Original Text versus Translations
Later we will discuss compelling evidences that indicate the careful preservation of the original Bible texts, the historical reliability of the accounts and the divine inspiration for the Scriptures, but that relates only to original texts.
Many translations have been made over the years. In the early
days of Christianity the Hebrew OT was usually read in a Greek
translation. As the church spread, the need for translations grew,
taking the sacred text into widely accepted languages as well as local
tongues. The Bible was
soon translated into Latin (the language of the
Hundreds of translations into English (estimated around 450) have been made over the years. Some of the best known are: the King James (KJV, 1611), the New International Version (NIV, 1978), the New King James (NKJV, 1982), the New American Standard Bible (NASB, 1971) and the English Standard Version (ESV, 2001). This large number of translations is usually grouped into three main categories:
Literal translations: These translate the original texts word for word into the best English equivalent words. These translations are sometimes also referred to as interlinear translations, placing the English rendering along side the original Hebrew and Greek. Although they are undoubtedly the most accurate translations, they can be difficult to read because the flow of language follows the original Hebrew and Greek, quite different from modern English. The NASB as well as the ESV are good examples of literal translations.
Dynamic equivalent translations: These translations attempt to be as literal as possible, but restructure sentences and grammar from the original language to English. They attempt to capture thought and intent of what writers wanted to say. As a result, these are more readable in English, but have a higher degree of subjective interpretation than the literal translations. These translations include the KJV, NKJV, and NIV.
Contemporary language translations: These translation paraphrase the thought and intent of the original text into contemporary English. The result is easy to read, but the text is largely a subjective interpretation of the translator. These versions, such as the well known The Message and The New Living Translation, should be approached with great care. Use them perhaps for supplementary readings, but be aware that these texts can (and often do) differ significantly from the original Bible texts.
Every translation requires interpretation. Why? Languages do not translate one on one. That is, not every word has a unique word to match it in the other language. Also some tongues are richer in expression than English (such as Greek) or smaller in vocabulary (such as Hebrew). A translator must interpret the original meaning and find an equivalent wording, but this makes the result subject to the biases of the translator. Bottom line: interpretations differ and errors can occur. When translations differ significantly, research into the original language can help clarify the message.
To complicate things a bit, a small number of NT verses are not supported by all ancient manuscripts; this forces translators to decide which verses to incorporate. Most translators are cautious to err on the safe side, and note for the reader any verse not supported by the majority of manuscripts.
As an illustration, following (table) is the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13 in the New International Version and the King James Version:
Table 8- 1 : All Translations are Interpretations
Apart from “old” English versus more modern English style, notice the two differences in the last verse:
“The evil one” versus “evil.” The KJV asks for deliverance from “evil” while the NIV asks to deliver us from “the evil one.” There is no little theological difference between the two. The original Greek text actually uses an adjective with an article, making “the evil one” the only correct translation. We pray to be delivered from the evil one, not from any danger, disaster or from the general ugliness of the world.
An extra sentence. Compared to the NIV, the KJV has an extra
sentence at the end: “For
thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever, Amen.”
This is a good illustration of a later addition to the oldest
preserved Greek manuscripts. As the NIV mentions in a footnote: “some
for yours is the kingdom and the
power and the glory forever. Amen.” Other points in the NT have
similar additions. None of these are of vital theological consequence,
but it is important to be aware of these variations.
Scholars and the Scriptures
Before diving into the evidence, this is a good point to reflect on how scholars in the last few centuries, and especially nowadays, approach the Scriptures.
A significant number of recognized Bible scholars, however surprising it might be, do not classify themselves as believing Christians. Many presume that supernatural events in the Bible cannot be true; hence, those documents cannot be reliable. This relates not only to recorded and later fulfilled prophecies but to miracles as well, and especially the resurrection. The general approach of these more liberal scholars is to declare miracles to be only legends and to date the writing of prophecy after its fulfillment. The underlying philosophy assumes “any Bible story/account to be false unless proved over and over again to be true.”
