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Basics For Understanding the Bible

It’s sometimes not as hard as we make it.... This note is not meant to be sarcastic (OK, a little, but delivered good-naturedly) .  Its g...

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Bible Translations and Manuscript Issues

A new Bible Translation, The Pure Word, is out. Looks interesting. I read a sample of its scholarship. Very helpful, but while being literal, it appears to me to fall short where other literal translations succeed.

I think it's a great complement to those works and a valuable resource, but not the end-all. The publishers recommend it be used as a complement to a readable version because it is awkward in English. Sounds good to me.

I'm a little disappointed that they kept apologizing to the KJV. One of the members of the committee was a KJV-only guy until he realized (as many have argued) it suffers from political and ecclesiastical compromises. They write that he wept when hit with the truth.

Rather than cry, he should praise God for delivering him from his false worship. Eh, I'll take all the kissing of the KJV as long as they acknowledge it's not inspired above the original manuscripts.

(I hope I can get a copy of the Pure Bible by the end of this year.)

I should say, in the example they give on the order page, they use at least one word I can't find in any Greek manuscript or in any literal translation. This piqued my interest.

I don't pretend to know Greek, but there are so many great resources, on occasion I've tried my hand at translating. You may have seen some of my attempts followed by "The Michael Scotto translation, which we do not recommend."


Since I commented on translations, I thought I'd share my very little knowledge on the subject. Big picture stuff. VERY generalized for those starting at square one.

There are essentially three kinds of translations: Literal (L), Dynamic Equivalence (DE), and Paraphrase (P). Many translations are a combination, leaning more one way than another. (Another phrase for the L is "formal equivalence," in case you ever see that.)

L- Literal (Formal Equivalence)
DE - Dynamic Equivalence
P - Paraphrase

The KJV, for example, is a literal translation (L). That is, it tries to translate the original manuscripts directly to English. If you'll notice, some words in the KJV (NKJV) are in italics. That's their way of saying they added words for English context. I'd say that reveals it has a slight bit of DE. There are certainly more "literal" translations (like Young's Literal), but the spirit of being L is in translations like the KJV. A slightly more readable L is the ASV (American Standard Version).

The NIV is a dynamic equivalence. That is, it takes the original text and arranges it more "dynamically" (changes it). They add more to try and have it communicate more closely to modern English. It attempts to give the "thought" behind the words, rater than the words themselves, while employing some of the words. Comparatively, The Good News Translation (GNT) is a looser DE than is the NIV (IMHO)

As we get farther away from the L, we are getting away from translations you would want to use for a "word study" or similar.

Finally, something like the New Living (NLT) or the Message Bible (MSG) would be a paraphrase. To me, they're more like commentaries. They might be helpful for reading comprehension, but certainly somebody's bias is present. I would not recommend P as a study Bible, but it may help with simple reading.

Some like the Holman (HCSB) are combo versions (L, DE in this case).

Here are some comparative examples:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was waste and void (ASV) L 
In the beginning, when God created the universe, the earth was formless and desolate (GNT) DE 
First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. (MSG) P 
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty (HCSB) L/DE allows you to see 56 different English translations. The continuity is sometimes amazing. has an "interlinear" option which shows you the original language and as you roll over the words you can see the English word used. If you click on the word, the Strong's Concordance definition (with others) comes up and you can see how many times it's used and how it is translated in other verses.

You will also see options for manuscripts. I'll give a big picture overview below.

Versions I use the most (in no order):

NKJV - New King James Version
NIV - New International Version
ESV - English Standard Version
ASV - American Standard Version
YLT - Young's Literal Translation
EBR - Rotherham's Emphasized Bible
KJV - King James Version
RSV - Revised Standard Version
DARBY - Darby Translation

That's certainly not exhaustive. I've recently started to check the MEV (Modern English Version)

I recommend The Companion Bible (which is KJV) which has excellent notes breaking down words and patterns in scripture. There is also a condensed version available online.

Finally, I HIGHLY recommend "How to Enjoy the Bible" which is an excellent resource for studying scripture written by a brilliant, yet humble scholar, E.W. Bullinger (DBG).

Used copies are very inexpensive: CLICK HERE


I've decided to go ahead and comment on manuscripts since I mentioned it. Believe me, this won't take long. I've read and listened to a bunch on this topic. I've read scary books about "New Age" texts, etc. But upon closer inspection, I've never really seen the reason for the hub bub.

