The History of the Bible
Revelation 1:11 (NKJV)
11 saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and, “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”
What is the Word of God?
How important is it to you personally?
Are the Scriptures the sole, ultimate authority for your faith and life?
While the Bible is the Word of God, it goes without saying that there are many different views of the Bible in today’s world. It is my belief that for the Christian, there is only ONE proper view of Scripture. THE BIBLE IS THE WORD OF GOD!
The Bible represents the written revelation of God given to mankind as a means of learning about God, sin, mankind, creation, and a variety of other things ("doctrines") for which we all crave knowledge. Written by over 40 different authors over a 1600-year period, the Bible is written in varying literary styles and types. The Bible is a single work, unified in its story - and that story is the salvation of God to fallen, sinful man through His Son, Jesus. The entire Bible, at least from Genesis 3:15 through the end of the book of Revelation, is about Jesus Christ.
Our word Bible comes from the Greek biblion, meaning book or roll. The word "scripture(s)" comes from the Greek graphe, meaning writing. The original manuscripts were written in Hebrew (the common language of the Jewish people), Aramaic (the common language of the Near East until about B.C. 300 and the language of the Jewish exile), and Greek, the common world language during the first century.
I hold the view that the original manuscripts or autographs of the Holy Bible were without error (“inerrant”). I also believe that there are many good translations in circulation today. The original Old Testament was written almost entirely in Hebrew, although a few sections were written in Aramaic. The original New Testament was written in Greek.
Over the centuries, both the Old and New Testaments have been translated into numerous languages. And, in many languages, such as English, there is more than one good translation.
In discussing the application of the Bible to our lives, we must understand the differences in terms used to describe how the Bible originated and operates in our lives.
Revelation refers to the content of God&s truth as it was revealed to the Old Testament and New Testament authors of Scripture.
Inspiration refers to the accurate transmission of that content to men, first verbally (as with the prophets) and then in written form (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20, 21).
Canonization refers to the recognition and collection of those inspired books into an agreed upon collection, the “canon,” the Bible.
Illumination refers to the understanding of the Bible&s message. This is primarily an action that occurs only in the lives of believers. Unbelievers can only experience this work as it pertains to His convicting ministry in relation to the gospel message (John 16:8-11).
How did God produce the Bible?
God through the Holy Spirit caused the writers of Scripture to record exactly what God wanted recorded. He did not do this by dictation, but through the movement of thoughts and actions, to produce manuscripts written in the personality and language of the authors.
There are, of course, several theories presented as to how inspiration occurred.
The theory of "natural inspiration" says there is no supernatural element. Great men, who often erred, wrote the Bible.
Some believe in a theory of "partial inspiration." Here, the Bible contains God&s words but man must sort through the verses, "demythologize them," to find those that have been inspired by God. The rest are man&s creation and may be in error
Some find the thoughts of Scripture to be inspired but do not find the actual words used are to be inspired. This is called "conceptual inspiration." The concepts are from God but there are factual and scientific errors in the bible.
Some believe in a theory of "dictation." The writers passively recorded God&s words without any participation of their own styles or personalities. If so, God must be a Person of many personalities, for a simple reading of the Bible will demonstrate a wide range of styles and personalities.
The theory of verbal, plenary inspiration means that all of the actual words of the Bible are inspired and without error. This fits the Bible&s own description.
What views or evidence may we put forth for the concept of verbal, plenary inspiration?
Well, first, the Bible claims it for itself.
- 2 Timothy 3:16
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
Second, this is the method described in/by the Bible.
- The writings are "God-breathed" (2 Tim. 3:16). "God-breathed" is the literal translation of the word the NKJV and KJV translate as "inspired."
- The writings are "spirit-enabled"
- 2 Peter 1:20, 21
20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
- This verse also shows that God-superintended the writers as well as their writings
Third, Scripture shows the interaction of "God-Spirit-Man" in the preparation of Scripture. For example
- Zechariah 7:12
“Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the Lord of hosts. (NKJV)
- Acts 4:24-25
24 So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them,25 “who by the mouth of Your servant David have said (NKJV).
It is true that God used several methods in the inspiration of Scripture. These include direct dictation (Deut 9:10), human research (Ecclesiastes; Luke 1:1-4), and spoken revelation (Gal 1:12). These methods show that God was in control of the recording of His Word. Scripture also teaches that not only was He in control, but that the actual inspiration of Scripture is "verbal."
