The Accuracies of Bible Translations

By Paul Shunamon

The books of the Bible were written between 3500 and 2000 years ago. As the church spread across Europe, the original texts were shared and translated into Greek, Latin, English, and many other languages. The original texts were lost, accurate copies were lost and found and partially destroyed, and personal and political consideration tinted the judgment of many of the translators.

This leaves us in the 21st century with the problem of determining the accuracy of 2000 years worth of Scripture. Modern translations vary in the passages they include and the words they use — how can we know which is correct? It helps to understand the source texts of our translations (Textus Receptus, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus) and the history of how they were used. What we do know is that:

- The inerrancy of the Bible applies to only the original manuscripts; and yet
- Translation discrepancies do not cause any theological contradiction.

Perhaps the biggest argument in modern times is over the King James Version (KJV). Many churches (known as "KJV Only") teach that we should only use the KJV. That it is the most accurate English account of God's Word to us. The truth is that the 1611 King James group of translators based their version on the best available texts of their day, and were for the most part literally faithful to those textual examples. However, they were not exempt from some errors. They added 1 John 5:7 (an obscure reference in only a few texts, but not in the majority) for the alleged purpose of clarifying an accepted doctrine.

Source Texts

The Textus Receptus, upon which the KJV was based, has its questionable sections. Why? Because Erasmus collated it from a relatively small number of Byzantine-era Greek texts dating back to about the twelfth to fourteenth century AD, some of which had been edited by the Roman Catholic Latin theologians. He likewise, somewhat in haste, included some marginal comments into the text.

But now we have over 20,000 samples of Biblical text and a few copies of "The Greek Majority Text" which is not the same as the Textus Receptus. The Majority Text is a collection of texts and renderings (mostly brought to us in the Byzantine Text type) that the bishops and scholars of the 4th and 5th centuries, using the best texts available to them, collated. The scholars believed these texts and renderings to be sacred, handed down through those men taught and appointed by the Apostles themselves (for an example see Thomas Nelson's The Majority Text Greek New Testament Interlinear). In the end, the Majority Text was accepted by all the churches as the universal text believed to be accurate and true to the Spirit.

As for the Codex Sinaiticus, it was not included at that time and shows itself to be divided by chapter according to the traditions of the Latin church that we see following Jerome's Vulgate (this indicates to me that it was written after). It is called "best" because of the condition of the text — not because it is more correct or more representative of the earliest church renderings. It is considered one of the "oldest" in the sense of it being one of the oldest nearly complete collections all in one place, but it is not the oldest if one dates the more fragmented examples of the Old Latin or Peshitta (and others).

The issues dealing with the Old Testament Scriptures are another matter entirely, because we have what appears to be two ancient Hebrew traditions plus the LXX or Septuagint. But do not let the appeal to authority or consensus (argumentum ad populum) of the critics persuade you with arguments about "text type" because these are simply dialectal differences in style based on different areas and times and has absolutely NOTHING at all to do with reliability of content.

Now then, Sinaiticus was a discarded text; as was the practice then for texts no longer required, copies were used as part of the binding of another book. Even so, when discovered there was great controversy because:

a) Like the other prominent so-called critical text (Vaticanus) it was apparent it had been heavily edited on more than one occasion, and;

b) It varied in so many places in content, word choice, and inclusion/exclusion, that one can hardly compare two entire pages between Sinaiticus and Vaticanus without finding variances (also there are 16 unique additions in Sinaiticus not found in any other Greek text, and it excludes some passages quoted as scripturally present in some of the writings of the earlier Church fathers).

The Sinaiticus and Vaticanus together form the basis of the so-called "Critical Text." Later translators like Nestle/Aland and Wescott/Hort borrowed as they willed from section to section, passage to passage, from each of these edited manuscripts (relying mostly on Vaticanus). So in fact what we have (though scholarly done) are two hodge-podge eclectic mixes of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (again mostly Vaticanus) with a twist of personal opinion (some might say agenda), and many disagreements. In the end all versions made from either of these also vary greatly. Some quoting one passage as essential text and the other leaving that out; some adding thousands of words, some deleting as many (just as we see happened in the Texts themselves); and in some renderings using the most obscure, uncommon rendering of meaning for terms used in the very text they borrowed from for that section.

Modern Translations

For example, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translators (trying to justify same-sex marriages) changed, "the husband of one wife" so as to imply marriage by any two persons. This change is not justified by the text and like the one made above is imposed intentionally to support a modern politically correct or allowable behavior or norm. These neuter gender changes become absurd in some places. Take Job 24:9 for example (there are many others), because of the anti-male impositions instead of fatherless children being stolen from their mother's breasts, it renders it "orphans" being stolen from their mother's breasts. Common sense should tell you that IF one has a mother then they are not orphans. The only Bible readers who would notice and dismiss such an error are those who believe the whole Bible is full of absurdities and errors, the translators having implanted the seed for this thinking in the study halls.

