As happens so often on Facebook, someone will write some comments (sometimes speaking authoritatively) and it gets shared hundreds or even thousands of times. I have seen one such post more than a few times but was only recently asked to address its claims.
So, I will try to answer the question but I will spend more time answering the unasked questions that surround this topic. But first, the social media post.
Here it is:
It would seem that there is a conspiracy, even without our Christian industries, over the Bible. It would seem that everything and everyone is suspect … as we hug more tightly to the translation that we have used for years.
It seems that the article particularly hones in on the changes to the ESV and NIV. Since I currently use neither of those translations, I really don’t want to spend an overwhelming amount of time investigating the claims. (About a year ago, I wrote an article to explain why I am currently using the Christian Standard Bible. You can read it here.)
Yet, I am concerned that as I write the following response, there will be so much more that I could say. However, if I am to expect anyone to read this article and finish it, I will have to be reasonably concise. But in so doing, I risk creating questions when it is my desire to answer them. So, if you have comments or questions after reading this article, post them in the Comments section below and I will respond to them in a timely manner.
Here are some of the principles that come to mind that I believe are relevant in this sort of discussion:
1. The Bible wasn’t written in English (or Spanish, or French, or Latin, etc.). It was originally written in Hebrew (Old Testament), Greek (New Testament), with a little bit of Aramaic sprinkled in both testaments.
So, when we say that God’s Word is without error, we mean the original writings are completely without error. When Moses or Jeremiah or John were moved by the Holy Spirit to write what would be recognized as Scripture, they didn’t so much as make a single error in spelling, grammar, theology, science, history, or in any other way.
However, if I were to translate a book from the New Testament Greek into English, I’m certainly capable of making mistakes. I wouldn’t have the same guarantee to write without error as the original writers did. This applies to every single other Bible translator (NIV, ESV, KJV, etc.). This is why periodic adjustments (corrections) need to be made in our translations.
While the “mistakes” are few and far between, some are pretty obvious. For instance, in the translation that I have loved since my childhood, the KJV uses the word “Easter” in Acts 12:4 in spite of the fact that the Greek word “paska” clearly should have been translated “Passover.” The idea of Easter wasn’t even created until sometime in the mid-2nd century. Further, the KJV quotes God in Isaiah 45:7 as saying that He “creates evil.” That is a horrible translation and creates all sorts of theological problems. The word should have been translated “disaster” or something like that.
Other English translations have these sorts of minor, limited issues that demonstrate that while the original writings are without error, translators sometimes can make an error. (On a side note, this is why I, as a pastor, study the original languages and cite them periodically in my sermons. I want to get back to the original sources when I proclaim God’s Word to my congregation.)
If I could oversimply what happened, I would say that once upon a time, there was a Hebrew and Greek Bible that needed to be translated into the language of the English speaking people. So, a translation for English speaking people was created. It was completed and it was a work of art. It was masterfully done. But, at some point, people began to make IT the standard rather than the original Hebrew and Greek. Any hint of deviation from that English Bible was anathema. Some scholars eventually came along who said: “Hey, let’s continue investigate all of the thousands of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts to make sure that there is not one single mistake in our translation of the Bible. But, any adjustment to newer translatations was labeled heresy because they departed from the earlier English translation that had been made the standard. A version of the Bible that was translated about 1,600 years after Jesus ascended to Heaven was ruled much more authoritative than manuscripts that date back to less than 100 years after Jesus ascended to Heaven.
In a perfect world, 21st century Christians could pick up a Hebrew and Greek Bible and read it. But, they can’t. That’s why we demand that our English Bible translators get it right.
2. There are a few passages in our English Bibles that may not have appeared in the original writings (that were inspired). There are only a small handful but it is quite possible that they were added by well-meaning scribes long after the original writer wrote his book/letter. For instance, I’ll never forget reading in my KJV Scofield Bible as a youth and coming across the comments that said that Mark 16:9-20 didn’t appear in the earliest manuscripts. I was also shocked that my KJV Scofield Bible said that the story of the adulterous woman that was brought to Jesus (John 8:2-11) also didn’t appear in the earliest manuscripts.