- 1 Corinthians 2:12-13
12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (NKJV)
- Galatians 3:16
Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. (NKJV)
The Bible comes from God. It is God&s instruction book to us on how we re-create our relationship with God. Only God could provide this revelation to us.
We have already noted that the Bible was written by at least 40 authors over a period of some 1600 years. These authors came from different backgrounds and levels of learning. They performed a variety of different tasks while they lived. Yet, they all had two things in common. They shared a deep love of God and they faithful recorded His Words.
The original manuscripts of the Bible were written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. None of the original manuscripts exist today. The Jewish nation so revered the Holy Writing that as the scrolls wore out, they were buried so the Nation would not desecrate God&s Word. Further, God knows that man would turn the scrolls themselves into idols. So, God under took to direct man&s steps so that no original copies were preserved. God&s Word even provides an example of this type of behavior.
The list of books included in the Bible is referred to as the "canon." Canon is a transliteration of a Greek word that means rule, rod, or straight line. In other words, the books of the Bible are the "straight line of God." Other works that might claim some divine origin are not part of this straight line. Being crooked, they do not represent God&s truth.
The Canon, then, is the collection of 66 books properly recognized by the church as the complete authoritative scriptures not to be added to or subtracted from. In general, certain semi-specific tests could be used to determine the Canon.
- Does the work carry the concept of being authoritative ("Thus saith the Lord"?)
- Is the work prophetic, that is, does the author set forth the "claim" of being a "a man of God" (2 Peter 1:20)? A book in the Bible must have the authority of a spiritual leader of Israel (Old Testament - prophet, king, judge, and scribe) or an apostle of the church (New Testament - an original apostle. This does not have to mean an Apostle actually wrote the book; merely that it is connected to an Apostle in some fashion. Likewise, the same may be said for the books of the Old Testament.).
- Is the book fully consistent with other revelation of truth?
- Does the book change lives?
- Has it been received, accepted and used by the nation of Israel and / or the Church? This test is not as simple as it may sound. Remember there were no copy machines in those days. All of the manuscripts were hand copied. And while for most of its life, the nation of Israel had the Tabernacle or the Temple as a storehouse for the Old Testament scrolls, much of the New Testament is a series of letters written to the early Church and circulated between cities.
How was the Canon actually formed? God the Holy Spirit formed the Canon (2 Peter 1:20-21). But, man being man, had to go through the motions of "forming" the Canon so as to ultimately accept which books God meant to have in Scripture. Here are but a few of the highlights:
- As far as the Old Testament goes, the books were probably collected by Ezra and appear to be intact by about 250 B.C. when they are translated into Greek.
- The New Testament refers to Old Testament books as "scripture" (Matt.21:42, as an example).
- The Council of Jamnia (A.D. 90) recognized our 39 Old Testament books.
- Josephus (A.D. 95) indicated that the 39 Old Testament books were recognized a authoritative.
- The early church determined the New Testament books (see below).
- The apostles claimed authority for their writings (1 Thess.5:27)
- The apostle&s writings were equated with Old Testament Scriptures (2 Pet.3:2, 15, 16).
- We have seen that the controversy with Marcion forced the church to define its view of the Canon.
- The Council of Athenasius (A.D. 367) and the Council of Carthage (A.D. 397) recognized the 27 books in our New Testament today as inspired.
As we saw last week, by A.D. 200-250, the church generally accepted the following works as part of the New Testament:
- Four Gospels
- 13 Letters of Paul
- 1 Peter
- 1 John
- Revelation of Peter
- Shepherd of Hermas
It became clear over time that the Revelation of Peter and the Shepherd of Hermas were frauds. The other letters were accepted in some areas but not in others. Differences mainly existed on books circulated in the “West” verses those circulated in the “East.” The two church councils mentioned above concluded the matter as far as the New Testament is concerned.
From a practical viewpoint, six factors probably led to the actual development of the Canon by the Church.
By A.D. 100, the Apostles had all died and the oral tradition was becoming corrupt. The church needed and wanted a set of authoritative documents.
Custom was to read some portion of Scripture during the service. The church understood the need not to read unauthorized documents as though they were Holy.
Marcion forced them to consider what books should be in the Canon.
The Montanists claimed ongoing revelation. This tendency needed to be fought. The church fought the Montanists by claiming revelation had ceased. This meant the church needed to define what was that revelation.
