In this day and age of pollution by man, our ears have become accustomed to hearing frequent news accounts of nuclear, chemical, and drug-related accidents. We instinctively rely upon governmental agencies and public-minded sentries in the private sector to warn us of impending peril. But have you ever considered the eternal dangers inherent in Bible pollution which comes through inaccurate translation of the Scriptures? (Read Matthew 13:24-30 concerning the mixing in of bad seeds.) Just as you should not automatically assume that the water which your family is drinking is pure, you should not think that the various Bible versions on your bookshelf are safe. For one reason or another, in varying degrees, ALL the Bibles which are being sold today to the general public are defective!
But you say, "Brother, that's a pretty tall statement!" However, I say this with 25 years of experience in comparing the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages with every English translation of the Bible which I could collect. There IS trouble in River City! I am not merely "crying 'wolf!" I'm not exaggerating. I am attempting to sound the alert that every Bible translation on the market today has been influenced significantly by either unconscious or deliberate attempts to make the text of God's Word conform to prevailing ecclesiastical language and practice.
I am sure that it seems like the most natural thing in the world for most Bible translators to frame their words in "church" terminology. Nevertheless, it is morally and linguistically wrong to impose such alien concepts and words upon the ancient Biblical text. The task of a true Bible translator is to transmit the original meaning which he or she observes in the original language and to convey only that meaning to the target audience. If translators are unwilling to do this or unable to perceive the full meaning of the original cultural and linguistic contexts, then they have failed miserably! Non-technical readers have no way of knowing whether Bible translators carry out their responsibility faithfully or not. The public is extremely vulnerable in this regard, and devout people are forced to trust the opinions of these translators, along with some of their built-in theological biases.
Any informed student of the Bible is already fully aware of intentional butchering of the Word of God by the Watchtower Society "translators'' (Jehovah's Witnesses) in their New World Translation, or the tampering of such ill-advised paraphrases as Clarence Jordan's Cotton Patch Version (Association Press), The Living Bible (Tyndale House Publishers), J.B. Phillips' work (Macmillan), The New English (Oxford), and Letters to Street Christians (Zondervan, 1971) by "two brothers from Berkeley" (i.e. a gross hippe paraphrase). However, I am not talking about something out there on the fringe. I am referring directly to so-called "mainstream" Bibles--the King James Version (1611, updated), the New King James Version (Nelson, 1982), the Revised Standard Version (1971 edition), the New American Standard Bible (Lockman Foundation, 1960ff), the New International Version (Zondervan, 1978), etc. Even though, in many respects, these latter translations are good, they are seriously marred by their retention of archaic expressions which no longer communicate to the majority of English speakers and/or these versions are riddled with erroneous renderings which are based upon false doctrinal presuppositions and very subtle departures which arise from institutional, ecclesiastical assumptions.
There are at least three important factors which drive the Bible-making business: (1) hidden "religiously"--motivated agenda. No institutional "church" can allow the original text of the Bible to stand "as is." If it does, it will lose control of its "members." (2) Marketing strategies. Bible publishers use whatever sales gimmicks it takes to reach the largest possible readership for the purpose of attaining maximum popularity regardless of scholarly concerns over historical accuracy. In other words, they will not do anything which could hurt sales! They must please men (Gal. 1:10). God's Word demands much of us; we must not soften its impact just to increase sales. (3) Legal control determines the final outcome of how their Bibles will read. They say what God says! Until we can wrest away ultimate control from religious institutions, heirarchies, and entrenched organizations, the Word of God can never be entirely free.
The Holy Bible is the message of God. It is the inspired, infallible, written record of God's will. Through the Bible, God speaks to mankind. In order for all people in America to easily understand what God wants, it is extremely important that the Holy Scriptures be translated accurately into understandable, contemporary American English, instead of "loaded" ecclesiastical vocabulary. The New Testament, for example, was originally written in the Greek language. It was not the Classical Greek of Aristotle, nor was it couched in the literary Greek of the first century (with a few exceptions).. It is noteworthy that the entire New Testament was written in Koine' (common) Greek - an everyday language which was used by almost everyone in conversation and commerce throughout the Roman Empire. It was not a special Holy Spirit" Greek revealed only for "religious" people. Jesus talked plainly to people, the way we would talk to one another. Today the widespread use of International English® (Koine' English) parallels the dominance of Hellenistic Greek in the time of Jesus.
A good translation should produce the same effect today as the original text did on those who first heard it. How would the New Testament have been written in English if English had been the original language instead of Greek? That is what I seek to do constantly--to re-clothe the meaning of the original Bible in the words and structure of American English. God's message should be conveyed in today's mode of speech, not yesterday's. His Word ought to be expressed in the same form which people use every day, in a style which seems so natural to them that they are generally not aware that they are reading a translation.
Jesus, the master Teacher, was very careful not to give people more than they could grasp. According to Mark 4:33, "...Jesus was telling them the message--but only as much as they were able to understand." Jesus did not try to impress people with the theological words, yet He was able to reach their hearts. I am trying to re-capture that level of communciation. Using profound illustrations, Jesus was able to communicate clearly, even with children. He attracted them, because they could feel his love (Matt. 19:13, 14). In fact, Jesus said we ought to become humble, like little children (Matt. 18:1-6).
We must communicate to a wide spectrum of people. There is still room for an appropriately-pitched translation which can communicate throughout the world to masses of people who speak English, the lingua franca of modern times. That translation must be both (1) accurate, and (2) easy to understand. Everyone needs a fresh, uncomplicated, reliable translation which feels comfortable to read or to listen to AND which consistently delivers flawless quality. It should have already passed beneath thousands of watchful eyes before being foisted upon the public. Sadly, such a translation does not exist at this moment. Nevertheless, we must be unrelenting in our efforts to create one!
A translation must not only "make sense"; it must, at the same time, conform to the meaning of the original message intended by God. Painstaking effort must be expended not to deviate from the best available ancient manuscripts. Then the text should be expressed meticulously in natural English equivalences via "legal" linguistic constructions.
Bible translation is essential to restoration. Only when people have the Scriptures translated precisely and in a form which they can readily understand will they be truly autonomous and have the means to free themselves from dangerous doctrinal influences. Accurate Bible translation work is vital for evangelism and healthy teaching! Since the time of Jesus, the lack of good translation of the Bible has stunted spiritual growth and caused great confusion and unnecessary division (e.g. the traditional rendering and subsequent Roman Catholic interpretation of Matt. 16:18). Even when a new translation appears, it usually encounters stiff resistance from the "church" establishment. They say, "The old is better" (cf. Luke 5:39). However, we must forge ahead to find ALL of God's truth that is knowable!
All translations of the Bible are made by uninspired people who, inevitably, make some mistakes. (No one is more painfully aware of this fact than I!) Though perfection is always the goal, imperfections stubbornly persist. This is why we must beg for God's help continually and work very closely together as brothers and sisters in Christ to purge the text of any residual man-made ideas.
In succeeding articles, I will present concrete proofs of the sweeping allegations which I have made above. Also, I will handle some technical aspects of Bible translations such as cross-cultural principles, idiomatic expressions, linguistic techniques, testing procedures, etc. I promise to give lots of interesting, practical examples.
"We are not like many people who sell God's message." (2 Cor. 2:17)