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 Issues | The Bible | Translation

Issues of Bible Translation

The Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek and has subsequently been translated into thousands of other languages. The options for translation can be seen in the New Testament where there are quotations, in Greek, of Hebrew Old Testatment verses. Sometimes the Greek follows closely the word structure of the Hebrew, sometimes they seem to use already existing translations word for word and sometimes they seem to give a fairly free translation. Bible translators into other languages have to come to similar decisions.

A translation from Hebrew and Greek into English may follow very closely the sentence structure of the original. This can be helpful for personal Bible study but sometimes makes it very hard to read, particualry out loud. Also what is considered good Hebrew (lots of repetition for example) may not be seen as good English. The New American Standard Bible, and to a lesser extent the King James (Authorised) Version follow this approach.

Another translation may try to follow wherever possible an earlier translation only making changes where a different translation is now preferred or the English has changed. So, for example the New King James follows the general text of the King James but the 'thou' and 'thee' are replaced with 'you'.

Other translations attempt in some degree or other to replace a literal word for word structure with something which is more readable. The New International Version, for example, used an approach called 'dynamic equivalence'. This is much easier to read in English, but at times liberties are taken with the text and many stylistic features (such as the repetition of words or unusual constructions) are lost in translation. The English Standard Version follows the NIV approach but not quite as radically so.

Paraphrase Bibles, such as the Good News, are not attempting to give a close translation but simply to get acrosss the general sense. These are again easier to read, particulary for children, but not very helpful for personal study.

In addition to all these considerations are questions about the underlying text. There are thousands of manuscripts for the Bible, far, far more in fact than any other ancient book, and far closer in age to the originals. However, inevitably there are differences. Sometimes these are due to copying error and sometimes copyists seem to have wanted to correct obscure texts they were unsure of.

Most modern Bibles follow texts based upon the best modern reconstruction of the original as agreed by scholars. This is a reasonable approach but some feel that since many of these scholars do not themselves respect the authority of Scripture they are prone to make decisions which are unreliable.

The alternative is to base a translation on a particular manuscript tradition such as the Textus Receptus and this was the approach taken by the King James (Authorised) Version.

Although we tend to call most of these verions - King James Version, New International Version, Revised Standard Version, etc, it would be much better to call them Translations (although it is understandable why NIV was preferred to NIT).

Articles on Translation and Translations

One good version not alone - Cross†Way article. David Brattston compares early Christian attitudes to the Septuagint with present day attitudes to the King James (Authorised) Version.

New Revised Standard Version OUP 1995 - Part 1, An Appraisal.
Churchman article by John Dobson

New Revised Standard Version OUP 1995 - Part 2.

Churchman article by John Dobson


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