New Testament apocryphal works were appearing. These needed to be set aside as not being part of the revelation.
Persecution also led to a need to define the Scriptures.
It should be noted that in 1546 the Roman Catholic Church accepted certain books generally referred to as the apocrypha as being part of the Bible. Protestants do not accept these books as part of the Canon. Among the major reasons for not accepting these books is that they frequently contradict parts of the Old Testament. Further, there are other "gospels" and letters written after Christ. They claim to contain other knowledge about Jesus. They, too, are not part of the Canon, for they have no apostolic origin, nor are they consistent with the other books of Scripture, Old or New.
It should be noted that the apocrypha is never quoted as authoritative in scriptures. Further in Matthew 23:35, Jesus says that the close of Old Testament historical scripture was the death of Zechariah (400 B.C.). This excludes any books written after Malachi and before the New Testament.
The Catholic position came, at least in part, as a response to the Reformation. The move was relatively easy, for although not declaring them as inspired, Jerome included these books in his Latin translation, the Vulgate, which served as the prime Roman Catholic Bible until recently.
The books of the apocrypha are as follows:
- Letter of Jeremiah (317 B.C.)
- Tobit (250-175 B.C.)
- Baruch (200 B.C.-A.D. 70)
- Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) (190 B.C.)
- Additions to Esther (180-145 B.C.)
- Judith (175-110 B.C.)
- Song of the Three Children (167-163 B.C.)
- 1 Esdras (150 B.C.)
- Bel and the Dragon (150-100 B.C.)
- Prayer of Manasseh (150-50 B.C.)
- Wisdom of Solomon (150 B.C.-A.D. 40)
- 1 Maccabees (103-63 B.C.)
- 2 Maccabees (100 B.C.)
- Susanna (100 B.C.)
- 2 Esdras (A.D. 70-135
The Hebrew Bible was written on stone, clay and leather. Most scrolls were leather (animal skins). Ezra the priest most likely was responsible for gathering and arranging all of the books of the Hebrew Bible around 450 BC. The Hebrew Scriptures were originally arranged in three groups, the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (or Psalms). When compared to our Old Testament, there were fewer books, for books such as 1 & 2 Kings were a single volume. The older arrangement was not as straightforward as might be expected. Daniel, for example, was part of the Writings, not part of the prophets. Over time, the order of the Hebrew Scriptures evolved to match that of our Old Testament.
The Old Testament Scriptures were translated into Greek starting in 250 BC. Jewish Scholars imported from Jerusalem did this in Alexandria Egypt. The translation was brought about because of the large Jewish community in the region who spoke Greek or other languages but not Hebrew. The translation is called the Septuagint (Greek meaning “70”). Tradition says that 70 or 72 scholars did the translation in 70 days. Historical records suggest the translation was an on-going event taking, perhaps, a hundred years. The name is often abbreviated as LXX, the Roman numeral for seventy. This is the first known translation of the Bible.
During the time of Jesus papyrus became the preferred writing material. This is a plant that is cut into strips that are pressed into sheets of writing materials forming either scrolls or codex (books).
The earliest translations of the New Testament were into Latin, Coptic (Egypt), and Syriac (Syria), occurring between A.D. 200-300. The consistency of the use of the books is suggested by the fact that Origen lists 21 “approved” books while Eusebius lists 22. Constantine who legalizes Christianity in A.D. 313 spread the works throughout the Roman Empire. The Council of Carthage finally approves the standard of 27 books in A.D. 397.
Jerome’s translation of the Scriptures into Latin was commenced in 410. It took Jerome 25 years to make the entire translation. As mentioned above, this translation is known as the Vulgate.
Starting about this period, the Jewish Rabbis form a group known as the Masoretes. This group was charged with developing a critical text of the Hebrew Scriptures to assure their accuracy. Working for the next 600 years, this group developed a meticulous system of counting the number of words and letters in each book of the Old Testament and on each copied page. This system allowed for accuracy checks on the copied works. Any copied work containing an error was buried.
The Hebrew written language to this point was composed of 22 letters of consonants only. This Masoretes added vowels to the language by “pointing” the text with dots and lines to symbolize the spoken vowels. The accuracy of their work was verified with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the late 1940’s. Portions of all OT books but Esther have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls also help to verify the accuracy of the Septuagint.
