INSPIRATION AND LANGUAGE

FROM TIME TO TIME we receive letters from readers asking if we can recommend a 'Bible' which is both accurate and readable. Unfortunately such a request is not easy to meet. To obtain a version of verbal accuracy and also of the highest literary quality so as to make its reading a pleasure is probably more than one can expect from any human source.

We are often prone to forget that it is only God's ORIGINAL Word which is "inspired" or "God-breathable".... and we do not possess that Original. Although there are many Bibles in the world, no two of them are identical, because of necessity they are all translations from the first writers who of course did not know a word of English. When sincere Christians speak of their love for the Bible, they are sometimes unaware that their devotion is only to one or another of many versions of Scripture which we are still very fortunate to have.

Most of us are not skilled to understand the ancient languages of Hebrew and Greek, so we must depend on those who are; yet even then we must also remember that English is a language foreign to the original tongues, so frequently it proves impossible to obtain an exact English equivalent for some Scriptural phrase. Greek, for example, can express shades of meaning quite beyond the scope of our clumsier tongue. Still we should remember that the Scriptures remain the best preserved of all ancient documents, even though the earliest Codices are copies of copies. No infallible original has ever been located, and all the recognized manuscripts differ in many places.

It is not the writer's intention here to attempt an examination of the numerous sources from which the many English versions are compiled, rather to follow the principle laid down by our Lord: "In the mouths of two or three witnesses shall every word be established"; and fortunately we do have three prime witnesses to the Greek Scriptures in the form of Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiaticus.

None of these manuscripts is entirely complete, but they are extremely ancient, so a text derived from these three seems to be as close to the original wording as it is possible to obtain. In any case, whenever the findings from later authorities are collated, they agree in practically every essential with the three oldest copies.

It is a fascinating study to which many famous and competent scholars have devoted many years examining the sources for numerous manuscripts of the Scriptures discovered' over the centuries and their variations. For our purpose, however, we believe it is sufficient to affirm that we believe the originals to have been the inspired and infallible Word of God, and that the documents on which our modern versions were based are so close to the original that they are extremely reliable. Still wherever variant readings appear, we would deem it unwise to insist that any one of these is alone the right one.

Thus with regard to accuracy, the only criterion must be that of' faithfulness to the accepted text. When it comes to "readability", we need to consider how closely such faithfulness has been conformed to suitable phraseology in our own particular language, whether that be English, Italian, German or any of' the many other constantly changing languages resulting from the tower of Babel.

Although there are other older English translations than the Authorized or King James Version; it is still regarded by many or most Christians as if that alone were “the Bible”. As we have explained elsewhere, however, it was not translated from any of' the Codices mentioned here but from a Latin translation. Consequently we have numerous words in the Authorized Version supposed to be Latin equivalents of Greek words but they are often very inadequate equivalents because they do not convey the thoughts inherent in the Greek. Worst among these are probably the terms pertaining to time, such as "eternal", "never", and associated words, because these Latin terms were made the basis for a system of theology which does much violence to the truth concerning God and His purpose. Such terms became responsible for the doctrine of "eternal torment", which (thankfully) finds no support whatever in the Greek.

It is important to remember that in most versions the translation of certain passages was "slanted" to suit the popular teachings of the day. This was not necessarily deliberate, though some preconceived idea is much inclined to influence a translator's thinking. That notorious verse containing our Lord's words to the thief on the cross is doubtless the best known example of theological influence on translation in the A. V. Since there are no punctuation marks in the Greek, the translator here elected to place a comma where it would reflect his own theological bias. This distorts our Lord's promise to the thief as if it were something he would realize that day: "This day shall thou be with me in paradise.” Properly punctuated, the promise should read: "Verily I say unto thee today, thou shall be with me in paradise". The incorrectly rendered text accords with orthodox theology and the error which still persists among nominal Christians, that death is followed immediately by some kind of disembodied existence. This theory does violence to the entire context of Scripture truth. Our Lord's words as rendered by the misplaced comma would be no answer to the thief's prayer asking to be remembered when Christ comes into His kingdom. The promise he did receive, and will in due time enjoy, is that he will be with Christ in paradise when His glorious earthly kingdom dawns. Vividly then will the thief recall the day on which he received the promise—"Verily I say unto thee THIS day"—that former dark day when all hope of Messiah's kingdom seemed lost, so only faith of the highest quality could look beyond the day of the Suffering Servant and visualize His future as David's Greater Son.