When you read Psalm 19:9-12 in a Majority Text version, the Spirit points out clearly that one cannot detect errors in the ordinances of God (because there simply are none). Yet, when the NRSV interpreters get through with it, the rendering implies that indeed there are some errors, and we are in turn challenged to find them! And guess what? If you are using their intentional distortion you will actually find some, for the translators have placed errors strategically throughout the entire Scriptures! When entering a debate with them, their apologists quickly flood the conversation with a number of these.

Let it be pointed out that the only support for the dating of Sinaiticus is paleography (the science of writing styles in relation to time periods). The concern and request for more accurate dating is justified because forgers can be of such quality that it can escape notice (especially if this were forged in the 7th or 6th century being so far away in time from us). Despite continued efforts to allow a couple of small clippings to be date tested by C-14 dating or ESR (Electron Spin Resonance), the liberal guard possessing the direction of these manuscripts has repeatedly denied this process. This makes me very suspect because of their insistence on dating other, earlier fragments of Papyrus and items of interest like the Shroud of Turin.

Missing Passages

As for deletions, I guess it is dependent on who you speak to or study (I would suggest if you do a study read as many as you can from differing perspectives and then decide for yourself because in different cases different groups clearly make the best case). For example regarding John 5:4, which Sinaiticus omits entirely and thus so do the products like the NIV, the RSV, the AMP, NASV, NEB, and NWT, as well as others, as time has passed we have discovered that the passage is quoted directly or inferenced by Justin Martyr (of the Palestinian/Jerusalem school), Clement of Alexandria (who represents the Markan tradition after Peter and Paul), Athenagoras (Greek after Pauline tradition), Theophilus of Antioch (where Peter was Bishop and many of John's disciples, like Ignatius, taught and resided), and others.

As for Matthew 6:13*, Bible scholar par excellance Reginald Fuller (who Fuller Theological Seminary is named after) points out that over 500 relevant Greek manuscripts include this passage. Others have discovered some church fathers who use the entire line others who only say "for yours is the power and glory," and we have early fragmentary examples that include the words and some that do not. So the controversy on this one will continue. This is like the controversy over Mark 16's longer ending (found in the KJV and Geneva Bibles).

Mark 16:9-20**, perhaps along with the Pericope Adulterae, is the most reasonably questioned even though Aland himself (of Nestle/Aland fame), who omitted the long ending of Mark (according to Sinaiticus and Vaticanus), admits that "It is true that the longer ending of Mark 16:9-20 is found in 99 percent of the Greek manuscripts as well as the rest of the tradition, enjoying over a period of centuries practically an official ecclesiastical sanction as a genuine part of the gospel of Mark." Now a few things that made me curious about this matter is that:

a) It is omitted in Sinaiticus;

b) There is a blank space in Vaticanus where it would have gone but was not written, and;

c) It is included fully in the only slightly younger Alexandrinus which was from the very area that Mark brought his original to, and;

d) Verse 9 is quoted by Irenaeus (from France) in "Against Heresies"; Irenaeus was taught by Polycarp of Smyra who was appointed Bishop there by John the Apostle.

So I suppose there will be no end to the questions that arise until we go home or meet the Lord in the air (whichever comes first), but of this I am sure: the remaining questionable passages in no wise affect the historical facts or any of the doctrinal positions held in the history of our tradition. Therefore, whatever versions you attain and compare in your studies, if you approach them with a sincere and prayerful heart before the Lord, He will lead you into all truth necessary for your salvation. This is the most important thing. All versions critical or otherwise will lead you to realize you have sinned and the soul that sins is destined to eternal spiritual death unless one has received the God planned redemption (a gift of grace because He loves us all), and the remission of sins, only obtainable through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, and our faith in that efficacious work.

The KJV ONLY position is not a solid one, though the translation is sound based on the best they had at that time, and, yes, many of the modern versions are distorted (sad but supportable), so trust God through the Holy Spirit to be your teacher, and do not fall into the arguable framework of any one or another's denomination's apologetic. Let Him lead you and guide you as you study the whole council of God on any doctrinal point and you will do fine. Be blessed in His name!

* The ending of the Lord's Prayer; many translations exclude "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen."

* After the crucifixion, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and the two disciples and then gives the Great Commission; Matthew includes the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:13-35 expands on Jesus' meeting with the two disciples; and John 20:11-18 includes Jesus meeting Mary Magdalene. So whether the accounts are original to Mark 16 or not, the events are scriptural.

Published 8-9-16