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New Testament Survey

Bible Translations



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With this background, a brief word is in order on the topic of Bible translations. You must understand that the Bible is the most documented work in the history of the ancient world. While our focus will be on the New Testament, the same proofs and arguments may be found for the Old Testament.

 The New Testament was originally written in Greek, the “world language” of the time. Today there exists over 24,000 New Testament ancient manuscripts, of which over 5,300 are Greek. Compared to other ancient manuscripts, the weight of authority favors the accuracy and reliability of the Bible manuscripts. For example, only 643 copies of Homer’s Iliad exist today. Homer wrote in about B.C. 900, but the most ancient manuscript dates only to B.C. 400. In comparison, the Rylands Fragment containing the Gospel of John dates to within less than 40 years of the actual writing of the Gospel. If one were to compare the manuscripts, noting differences, the Bible is 98-99% accurate, while the Iliad is only about 95% accurate. 2. In other words, there is little doubt about the basic concepts of God’s Word being authentic.

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Keep in mind the meaning of accuracy here. We all know that all Scripture is inspired by God. This means the original manuscripts were 100% accurate. Over time, with all of the hand copying which was done, there were errors which entered into the copies. This is because the copies were from men. So when we speak of the accuracy of the manuscripts, we are referring to the composite accuracy when all existing manuscripts are considered and compared.

So, then, why so many translations? This is a complex question. One answer is that in this day and age, the economy drives some decisions. Publishers each want a Bible they can sell with unique notes. This has added to the list of translations and to the over abundance of study Bibles. But I want to, at least, suggest to you that there is no one “good” translation. The issues involve many difficult concepts which are present in any language-to-language translation. For example, how does one recognize slang? And, how do you translate it? Or, for that matter, what about terms that have changed their meaning over the centuries

Further, there are in the scholarly community differences of opinion over which old manuscripts, if any, should be given priority when there are differences in the Greek texts. How does one solve such a problem? Do you use the majority? Or some other method? What other methods are there? All of these questions give rise to emotional debates. The books on each side are often written with much sarcasm and ridicule. Many of the conclusions on all sides are subjective in nature. There is much about the Greek language, the early manuscripts, and the culture that is unknown. In other words, there are no finite answers to many of these questions.

Remember that the intent of most translating committees does involve an attempt to be faithful to the Word of God. After careful study, it is my opinion that there are so few actual differences, and no doctrinal differences, between the key, major translations that it makes no difference which version of the Bible you use. For this purpose, I would define major translations as being the King James (KJV), the New King James (NKJV), the New American Standard (NASB), and the New International (NIV).

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There is also a new translation, the New English Translation or NET. This title was adopted because this translation was first published solely online at the translator’s WEB site. Since it is available for free, there seems to be no commercial intent behind the translation. The translating group are graduates or professors from Dallas Theological Seminary, the school where Chuck Swindoll is now President. The Southern Baptist Convention and Broadman-Holman Publishers have recently announce a new translation which is to be available about 2002.

Keep in mind as well that the idea of translations is not new. What is new is the large number which have arisen in a comparably short time mixed with the controversy over the King James versus other translations. Look at the list:

A List of Translations of the Bible

Greek translation
of Old Testament

Septuagint (c. 250 b.c.)

Taverner Bible

(1539)

The Holy Bible

Knox (1944-1955)

Latin Vulgate

Jerome (c. A.D. 400)

Greek New Testament

Stephanus (1550)

Revised Standard Version Old Testament,

Apocrypha (1952)

Anglo-Saxon

Paraphrases (c. 700-1000)

Greek New Testament

Beza (1557)

NT in Plain English

  Williams (1952)

Gospel of John

Bede (735)

Geneva Bible (1560)

Confraternity Bible

(1952, 1955)

9th-century Bible mss

Oldest known until 1947

Bishops Bible (1568)

The Authentic New Testament

Schonfield (1955)

English Bible

Wycliffe (c. 1380-1384)

Rheims NT (1582)

NT in Modern English, Phillips (1958)

Printed Latin Bible

Gutenberg (c. 1456-1457)

Douay OT (1610)

The Modern Language Bible

Berkeley (1959)

Printed Hebrew OT

(1482)

King James Bible [KJV]

(1611)

The Amplified Bible (1958-1965)

Printed Greek NT

Erasmus (1516)

Textus Receptus

(1624)

Anchor Bible (1964)

German NT

Luther (1522)

Important Manuscripts Discovered (1840)

The New Jewish Version

Printed English NT Tyndale (1525, 1535)

English Pentateuch

English Revised NT [RV] (1881)

JPS (1962-1982)

Printed Latin Bible

Pagninus (1528)

English Revised OT [RV] (1885)

New American Standard Bible [NASB] (1966)

German OT

Luther (1534)

Papyri Discovered (1897)

Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Printed English Bible

Coverdale (1535)

American Standard Version [ASV] (1901)

New English Bible [NEB] (1970)

Matthew’s Bible (1537)

Weymouth New Testament (1902)

New American Bible [NAB] (1970)

Great Bible

(1539)

Centenary New (1904)

The Living Bible (1971)

 

English Old Testament

Jewish Publication Society [JPS] (1917)

Good News Bible [TEV] (1976)

 

Papyri Discovered (1930)

New International Version [NIV] (1979)

 

Moffatt Bible (1924-1926-1935)

Reader’s Digest Bible (1982)

 

Smith-Goodspeed Bible (1927, 1935)

JPS Tanakh [OT] (1985)

 

Revised Standard Version

New Testament (1946-1952)

New Kings James Version [NKJV] (1982)

 

Confraternity New Testament

Roman Catholic (1946)

New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

 

Dead Sea Scrolls Discovered (1947)

 

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How is the Canon important to you?

One of the great causes of the Reformation was a desire to allow the people and not just the priests to read the Bible in their own language. Luther and others immediately set about translating the Bible into German, French, Swiss, and other languages. Today the Bible is translated into over 2100 different languages.

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For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Hebrews 4:12

Footnotes:
2. McDowell, Josh, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Volume 1, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1972, 1979, Chapter 4, Pages 39ff.
3. Geisler, Normal L., and Nix, William E., A General Introduction to the Bible, Revised and Expanded, Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1986.

 

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