The Bible translation debate rages on — which is best? Many argue the “modern” translations are easier to read and we should stop using the KJV and use one of the many newer translations; unfortunately ignoring the textual basis and focusing only on easy-to-read is a grave error.
By that logic, use the NWT (New World Translation).
Obviously, translational differences are important. If they’re not, just make up your own Bible and don’t worry about it — you won’t need Jesus, sin, hell, sanctification, justification or forgiveness either.
We’ll refrain from discussion about the (should be) obvious error of splitting churches over Bible translation, and we’ll leave it at that (which we discussed extensively in our previous article on Bible Translation). However, it also should be obvious insuring what you read is actually what the Bible writers intended is critical.
When considering Bible translation, many issues arise but for simplicity we’ll stick to two.
- What you’re translating from. Two lines of Greek texts exist with differences.
- How you translate what you’ve got.
Most people focus on #2 — the easy-to-read argument, but completely ignore #1 (Much discussion of #2 is available in our previously mentioned article — we’ll focus on textual differences here).
While the textual debate continues, this discussion didn’t even exist until the late 1800’s when Westcott and Hort edited the received text and came up with their version — changing the Greek in thousands of places. Why they did this, and their background is critical to understanding the Bible translation debate.
The church used accepted texts for centuries, while the “critical” text for the last 100 or so. Westcott/Hort relied heavily on Alexandrian manuscripts — if Alexandria sounds familiar, it should — it was the center of Gnostic heresy. Consider the words of Westcott/Hort themselves:
But the book which has most engaged me is Darwin. Whatever may be thought of it, it is a book that one is proud to be contemporary with. I must work out and examine the argument more in detail, but at present my feeling is strong that the theory is unanswerable. (Life of Hort Vol I page 416)
… I am inclined to think that no such state as “Eden” (I mean the popular notion) ever existed, and that Adam’s fall in no degree differed from the fall of each of his descendants … (Life of Hort Vol I page 78)
No one now, I suppose, holds that the first three chapters of Genesis, for example, give a literal history-I could never understand how any one reading them with open eyes could think they did … (Life of Westcott Vol II page 19)
Christians are themselves in a true sense “Christs” (The Epistles of St. John page 73)
Does that sound like orthodox Christian theology? The problem stems from allowing their gnostic ideas to influence their Bible work. Everyone has bias, the idea is to minimize it as much as possible. Even if their views don’t matter or didn’t influence their work (doubtful), some of the changes they made to the text don’t make sense, and some introduce contradictions in the Bible.
Westcott/Hort delete Matthew 18:11, Acts 8:37 entirely (check your translation and see if they’re there — many people are surprised to find verses missing from their Bible), and edit other verses in ways that not only don’t make sense, but contradict the Bible itself.
(Matthew 25:13 NIV) Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
(Matthew 25:13 ESV) Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
(Matthew 25:13 NKJV) Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.
Westcott/Hort delete “in which the Son of Man is coming”. In their version, the verse just says you don’t know the day or the hour — so buy a watch or sundial.
(Ephesians 3:9 NIV) and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.
(Ephesians 3:9 ESV) and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,
(Ephesians 3:9 NKJV) and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;
Westcott/Hort remove the creation from Jesus, which contradicts Paul in Colossians 1. In verse 17, Paul even tells you Jesus holds all the atoms together — He’s the “strong nuclear force” as science calls it. Since the Bible is inerrant, it must be Westcott/Hort making the mistakes, not God.
There are of course many other changes, but these two examples illustrate the editorial revisions Westcott/Hort made to the text. Those arguing the insignificance of these edits argue from the “prego sauce” view — the Bible is a jar of sauce and “it’s all in there” somewhere so these individual edits don’t matter much. But should we allow editing of the Word of God? Me thinks not.
The Textus Receptus (basis for KJV/NKJV) was the received text until about 1900 when the critical text became popular, while the modern translations generally don’t say Westcott/Hort, instead referring to Nestle/Aland or UBS Greek text (which is basically Westcott/Hort). Each modern translation then decides how much to follow Westcott/Hort (NASB less, NIV and it appears ESV more, although experience with ESV is limited).
No matter what translation you use, understand they all have problems. The key is, do you know the foundation of the translation you use, and do you understand the methodology and beliefs/bias of the people who translated it? Picking a translation just because you like the way it reads is foolish, and quite dangerous. You need to do some homework on this subject and check it out for yourself — just because a new easy-to-read translation comes out (and is “scholarly”) doesn’t mean it’s good. How can you know you’re being deceived if you don’t do your own homework?
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me; seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. (Hosea 4:6 KJV)
Once you start making edits to the Word of God for language, gender or other reasons, where does it stop? How much editing can you do to God’s Word before it becomes unacceptable? After how many edits does the Bible cease to be a Bible? Who gets to choose what edits should be made? And why? Those are questions each Christian needs to answer for themselves; unfortunately it requires work on your part.
The modern critical text began by Westcott/Hort is a corrupt line and should be rejected by Christians. However, we are not espousing the “KJV-Only” position — any soundly translated Bible from the Textus Receptus is acceptable. As such, the NKJV is a choice for people who want a Bible in an easier to read modern vocabulary. It also must be noted recent translations have differing views on how closely they follow Westcott/Hort — some follow it more closely than others.
Don’t believe anything anyone tells you — be a Berean (Acts 17:11) and do your own research and don’t believe so-called scholars who come up with absurd scholarly-sounding theories like the documentary hypothesis and Deutero-Isaiah theory; theories having volumes of pseudo-scholarship behind them and are quickly disproved by reading the Bible (without even reading their reams of “scholarship”) — just because someone has a PhD behind their name does not mean they’re right (though their hand-waving arguments sway many). They can teach in seminary, have PhD’s and still be quite wrong (or not even Christian).
Do your own homework. Please. Don’t use a translation just because you like the way it reads. Be sure your Bible really is the Word of God.
There is more on this subject (textual preservation, literal vs. paraphrase, and more), covered in depth with footnotes, citations, and references available on our article on Bible Translations