Bible Translations – Are They Trustworthy?

19 05 2009

Part I
Ever since Satan challenged God’s promises and Eve succumbed to temptation (Gen. 3:1-7), the enemy of our souls has been attacking God’s Word with his own version of what God means.  As soon as Jesus made His first move toward His mission, Lucifer was ready to challenge His every word.  During Jesus’ time of fasting and prayer for forty days, Satan came to contradict the words of Jesus with his own interpretation of Scripture.  And as a result, for thousands of years men have been tempted to distrust, doubt, and deny the validity of God’s holy Word. 

As a missionary and pastor I have heard just about every conceivable question and interpretation of the Bible that man has to offer.  While some of them have bordered on the ridiculous, many comments are simply based out of ignorance and are sincerely asked in a search for truth.  It is with such people in mind, and the many at Mountain Springs who regularly ask me thought-provoking questions, that I write this article.

I would refer any reader to my sermon in the doctrine series, The Bible: God Speaks, given April 24th, 2009, ( for further elaboration on the topic of the Bible in general.

If I were the Devil…
If I were the Devil (please no comment), I would do everything in my power to keep people from digging into and loving God’s Word, the Bible.  I would especially attack the “inspiration” part of God’s publishing process.  If I could attack the very inspiration, “God-breathed” part of heaven’s transmission to mankind, I could potentially win the battle for the validity of the Bible.

If I were the Devil, I would do everything possible to distort the Bible’s accuracy. If I were the Devil, I would do everything possible to create doubts in the minds of people about it’s authenticity.  I would do all I could to create confusion over it’s meaning.  I would send out my minions to distort and lie about its purpose.

I would broadcast through the media and governments of the world that the Bible has no bearing on real life issues like marriage, family, and happiness.  I would broadcast through the educational system that it is archaic and old fashioned.  If I were Satan, I would do everything possible to get the Bible out of the schools, out of government, and out of mainstream society.

Wow, I guess I would do just what he’s already doing!

Reformation Legacy
Two of the greatest legacies of the Reformation in the 16th Century were that of the Bible being translated into the vernacular (language) of the people and, secondly, that anyone could privately interpret the Bible for his/her own life.

While under the questioning of the imperial authorities about his writings, Luther’s famous reply at the Diet of Worms was, “Unless I am convinced by Sacred Scripture or by evident reason, I cannot recant. For my conscience is held captive by the Word of God and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe.  Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me.”

Luther believed that the Pope and councils could err and his only true source of truth was the Bible because the Bible never errs!  The gift of the reformation is that God wants all of us to have His Word in our hands, written in a way that we can easily understand.  And that each one of us can use reason, good sense, and an understanding of doctrine to hear God’s voice.

God speaks!  God speaks today!  God speaks today to every believer.  God speaks today to every believer through the Scriptures.  God’s Word to us is the Bible.  Someone says, “you mean you read the Bible literally” and my response is “Of course I do!”  There’s no other way to read it.  Who in their right mind wouldn’t?

The Bible should be interpreted in its literal sense.  This was Luther’s principle of interpreting the Bible, sensus literalisLiteralis means in Latin that we interpret it as literature according to the normal rules of grammar, syntax, and context.  In other words, we interpret poetry as poetry, history as historical fact, idiom as idiom, etc.  To not read any piece of literature literally is to distort it’s intent and meaning.  So, to be true to the general rules of reading literature, yes we always read and believe the Bible literally!

To begin our journey into how we have arrived at the current translations of the Bible we must begin with the book itself and what it says.

The Bible’s Self-Disclosure Clause
What does the Bible say about itself?  If you pick up and read the Bible for every long you quickly realize that it often speaks about itself.  Over 2,000 times the Bible in the Old Testament alone claims to be God’s Word spoken to man.  The phrase “the Word of God” occurs over 40 times in the New Testament.  In brief, here are a few choice passages of statements from Scripture about Scripture:

• Inspired Word of God Almighty — 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19–21

• Able to develop a person fully — 2 Timothy 3:17

• The very words of God — 1 Thessalonians 2:13

• Without error — Ps. 12:6; 119:140; 30:5a

• All we need to know about God — Luke 16:29, 31

• A perfect guide for life — Proverbs 6:23

• Pure — Psalm 12:6; 119:140

• True — Psalm 119:160; John 17:17

• Trustworthy — Proverbs 30:5–6

• Perfect — Psalm 19:7

• Effective — Isaiah 55:11

• Powerful — Hebrews 4:12

• Nothing to be taken from or added to — Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32

• For everyone — Romans 16:25–27

• To be obeyed — James 1:22

Some poetic images from Scripture about Scripture:
• Sweet like honey — Psalm19:10

• A lamp to guide our life — Psalm 119:105

• Food for our soul — Jeremiah 15:16

• A fire that purifies and a hammer that breaks us — Jeremiah 23:29

• A sword — Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12

• A seed for salvation planted in us — James 1:21

• Milk that nourishes us — 1 Peter 2:2

By its own declaration, the importance of Scripture can hardly be overstated. Psalms 19 and 119, plus Proverbs 30:5-6 make incredible statements about the innate power and life of God’s Word.  Let me encourage you to read these passages and ask God to speak to your heart concerning the Word of God.