Just as evolutionary scientists reject evidence for an intelligent Creator, even so also secular, liberal scholars reject evidence for the supernatural events and prophecies as described in the Bible. Therefore, one should not be surprised to find large numbers of scholars reject the authorship and date of the Pentateuch (the first five Bible books) as well as the books of Joshua, Isaiah and Daniel in the Old Testament. These books contain important revelation (Pentateuch and Joshua) and prophecy (Isaiah and Daniel), so we will discuss evidence for their historical reliability in the next chapters.
For the New Testament the secular worldview of many scholars will drive them to claim that:
· None of the gospels was written by an eyewitness.
· All gospels are dated after 70 AD or even much later.
· All recorded miracles are mere legend.
· The resurrection never happened.
Most modern scholarly focus on the New Testament follows the so
called “third quest for the
and emphasize anchoring Jesus against the backdrop of His own time,
with special regard to the Jewish setting and context for His life and
teachings. This third quest, fueled by non-believing scholars, is
actually a quite positive development. Much of the gospel text is now
reliable” because of its consistency with what is now known
about first century
Another extreme group of scholars has united themselves as The Jesus Seminar under the leadership of ultra-radical scholars such as John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg (I mention these because these men often appear in documentaries presented by the Discovery Channel, the History Channel and so on, and their views are portrayed as the “consensus scholar opinion” about Scripture). Be aware, that this group is not at all representative of any significant segment of the scholarly community. Of the 74 members, only 14 have an established New Testament scholarly reputation; the rest are only students of the others. The sole reason the Jesus Seminar is worth mentioning is that it commands serious media attention, giving the impression that they represent the majority consensus. Not long ago, the Jesus Seminar published The Five Gospels. Here the four Biblical gospels are discussed together with the so called fifth gospel, the Gospel of Thomas. This last “gospel” is widely rejected by the vast majority of other scholars (we will discuss the Gospel of Thomas later in more detail). The Jesus Seminar has – using a voting system – marked all Jesus’ sayings in these “five gospels” with a color code, indicating the certainty of whether these were Jesus actual teachings: red if definitely, pink if probably, gray if perhaps, or black if definitely not. The result is dramatic: only 15 of Jesus’ sayings in the gospels are coded red, while 82% is rejected altogether. Again, this is only the opinion of this small group of liberal scholars. A group of evangelical scholars has written a response to the The Five Gospels titled Jesus under Fire  – an excellent rebuttal to the claims of the Jesus Seminar.
Recently the bestseller and 2006 movie The DaVinci Code set in motion a new wave of attacks on the New
Testament credibility. The story’s tabloid-like claims about Jesus
and Mary Magdalene are based on an extreme and liberal interpretation
of gnostic writings found in the Nag Hammadi in
The Nag Hammadi library also has started what some call The New School, including (non-Christian) scholars like Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman. This New School seeks to endow these newly discovered “gospels” with the same authority – or even more – than the NT gospels and letters, even though it can be demonstrated these documents were written much later and are not as credible because of gnostic, non-Christian influences. More about the Nag Hammadi library and some of its finds will be discussed in a later chapter.
Analyzing the Evidences for the Bible
How can we know that the stories we read in the Bible are not legendary accounts, but actual historical facts? And, is there any way we can know whether the Bible is not only factually accurate but also God’s word revealed to mankind?
To build the case for the historical reliability and divine inspiration of the Bible, we will study the following topics in subsequent chapters and throughout provide numerous exhibits:
Can We Trust the Witnesses?: Does a detailed analysis of the four gospels, Acts and Paul’s epistles using criteria for credibility and honesty provide us with more insights about the integrity of these writings?
Read on about: The Texts and Books of the Old Testament.
 William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, (1999), chapter 9.
 William L. Craig, Jesus under Fire (1995) chapter 1; Gary R. Habermas ,, The Historical Jesus (1996), chapter 1.
 The Five Gospels: What did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (1993), Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar .
 Michael Wilkins, J.P. Moreland (general editors): Jesus Under Fire, Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus (1995).
 Including: Carl Olson, Sandra Miesel: The DaVinci Hoax (2004); Erwin Lutzer, The DaVinci Deception (2004).
 Among others: Dr. Darrel L Bock, The Missing Gospels (2006).
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