As far as English translations are concerned, we must start with the history of England. Christianity appears to have reached England by A.D. 300, but the Anglo-Saxon pagans drove the Christians into Wales (450 -600). In 596, Augustine of Canterbury began to evangelize Britain again. In 676, an illiterate monk named Caedmon retold portions of the Scriptures in Old English poetry and song. Other translations of portions of Scripture were made by Aldhelm of Sherborne (709), Bebe (735), Alfred the Great (871-901), Aldred, Bishop of Durham (950), and Aelfric (955-1020).
In 1066, the Normans conquer England and French becomes the official language. No further English translations of the Scripture occur until the 1300s. The language we now call Middle English emerged in literary works in the early 1300s (such as Canterbury Tales).
In 1382 the first English Bible is translated from the Latin Vulgate by the Lollards. It is named in honor of the original leader of this group, John Wycliffe. The Bible included Wycliffe’s criticisms of the then existing church practices. This Bible is banned in England and burned. Forty years after his death, Wycliffe’s bones were exhumed and burned for heresy for his part in the translation effort.
England makes it illegal to translate or read the Bible in common English without the permission of a church bishop in 1408.
Gutenberg invents the printing press in 1455. The Gutenberg Bible is the first book to be printed. It is the Latin Vulgate version.
A Greek scholar, Erasmus, publishes a new Greek edition of the Bible and a more accurate Latin translation of the New Testament in 1516. This Greek text is underlying text on which the King James Version New Testament is translated. Erasmus had access to only a half dozen or so manuscripts, none of which were complete. In fact, in places, the combined manuscripts were incomplete, such as Revelation 22:19 or 1 John 5:7-8. So here, Erasmus turned to the Latin New Testament. He translated the Latin back into Greek which the translation committee formed under King James of England then translated into English.
In 1522 Martin Luther translates the New Testament into German. In 1525 William Tyndale translates the New Testament into English. He cannot get his work published in England and moves to Germany, where he published the Old Testament in English in 1535. The Bibles are smuggled into England. Tyndale’s translations are from the original languages (Greek and Hebrew). Tyndale is burned at the stake in 1536. Much of his vocabulary and style will remain in all the following translations of the English Bible, earning him the nickname “Father of the English Bible.” His translation forms the basis of the King James translation.
Other English translations are made:
The Coverdale Bible in 1535 – this is the first complete Bible to be printed in England
The Matthew’s Bible in 1537 – this is the first Bible to be published with the king’s permission. The New Testament is strongly based upon Tyndale’s translation.
The Great Bible in 1539 – this version is placed in every church and is based upon Matthew’s Bible by order of Thomas Crammer archbishop under King Henry VIII. These are chained to the church pillars to prevent their theft.
Mary ascends to the throne and in 1555 bans English translations and burns Thomas Crammer at the stake. Exiles from England flee to Switzerland and print the Geneva Bible in 1560. This is a complete revision of the Great Bible. This Bible contains theological notes from Protestant scholars John Calvin, Beza, Knox, and Whittingham making it the first study Bible. The 1640 edition of this Bible is the first to omit the Apocrypha.
The Bishops Bible in 1568 – this is translated under Queen Elizabeth by the Church of England as an answer to the Geneva Bible.
Rheims-Douai Bible in 1582-1609 is a translation into English from the Latin Vulgate.
The King James Version is published in 1611. It is called the authorized version although James 1 never authorized or placed his royal approval on the finished version.
Erasmus& text went through five editions. Others took up where he left off, but essentially kept the text virtually the same. One of the editions of Theodore Beza, done in the late 1500s, constituted the text behind the King James NT. By 1550 the third edition of Stephanus& Greek text included in the margin textual variants from several witnesses, but the text was still largely that of Erasmus. By 1633 this text had gone through some more minor changes, but was stable enough that the edition published by the Elzevirs was called in the preface the "the text now received by all," or the Textus Receptus. Interestingly, this was more publishers& hype than consensus, for many if not most New Testament scholars of the time had long noted the inherent weaknesses in this text.
It should be noted that the King James underwent some three published revisions. Erasmus& text as well as the text of the English translation contained scores of footnotes and marginal readings on possible alternative meanings and textual difficulties. Some of these were incorporated into subsequent revisions. The edition most used today was the 1769 revision.