What are we to think of this? Do we throw the whole book out? Of course, not. These two passages are small and do not add to or take away anything in the theology of Scripture. So, I’ve felt more than comfortable treating them as Scripture (they very well may be) and preaching/teaching them.
The reason why some new translations leave out a verse or two is because they cannot find a good reason to believe that they were actually written by the original Scripture writers.
Again, another instance is at the conclusion of what some call “The Lord’s Prayer” in Matthew 6:9-13. Noticably absent in my translation is the concluding words: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” Some might throw up their arms in disgust and claim that the translators schemed to erase this from the Bible. Yet, when we read the parallel passage of “The Lord’s Prayer” in Luke 11:2-4, we realize that not even the KJV has the closing words. It very well may be that a scribe added the closing words in Matthew 6:13.
Now, the author of the above post cited certain verses and said that they were being taken out of the Bible. So, a thoughtful person would say, “What Bible?” I would like to think that a thoughtful answer would be: “The Hebrew and Greek Bibles.” As I open my Greek Bible, I realize that those verses don’t appear in the most reliable Greek manuscripts.
Does that mean that our Bible is flawed? Of course not. Not a single one of the very few “questionable” verses add to or take away from Biblical theology. No major theological issue hangs in the balance upon these verses.
3. Also, while I completely agree that the Bible is without error when it was originally written, I am so glad that God has remarkably (miraculously?) preserved His Word through the ages. After all, we can’t have good English translations unless we have accurate Hebrew and Greek texts, right?
So, how can we be certain that the Hebrew and Greek texts that we have today are what the first century Christians had? Simply Google “The Dead Sea Scrolls” to see how amazing it was to realize that our Hebrew texts were virtually identical to scrolls that dated back to before Jesus walked the earth. Regarding the New Testament, we currently have well over 5,800 manuscripts and over 18,000 non-Greek manuscripts (Latin, Armenian, etc.). With this massive amount of manuscripts, scholars compare them to each other and asks questions of the text to determine which are the oldest and most accurate.
While there is still some disagreement over a few passages, Pastor Adrian Rogers used to say that they are so few that they would fill up a thimble.
4. Some well-meaning Christians get a little bent out of shape when a new translation uses a word different from the Bible they hold in their hands. They assume that since it is a different word, then it must be wrong.
All I would say is that every time you come across a verse in the New Testament that quotes something from the Old Testament, take the time to locate the Old Testament verse and read it. On quite a few occasions, you’ll realize that the words aren’t exactly the same. Sometimes there is a word difference or a slight variation in word order. Why is that? Simply that the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew but the New Testament saints were using the Greek translation of the Old Testament (called the Septuagint). The words were in a different language and if you’ve ever done any translating, you realize that it’s not a science – it’s an art. Yet, the Word of God was preserved in the word choice so that the meaning of Scripture was maintained. God’s Word was clearly perserved.
This is a huge topic. I could keep going … and I wish I knew what questions arose as I wrote the previous items because there is certainly room for clarification.
Yet, there are some things that we know to be true.
- First, God’s Word was written down without any error whatsoever in the original writings.
- Second, God’s Word has been remarkably preserved with more manuscripts (copies) than any other book in history.
- Third, while the Bibles that we hold in our hands aren’t in the original language, and we are relying upon competent translators, we have been blessed with some fantastic translations. With a heart filled with well-placed conviction, we can raise up our Bibles and say, without any reservation, “This is the Word of God!”
- Fourth, the writer of the original post was correct to point out that some translations are being corrupted. While I do not necessarily agree with her assessment of which translations are being corrupted, or her reasons for why they are supposedly corrupted, we need to always keep a watchful eye on anyone who would distort God’s Word by adding to or taking away from it (Revelation 22:18-19).
I hope this helps. Feel free to write a comment or question below this post and I will do my best to respond to it in a timely manner.