Despite such occasional incorrect renderings as just mentioned here above, the King James Version was made at a time when English 'Was at its best; in the days of Shakespeare and other great Elizabethan writers. For readable written English it never has been surpassed, although some of its expressions are now archaic. It is not true, as some have maintained, that this version is wildly inaccurate. Though it does contain occasional inaccuracies like the one we have mentioned here, this is true more or less of all versions. The King James Version can be safely read and enjoyed by observing first that the meaning of certain English words has changed through usage which requires suitable alterations now; and recognizing also that any given word in Hebrew or Greek is often rendered by a different English word in one passage than it is in another. It is, of course, a great mistake to venerate the King James Version as if that alone were THE Bible, for treasured as it is by all English-speaking people, it remains only one of many versions. It can be used to make one "wise unto salvation", but not more than any other version. It should not be mistaken for the original and infallible Word of God. Those who regard it as such are in danger of worshiping a Version; something we should not do with ANY version, for they are all the works of men, mostly faithful and dedicated men but none the less subject to human error. The only OBJECT of our worship must be the Living Word, the One in whom all the promises of God are Yea and Amen.

All the old English versions, made between 680 and 995 A. D., were translated not from the Greek but from the Latin Vulgate, and they all illustrate the changes in language which have occurred over the years. Where Jerome used the Latin word AETERNUM for eonian, the old versions used the once common. English word ECE which still survives as the verb "to eke" meaning prolong or increase, or lasting. But the theologians wanted it to stand for "everlasting" (which it does not mean) and so everlasting gradually took the place of lasting, a transition which makes a great deal of difference. Between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries great changes took place in the English language, for up to the year 950 there were few Latin or Danish words in use. Later in that period many French words came into use, and what has been described as "the wild anarchy of speech" caused many words to take on new meanings or lose their old ones.

The very old versions were probably restricted to the four gospels and a few other parts. John Wyclif was probably the first man to translate the whole Bible into the English tongue between 1356 and 1382. In those days the Greek originals were almost forgotten in Europe, for the Latin Vulgate had dominated the continent for the thousand years between Jerome and Wyclif. In fact, Latin had displaced Greek completely as the language of clergy and scholars. But Wyclif avoided many of the pitfalls of translation from the Latin, never using "for ever" or "for ever and ever", and though he used "everlasting" he never used "eternal". As we have remarked about this before, if the Authorized Version had followed Wyclif's version, these erroneous terms never would have been accepted and used. A typical rendering by Wyclif is from John 11:26: "Eche that lyveth and bileveth in me schal not die withouten ende", whereas the A. V. has "He that liveth and believeth on me shall never die". Believers DO die but, on the other hand, their death is not WITH0UT END.

All similar terms used in the A. V. must be suspect, especially those having to do with time, the world, destruction, and so on. They form no basis for sound teaching, yet in many cases they have been perpetuated in later revisions of the A. V. which in other ways have made some improvements but also some new and additional errors.

Like other translators, Wyclif too was subject to error. In John 17:12 the A. V. calls Judas "the son of perdition" which was copied from Wyclif, but Tyndale in 1526 translated correctly with the simple truth "that lost chylde". That is the whole truth the facts of which should not be colored by using words inferring doom and misery, such as "Not one of them was destroyed except the son of destruction". All the Greek states is "Not one of them got lost except the son of lostness".

The Concordant Version has rendered a great service to all students of Scripture by producing a version which makes the truths relating to the eons clear and understandable. While those truths were perhaps never entirely lost from other translations, they were largely hidden in some of the popular versions and obscured still further by theological deviations from truth. The Concordant Version was designed with the noble purpose of inviolate accuracy based on the three most ancient and reliable manuscripts; the Codex Sinaiaticus, the Codex Vaticanus, and the Codex Alexandrinus. Those three great witnesses were combined by photographic reproductions to obtain a reliable text, showing also where the readings differ, thus avoiding the usual practice whereby editors use their own judgment in selecting the reading they prefer. The first edition of this version provided a restored Greek text with various readings, together with a consistent sublinear based upon a standard English equivalent for each Greek element and an idiomatic English version. Regardless therefore how much opinions may vary in the choice of English equivalents or the choice of phraseology for the idiomatic version, the sublinear provides all the evidence on which every rendering is based so that each reader may evaluate the propriety of the standards adopted and also the idiom. Those able to read Greek are undoubtedly the greatest beneficiaries but for the ordinary student as well the whole conception is excellent and most helpful. From the earliest days of the Concordant Version there were differences of opinion about the standards adopted and the idiomatic translation but there was broad general agreement that the version adds substantially to clarity and accuracy, even though the idiomatic rendering may contain certain phrases strange to other than American ears, especially in passages containing translation from the Hebrew.

