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 Vol. 3, No. 2                                        Page 12                                        February, 2001  

Modern Versions: Translating or Editing?

By F. Furman Kearley

The task of an editor is to correct mistakes of orthography, mistakes of grammar and mistakes of lack of clarity. The translator's task is to translate the author's message from one language into a second language. He is to do this with as close verbal equivalence as possible. Simply because the language is different and he cannot use the same words does not justify a translator in failing to strive for verbal equivalence as close as possible.

In the history of the translation of the Bible into English, the earliest translators, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Coverdale and the King James translators, attempted as nearly as possible to bring about verbal equivalence. The translators of the American Standard Version did the most accurate job that has ever been done in translating the Bible from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into English. Their effort proves that it can be done.

After 40 years of working with Greek and Hebrew and teaching these languages, I know that when I give my students a photocopy of the Greek and Hebrew text as a test, they can translate very accurately into the English language. When I give them a copy of the American Standard Version, they can translate back into Hebrew and Greek more accurately than from any other version.

As I visit churches, I am appalled at the wide range of versions that I find as pew Bibles and hear from the pulpit. Recently I encountered some worship leaders using paraphrased versions that edit God. Those who use weak and inaccurate translations are guilty of editing God.

A recent paraphrase, The Message, is being used as a devotional Bible and as a Bible for public reading from the podium. The Message is one of the most free paraphrases that has been produced. A paraphrase may have some value when the student has before him the original text or a very accurate translation of the original text and can compare the paraphrase with it. However, it is a travesty to acquaint students with the Bible by means of a paraphrase. The argument that children cannot understand the KJV or ASV is ridiculous. Jewish children have memorized and understood the Hebrew Bible for 2,000 years.

Paraphrases edit God, and they change what God through the Holy Spirit said in the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek to what men think in English. Paraphrases would not have been allowed anywhere near the tables of those writing the peace treaty in Korea. The exact language used in English also had to be the exact language used in Korean and vice versa. The same has been true with every armistice and peace treaty made from the ancient Hittites down to Vietnam. Paraphrase is not permissible in exact documents such as peace treaties and armistices, contracts and legal documents.

The Bible is the most important legal document; we will be judged by it. There is no excuse really for any Christian not being able to read God's exact Word from the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek except the lack of interest in the exact working from God and laziness. Once can take all the Hebrew necessary to become literate in Hebrew from the University of Wisconsin by correspondence. One can take all the Greek necessary to become literate in Greek from the University of Texas by correspondence courses. One need never leave his study except to go to the mailbox to become well versed in Greek and Hebrew. One can work at his own pace -- fast or slow. Preachers certainly should take advantage of this so they can exegete exactly God's Word for the sermons they preach and so they can check against the wide variety of translations that are being circulated.

Because the exactness of God's Word is so vital to understanding it, obeying it and being saved, Christians should use the most accurate English translation available. We are not going to be judged by the content of The Message or the New International Version. The NIV is also very much a paraphrase in many places. It is impossible to take the NIV and translate from its English back into the original languages.

The NIV obliterates the subjunctive mood. In John 3:16 it makes the text say exactly opposite what the original text says. It changes the word "should" to "shall." "Should be saved" gives hope but does not give a guarantee. "Should" reflects the subjunctive mood of the original text but "shall" puts the translation into the indicative mood which indicates a statement of fact. If this condition were true only in a case or two, it might not make so much difference, but the NIV has eliminated the subjunctive mood throughout the New Testament.

The Todays English Version eliminates the word "blood" from the English text in about 20 places. They change blood to death. These liberals hate blood religion and reject that Christ shed his blood to redeem us from sin. They dynamic equivalent of blood is `aima (haima). The dynamic equivalent of death is Oavatos (thanatos). Never should blood be translated death.

Here are some recommendations for Bible study and use of various versions. First, do not accept any version or translation uncritically. No translation is a divinely inspired translation. All translations are the work of fallible men and therefore will manifest some fallacies.

One should be certain that the textual basis for the translation is the most recent and accurate Greek text published by the United Bible Society and the most accurate Hebrew text. One should know something of the translators and their qualifications and track record of translation.

Students of the Bible should learn to use at least an interlinear, a Bible that prints both the Greek with the English directly above the Greek. Alfred Marshall has produced The KJV Interlinear and the Revised Standard Version Interlinear Greek-English New Testament. This is published by Zondervan Publishing Company. With this text before him, he can also make good use of W.E. Vine's An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words to do word study.

I would highly recommend that every Christian obtain and use for your primary study Bible the American Standard Version which was completed by the most outstanding list of Greek scholars in 1901. More than 100 of the best Greek and Hebrew scholars of England and America worked on the project. These men believed in the infallible inspiration of the Bible. A Ready-Reference History of the English Bible is available from the American Bible Society and bookstores.

Many of the most outstanding Bible scholars highly recommend the ASV. J.H. Thayer, professor of Greek at Andover College and Harvard and a noted lexicographer, wrote in the preface of the ASV New Testament, "The present volume, it is believed, will on the one hand bring the plain reader more closely into contact with the exact thought of the sacred writers than any version now current in Christendom, and on the other hand prove itself especially serviceable to students of the word."

Clarence T. Craig, one of the translators of the RSV recognized the quality of the ASV by this statement: "No one can successfully deny that the English Revised Version [the English counterpart to the ASV and not to be confused with the RSV, Editor] and the American Standard Version provide the most faithful and accurate translations of the New Testament which have yet been produced."

J.W. Roberts, an outstanding Greek scholar, quotes B.F. Westcott, one of the world's most outstanding textual critics and Greek scholars, concerning the English Revised Version and ASV,

The claim which they confidently make -- the claim which alone could justify their labors -- is that they have placed the English reader far more nearly than before in the position of the Greek scholar, that they have made it possible for him to trace out innumerable subtleties of harmonious correspondence between different parts of the New Testament which were hitherto obscured; that they have given him a copy of the original which is marked by a faithfulness unapproached, I will venture to say by any other ecclesiastic version ("A Principle of literalness," Restoration Quarterly, Vol. 14, Nos. 3-4, p. 157).

William M. Green, long-time Greek professor at the University of California and an elder in the Lord's church, is one of the most qualified Greek authorities in the world. An article titled "Which Version Shall I Use?" says,

For those who lack the knowledge, I would suggest that the next best thing is to select that version which is generally admitted to be the closest to the original, take that as a basic text, and compare others with it. I think there is little doubt that the American Standard Version is the most literal, exact, and nearest to the original (1901). In this it is quite similar to the Revised English Version of 1881, so when I am teaching a class, I tell them that I use the American Standard and I invite them to do the same. At the same time reading other versions for comparison. If this raises problems as it should do, they may well be the subject of class discussion, which will result in general enlightenment (Restoration Quarterly, Vol. 12, 1969, pp. 35-36).

Let us not rely on a one-man version where this man has chosen to edit God and to make all kinds of alterations in what God said and the way God said it. Let us choose to use the most renowned Greek scholars who have made every attempt possible to translate the Bible as accurately as possible. These men do not edit God but translate his Word in verbal equivalence for our reading and understanding.

Copyright 2001 Louis Rushmore. All Rights Reserved.
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