The 1800s saw great discoveries of additional manuscripts. Today there exists over 24,000 New Testament 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. As will be noted below, the oldest New Testament manuscript is part of John’s Gospel dating to A.D. 110-125. If one were to compare the manuscripts, noting differences, the Bible is 98-99% accurate, while the Iliad is only about 95% accurate.
Two British scholars, Westcott and Hort, undertook a study of these manuscripts and in 1881 published their own text of the Greek New Testament. Their critical text was based upon a long string of preunderstandings about the original of various manuscripts.
What Westcott and Hort&s study did was to prove that there were, generally speaking, families of texts. If two copies were made in Jerusalem, one being sent to Antioch and the other to Alexandria, Egypt, one could assume that each was identical. But then scribes in both locations copied and copied and recopied these texts. Over time, human errors were made. But the scribes in Antioch made different errors than the ones in Alexandria. Subsequent copies reflect these errors. Over the 1400 years before the printing press eliminated some of these problems, new family lines were created, i.e. copies sent to Rome were recopied with new errors being introduced. Westcott and Hort analyzed the manuscripts and assigned them to families. Rather than following the majority of manuscripts (number wise), they "recreated" the ancestors. Using a variety of assumptions as to how errors occurred, they created a set of rules for choosing between the variances in these ancestors. On this basis, it is clear that all of Erasmus& texts belonged to what Westcott and Hort called the Byzantine manuscript family or text. This text, according to the study, was itself probably a critical text created about 400 or 500 AD.
Today there are manuscripts of a much early age available for study to which Erasmus did not have access. One fragment of the gospel of John has been dated to 110-125 A.D. Since John wrote between 90-100 A.D., this is a very early copy, perhaps a first generation copy. Such close copies are unheard of when one looks at secular manuscripts. This just adds to the miracle of the survival and authentication of the Bible.
Which leads to the second important event, a discovery in 1885 by Adolf Deissman. His single volume, Bible Studies, revolutionized much critical thought. In this volume, Deissman discussed his reading of early Greek manuscripts - not biblical texts but letters, business contracts, receipts, marriage contracts. What Deissman conclude was that these papyri contained the common Greek language of the first century, the same vocabulary as is used in the New Testament! This is the first modern scholarly study of parallel language to the NT. It dispelled the view that the Greek of the NT was a language invented by the Holy Spirit. Since the NT is written in the language of the people, the people will be able to understand it.
For example, Christ&s Words "It is finished" (John 19:30) is also found on receipts and means "paid in full!" The death on the Cross paid our sin debts in full. They were not just canceled or annulled but PAID IN FULL.
Also, words at which the KJV translators had merely guessed now had meaning. John 3:16&s "only begotten" really means "one and only" or "unique."
These are the type of factors that have created an abundance of new translations of God&s Holy Word. The modern critical texts used by most scholars for study are the result of pain staking work based, in the case of the NT, on the initial work of Westcott and Hort.
It should be noted that there are a group of scholars who would still use the "majority text," that is, the composite text prepared on nothing more than numbers. In the last decade a handful of scholars has risen in protest of textual criticism as normally practiced. In 1977 Pickering advocated that the wording of the New Testament autographs was faithfully represented in the majority of extant Greek manuscripts. This view had been argued in one form or another since John W. Burgon in 1883 sought to dismantle single-handedly the Westcott-Hort theory. To be sure, the Majority Text stands much closer to the Textus Receptus than it does to the critical text. According to one writer&s count there are 6,577 differences between the Majority Text and the critical text. But that does not tell the whole story. Not by a long shot.
One might note the following when discussing "errors" in the various manuscripts. Out of the 150,000 variants, only 400 materially alter the sense. Among these no more than about 50 have real importance for any reason whatever; and even in the case of these 50, not one touches on any article of faith or any moral commandment not forcibly supported by other entirely clear passages, or by the teaching of the Bible as a whole. The Textus Receptus (Received Test) of Stephanus, Beza and Elzevir and our present versions teach exactly the same Christianity as the oldest manuscripts."
So then, one might ask, why if all this is true, do we have differing interpretation of passages? Why do we have so many different Bible versions?
Does anyone here speak a foreign language? Does anyone here have a lot of contact with teenagers? For that matter, consider the problems of talking to someone in a completely differing line of work - "geeks" have a different set of slang phrases from medical doctors.
