Translations (1 Cor 2:11-13)

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” (1 Corinthians 2: 12, AV)

In the previous devotional thought we saw that the Scriptures are the word of God and as such they are truth, infallible, unchanging, and have full authority. Of course, that is in the original manuscripts recorded from the original authors.

Once I worked for a company that was located in the German speaking part of Switzerland. On one occasion, I had to compile a technical manual for the machinery the Swiss company sold. I hired a translator to translate the documentation supplied from them into English. When I received the finished product from the translator, I discovered that somethings were difficult to understand. Sometimes the words the translator chose did not translate perfectly to English. For instance, the German word for a gear is zahnrad, the literal translation of this word was “tooth-wheel.” The point is that how things are translated will make a difference in the understanding.

The Bible was translated from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Thus, the quality of the translations is of paramount importance. Yet, there is another big question. Since the parchment used by the original authors deteriorated over time, we have no original documents written by them. How do we know that the translations we have today are accurate? In ancient times, there were scribes who meticulously copied the manuscripts over the centuries to ensure the integrity of the originals were maintained throughout succeeding generations.

Today we have over 5,000 ancient manuscript copies of the New Testament. Other non-biblical and commonly accepted manuscripts number only 10-20 copies. We have more documentation to affirm the accuracy of the Bible than any other ancient document by far. Moreover, the earliest copies of the New Testament texts date from 25-150 years from the event, while the non-biblical accepted ancient copies have a 1000-year gap. When the ancient manuscripts of the Bible are compared to one another they are found to be 99.9% in agreement with only minor variances that do not change the content of the text. Other non-biblical accepted documents are only 90-95% accurate in their comparison. Our Bible is accurate to the original writings.

Yet, this leaves us with one more question. What about the accuracy of our translations? Well obviously, the most accurate thing that we have are copies in the original languages. Yet, most of us are not experts in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Thus, we need to study an English translation. However, since words are concepts by definition, there may be differences in the various translations. The best we can do is use translations made by evangelical scholars that are as close to a literal translation as possible.

Unfortunately, there are some translations made by people pushing false doctrines. The Bible student must investigate the translation to understand its background and who has initiated the translation.

Beyond this, there are Bibles that are a very close literal translation. Others are less literally translated and change a bit for readability purposes. At the other end of the spectrum are the paraphrased versions. In these the translators will often translate with a style that attempts to explain the text so that people can more easily understand the meaning. However, in these there is a danger that the author may present his specific interpretation which may mislead the student.

The big point I want people to take away from this is that the Bibles used today that have been translated by evangelical scholars and are the closest to a literal translation of the original manuscripts are accurate and reliable for study. Like I said the best would be to study in the original languages, but few are capable to do this. However, there are some resources available to help the student in language study. The student can also study by using several translations to help grasp the deeper meanings of the Scripture.

Published by Steve Hankins, Th.D.

Steve has had extensive military, business and ministry experience. He has served for over 16 years in full time vocational ministry and many years of part time ministry in churches. He has led churches through start-up and recasting of vision. Now He resides on the Outer Banks of North Carolina where he is working to help smaller churches and believers to renew their hearts and regain the joy of the Lord.

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