“Poetry in translations is like taking a shower while wearing a raincoat.”
Walking into a book store or searching online for a Bible, there are many options in English. Which one is the correct or “authorized” English version? Early on, I thought the easier, more acceptable answer was from one of my teachers, “The best translation is the one you read.” To quote a former Russian missionary, “We have a purer translation of the word today than we have ever had.”
In going out witnessing, I have been confronted on occasion about translations, from traditionalist and other religious sects touting their own translation. To help guide me into a proper response, I took a stroll through history on translations.
First stop is the Old Testament, which was originally written in Hebrew and a couple of later books in Aramaic. With the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, we have discovered the Hebrew version we had of the OT Bible to be 99.9% accurate with the findings of the Dead Sea scrolls. This is quite the feat, since the Masoretic’s memorized the Old Testament over a few centuries, but changed a few words they did not understand.
The New Testament is not as clear. Many scholars believe Jesus and the Apostles spoke a Northern Galilean dialect of Aramaic, yet the oldest transcript we have found, the Book of John, in 125 AD is in Greek. The Oldest Aramaic transcripts date to 205 AD. As Christianity spread through the Roman empire, local Christian communities translated the manuscripts into Latin, which are called the Old Latin or to sound sophisticated, the Vetus Latina manuscripts.
In Armenia, the first country to declare itself a Christian state in 301 AD, only had a spoken language. Thaddeus and Bartholomew are credited with bringing Christianity to Armenia (60 AD), yet Christians had to develop an alphabet, then translate the manuscripts into the Armenian language.
In 405 AD, St. Jerome was assigned the task to develop a standard Latin version of the Bible, called the Latin Vulgate. This was the standard for the Catholic church for many centuries, yet during a very dark period for the Catholic church, it was illegal for anyone to possess a personal bible with the penalty of death. I do not believe this occurred in the history of the Orthodox who split with Rome in 431-450 AD.
The following is a history of manuscripts and the formation of an English Bible.
Compared to the manuscripts we have today and years of research, some claim the Latin Vulgate is only 85% accurate. I have to question how they measured the accuracy, by word or by content?
For my own entertainment as it applies to being a witness for Christ, I reviewed the different translations through history in what I consider the most famous verse in the Bible. God’s will for mankind…John 3:16.
Aramaic (205 AD) (Interlinear)
Thus for loved God the world so as His Son Only-Begotten he would give that whoever would believe in him not would perish but would have life that is eternal.
Latin Vulgate (405 AD) (Interlinear)
sic enim dilexit Deus mundum ut Filium suum unigenitum daret ut omnis qui credit in eum non pereat sed habeat vitam aeternam
It is loved God the world and Son his only begotten gave everyone so he believe in him not perish but have life eternal.
John Wycliffe 1380 (Middle English)
For God louede so the world, that he yaf his `oon bigetun sone, that ech man that bileueth in him perische not, but haue euerlastynge lijf.
William Tyndale 1525
For God so loveth the worlde yt he hath geven his only sonne that none that beleve in him shuld perisshe: but shuld have everlastinge lyfe.
For God so loved the worlde, that he gave his onely Sonne, that who so ever beleveth in him shulde not perishe, but have everlasting life.
Great Bible 1539
For God so loved the worlde, that he gave hys onlye begotten Sonne, that whosoever beleveth in hym, woulde not peryshe, but have everlasynge lyfe.
Geneva Bible 1560 (First translation to arrive in America)
For God so loved the worlde, the he hathe give his onely begotten Sonne, that whoever beleveth in him, shulde not perish, but have everlasting life
King James 1611
For God so loued þe world, that he gaue his only begotten Sonne: that whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue euerlasting life.
A Hebrew professor explains translations of the Bible:
“The first key is the major and dominate key and that is the technical aspect. Under the technical aspect of translation you have to consider factors related to grammar, syntax, exegesis, cultural input, historical information, etymologies as well as the other aspects involved in translation work.
However, when dealing with a Semitic language there is another factor that must be considered and that is to put your translation into an emotional context. Here is where we enter an area that no translator can adequately handle.” Chaim Bentorah
I posed a question to different age groups, “How much scripture does someone need in order to enter a relationship with Jesus Christ?” I received an answer from a 40 year old vendor at a festival, “None. When I got saved, I didn’t know anything, but it was amazing! I struggle to read the Bible due to dyslexia.” The end of each night of the festival, I would spend 15-20 minutes talking with him, what a neat guy.
In the asinine arguments over English translations, I think my future responses will be mute, for its idle time wasted, deflecting my purpose of searching for lost sheep who God is drawing. For those wishing to pry into my personal view, do you know the first five books of the Bible are called the Torah in Hebrew, meaning written law.
5 200 6 400 = 611
The numerical value for Torah is 611, yet there are 613 commandments for the children of Israel. 611 were written (Torah = written law), and the first 2 spoken by God for a sum of 613. You won’t find this in any other foreign translation of the Hebrew.
Arguing over a translation is a first world western mindset issue, but if I lived in a third world country, where I had to trust God for my daily bread, would the exactness really matter, or more of the essence of who Jesus is and what He did for me on the cross? Being an intellect, I like to learn and study, but to tout a translation as superior, I point back to my opening quote.
In conclusion, I am reminded of a prophet Balaam, where God used a donkey to speak to him. If God can use a donkey for accomplishing His will, he can use anything. In going out into the world to witness for Christ, sometimes I am that donkey, if I could only so esteem myself to its level.