The problem of language lies in both the meaning of words and the use to which they are placed, their context. "To strike" means one thing in a fist fight, but something different in baseball or some other sports (strike the football with the foot, not with a bat), and yet "to strike" has still another meaning in a labor dispute.
If Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible as tradition holds, and if scholars& timelines are accurate, Moses wrote these books during the Exodus that occurred between approximately 1445 BC and 1405 BC, that is, almost 3500 years ago. What kinds of "slang" did they have then? Consider some of the archaic problems of the King James:
- charity in 1 Corinthians 13 means "love"
- bowels in Philippians 1:8; 2:1; Colossians 3:12 means tender mercies or tenderhearted affections
What about today&s slang, how will it be viewed a thousand years from now (assuming Christ tarries that long)? As my daughter would say, cool man.
This is where historical, cultural, and ancient language studies play such an important role in our understanding of the Scriptures.
Formal versus Dynamic
So then, how do translators approach these problems? This is part of the issue that leads to multiple versions. Most people today, if asked what makes for a faithful translation of the Bible would say that it should be a word-for-word account. If the original has a noun, one would expect a noun. If the original had sixteen words, they expect to see sixteen words in the translated sentence. This is call "formal equivalence." The King James, the American Standard, and the New American Standard versions are the translations that come closest to this ideal.
At the other end of the spectrum is the dynamic equivalence or phrase-for-phrase translation. If my daughter wrote her phrase "cool man," a translator using the formal equivalence approach might translate it as a cool or cold man. But one using the dynamic approach would use words meaning neat or awesome or ok, depending upon the context. The dynamic equivalence approach is not so much concerned about the grammatical form of the original language as it is about the meaning of the original. This approach is, by nature, more interpretive, but it is easier to understand. To a great extent the NIV is a dynamic equivalent translation, although the New English Bible is a better example.
In reality, no translation can be completely formal or dynamic. For example, in the King James, the Hebrew in places such as Psalm 76:7 and 1 Kings 11:96 and 17:18 literally reads "God&s nostrils enlarged." KJV translates this phrase as "God became angry," an example of dynamic equivalence. Another example from the KJV is found in the New Testament, where in Matthew 1:18. Here the KJV tells us "Mary was found to be with child." The Greek actually reads "Mary was having it in the belly!" Paul writes in his letter (Romans 6:2; 7:7) "God forbid!" Literally the phrase in the Greek means "May it never be!" Neither the Greek for "God" or for "forbid" appears in any of the texts.
So these differences in interpretative philosophy help to dictate the manner in which a version is generally written. The formal equivalence translation lets the reader interpret for himself. Often the average reader does not have the background or tools to interpret accurately. This results in poor understanding of some passages. On the other hand, a dynamic translation is usually clear and understandable, but if the translators missed the point of the original, whether intentionally or unintentionally, a foreign or poor interpretation will result. In my opinion, the New English Bible is an example of this problem. Here the philosophy and theology of the Church of Scotland greatly influenced the views on many passages, although it is written in beautiful, poetic language. At the extreme, the New World Translation of the Jehovah Witnesses is an example of theological doctrine at work in a dynamic translation. They, rather than writing their own "addition" to God&s Word like many other cults, simply reinterpreted passages to fit their incorrect views.
This leads one to the ultimate question - Which translation is best?
The Holy Spirit is sovereign over even the worst translations. Even in extremely bias translations, all the major doctrines are present. The Spirit can use these threads to lead the sincere person to Jesus.
But, stay away from those prepared with an outright obvious sectarian viewpoint (The New World Translation of the Jehovah&s Witnesses). There is a corruption of doctrine in such versions. And, as a Bible for serious study, stay away from those prepared by individuals, Moffatt&s, Weymouth&s, J.B. Phillips, The Living Bible, Kenneth Wuest&s Expanded Translation, the Berkley New Testament, or the more recent translation by Peterson, The Message, and Fox&s translations of Genesis through Deuteronomy. These may make wonderful devotional Bibles or comparative translations, but they are not generally good for serious study. No one person can truly understand all of the spiritual nuances intended in God&s Word and, therefore, their own presuppositions and preunderstandings will encumber such translations.
So, there is no single answer. Each translation has something to convey and bring to the table. The truly serious Bible student should have one of a formal equivalence translation and one of a dynamic translation. Two dynamic equivalence translations would be even better. Read all of them for better understanding of the Scriptures intent. Pray for the illumination of the Holy Spirit upon the passage.