These remarks relate to the matter of "readability”, with which this paper commenced. Here we would suggest the reader and believer, as he takes up the Scriptures should pray the same prayer as David did: "O Lord, open Thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law". When the eyes of our heart and understanding are opened, we see wonderful things in the Word of God, realizing it is alive, quick and powerful. We need to become alive to the WORD, which is the work of the Spirit, operating now the same as ever before.

Some expositors seem to imply it is not absolutely necessary to be enlightened by the Spirit. The problem, they say, is not concerned with man's inability to receive the truth but with the natural difficulty to understand it, so it is just a problem of communication, a natural rather than a spiritual barrier. But the fact is that a man must know God Himself before he can understand the meaning of His Word.

In these days there is much emphasis on the need of presenting the message to modern man so it will appeal to his understanding, an intellectual appeal to reason. Hence most versions which now proliferate are not really translations at all but paraphrases, all of these highly suspect to one who values truth. Men are inclined to sacrifice accuracy for readability. By and large, each successive translation becomes more popular and less accurate. The whole concept of verbal inspiration is being threatened as we are told that Scripture can be interpreted in many different ways. People feel less concerned with what the Word says than what they can make it mean. What would we think if our correspondence were handled that way? All this fosters the idea that accuracy does not matter, and even some who pay lip-service to verbal inspiration of the originals have been willing to use translations they know full well are corrupt. A good example is their use of the Revised Standard Version which many faithful men at first rejected but later some of them listened to advocates of a lax and "liberal" attitude, compromising verbal inspiration and Divine authority. In the preface to his "New Translation" of 1913 Dr. Moffatt says: "Once the translator of the New Testament is freed from the influence of verbal inspiration, these difficulties (of accurate and idiomatic translation) cease to be so formidable". You need only read his "translation" to see the amount of freedom he thought he was entitled to exercise.

While the Revised Standard Version does not go so far as Dr. Moffatt did, it reflects like determination not to be fettered by the true facts of Scripture. It supplies the gist of a passage but provides a paraphrase rather than a translation. While acknowledging that translators should confine themselves to translation, the authors of R. S. V. have meanwhile maintained that it was their duty to assume the role of interpreters also and to publish not simply what the inspired writers said but rather what others now say they meant.

In his review of the R. S. V., O. T. Allis wrote: "We believe, and think we have proved, that the Revised Standard Version represents a radical departure from the high standard of accuracy which was set by the Authorized Version - while we agree to a large extent with that stated preference for the Authorized Version rather than the R. S. V., we must still remember that the A. V. was translated not from the Greek but from the Latin, so therefore it often falls short of the high standard of accuracy which the foregoing quotation may suggest, but it is truly more accurate than the R. S. V. In recent years the R. S. V. has become the most widely used of modern versions, not because it is an accurate translation but simply because the theological outlook in the nominal church has completely changed. Even the Roman Catholics now use the R. S. V. Men have made the presentation of the Evangel more important than the Evangel itself.

As with every other version, however, there are occasional passages where the R. S. V. comes closer than its contemporaries to the true meaning of Scripture; yet it also commits the great error of omitting the vital term “begotten" in relation to Christ. This is a deliberate theological "slant" which many fail to notice, especially in John 1:14,18 where the R. S. V. has "as of the only Son". The Greek clearly reads "of only generated beside Father" in verse 14 and "the only generated God" in verse 18.

