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THE BIBLE > CHAPTER 15

Modern-Day Translations

While many issues must be considered to adequately cover the subject of modern-day translations, perhaps the most basic boils down to whether translators consider the Byzantine or Alexandrian texts to be the most reliable. Good arguments can be made for both sides.
 
The Alexandrian manuscripts are called Alexandrian because they originated in the vicinity of Alexandria in North Africa. They are the oldest Greek manuscripts and the ones used by most modern translators, who see them as the most reliable.
 
We must remember that before the advent of the printing press the Bible was copied by hand. Although scribes were most meticulous in their work, they were still human and prone to make mistakes, especially when greatly fatigued or working in dimly lit scriptoriums. Thus, the older manuscripts, having been copied less, are believed by most modern translators to be less likely to contain human error.
 
The Byzantine manuscripts, which are also called the Majority Text, get their name from the fact that they originated during the Middle Ages in the territory of the Byzantine Empire. They are the most numerous Greek manuscripts and the ones used by the King James translators.
 
We must remember that the oldest Alexandrian manuscripts were unavailable to the King James translators, being yet undiscovered in their day. For instance, unknown to them were the Sinaitic, Vatican, and Alexandrian manuscripts. Having far fewer of the older Alexandrian manuscripts available to them, it is certainly understandable why the King James translators opted to base their translation on the far more numerous Byzantine manuscripts. 
 
It is safe to say that modern translators do have significant advantages over the King James translators. They not only have the advantage of the discovery of older and better Alexandrian manuscripts, but also of the greatest Biblical archeological discovery of all time—the Dead Sea Scrolls. Thanks to these discoveries, modern translators also have the additional advantages of increased scholarship and research. In spite of these advantages, there are some who still argue that the Byzantine manuscripts are preferable to the Alexandrian manuscripts when it comes to the translation of the Bible.
 
This argument is based on the fact that the Byzantine manuscripts are more numerous, which makes scribal errors easier to detect by the sheer number of available manuscripts for comparison. For instance, if only one or two of the numerous Byzantine manuscripts contain a peculiarity, the peculiarity is easily dismissed as a scribal error. On the other hand, if a peculiarity is contained in one of the fewer Alexandrian manuscripts, it is harder to detect it as a scribal error, because of the lack of comparative manuscripts among the more ancient ones.
 
As is proven by the above, the question of translations is a scholarly one. For the most part, Bible translators are devoted to the preservation of God’s Word for future generations and to the high idea of making God’s Word comprehensible to their own generation. For faithfulness to so high a calling they deserve our undying gratitude; after all, if it were not for them we would have no Bible to read.
 
While all true translations of the Bible may prove helpful, all are not equal. There are differences between translations. In light of this, let’s conclude this chapter with a critical look at some modern-day translations.
 
To begin with, let’s look at the problem with today’s popular paraphrases of the Bible, like The Message and The Living Bible. The problem with these paraphrases is that they are not translations at all. Instead, they are an attempt by some man to put God’s Word in his own words. In doing so, the author of a paraphrase inevitably inserts his own interpretations of Scripture into the Scripture. As a result, he produces a so-called Bible that is really his spin on what the Bible says. Although he may possess the sincerest of intentions, such as making the Bible easier to understand, he is still marketing his commentary on the Bible as the Bible itself. 
 
Paraphrases are often defended by arguing that everyone paraphrases the Bible whenever we share our thoughts on what the Bible teaches. There is a great difference, however, between you telling others what you think the Bible teaches and you binding your thinking in leather with gold leaf pages and attempting to pass it off as the Bible itself.
 
Political correctness, which I prefer to call social Marxism, has permeated every aspect of our society. Unfortunately, it is even beginning to make inroads into Bible translations. For instance, some new translations are attempting to appease rather than annoy our politically correct culture by translating masculine pronouns from the original languages into today’s more acceptable gender-neutral pronouns. Granted, translating Jesus’ words "Follow Me and I will make you fishers of people” rather than “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” does little to alter the meaning of our Savior’s words.1 Still, I find this trend to conform God’s Word to the dictates of today’s politically correct culture disconcerting. It certainly bears watching in the days ahead lest it develop into such a pacification of political correctness that it perverts the translation of Scripture.
 
Now that we’ve addressed legitimate concerns over paraphrased Bibles and politically correct translations, let’s turn our attention to the differences between translations. Modern-day translations of the Bible primarily come in two varieties. 
 
First, there are the Formal or Literal Translations, which I personally prefer. These translations, like the New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version, are word for word translations. They attempt to translate the Greek or Hebrew word into its current English counterpart. 
 
Second, there are the Dynamic Translations, which I find somewhat troubling. A good example of a Dynamic Translation is the New International Version of the Bible. In these translations, translators attempt to translate the original meaning of Scripture into its corresponding modern-day meaning. In doing so, these modern translations run the risk of becoming a little too interpretive. 
 
A good example of the above is the New International Version’s translation of the Greek word “sarx,” which frequently appears in the Apostle Paul’s New Testament epistles. This Greek word literally means “flesh,” but is translated in the New International Version as “sinful nature.” Despite the fact that there is no way to literally translate “sarx” into “sinful nature,” the translators of the New International Version do so on the assumption that this is the meaning Paul meant to convey by his use of this Greek word.
 
While l can’t speak for you, I can say for myself that I prefer a Literal Translation of the Bible to a Dynamic Translation. I prefer a translation that translates the original words of Scripture into their current English counterparts, not one that attempts to translate the meaning of the original words into their corresponding modern-day meaning. Still, Dynamic Translations should not cause us undue suspicion, but may, like Literal Translations, be used by the serious student of Scripture in his or her ongoing endeavor to rightly divide the Word of Truth.2
 
1 Mark 1:17
2 2 Timothy 2:15