Jesus Affirms the Bible
Jesus said that He came to fulfill everything in the Scriptures.  By His claims, Jesus endorsed and gave authority to the Bible.  Many times in conversations about the Bible I have asked people, “Do you believe that Jesus was a good man?  Do you think He would lie?” The answer is always is a resounding “yes” or “no.” It is from that vantage point that I present what Jesus believed about the Bible.  Here are a few of His proclamations about the Scriptures:

Luke 24:27  “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

Luke 24:44-47  He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

Matthew 5:17  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

John 5:39  “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about Me.”

Jesus clearly articulates his prophetic fulfillment of the Scripture.  By His very words, Jesus affirms the supernatural nature of the Bible.

What is the Bible?
The Bible is the bestselling book of all time, and is now available in nearly three thousand languages.  The Bible is made up of 66 individual books written over a period of 1500 years, written by kings, peasants, shepherds, law givers, law breakers, fishermen, historians, prophets, tax collectors, missionaries, and poets.  The Scriptures were written in palaces, caves, houses, and prisons.  They were written in three languages: Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic.

In light of this, the Bible is really more of a library of books rather than a single book. I like to say, “Old Testament concealed; New Testament revealed,” meaning that the Bible makes promises and prophetic predictions in the Old Testament that are concealed from our understanding until we read the New Testament.  The New Testament is the revealer and fulfiller of the Old.  Hence there is great unity between the two testaments.

This point is illustrated by the fact that the New Testament has roughly three hundred explicit Old Testament quotations, as well as upwards of four thousand Old Testament allusions. In many ways, the Old Testament is a series of promises that God makes and the New Testament is the record of the fulfillment of those promises.

A lecturer at the University of Paris created the Bible’s chapter divisions in the early 1200s, which accounts for our current 1,189 chapter divisions. Its current 31,173 verse divisions were not fully developed until 1551, in an effort to provide addresses (not unlike those on our homes) that would help us find particular sections.

God’s Publishing Process
But how did we get our current Bible? Is the English translation that you are using reliable?  Can you have confidence that the Bible you are holding is anything like the manuscripts written by the first authors?  These are excellent questions.  The Bible purports to have divine qualities.  But does it really?  And if so, how were these qualities passed down through the generations to make up our English version of the Bible?
There is a divine process that has been used by God to give us our current Bible.  This process can be summed up in five part process: 
1.) Revelation
2,) Inspiration
3.)  Canonicity
4.) Preservation
5.) Transmission

God has chosen to lift the fog of human speculation with divine revelation. Whereas speculation is the human attempt to comprehend God, revelation is God’s communication to humanity with clarity that is otherwise impossible. Revelation is the miraculous event whereby God revealed Himself and His Truth to someone and inspired them, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to write down what He had to say—perfectly. This original copy is called the autographa.

It is important that we understand that there are two kinds of Revelation:

1. General Revelation (Ps. 19:1–4; 94:8–10; Rom. 1:19–21): the personal act of God by which He makes Himself known to humanity in general through his creation, providence, and conscience so that they might come into relationship with Him.

John Calvin on general revelation: “God not only has sowed in our minds that seed of religion but revealed Himself and daily discloses Himself in the whole creation and preservation of the universe. As a result, humans can not open their eyes without being compelled to see God.” (Inst. I, V, 1)

2. Special Revelation (2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1:1): the personal act of God by which He makes Himself known to many people by His redemptive word-work so that they might come into relationship with Him.

We read in Hebrews, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1)  The means may have varied throughout Biblical history.  At times God spoke through visions, dreams, prophetic sermons, etc. but God’s unequivocal standard has always been the bedrock of His divine Word.  God has taken the initiative to reveal Himself to man.  The revealed and written Word of God is the only revelation of God for all time.  God’s special revelation is most specific, most powerful, and most trustworthy revelation is through the 66 books of the finished canon, the Bible.

We read in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”  The Greek translation for “inspiration” is Theopnest, meaning “God breathed” or “breathed out by God,” This talks about the Word of God, the Bible speaks out to us!  God is the One who is speaking, even as He uses human agents to write down His words—but make no mistake about it, God is the One who is speaking. 

The belief that God wrote Scripture in concert with human authors whom He inspired to perfectly record His words is called verbal (the very words of the Bible) plenary (every part of the Bible) inspiration (are divinely inspired revelation). Very simply, this means that God the Holy Spirit inspired not just the thoughts of Scripture, but also the very details and exact words that were perfectly recorded for us as Scripture.
This doctrine is inextricably tied to the character of God Himself. God is a truthful God who does not lie (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2). Therefore, because God is ultimately the author of Scripture, it is perfect, unlike every other uninspired writing and utterance.

Peter says that “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20–21).

Christians believe that Scripture is our highest authority, or metaphorical Supreme Court, by which all other lesser authorities are tested. Practically, this means that lesser courts of reason, tradition, and culture are under the highest court of truth, which is divinely-inspired Scripture.

During the Protestant Reformation, the slogan sola scriptura (and sometimes prima scriptura) became popular to summarize this conviction; it means Scripture alone is our highest authority. This should not be confused with solo scriptura, which is the erroneous belief that truth is only to be found in Scripture and nowhere else. Scripture itself tells us that God reveals truth to us in such things as creation and our conscience, but that the beliefs we may subscribe to from such forms of lesser revelation are to be tested by Scripture.

In part two, I will take up a further discussion of God’s publishing process as we look at the further development of the Bible that we currently have in our possession.  I will also begin to look at the different translations of the English Bible and how they differ. 

Carpe Diem Gloriae Dei,