Can I Trust My Bible Translation? (Part 2)

We recently started this series about Bible translations as a companion to a series we published years ago titled Can I Trust The Bible? We consolidated the 30-part series into six eBooks. You’ll find them listed at the top of our Free Apologetics eBooks webpage.

Our conclusion to the question, Can I Trust The Bible?, is a resounding YES! However, that yes is based on the particular view of the Holy Bible as containing 66 Books in two divisions: Old and New Testaments. We did not find that the apocryphal books passed the test of Inspiration by the Holy Spirit. You can read Part 4 of our study to see more about why we reached that conclusion.

What we would like to do now is ask and answer another important question: Can I Trust My Bible Translation? We will be looking specifically at English translations in this series.

Early Modern English Translations

We looked at the earliest English translations of the Bible and portions of the Bible in the first part of our series. That included Old English, Middle English and Early Modern English translations. Some of the translations came from the Latin Vulgate. Other translations came from Greek and Hebrew copies of Scripture.

The Early Modern English period began in the late 15th century AD and continued until the early 18th century. It coincides with the Tudor and Stuart dynasties in England.

We’ve already looked at Wycliffe’s Bible, Tyndale’s Bible, The Coverdale Bible, Matthew’s Bible, The Great Bible, The Geneva Bible and The Bishop’s Bible. We turn next to what may be the greatest of the Early Modern English Bibles, the King James Bible.

The King James Bible

James Charles Stuart was born in 1566 to Mary, Queen of Scots. He was also the great-great-grandson of Henry VII, King of England and Lord of Ireland. James succeeded to the Scottish throne when he was just 13-months old and gained control of his government in 1583 (several regents governed for James while he was a child). He succeeded Queen Elizabeth I, the last of the Tudors, since she died childless. That gave King James rule over Scotland, England and Ireland until his death in 1625.

King James met with a conference of church leaders in 1604 AD and asked that the English Bible be revised because some of the existing translations “were corrupt and not answerable to the truth of the original.” (Britannica.com) James approved a list of 54 ‘revisers’ who were organized into six groups. The archbishop of Canterbury oversaw the translation process. They published the new Bible in 1611 AD.

The groups used extant English-language translations along with a partial Tyndale translation and Jewish commentaries to help them in translating Old and New Testament. The Greek text they used is known as ‘Textus Receptus’ (Latin for ‘received text’). The translators relied on three Greek scholars in making the New Testament translation: Desiderius Erasmus, Theodore Beza and Robert Estienne (Latin name – Stephanus). Each man used a small number of available Greek manuscripts to build their copy of the Greek New Testament, which the King James Bible translators used as sources for their work.

[You can read the translators introduction to the 1611 version by clicking here.]

The King James Bible included the Apocrypha in the 1611 printing in a special section between the Old and New Testament. Several apocryphal books were part of the King James Bible until 1885 AD (almost 275 years). The King James Bible has also gone through many spelling, punctuation and wording changes since the original 1611 version.

The King James Bible, also called the King James Version (KJV) and Authorized Version (AV) became the standard English Bible from the middle of the 17th century to the early part of the 20th century. It continues to be the choice of many English-speaking Christians to this day.

The KJV is a Formal Equivalence translation (word-for-word).

Late Modern English Translations

The term ‘Late Modern English’ (also known as ‘Modern English’) is believed to have come about because of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the British Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. Colonialism had a huge impact on the English language as did the ‘New World’ that became the United States of America. Thomas Jefferson is quoted as writing this in a letter in 1813 – “The new circumstances under which we are placed call for new words, new phrases, and for the transfer of old words to new objects. An American dialect will therefore be formed”. (The History of English)

The transition from Early Modern English to Late Modern English also had an impact on Bible translations.

English Revised Version

Translators in England attempted to revise the King James Version in the late 19th century. It was called the English Revised Version (ERV). Translators referenced The New Testament in the Original Greek by Westcott and Hort and The Greek New Testament by Samuel Tregelles.

The New Testament portion of the ERV was published in 1881 and titled – The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Translated out of the Greek: Being the Version Set Forth A.D. 1611, Compared with the Most Ancient Authorities and Revised, A.D. 1881. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1881). The Old Testament portion of the ERV was published in 1885. The entire ERV was titled – The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments translated out of the original tongues : being the version set forth A.D. 1611 compared with the most ancient authorities and revised. Oxford: University Press, 1885. 4 vols. The Apocrypha was added to the 1885 version.

