The Bible Has Been Translated Many Times Over, So How Can It Be Reliable?

By Published on June 28, 2018

The Bible can now be read in nearly 700 different languages. For the New Testament, the number jumps to over 1,500 languages. It’s not surprising, then, that the Bible is the most translated book in history.

Christians see the number of translations as a good thing — more people are able to read God’s word in their own language. Others, however, seem to think the number of translations is a bad thing. In fact, they cite the number of translations in order to call into question the Bible’s reliability.

In a Newsweek cover story titled “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” journalist and author Kurt Eichenwald asserts,

No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we’ve all read a bad translation a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.

There are two different challenges in play here. The first concerns the translation of the text. The second concerns the transmission of the text. We will focus our attention on the former challenge since we’ve written on the latter challenge here.

The Challenge

If there are multiple steps in the translation process, then something may get lost in translation. Consequently, if our modern Bible translations are a translation of a translation of a translation of a … well, you get the point, then they probably don’t resemble what the authors intended. This would be akin to playing the Telephone Game with people who translate the message into a different language as they pass it along to the next person.

Just the Facts, Ma’am

For this challenge, we need to employ the “Just the Facts, Ma’am” tactic. Many challenges to Christianity are based on bad information. They don’t get the facts right. We can overcome these objections by a simple appeal to the facts.

So, what are the facts in this instance?

Eichenwald and those who continue to espouse this nonsense are wrong about how modern Bible translation works. In reality, the modern English translations go back to the original languages. In fact, those who can read the original languages — Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic — are in a position to know what the authors actually wrote in the original languages. As a result, there is only one step in the translation process — the original language to modern language. That’s right, every modern translation has only been translated once. It’s not “a translation of translations of translations”; it’s just a translation. Therefore, modern translators are in the best position possible to provide an accurate translation.

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Our modern Bible isn’t a bad translation — a translation of translations of translations. Of course, this still leaves the question of the transmission of the text. But that’s a separate issue that we’ve addressed. In the challenge before us, it is enough to point out that the number of translations doesn’t affect the reliability of the text.

 

Originally published at Stand to Reason. Reprinted with permission.

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  • Trilemma

    Even with a one step translation process there are still problems. For example, how should the phrase, “eis toùs aiônas tôn aiṓnōn,” be translated? Should it be translated literally as, “unto the ages of the ages” or should it be translated figuratively as, “forever and ever?” Or how should the word, “aión” be translated? Should it be translated as “age” or should it be translated as “eternity?’ The choice will be based on the personal beliefs and opinions of the translator and is subject to error.

    • Ken Abbott

      And T rides in on his favorite hobbyhorse…

    • Beth Van

      “For those who do not believe in God, no explanation is possible.”

    • Sapient

      Trilemma is a fool. A fool is Trilemma. Trilemma = fool. See, even using the substance of your example the message is clear.

    • GLT

      Just curious, Trilemma, are you at all familiar with the practice of hermeneutics? If so, you must know it would explain your question.

      • Trilemma

        Yes, I am familiar with the practice of hermeneutics but it doesn’t answer my question. The phrase and word I mentioned are translated one way in some bibles and the other way in other bibles.

        • GLT

          If you’re familiar with hermeneutics then you are aware context can be of greater importance than the actual word. What is the context used in each of the translations?

          • Trilemma

            Revelation 14:11.
            NASB says, “Forever and ever.”
            WNT says, “Until the ages of the ages.”

          • GLT

            What is the context of the entire passage? Picking out a solitary verse and working with it in isolation is not practising sound hermeneutics. Perhaps you know of the discipline of hermeneutics but do you understand what constitutes sound hermeneutical practice? It would appear not.

          • Trilemma

            The context is the length of time spent in torment. A translator has to decide whether the Greek phrase indicates a duration of time the torment lasts or a point in time when the torment ceases.

          • Kathy

            The impression I get from your consistent focus on this topic is that it matters greatly if the “torment” lasts for a set period of time or if it is indefinite. Does the answer determine whether or not one should believe the gospel message and follow Christ?

          • Trilemma

            It depends on what you believe the gospel is. Many Christians believe hell is an essential part of the gospel. If eternal torment is a lie, then the gospel is based on a lie. Seems like that should matter.

