A FURTHER REVIEW OF NEWER BIBLE VERSIONS
by Wayne S. Walker
Any serious study of evidences for the inspiration of the scriptures must deal with the question of why there are different versions of the Bible. Previous articles in this series have dealt with the textual differences in the manuscripts of the original languages. While not denying their existence, we must point out that the differences are minuscule when compared to the general agreement of the manuscripts. Yet, there remains the question that when one picks up any particular version, how can he know if he really has the word of God?
The original word of God was delivered to mankind by inspiration. The evidence clearly shows that this word has been preserved with amazing accuracy through the ages, a fact which is best attributed to the providence of God. However, translation is the work of man. Spoken languages, such as English, change. We do not speak the Elizabethan English of the 1600’s any longer, although we can still understand it, as evidenced by the reading of Shakespeare in high schools. However, given the fact that the Bible was originally written in common languages for the common people to understand, it seems fitting that we have translations of it in common English for common people today to understand.
However, most of us cannot read the manuscripts in the original languages to check a translation out, so the question still remains, can we be sure that when we read from any specific translation we are actually reading God’s word? The best answer is that when the translator seek to stay as close to the original language as possible while rendering the original language into understandable English, we can be confident that we have access to God’s revelation. However, when the translators wander away from the intent to stay as close to the original language as possible, such as in an attempt to make the Bible sound "newer" or "fresher," there is more doubt that such renderings will accurately portray God’s message.
There are some translations that the serious student of the Bible would not accept as being faithful to the original. This would be true, for instance, of many versions produced by the Roman Catholic Church. Mention was made in a previous article of the Rheims-Douay version, with the New Testament issued at Rheims, France, in 1582, and the Old Testament at Douay, France, in 1609. This was the only official Roman Catholic Bible in English for many years. Since then, the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine was issued in 1941, Roland A. Knox made a Roman Catholic "modern speech" translation in 1949, the more recent New American Bible was produced from 1952 to 1970, and there is the popular Jerusalem Bible.
On the one hand, it has been stated correctly by many gospel preachers that they can take a Roman Catholic Bible to show a Roman Catholic the errors of the Roman Catholic Church and to teach him the truth of what he must do to be saved. On the other hand, there are still some serious problems with most Catholic Bibles. All of them are translations of a translation. The Roman Catholic Church accepts only the Latin Vulgate as its official text of the Bible, so all Roman Catholic Bibles are translated from it, which in turn is translated from the original Hebrew and Greek. In addition, the Jerusalem Bible was originally made in French from the Latin and then translated into English. Again, the farther one gets away from the original, the less likely he is to be accurate because things get "lost in the translation." Furthermore, Roman Catholic translations have been notorious for interpolating Roman Catholic doctrine in their attempts to translate the Bible into English.
For example, in Philippians 1:1, the Jerusalem Bible has instead of bishops "presiding elders," which is, of course, how the organizational structure of the Roman Catholic Church began. The Bible makes no distinction between elders and bishops and says nothing about "presiding elders." In 2 Peter 1:20 it reads, "We must be careful to remember that the interpretation of scriptural prophecy is never a matter for the individual." This is certainly in harmony with the Roman Catholic tradition that the Bible is not for the common person to read and understand for himself but must be interpreted by the clergy. However, it is not at all what Peter was saying! He was talking about the origin of scripture, not our ability to read and understand it. Also at Matthew 16:18-20, the chapter heading, footnotes, and rendering all give Peter authority that Christ did not, saying that what Peter bound "shall be considered bound in heaven," rather than Peter binding what had already been bound in heaven. This is always where Roman Catholics go to prove that Peter was the first pope.
The point I want to make in closing this article is that while there have been many attempts to "translate" the Bible which include various biases and prejudices, as illustrated in the preceding paragraph, we still have access to reliable manuscripts by which we can determine what the original says and point out the errors that are made. Not all translations are good, and in the next article next of this series we shall examine some others that present problems. However, there are some good translations which can be used to learn what God has revealed to mankind. (—taken from With All Boldness; March, 2000; Vol. 10, No. 3; p. 15)