The American Revision (also known as American Standard Version – ASV) was published in 1901 and titled – The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, Translated out of the Original Tongues, Being the Version Set Forth A.D. 1611, Compared with the Most Ancient Authorities and Revised A.D. 1881-1885, Newly Edited by the American Revision Committee A.D. 1901, Standard Edition. New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1901.

The RSV and ASV are Formal Equivalence translations (word-for-word).

The American Standard Version became the basis of four later revisions:

  • Amplified Bible, 1965
  • Revised Standard Version, 1971
  • Recovery Version, 1999
  • World English Bible, 2000

The ASV was also the basis for Kenneth Taylor’s ‘Living Bible’ paraphrase (1971).

The Amplified Bible

I became a Christian out of atheism, so my parents asked their pastor what Bible he would recommend for me to read. He recommended they get me The Amplified Bible and they did less than a month after I became a Christian. It was my first Bible (post-atheism) and helped me immensely as I studied to understand God and His Word.

I still use The Amplified Bible in my study from Greek and Hebrew. The version I have was copyrighted in 1965 and is now called The Amplified Bible Classic Edition (AMPC). The Lockman Foundation published The Amplified Gospel of John in 1954. Lockman and Zondervan published The Amplified New Testament in 1958 and The Amplified Old Testament in two parts (1962 and 1964). The Amplified Bible was first published in 1965.

A committee of qualified Hebrew and Greek scholars worked together to prepare a translation that includes explanatory alternate readings and amplifications along with word-for-word emphasis. The AMPC used multiple English word equivalents to each key Hebrew and Greek word to clarify and amplify the meaning of the original text.

“The AMPC is based on the American Standard Version of 1901, Rudolph Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica, the Greek text of Westcott and Hort, and the 23rd edition of the Nestle Greek New Testament as well as the best Hebrew and Greek lexicons available at the time. Cognate languages, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other Greek works were also consulted. The Septuagint and other versions were compared for interpretation of textual differences. In completing the AMPC, translators made a determined effort to keep, as far as possible, the familiar wording of the earlier versions, and especially the feeling of the ancient Book.” Lockman Foundation, Version Information

I used The Amplified Bible along with the King James Version for many years in personal reading, study and teaching. I continue to use the 1965 version along with the updated 1985 AMPC and the 2015 AMP versions when comparing word definitions and meaning with original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Koine Greek).

New King James Version

Thomas Nelson Publishers commissioned a large group of Bible scholars, church leaders and lay Christians to update the vocabulary and grammar of the King James Version (KJV). The 130 translators spent seven years translating from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts –

  • Hebrew – Biblia Hebraica (with comparisons to the Ben Hayyim edition of the Mikraot Gedolot)
  • Greek – Textus Receptus

The New King James Version (NKJV) came out in three phases –

  1. New Testament, 1979
  2. New Testament and Psalms, 1980
  3. Complete Bible, 1982

The NKJV is a Formal Equivalence translation (word-for-word). *

*[The Preface to the New King James Version calls it a ‘Complete’ Equivalence Translation – “This principle of complete equivalence seeks to preserve all of the information in the text, while presenting it in good literary form.”]

English Standard Version

One of the more recent Bible translations in English that is also a Formal Equivalence translation (word-for-word) is the English Standard Version (ESV). The publishers (Crossway) state that the ESV “stands in the classic mainstream of English Bible translations over the past half-millennium. The fountainhead of that stream was William Tyndale’s New Testament of 1526; marking its course were the King James Version of 1611 (KJV), the English Revised Version of 1885 (RV), the American Standard Version of 1901 (ASV), and the Revised Standard Version of 1952 and 1971 (RSV).”

The ESV publishing team was made up of more than 100 people, including 14 members of a translation oversight committee, more than 50 translation review scholars, and more than 50 members of an advisory committee. The ESV translation is based on the Masoretic text found in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgarensia for the Old Testament and on the UBS/Nestle-Aland 28th edition for the New Testament.

You can read the Preface to the English Standard Version by clicking here.

Next Time

We will look at some of the English Bible translations that are Dynamic Equivalence (thought-for-thought) when our series continues.

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