Reasons to Trust the Bible: Unpacking Bible Translation
In this series, we embark on a journey to explore fundamental questions about the Bible's reliability, and to start, we delve into the intricacies of Bible translation.
Bridging Language and Meaning
Do our English translations of the Bible from its original language into our language accurately reflect the original Bible texts, or is it saying things the original never did?
Now, this is no small matter. Translating the Bible from ancient languages like Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek into modern English requires a meticulous approach. Most of us aren't fluent in the original biblical languages, and this raises essential questions about the trustworthiness of our English translations.
The first obstacle to overcome is the question of whether translation is even possible. We must convert ancient scripts like this:
"Μὴ θησαυρίζετε ὑμῖν θησαυροῦς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, ὅπου σὴς καὶ βρῶσις ἀφανίζει, καὶ ὅπου κλέπται διορύσσουσιν καὶ κλέπτουσιν· θησαυρίζετε δὲ ὑμιν θησαυροὺς ἐν οὐρανῷ, ὅπου οὔτε σὴς οὔτε βρῶσις ἀφανίζει, καὶ ὅπου κλέπται οὐ διορύσσουσιν οὐδὲ κλέπτουσιν· ὅπου γάρ ἐστιν ὁ θησαυρός σου, ἐκεῖ ἔσται καὶ ἡ καρδία σου,"
into a comprehensible message, such as:
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matt. 6:19–21)
Translation is, without a doubt, a challenging endeavor that demands extensive knowledge of both the source and target languages. It involves understanding the essence of words or sentences and crafting an equivalent meaning using different words to make it accessible to a different audience.
Scholars have devoted centuries to the study of Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and English, and their expertise allows them to perform accurate translations between these languages.
You may wonder why there are so many Bible translations and whether they cast doubt on the original message. In truth, while different translations may use distinct words to convey the same Greek or Hebrew phrase, they do not leave us uncertain about the original message.
For instance, consider Mark 10:50 and its translation by various English Bibles. In its original Greek form: "ὁ δὲ άποβαλῶν τὸ ἱμάτιον αὐτοῦ ἀναπηδήσας ἦλθεν πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν."
Several English translations render it differently, yet the essence remains unmistakable:
- English Standard Version: "And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus."
- New American Standard Bible: "Throwing aside his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus."
- New International Version: "Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus."
- New Revised Standard Version: "So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus."
- King James Version: "And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus."
Despite variances in these translations, the action described is evident. The man swiftly removes his outer garment, rises, and approaches Jesus. Different translations do not obscure the original message. In fact, comparing multiple translations often provides a clearer understanding of the text.
While certain words and phrases pose translation challenges, it's important to remember the following:
- Scholars have substantial disagreements about the translation of only a tiny fraction of words or phrases in the Bible. These instances represent a minuscule portion of any given biblical book.
- When disagreements or uncertainties arise, reputable translations include footnotes, providing alternative interpretations or indicating when the meaning of the original language is uncertain.
- The abundance of scholarly translations aids in identifying and rejecting misleading translations. Such diversity helps ensure the preservation of major doctrines of orthodox Christianity.
The multiple translations serve different purposes, allowing readers to choose between strict, word-for-word translations and more readable, phrase-for-phrase approaches. Rather than causing doubt, these variations provide a comprehensive view, enhancing our understanding.
As we continue this series, we'll address more questions that help us build confidence in the Bible's reliability. Alongside exploring these questions, we must examine our own commitment to trusting the Bible. It's essential to value the truth of God's Word and incorporate it into our daily lives, for, as Jesus said, the truth will set us free.