          • Kathy

            The simple gospel is: All have sinned, the death of Christ on the cross paid for those sins, the resurrection of Christ provided life everlasting for those who follow Him, meaning only those who accept/partake free gift of salvation offered to all.

            Where are the people that have rejected that message? What does the duration of the “torment” depend upon according to Scripture? If it is the end of the age, when is that?

          • Trilemma

            The gift of salvation is salvation from what? If it’s hell, then hell is an essential part of the gospel. Based on the way some bibles are translated, hell seems true. Based on the way other bibles are translated, universal reconciliation seems true. How do we decide which translation is most reliable?

          • Ed Schimberg

            Hell is an essential part of God’s holiness in executing His wrath on Sin. Period. You want to argue with the Apostles and with Jesus Messiah, go right ahead. Have a big ole time with that, but you’re gonna lose the argument. I’ve decided from my studies of the various major translation texts that all of them teach the same thing concerning the Gospel, everlasting life and eternal punishment for rejecting God’s grace in the sacrifice of the Son of God. Like, I said, you can believe whatever you want and you can continue being a tool of Satan if want to do that…2Co 11:10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. (nor mine on this thread today)
            2Co 11:11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! (yes love you to bring you correction in the name of Jesus Messiah)
            2Co 11:12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.
            2Co 11:13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.
            2Co 11:14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
            2Co 11:15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

          • Ed Schimberg

            Gospel
            A. Noun.
            euangelion (G2098) originally denoted a reward for good tidings; later, the idea of reward dropped, and the word stood for “the good news” itself. The Eng. word “gospel,” i.e. “good message,” is the equivalent of euangelion (Eng., “evangel”). In the NT it denotes the “good tidings” of the kingdom of God and of salvation through Christ, to be received by faith, on the basis of His expiatory death, His burial, resurrection, and ascension, e.g., Act_15:7; Act_20:24; 1Pe_4:17. Apart from those references and those in the gospels of Matthew and Mark, and Rev_14:6, the noun is confined to Paul’s epistles. The apostle uses it of two associated yet distinct things, (a) of the basic facts of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, e.g., 1Co_15:1-3; (b) of the interpretation of these facts, e.g., Rom_2:16; Gal_1:7, Gal_1:11; Gal_2:2; in (a) the “gospel” is viewed historically, in (b) doctrinally, with reference to the interpretation of the facts, as is sometimes indicated by the context.
            The following phrases describe the subjects or nature or purport of the message; it is the “gospel” of God, Mar_1:14; Rom_1:1; Rom_15:16; 2Co_11:7; 1Th_2:2, 1Th_2:9; 1Pe_4:17; God, concerning His Son, Rom_1:1-3; His Son, Rom_1:9; Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Mar_1:1; our Lord Jesus, 2Th_1:8; Christ, Rom_15:19, etc.; the glory of Christ, 2Co_4:4; the grace of God, Act_20:24; the glory of the blessed God, 1Ti_1:11; your salvation, Eph_1:13; peace, Eph_6:15. Cf. also “the gospel of the Kingdom,” Mat_4:23; Mat_9:35; Mat_24:14; “an eternal gospel,” Rev_14:6.
            In Gal_2:14, “the truth of the gospel” denotes, not the true “gospel,” but the true teaching of it, in contrast to perversions of it.
            The following expressions are used in connection with the “gospel”: (a) with regard to its testimony; (1) kerusso, “to preach it as a herald, e.g., Mat_4:23; Gal_2:2 (see PREACH); (2) laleo, “to speak,” 1Th_2:2; (3) diamarturomai, “to testify (thoroughly),” Act_20:24; (4) euangelizo, “to preach,” e.g., 1Co_15:1; 2Co_11:7; Gal_1:11 (see B, No. 1 below); (5) katangello, “to proclaim,” 1Co_9:14; (6) douleuo eis, “to serve unto” (“in furtherance of”), Php_2:22; (7) sunathleo en, “to labor with in,” Php_4:3; (8) hierourgeo, “to minister,” Rom_15:16; (8) pleroo, “to preach fully,” Rom_15:19; (10) sunkakopatheo, “to suffer hardship with,” 2Ti_1:8; (b) with regard to its reception ol otherwise: (1) dechomai, “to receive,” 2Co_11:4; hupakouo, “to hearken to, or obey,” Rom_10:16; 2Th_1:8; pisteuo en, “to believe in,” Mar_1:15; metastrepho, “to pervert,” Gal_1:7.
            Note: In connection with (a), the apostle’s statement in 1Co_9:23 is noticeable, “I do all things for the Gospel’s sake, that I may be a joint partaker thereof,” RV, for the incorrect KJV, “that I might be partaker thereof with you.”
            B. Verbs.
            1. euangelizo (G2097), “to bring or announce glad tidings” (Eng., “evangelize”), is used (a) in the active voice in Rev_10:7 (“declared”) and Rev_14:6 (“to proclaim,” RV, KJV, “to preach”); (b) in the passive voice, of matters to be proclaimed as “glad tidings,” Luk_16:16; Gal_1:11; 1Pe_1:25; of persons to whom the proclamation is made, Mat_11:5; Luk_7:22; Heb_4:2, Heb_4:6; 1Pe_4:6; (c) in the middle voice, especially of the message of salvation, with a personal object, either of the person preached, e.g., Act_5:42; Act_11:20; Gal_1:16, or, with a preposition, of the persons evangelized, e.g., Act_13:32, “declare glad tidings”; Rom_1:15; Gal_1:8; with an impersonal object, e.g., “the word,” Act_8:4; “good tidings,” Act_8:12; “the word of the Lord,” Act_15:35; “the gospel,” 1Co_15:1; 2Co_11:7; “the faith,” Gal_1:23; “peace,” Eph_2:17; “the unsearchable riches of Christ, Eph_3:8. See PREACH, SHEW, TIDINGS.
            2. proeuangelizomai (G4283), “to announce glad tidings beforehand,” is used in Gal_3:8.
            Note: For other verbs see above.