King James -(KJV, 1611) - formal equivalence, but the original has undergone three major revisions incorporating more than 100,000 changes. By the count of some there are over 300 words in the KJV which no longer mean what they meant in 1611.
New King James - (NKJV, 1982) - formal equivalence, prepared from the same manuscripts as the King James.
New International Version - (NIV, 1978) - dynamic equivalence, based upon a new translation of the manuscripts, not a revision (as is the NKJV, the RSV, NASB). It was prepared by an international committee of more than one hundred scholars whose stated goal was to produce a translation midway between the literalness of a word-for-word and the looseness of a paraphrase. Most consider it the best phrase-for-phrase translation available today. The major flaw is that its language may be too simplistic. It is prepared from an "eclectic" manuscript, drawing upon several different manuscripts rather than a single critical text.
New American Standard - (NASB, 1971) - formal equivalence, probably the best word-for-word available today. This is also its biggest weakness in that in places it becomes stilted and wooden in its language. It uses the modern critical textual manuscripts as its basis.
American Standard Version - (ASV) - a formal equivalence, word-for-word translation, originally published by Goodspeed for the New Testament, with a small group of scholars publishing the Old Testament companion. When the New Testament portion was first published around 1923, it was highly criticized.
Revised Standard Version - (RSV) - formal equivalence, completed in 1952 and designed to be a revision of the KJV. It used the ancient manuscripts. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV, 1990) follows the same principle but is "gender-inclusive" in its approach. It is to be noted that the English Standard Version was the fore runner of the American Standard Version. The Revised Standard was the initial revision of the English Standard Version. The NASB is the revision of the ASV and the NRSV is the further revision of the RSV. All, in the minds of the translating committees, were designed to be replacements for, and revisions of, the King James.
Note: The NASB exhibits three major differences from the RSV (and NRSV). First, its wording is less archaic. Second, its translators are more conservative theologically. Third, as mentioned, its language is wooden in places in an effort to adhere as closely to the wording of the original as possible.
New English Bible - (NEB) - completed in 1971 (the same general time frame as the NASB and slightly ahead of the NIV), this is a dynamic equivalence translation, but the biases of the translators (a joint committee, lead by the Church of Scotland) show in the text. The Revised English Bible (REB, 1989) follows the same pattern.
The Living Bible - (TLB, 1971) - the Living Bible is a paraphrase, not a translation. It represents the views of one person as to the meaning of the American Standard Version. It is, in essence, the work of one man paraphrasing the work of another sole translator edition (at least as to the NT). The Living Bible is easy to read and is a wonderful tool for first learning the Bible. It is not a study Bible. The New Living Translation is much more of a translation, the translators referring to the original language manuscripts during its preparation. The translation basis of the New Living Translation is dynamic equivalence
Good News Bible: Today&s English Version - (TEV, 1976) - dynamic equivalence, published by the American Bible Society in 1966. It attempts to present the Scriptures in idiomatic, modern, simple language.
The Jerusalem Bible (1966) is an English effort based upon a French translation. The Bible was translated from the original languages, while its study notes are translated from French. In many places the translations are freer than its counterparts, such as the Revised Standard. The Jerusalem Bible was revised by the New Jerusalem Bible.
The New American Bible is the first American Catholic Bible to be translated from the original manuscripts.
The Contemporary English Version - (CEV) - was first translated as a work for early youth. Its aim is to be a functional equivalence by determining the meanings of words and then expressing them in the most accurate and natural contemporary English.
The New Century Version - (NCV) - was originally published as the International Children&s Bible. The adult version was originally called The Everyday Bible. Both versions emphasize simplicity and clarity of expression.
The Message - is a work by Eugene H. Peterson. This is an idiomatic English translation of the Scriptures and does not exist as a complete Bible.
New English Translation (or NET) - this is one "in the middle." It is brand new having been just completed (fall, 1998) and originally published solely on the Internet at www.bible.org. This site is one composed primarily of graduates of Dallas Theological Seminary. This Seminary has produced most of the critical studies on the manuscripts in the last half of this century. T he NET is describe as more accurate than the NASB, more readable than the NIV, and more elegant than either. I personally have not yet read enough of it to have any opinion on the validity of this description.
