Why The New Testament In Greek? The Apostles did not speak English! Greek was the common language of the day and many Jews spoke Greek, rather than Hebrew or Aramaic. Consequently, the early writings of the Apostles that were intended to be read in the churches were written in Greek, and the Old Testament used by them was the Septuagint Greek Version. According to tradition, it was “prepared by 70 learned Jews ... from the Hebrew ... but it is not an accurate translation ... There are many variations in it from the Hebrew and that accounts for the difference we sometimes notice between our Old Testament which is translated directly from the Hebrew and the quotations from the Septuagint by the Evangelists and Apostles.” 1 The Latin Vulgate Latin eventually replaced Greek in the Western Roman Empire. Latin versions of the Scriptures appeared, but because of the many errors that had crept in, the “bishop of Rome appealed to St. Jerome, one of the greatest scholars of his day ... for a translation of the New Testament manuscripts from Greek into Latin and the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin.” 2 The result, called the Latin Vulgate Version, was the Bible of Western Europe for 1000 years!
The Vulgate Version included the 39 books of the Jewish Canon, the 27 books of the New Testament, and the 15 additional books that had been written between the testaments and were included in the Septuagint. These additional books, called the Apocrypha by Protestants, are regarded as genuine and inspired Scripture by various Catholic denominations, but not by Protestants. Their inclusion in Roman Catholic Bibles is what sets them apart from Bibles that are of Protestant origin.
King James Bible
Contrary to the opinion of some, the Bible was not originally written in King James English! The first translation of the entire Bible into the English language was done by John Wycliffe in 1380 AD, but because he translated it from the Latin Vulgate it contained the errors of that translation.3 In 1526 AD, William Tyndale’s Bible was “the first instance in the history of the English Bible where the translator went back to the Hebrew and the Greek. However, he had in the way of manuscripts … little compared with what is available for the translator of today.” 4 Practically every English translation of the Bible in the past 450 years – including the Authorized King James Version – owes something to William Tyndale’s work.5
The Authorized King James Version came into existence in 1604 when a “conference of clergy and bishops under the presidency of King James decided that there was need for a new version … 54 men of special learning were chosen from High Churchmen (Episcopal), Puritans, and other scholars. However, certain of the usages were already slightly archaic in 1611. By the 19th century … many passages were only understandable because of their familiarity.” 6 Familiarity explains why the King James Version remains in widespread use today.
Why Other Translations
Since “we have no true original of any biblical book,” scholars are forced to “try to reconstruct from thousands of surviving manuscripts (copies) of the earliest … text that can be established with confidence.” 7 A text produced in this way in the 1500s, from manuscripts available at that time, came to be called the Textus Receptus. The Authorized King James Version was taken from it but it “had no real authority.” 8 Since then a number of important, relevant manuscripts have been found that “furnished a mass of new materials … and called for further labor.”9 As to the general certainty of the text, all these researchers have only proved it … but “the meddling of ecclesiastics has been one chief source of questionable readings.” 10
In short, there are three reasons for making new translations more recent than the King James Version: new relevant materials, better knowledge of the original languages, and changes in the English language since it was first produced. For example, some words have become obsolete and several have changed their meaning. For instance, “to cleave” in 1611 meant to join fast together (Mt. 19:5 KJV) whereas today it means just the opposite – to separate!
Choosing A Translation
Before buying a contemporary version, the preface should be read to learn the purpose of the translators. For instance, in the preface to his New Translation, J. N. Darby wrote, “My endeavor has been to present to the English reader the original as closely as possible … not to make a version for public use.” 11 A version for public use should state the contents in the best possible way in English, and this is not the same as giving the precise meaning of words or phrases. Those who produced the New American Standard Bible“had a two-fold purpose … to adhere as closely as possible to the original language of the Holy Scriptures, and to make the translation in a fluent and readable style according to current English usage.” 12
Emphasis on producing a translation that can be easily understood by all speakers of English may result in what is called a “dynamic equivalence translation.” The preface to theNew International Version, a dynamic equivalence translation, states that “the intent is not to translate word by word or phrase by phrase but to translate the meanings of the sentences.” 13 Its goal is to provide “an accurate translation that would have clarity and literary quality and so prove suitable for public and private use.” 14 If the emphasis on meaning becomes too great however, the loose rendering of the text produces a paraphrase not worthy of being called a translation. Since The Living Bible is clearly described by its publishers as a “‘paraphrase,” the reader needs to be aware that it contains the “theological bias” of the man who produced it.15
Another popular version is the New King James Version. In the preface, it says that its purpose is “not to make a new translation … but to make a good one better.” However, it followed the Textus Receptus and therefore was subject to many of that text’s flaws. On the other hand, it did away with archaic language and some of the serious errors introduced by the King James Version translators.
“In English alone, the Bible can be found in at least 40 different translations … Many Bibles are packaged for specific audiences: feminists … ethnic, aggrieved, vocational or avocational interest groups large enough to constitute a market.” 16 Thankfully, God’s truth does not depend on answers to questions about translations. It would be a hopeless task for the ordinary reader to go through all the translations and pick out the “right” one. In considering translations, note should be taken of the individual or group making it because in some instances “theological views have biased the translators.” 17 An excellent way to proceed is to place translations side by side to read and compare them. In this way what emerges will be useful for “teaching, rebuke, correcting and training in righteousness; that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped to every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
1. The Illuminated Bible, Part 1, John A. Dickson Pub. Co., 1940, p. 3
2. Ibid., p. 4
3. Ibid., p. 7
4. Ibid., p. 8
5. Hoberman, B., “Translating the Bible,” Atlantic Monthly, Feb. 1985, p. 44
6. The Illuminated Bible, Op. Cit., p. 9
7. Hoberman, B., Op. Cit., p. 8
8. Darby, J. N., A New Translation, 2nd Ed., Kingston Bible Trust, p. xii
9. Ibid., p. xiii
10. Ibid., p. xiv
11. Ibid., p. xix
12. New American Standard Bible, A. J. Holman Co., The Lockman Foundation, 1975, p. iii
13. Hoberman, B., Op. Cit., p. 54
14. The New International Version, Zondervan Pub. Co., 1978, preface
15. Hoberman, B., Op. Cit., p. 55
16. Newsweek, Jan. 1996, p. 56
17. Darby, J. N., Op. Cit., p. xx
By Alan H. Crosby
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org