The Best Translation is the one you will read

Published December 10, 2014 by

“The Best Translation is the one you will read.”

Well, it happened again the other day.  A soul visiting the church came by to tell me what “his friend” said about the Bible.  This young soul – a person I would characterize as a pre-Christian – has been struggling with a number of work and family issues.  His life has not been easy.  Rather than encouraging or directing this person to scripture that might help him, “his friend” told him that his problem was the Bible translation.  “After all, the King James version is the only true word of God.”

I got a little hot at this advice.  And it is not because I am defensive for the version I use.  I truly believe that the best Bible translation with few exceptions is the one you will read. What bothered me about this interaction was instead of using the opportunity to share the Gospel; this “friend” chose to promote a view that in most conservative, evangelical circles has been settled.

First of all, let me say that I became a Christ follower through reading and memorizing the Scofield’s King James Version Bible.  I love its poetry and many of its verses I have committed to memory.  I have several friends and family members who prefer the King James mainly because of these reasons.  I have one good friend who prefers the King James because he has a problem with some of the publishers of other translations.  I still have my old Scofield and I periodically refer to the margin notes that I placed in it as a young man.

That being said, the King James Only movement that seems to continue in many smaller communities is born out of ignorance.

To be sure, the King James Version (KJV) has had an incredible impact on Western Society.  Although the original Bible brought over by the Pilgrims and early settlers were copies of the Geneva Bible, the KJV quickly became the standard.  It accompanied settlers westward and in many communities, it was the basic text for most schools.  Books about reading, writing, and arithmetic were at a premium but most early communities could count on one singular text to be common across the settlement….The King James Bible.

However, the KJV did and does have its problems.  The KJV overemphasizes the importance of one group of manuscripts (the Byzantine family) over more numerous earlier manuscripts for a very logical reason.  They were the only ones available at the time.  By and large, this Greek text used for the KJV depended on manuscripts dating no earlier then the 12th  Century (There is a lot of airspace between the original writings and the 12th Century Byzantine versions.)  The man who edited the text was a Catholic scholar named Erasmus.  He published his work, hastily, in 1514 and was terribly disappointed in it.  Erasmus’s translation was edited and published twice more and it was this work that provided the basis for the King James Bible.  The King James Bible was published in 1611.  It has been revised on three different occasions and incorporates more than 100,000 changes.  None of these changes have impacted evangelical Christian doctrine.

Since 1611, over 5600 additional copies of the Greek New Testament have been found with many of the copies dating as early as the second century, some within a few decades of the original.  Some were found in Alexandria, Egypt, the site of one of history’s greatest libraries and a center of Christian thought through much of the second and third century.  Others are from Palestine.  Still others have been re-discovered in European repositories.  Many of the newer translations such as the New International Version (NIV), and the English Standard Bible (ESV) use many of these 5600 copies to get to the original meaning of the text through a process of textual analysis.  Using a plethora of manuscripts and verifying much of the scripture through the quotation of second and third century Church fathers (we could compile the entire New Testament from these quotations alone), scores of editors compiled these newer translations that reach back to the original.

With the exception of a few translations that were developed to support heretical agendas, these newer versions are quality products taken from the original Greek text.  With the exception of heretical text such as the New World Translation used by Jehovah Witnesses, these newer versions hold to the same core beliefs and do not compromise Baptist ideals.  They are not perfect.  In fact, I use multiple translations in order to get to the text deeper meaning.  Some of these newer versions such as the New International Version (NIV) acknowledge the discrepancy between older manuscripts and newer manuscripts.  It has become clear that some later scribes tried to “help” us understand scripture by adding descriptive passages that were not included in the earlier text.  Textual analysis has allowed us to identify these sections and annotate them.  Yet no key Christian concepts have been compromised.

For years, I thought it would have been great if we had the original manuscripts that the Apostles wrote to the first century church.  After all, that would have put the problem to rest!  I don’t believe that anymore.  Knowing human tendencies we would have done to that book what the Israelites did to the bronze snake that Moses made in the desert (Numbers 21:9) — we would come to worship it (2 Kings 18:4).

I have great respect for the KJV.  I hold it in high regard as I do many of the other translations.  I prefer the NIV.  I will sometime use, Eugene Peterson’s The Message.

But let us not forget: We don’t worship a book.  We worship the subject of the book, Jesus Christ.  It is HE who changes lives.  It is HE who redeems and saves.  He alone is worthy of our worship.
In regard to Bible translations; find the one you will read and read it.  Often.

Keep HE who is the main thing, the main thing.

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