OUR ENGLISH BIBLE

A Study by

GARY RAY BRANSCOME


"The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O Lord thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever."

(Psalm 12:6-7)


    Born in the fervor of the Reformation, tried in the fires of adversity, and brought to its final form by Bible believing Christians our English Bible has stood for almost five centuries as God’s Word to the English-speaking people. Known as the “King James Translation” only because it was brought to its final form during his reign, a full ninety-percent of the New Testament, and much of the Old, is the work of William Tyndale, a dedicated Christian martyr who gave his life so that we might have God’s Word in our own language.

    Because that translation is a masterpiece of English literature, Lord Macaulay once referred to it as, “The book which if everything else in our language should perish, would suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power.” Yet, even though some are now dissatisfied with that translation and would like to see it replaced, I am convinced that that would be a mistake. It would be wrong to lightly cast aside a Bible that men died to give us, only to replace it with a commercial translation that has been sold to the public by modern advertising techniques.

    In saying this I want to make it clear that I am not averse to revising the King James Translation as long as the changes reflect a legitimate change in the English language, rather than an innovative spirit or ideological bias on the part of those making the change. However, I am opposed to replacing it with an entirely new translation. Aside from the fact that many of the newer translations are controversial, radical change opens the door to change for the sake of change. And, uncritical acceptance of change tends to legitimatize innovation at a time when social pressure to change or reject the fundamental truths of our faith must be resisted.

    In contrast to the spirit of innovation that seems so prevalent today, the committee that produced the King James translation allowed ninety percent of William Tyndale’s original work to stand. Since that committee included England’s greatest language scholars, they could easily have made a lot of unnecessary changes. However, they knew that unnecessary change engenders controversy and they were trying to heal controversy, not cause it. As a result, the King James translation was not a negation of the translations that preceded it, but their fulfillment. It was not a beginning but a climax. It was a realization of the goal sought so laboriously by the translators who had gone before. And, that is one of the things that sets it apart from many of the newer translations.

GOD’S WORD IN ENGLISH


    We need to remember that our English Bible is more than a commentary. It is (or should be) the Word of God, for God speaks to the translator through the original Greek or Hebrew text, and tells him exactly what to write down. Therefore, even though God does not directly inspire the translator, his message is from God, his translation is the Word of God, and if he says anything other than what God told him to say, he will answer to God (Proverbs 30:6).

    For that reason, those who produce cult “translations,” or any translation that doctors the wording of the text, are spitting in God’s face. The job of a translator is to is to accurately convey what God has said, not replace it with what he wants God to say. And, he has a responsibility to do that job in a way that inspires confidence in what is written, not in a way that allows inaccuracy to undermine the credibility of what is written. God wants us to have a translation that we can have confidence in, base our faith on, and mold our world-view to (2Corinthians 10:5).

    However, there are some well-meaning but misguided people who undermine confidence in our English Bible by claiming that it is impossible for any translation to be error free. Nevertheless, that is totally false. And, we know it is false because much of the Greek New Testament is a translation of words that were originally spoken in Aramaic, and we know that that translation is error free (Mark 5:41, Mark 15:34). [Note: The issue is not about mistakes, but about the possibility that any translation can be free of mistakes.]

    Those who regard every little difference between the meaning of a Greek or Hebrew word, and the word used to translate it, as an error, have been sold a bill of goods. Those who think that way would have us believe that if we translated the statement, “I bought a car” as “I purchased an automobile” that translation would contain error because the word “car” denotes a wheeled vehicle while the word “automobile” denotes something which moves on its own. However, it should be obvious to any thinking person that both statements are saying the same thing. These people have a totally unrealistic standard for judging the accuracy of a translation, and Satan is using that impossible standard to undermine confidence in our English Bible.

    There are two things that they fail to understand. First, because the meaning that God intends for us to get from the text is nothing other than what we “read or acknowledge,” that meaning can be accurately translated into any language (2Corinthians 1:13). Second, God has designed the Bible to interpret itself. For example: The faith by which we are justified is defined by the words “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Galatians 3:6). Furthermore, the words of our English Bible share the same context as their Greek or Hebrew counterparts, and it is the context that determines the specific meaning of words. Finally, because the words of our English Bible are being used to translate Greek or Hebrew words, their use in translation conditions their meaning. Therefore, their intended meaning is exactly the same as the meaning of the Greek or Hebrew word they translate.

    Some time ago I viewed a BBC series on maps, which referred to maps as a “tissue of lies.” The reason that the narrator gave for that statement was that maps are small but the world is large, maps are flat but the world is round. However, such reasoning is absurd, because maps do not claim to be an exact replica of the world at large, they only claim to describe it. Therefore, to call an accurate map a lie because it is not as large as the land it claims to describe, is ridiculous. Likewise, saying that a good translation is full of errors just because each English word does not share every shade of meaning that that might be ascribed to the Greek or Hebrew word it translates, is equally ridiculous.

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS


    Because God intended for our faith to be faith in the promises of His Word, those who undermine faith by criticizing, belittling, and calling into question what the Bible says are doing the devil’s work (Galatians 3:6-22, Romans 10:17, 2Timothy 2:14).

    Furthermore, because every believer has a responsibility to beware of false prophets, those who lead people to think that they cannot be certain of what the Bible says unless they understand Hebrew and Greek, rob believers of the confidence that they need to judge what is being taught and oppose false doctrine (Acts 17:11).

    Since the purpose of every legitimate translation is to say the same thing as the original, we need to understand that different translations are saying the same thing in different words, and compare them in the same way that we compare Matthew and Luke. Those who assume that every translation is saying something different, or that one must be right and the other wrong, leave people totally confused, not knowing which one to believe.

    The “King James Translation” has endured for as long as it has, and been accepted by as many denominations as it has, because it is a good translation. If I had been on the committee that produced the King James translation there are verses that I would have translated differently. However, that does not mean that there is anything wrong with the way it is translated! That just means that my own English usage differs from those who were on the committee. The translation they gave us is a gift of God, and I have a very low opinion of teachers who talk about how this or that verse “should have been translated” as if they are the world’s expert.

“We do not need the new Bibles which a score of publishers are endeavoring to foist upon the church in the form of modern translation and special edition.” [Doctor Walter A. Maier, from a 1931 sermon on Jeremiah 6:16.]

CONCLUSION


    The King James translation has been revised several times, and if it is to be kept readable will need to be revised in the future. However, I would like to see that done in a way that builds on the foundation that was laid at the time of the Reformation, instead of destroying that foundation by starting over with a new translation. In other words, we want to preserve our English Bible (by keeping its language current), not replace it. For that reason, I am willing to endorse “The 21st Century King James Version.” That version is a judicious revision of the King James that brings it up to date without unnecessary innovation.