During recent years another new paraphrase of the Greek Scriptures has been published in Great Britain, called "The New English Bible". It has been sponsored by influential Protestant churches and received with considerable praise. As with other versions, some things in it are very good, but as regards accuracy many of its renderings are bad, and as regards readability it is flat and dull in style. In all translation, we realize it is possible only to approach perfection, never to reach it. What condemns the N. E. B. is that perfection has not been even attempted. If for example we compare various translations of the Greek KOSMOS which ordinarily appears as "world", we find in the A. V. it is so rendered with the only exception of I Pet. 3.3. There because of its earlier basic meaning KOSMOS is rendered “adorning". The C. V. has "adornment" and there the New English Bible rightly has the same. In this instance strict concordance is impossible for the Greek KOSMOS, but in another passage, I Cor. 1:28, where there is no excuse for avoiding the use of "world" as the standard equivalent, the N. E. B. needlessly departs from order and concordance. Where that passage literally reads "the ignoble of the world and those who are scorned", the N. E. B. has "things low and contemptible", thus omitting "world" where it should have been retained. Directly afterward in verse 29 it supplies the words "pride” and "presence" which are not in the Greek at all.

This however illustrates an important point. In any translation of the Greek, concordance is vital so far as it is possible; yet, as every scholar knows, it is often impossible to find pairs of words in any two languages which are exact equivalents. But English is a very elastic language, so in turning Greek into English as concordantly as possible, a close study of the context usually makes it possible to bring our English words close to the meaning of the Greek. The N. E. B. deliberately rejects this principle and seeks, as it says, to be "free to exploit a wide range of English words covering a similar area of meaning". Yet how can a translator know the meaning of the original unless he can think in the language he is translating as perfectly as he can in his own? And a translator should say what the original SAYS, NO MORE AND NO LESS. It is inexcusable mutilation to leave out some words and add others. Every translator should regard his work only as a means to an end, saying in his own native tongue what the original writer has said in his. This does in fact eventually mean a paraphrase, but the translation should come first, as literal as possible, and it should be constantly at hand for the paraphrase to be checked against. Much more as might be said about this new version, it fully deserves the condemnation of one who reveres God's Holy Word and trembles before it. As one bishop who has banned it for the time being says, "It lacks rhythm and a sense of awe". Unfortunately in our lifetime the nominal church has been TAUGHT to treat the Word of God with carelessness and indifference to accuracy, faults which are taken as a matter of course.

So we must conclude that absolute accuracy together with ideal readability is not altogether obtainable, yet we do have reliable documents to serve as faithful witnesses of what the infallible originals said. By comparing those, together with much care and study, we can come extremely close to irrefutable facts. For this we thank God and the men who have labored in that cause. Scripture is its own witness and most apparent differences in the various translations can be resolved even by those of us who are not proficient in Hebrew and Greek. As Paul said primarily of the Jew in Romans 2, we too should be "testing the things that differ".

There are certain terms which some of us would prefer to others as closer fidelity to truth. "Justification", for example, as widely used in translation, has some disturbing overtones to sensitive ears. "Declared righteous" comes much nearer to the inspired original. Some prefer the word "acts" instead of "works", but neither does any violence to truth. A version by J. B. Rotherham (1872) is often quoted in this magazine. Though not strictly concordant, it serves the cause of accuracy and avoids many errors of others. Yet where it has the term "ages" some of us prefer "eons" as even more accurate. Rotherham's phraseology closely approaches the fine English of the A. V., but the marks used to indicate the emphasis inherent to the original tongues do not contribute to easy readability. To understand and enjoy Scripture, we need all help we can get; most of all we need the Spirit to lead us into all truth. Scholarship alone is not sufficient, yet mental indolence is a great hindrance. Nothing good comes easy, nor is it so intended.

It may be helpful to our readers if we mention here those sources from which we compile our own studies. To facilitate study of the Authorized Version (especially the O. T.) we greatly appreciate E. W. Bullinger's “Companion Bible” with its excellent notes. Both for readability and accuracy we like Rotherham's Emphasized Version. For concordant use of words and reference to facsimiles of the Greek, we find the Concordant Version invaluable, meaning here also its enlightening notes, lexicon and Keyword Concordance. Though we usually avoid the many liberal paraphrases, we may occasionally find a helpful point in the New World version of the Hebrew Scriptures; It is often in the R. S. V. The literal rendering of some word or phrase by an individual scholar is often helpful. Like the Bereans, we need to search the Scriptures daily. Though the Word of God is complete, it is still true that "God hath yet more light and truth to break forth from His Word" as His Spirit continually illuminates places formerly dark. Though we have not yet an infallible version, we do have an infallible God.

Cecil J. Blay (Treasures of Truth, Instalment Ten, August-September 1973)