          • Kathy

            Only thing I would add to Ed’s post below is that those who rebel against and reject the gospel message are making a decision to be separated from God…they obviously want nothing to do with Him and do not want to eternally be in His presence God is allowing them to make that choice for separation from Him, so why advocate for universal reconciliation? Yes, it is very troubling that people would choose that fate, but I agree that you are allowing yourself to be a tool of Satan with that deception.

          • Trilemma

            If universal reconciliation is false then I shouldn’t advocate it. If eternal torment in hell is false then you should not advocate it. These two doctrines are based on how the bible is translated. How do you know you picked the correct translation?

          • Kathy

            What benefit is there in anyone being told that they will be reconciled to God eventually when they have chosen alienation for themselves?

          • Trilemma

            If it’s true, why would you lie to them? No one chooses to experience eternal conscious torment in a fiery hell.

          • Kathy

            How do you know it’s true and not a lie? Even IF there is just a limited punishment and people are aware of that because you told them, why would anyone choose that punishment (whatever it might be) over just trusting in the full pardon God provides through simple faith in Jesus Christ? Seems they would be saying “I understand, but I’d rather believe and trust in Hinduism or whatever means of rejection they prefer to hold on to.

            Is it possible that you have deceased family and friends that you know rejected the gospel? Is wanting to believe there is a second chance helping you to cope with that knowledge?

          • Ed Schimberg

            1st Corinthians 15 is one clarification of what the gospel is: 1Co 15:1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand,
            1Co 15:2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
            1Co 15:3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
            1Co 15:4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,
            1Co 15:5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.
            1Co 15:6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.
            1Co 15:7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.
            1Co 15:8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time…So Eternal Punishment in Hell, or as it is also called in the NT, everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, is not the Gospel; it is God executing justice because of His holiness with wrath on those who die in their sins because they rejected His Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ.

          • Trilemma

            Nothing in those verses excludes universal reconciliation.

          • Ed Schimberg

            So what is everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord…please man, you are being silly. An obstructionist, okay, then…good luck with that.

          • Trilemma

            The YLT says age-during not everlasting. Why didn’t the writer use aidios?

