimes less obvious problems of their own. Sometimes postmodern thinking influences translators. Sometimes translators alter the authentic Word of God for what they believe are good reasons, but which are in fact bad ones.

Faced with the confusion of competing Bible versions reflecting a mixture of motives, what is the Christian to do? You don't have to become an expert in theology, linguistics, or textual analysis in order to recognize problems, or to choose a Bible that is accurate and reliable. The key is knowing the ingredients that produce a trustworthy translation of God's Word.

Ingredient #1: Nothing But the Word of God

Finding the right Bible requires the right starting point: We must recognize that the actual text of the Bible, and nothing else, is the Word of God. The Bible is different from every other book in the world. It is the only supernatural Book.

From passages such as 2nd Peter 1:16-21, 2nd Timothy 3:16-17, and 1st Corinthians chapter 2, we understand that God the Holy Spirit is the Author of all Scripture. He gave the words of Scripture to holy men of God by inspiration without error in the original manuscripts, so that those secondary authors wrote not merely their own words, but the very words of God.

Therefore, the Bible alone among all books bears the attributes of God who gave it - holiness, perfection, infallibility, inerrancy, and absolute consistency. Therefore, the Bible alone contains no contradictions, and is completely accurate and authoritative in all subjects on which it speaks, whether on history, science, or spiritual matters. It is a unified revelation from beginning to end. The Bible alone is God's supreme authority for mankind.

Dear friends, this is serious business. God pronounces severe judgment upon those who would add to, subtract from, or alter a single word of the text of His Word (Deuteronomy 4:2-3, Proverbs 30:6, Revelation 22:18-19). Tampering with even a single word of the Bible can jeopardize the sense of the whole. Such tampering hinders our ability to accurately compare Scripture with Scripture. It also hinders our ability to test what we are taught by human teachers against God's Word itself, as the Bereans did in the book of Acts (17:10-12).

Bible translators, and anyone who evaluates the trustworthiness of a translation, must always remember that no word of any man or church may be substituted for, added to, or subtracted from the Word of God. Doing so places the word of man in authority over the Word of God. (For a more in-depth discussion of these important points, see the article, "How Do We Know the Bible is God's Word When Human Beings Wrote It?" in our Bible Knowledgebase.)

Part 5 - Ingredient #2: Authentic Source Texts

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