How Can We Call a Bible Translation “God’s Inerrant Word”?
This week on indoubt we had a conversation with our friend, Mark Ward, on his new book – Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible. If you’re at all interested in the history and relevance of the King James Bible today, give it a listen.
We also had Mark on the show with us just before Christmas – talking more generally about Bible translations. It was during this conversation that we asked this question:
“Mark, how can we reconcile the fact that the Bible is God’s inerrant, infallible Word (that’s what we’re told in church, Bible College, and so on), yet, in our hands, we’re actually reading a translation? How can we reconcile those two things? How can we say that what we’re holding when we’re holding the NIV or the ESV or whatever, is God’s inspired Word?”
Mark’s response was informative and helpful.
This is what he said:
That is a fantastic question, a very important one. And we need to make some careful distinctions here.
Going back into the earliest days of the church, Christians have read God’s words in translation. Actually, before the time of Jesus, Jewish believers were reading God’s words in translation. It’s called the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. That is what Jesus and Paul themselves, and the other apostles, quoted. When they quoted the Old Testament, they most frequently quoted this translation. It’s not a perfect translation. We can look at the Hebrew and the Greek and see places where the Septuagint erred.
It’s so important for believers in the One True God to have His words in their heart language, because Jesus said, “Go into all the nations and disciple them all. Teach them to observe everything I’ve commanded you.” That cannot be done unless the Bible is translated.
The mere fact that the Bible is in Hebrew and in Greek – Hebrew Old Testament, Greek New Testament – means that it has to be translated, because how many people in the world understand both of those languages?
As opposed to Islam, which has tended to view only the Arabic version of the Quran as truly God’s words, Christians have always held up a Bible in the pulpit and said, “This is God’s Word,” whether it’s in English or Urdu. We’ve always said that and we need to keep saying that, because insofar as the Bible is accurately translated, these are God’s words. We’ve always viewed them that way.
But the reality is that there is a difference between the ultimate standard, the Greek and Hebrew originals, and this proximate standard, the translations.
If you feel stuck, because you think, “Well I don’t read Greek and Hebrew, so how can I really, really know the ultimate standard?”, listen to the advice of Augustine from way back in the time of Jerome. Listen to the advice of Myles Coverdale who picked up William Tyndale’s translation after he died and finished it, and produced the first official English translation of the Bible in modern Europe, or actually ever. Listen to my advice. We all say the same thing, and that is
use multiple good translations.
Even if one of them is a shade not quite as helpful, the other ones are going to pick up the slack. By studying multiple ones, using that embarrassment of riches, you’ll be able to get all the meaning that the Holy Spirit intended for you.