The Amplified Bible – (1965) This is not really a translation or paraphrase, but a unique study tool. Based upon the KJV, RSV, and other similar manuscripts, The Amplified Bible has expanded on alternate word meanings, providing these alternate shades of difference right in the body of the text so that one does not have to resort to a lexicon or dictionary to find the various shades of difference in word usage.
English Standard Version (ESV) is published by Crossway Books and is considered a literal or “formal equivalence” translation. “that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on "word-for-word" correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.” I have read the ESV cover-to-cover and find it to be good translation. The website for this is http://www.gnpcb.org/home/esv/.
The New Living Translation (NLT -- originally mentioned above with The Living Bible) is a dynamic equivalent translation, that is, a thought-for-thought translation. It’s web site (www.newlivingtranslation.com) describes it as “In the New Living Translation, this is accomplished by translating entire thoughts (rather than just words) into natural, everyday English. The end result is a translation that is easy to read and understand and that accurately communicates the meaning of the original text.” With the adverse publicity being captured by the Today’s New International Version (see below), many churches who previously were using the NIV have switched to the NLT. I am currently reading through the NLT and find it to be a good translation that is easy to read. The concepts used in translation do not make this version acceptable as a primary study Bible, however, in my opinion.
Still an ongoing project is the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). Published by Broadman & Holman Publishers, this work currently exists in a complete New Testament. It is described as a “fresh rendering of God&s Word is translated directly from the original biblical languages with a reader-friendly style geared to contemporary English usage. The approach of combining accuracy and clarity makes the HCSB a translation that any reader can enjoy” (from http://www.broadmanholman.com/hcsb/default.asp). I have read the New Testament and find it acceptable.
Last, and most controversial, on this list of new translations, is Today’s New International Version (TNIV). Created by the International Bible Society, this translation is based upon the very popular NIV, but has been edited to make it, essentially, gender neutral in keeping with today’s culture. The information site for this version is http://www.tniv.info/. The other side of this story may be found at the TNIV Response Center (http://www.no-tniv.com/), a site dedicated to convincing the world this is an unacceptable version. While there are sufficient materials on both sites for you to draw your own conclusions, I have great personal difficulty in reconciling the orthodox statement of belief used on this translation with the changing of important terms in the original languages from feminine or masculine to a gender-neutral term. This is not a true rendering of the original languages and therefore is contra to what I read as the statement of translation belief. The original Hebrew and Greek both have ample pronouns, and noun and verb endings whereby the original authors could have used gender neutral terms had they so desired. They chose, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit not to do so. It is not the place of culture to re-edit the writings because it better fits with someone’s view of the ways the world should operate. I would vote NO on the TNIV.
I noted above a separate problem being raised by the TNIV. Many churches fearing, I believe, that many in their congregation with associate the NIV with the TNIV controversy, thus, concluding that the NIV is a poor translation as well. As a result, many churches are moving away from the NIV. The current recommendations by “those who know” are to move to either the NLT or the ESV. While there may be some merit to this concern, I believe that each pastor needs to access the knowledge and understanding of his own congregation. Further, care needs to be exercised in deciding which version to use.
It is interesting to note that after some 1500 years of use, the Catholic Church moved away from the Latin Vulgate as its Bible. The New Jerusalem Bible appeared in 1966 and was based upon a French translation. The New American Bible is the first American Catholic Bible translated from the original languages. Both of these are freer than a word-for-word translation, and in places reflect the theological views of the Roman Catholic Church.
As an aside, the major argument presented by that group known as the King James Only-ers is based upon changes to wording in places that "reduce" or eliminate the deity of Christ. While in the case of some individual passages this may appear to be true, on the whole, translations such as the NIV and NASB have made changes the other direction in many passages and, in the minds of many, have clearer language on Christ&s deity than does the KJV. For anyone interested in pursuing this course of study, I might suggest The King James Only Controversy, by James R. White, Bethany House Publishers, 1995. A second, newer book is that written by Philip W. Comfort, Ph.D., who served on the translation committee for the New Living Translation. The book is entitled Essential Guide to Bible Versions, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2000.
For those who advocate the KJV only position, one might ask, how could this be the only true translation when it had to be revised so extensively? And, what about all those other translations from Greek and Hebrew into Dutch, or German, or French or so on? Are they not accurate? White&s work address many of the arguments put forth in publication that support KJV only.
From Zondervan Publishing Company, http://www.zondervanbibles.com/translations.htm