[I won't go too deep into the Old Testament and New Testament. Just know that with the OT there exits a Greek version (the Septuagint) which is helpful with understanding how some Greek words can be used, but it is sometimes less reliable than Hebrew (Chaldean) Jewish texts (but only marginally so). The Septuagint, as with all honest translations, certainly can be called "the Word of God" in regard to the inspired books (not the Apocrypha). The Lord and the Apostles quoted from it in the New Testament Greek texts. ]

The differences that do exist in the accepted manuscript evidence do not affect any major doctrine (and really very few minor doctrines if we want to quibble). I'd even argue there are more "problems" among the English translations than among the bulk of the manuscript evidence (and really not much there). IMHO.

Compared to other ancient documents we take for granted as accurate (e.g. Greek philosophers), the biblical manuscripts are incredibly more numerous and reliable.

Here's pretty much what you need to know if you're just a beginner: there are essentially two sets of texts. The first represents the vast majority of what we have. These make up the "Majority" or "Byzantine" texts. You may hear of the Textus Recptus (TR) or the "Received Text." Well, the Majority Text is a compilation of medieval texts and the TR is similar (though not as complete). Although not interchangeable with "Byzantine", they're essentially the same for our purposes in regard to the different translations. When I use the interlinear function in StudyLight, I choose the Byzantine texts box (BYZ).

The Byzantine text is the form found in the largest number of surviving manuscripts, though not in the oldest.

We've now covered about 95% of available texts (Majority). So why bother with the rest? Well, the other texts (Minority) are older. So, you can see the value in being closer to the originals. Closer, but we know less about their origins. Some prefer the Minority as there is some concern the state church may have not protected (or corrupted) the TR over the centuries. Some of the TR draws from the Vulgate (Latin) which may have added material for "clarification" or simply commentary.

One of the reasons the TR is "younger" was the practice of preservation by which new copies were made and older copies used for study (thus wearing them out). Since we don't know for certain the origin of the Minority texts, we're left to compare them with the Majority texts (these comparisons are healthy).

There are a couple of stark differences, mostly in terms of omissions. Some of the Minority Texts do not have Mark 16, for example.

If you care, the prominently used Minority texts are the Neste-Aland; the Westcott-Hort'; and Syriac-Peshitta. You may also hear of the "Alexandrian" texts. This is essentially to distinguish from the "Byzantine" texts.

Whatever translation you use will probably note the primary text used. It may also list differences in texts in the notes. Again, The Companion Bible (KJV) has a number of these notes. As noted in my last missive, I look at a lot of English translations taken from different texts, and I've never really seen a great chasm. Again, the problems I've seen in the English arise mostly from the prejudice of the translators. The fear-mongering from some quarters (from either side) is unwarranted, in my opinion. I wouldn't trust a translation solely from the Vulgate or from The Codex Vaticanus (kept in the Vatican library) primarily because we can verify neither outside a Catholic frame.

I believe John Darby saw the original Codex Vaticanus (CV) on a visit to Rome, but mostly what we have are reprints from the Catholic Church. It's all in Greek. I believe Westcott and Hort (WH) relied heavily on printed texts of the CV. Some say it differs "significantly" from the TR, but I leave that to others who have done far more extensive work than I. In my experience (admittedly anecdotal), I have seen translations from the BYZ, TR, and WH be used to glorify the finished work. Perhaps if I looked further, I would find more problems with the WH. But as of today, I would not speak authoritatively on its veracity or lack thereof.

Finally, the worst the Enemy has ever done to attack the Word of God has been done by people purposefully mistranslating it into English. The problem is not with the original texts themselves. And even if we had a perfect English translation, man and his traditions would twist it and use it to deceive. The people who worship the KJV never bother to note that so many heretics and false teachers use it (I've called it the Heretic's Bible of Choice). Not the KJV's fault, but the translation won't keep people from mishandling the Bible.

Satan and Eve both had the pure Word of God; but one twisting it and the other not believing it was the problem. It wasn't the text. As has been said, it's not the few differences that should trouble people, it is the clear declaration of what the manuscripts do teach that men should consider. These make up what men reject. They may use the manuscript differences as their excuse, but it is a rejection of light which lies at the core of their rebellion.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The
light shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not comprehend it... And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."
-John 1:1-5; 3:19

Some used Companion Bibles out there, but I've linked free online versions above. The appendices in the back of the book are readily available in many places. If you want a hard copy, try:

Used Companion Bible: CLICK HERE
The Appendices to the Companion Bible: CLICK HERE

Addendum: Just a note on the Minority texts. The primary problem is that no one knows about theor origins, who did the translation or why. They are all incomplete. They are older, but we have no way to tell what method they used. The TR texts are not as old (by design), but have been "received" from older translations utilizing a very strict method of copying. The layers of protection were known. A major change would be easily detected. This is not true of the older Minority texts. God does preserve His word. I feel more confident this is true of the Byzantine texts.

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