          • Ed Schimberg

            I’d say you have at least a Quadlemma on your hands…☺☺☺☺

          • Ed Schimberg

            Try these eight verses on for size then…Rom_6:22 But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.
            Rom_16:26 but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith—
            Gal_6:8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.
            2Th_1:9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,
            2Th_2:16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace,
            1Ti_1:16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.
            1Ti_6:16 who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.
            Heb_13:20 Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,

          • Trilemma

            The YLT doesn’t use the word “everlasting” in any of those verses. It uses the word “age-during.” Why should I believe the translation you used is any more reliable than the YLT?

          • Ed Schimberg

            Should believe it because it is correct. From Vines: Eternal
            1. aion (G165), “an age,” is translated “eternal” in Eph_3:11, lit., “(purpose) of the ages” (marg.), and 1Ti_1:17, lit. “(king) of the ages” (marg.). See AGE.
            2. aionios (G166) “describes duration, either undefined but not endless, as in Rom_16:25; 2Ti_1:9; Tit_1:2; or undefined because endless as in Rom_16:26, and the other sixty-six places in the NT.
            “The predominant meaning of aionios, that in which it is used everywhere in the NT, save the places noted above, may be seen in 2Co_4:18, where it is set in contrast with proskairos, lit., ‘for a season,’ and in Phm_1:15, where only in the NT it is used without a noun. Moreover it is used of persons and things which are in their nature endless, as, e.g., of God, Rom_16:26; of His power, 1Ti_6:16, and of His glory, 1Pe_5:10; of the Holy Spirit, Heb_9:14; of the redemption effected by Christ, Heb_9:12, and of the consequent salvation of men, Heb_5:9, as well as of His future rule, 2Pe_1:11, which is elsewhere declared to be without end, Luk_1:33; of the life received by those who believe in Christ, Joh_3:16, concerning whom He said, ‘they shall never perish,’ Joh_10:28, and of the resurrection body, 2Co_5:1, elsewhere said to be ‘immortal,’ 1Co_15:53, in which that life will be finally realized, Mat_25:46; Tit_1:2.
            “Aionios is also used of the sin that ‘hath never forgiveness,’ Mar_3:29, and of the judgment of God, from which there is no appeal, Heb_6:2, and of the fire, which is one of its instruments, Mat_18:8; Mat_25:41; Jud_1:7, and which is elsewhere said to be ‘unquenchable,’ Mar_9:43.
            “The use of aionios here shows that the punishment referred to in 2Th_1:9, is no temporary, but final, and, accordingly, the phraseology shows that its purpose is not remedial but retributive.”*
            * From Notes on Thessalonians, by Hogg and Vine, pp 232, 233.
            3. aidios (G126); see EVERLASTING.
            You can believe what you want to believe. Maybe you are a universalist, and you believe no one will suffer eternal punishment for rejecting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Okay, then…but you are wrong if that is what you believe and you will find that out when you stand before Him after your body dies.

          • Trilemma

            Vines says aion means “an age.” So why would anyone honestly translate aion as “eternal” which is the exact opposite of an age? And why would an adjective mean the exact opposite of the noun it’s based on? That’s like saying millennium means 1000 years but millennial means eternal. If the writers of the bible had wanted to say something was eternal, why didn’t they use the Greek word “aidios” which actually means eternal?

          • GLT

            And how would the translator determine that?

          • Trilemma

            The translator could look at verses that don’t talk about time such as Colossians 1:19-20.

            For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. – Col 1:19-20 NIV

            This verse indicates that all things will be reconciled to God through Christ. That could only be possible if punishment was not eternal.

          • GLT

            “The choice will be based on the personal beliefs and opinions of the translator and is subject to error.”

            How is what you have just suggested different from your initial criticism presented above?

          • Trilemma

            Admittedly, maybe not much. I think using the easier to translate verses to guide the translation of the more difficult will yield a more reliable translation. However, there’s no way to get rid of all translator bias which means no translation is totally accurate.

          • GLT

            There is, however, a vast difference between totally accurate and reliable. No translation is going to be be perfect as you say, simply because of the fundamental differences in languages, especially when translating from an ancient language to a modern language. That does not mean the translation is unreliable or misleading. Therefore, we can confidently believe the message of the Bible has been accurately transmitted.

          • Ed Schimberg

            Again, correct.

          • Ed Schimberg

            Correct.

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