Tuesday, August 14, 2007

King James, NIV, and Telephone, Oh My!

Ever played the game telephone? One person will whisper a statement in another person's ear, and that person into another person's ear, and so on, and so on. When you get to the last person, they speak out loud what they heard the message to be. Then everyone laughs hysterically about how the message morphed into something that doesn't even resemble the original message. The more people you have, the more fun it becomes.

So, what happens to the message as it travels down the "telephone line"? Well, one person is speaking, one person is hearing. The person who hears then translates what they hear and speaks it to the next person. Did you know that you use a different part of your brain for hearing and speaking? That means that the information you hear has to travel and be translated by your brain before you can repeat it. Add more people to the mix, and it is no wonder that "Mary went to the beach with Susan" can turn into "Mommy wet her britches when swimming"!

The controversy surrounding the translations of the Bible remind me of the game Telephone. Ever had anyone tell you that if you read anything other than their preferred version of the Bible, that you are just wasting your time? Or even worse, corrupting your mind with inaccuracies and filth? I have! But I am a skeptic. So I checked things out! One thing that I know without question is if you listen to what one person tells you, without checking things out for yourself, you will corrupt your mind with inaccuracies. Just like telephone!

I was watching a program on PBS the other night "Walking the Bible" I learned about how an early error in translation has affected all modern Bible translations. In Exodus, when Moses is leading the Israelites toward freedom, all of my Bible translations say that God led the people toward the RED SEA. And, sure enough, in my Hebrew-Greek Keyword Study Bible there is a little footnote to tell me that the original Hebrew is Yam Suph, or Sea of Reeds, not Sea of Red. And this type of reed in the Hebrew is papyrus, a freshwater reed. So, according to the original language, it was not the Red Sea that was parted, but a large, freshwater lake. The man on the program speculated about the actual body of water, but I don't recall the name. It is, however, just speculation, so the name is not important to include.

The history of the Bible is full of interpretations and translations designed to guide the reader/listener in a direction other that enlightenment. Here are a few highlights. The first hand-written English manuscripts of the Bible were produced in the 1380s by John Wycliffe from the Latin Vulgate translation, which was the only source available to him. In the 1490's, Oxford professor, Thomas Linacre, decided to learn Greek. He found that the Latin had become so corrupt that it did not represent the original intent of the Gospel. But still the Church threatened with death anyone who read the scriptures in any version than Latin. Foxe's Book of Martyrs shows a record of seven people who were burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic church in 1517. Their crime against the church was teaching their children to recite the Lord's Prayer in English instead of Latin.

In 1517, Erasmus published the first Greek-Latin parallel New Testament. This was an eye-opener to the people, and a great threat to the Church. He intended to make the Bible available to common people, no matter what their native tongue, in the most accurate form available. William Tyndale, in 1525-1526, using Erasmus' parallel, printed the first English language New Testament. The church burned every copy they could find, claiming it contained thousands of errors, when in fact, they could find none. They feared that people would begin to question the authority of the Church, and that the Church's power and income would falter. They were making quite an income off the selling of indulgences. They did not want salvation through faith in place of works or donations to be understood.

The Matthew-Tyndale Bible was printed in 1537 and was the first English Bible translated from the original Hebrew and Greek. Soon after, in 1539, King Henry VIII, to spite the Roman Catholic Church for refusing his request to divorce his wife and marry his mistress, ordered the publishing of the "Great Bible", and created the Church of England, with himself acting as its "Pope".

In 1560 the complete Geneva Bible was published, which is considered the first "study Bible". It was the first Bible to add numbered verses to the chapters. The translators of the 1611 edition of the King James Bible were more influenced by the Geneva Bible than any other source. In the 1580's the Roman Catholic Church gave up the battle to suppress an English Bible and produced their own, the Rheims New Testament (later adding the Douay Old Testament). But it was also translated from the already refuted Latin Vulgate translations.

In 1604, King James I was approached by the Protestant clergy about creating a new Bible. They wanted a Bible along the lines of the Geneva version, but without all the controversial marginal notes. About 50 scholars combined effort brought about the creation of the 1611 King James Bible. In creating this Bible, the scholars considered the Tyndale New Testament, Coverdale Bible, Matthews Bible, Great Bible, Geneva Bible, and the Rheims New Testament.
As an interesting fact to note, for the last two centuries, all King James Bibles published in America have been the 1769 Baskerville revision, and not the original 1611 translation.

Noah Webster produced his own modern translation of the English Bible in 1833, but it was not widely accepted. In the 1880's England produced the first accepted replacement for the King James Bible, the English Revised Version. Interestingly, the English Revised Version was the first translation to exclude the 14 Apocryphal books. Prior to the ERV, all Bibles, Catholic or Protestant, contained 80 books. The 1611 King James Bible contained the Apocrypha, and only for a little more than a century has the Protestant Church rejected these books and omitted them from their Bibles.

The Americans followed with the nearly identical American Standard Version in 1901, which was again revised into the New American Standard Bible in 1971. The New American Standard Bible is considered by scholars to this day to be the most accurate word for word translation of the original Greek and Hebrew, although some believe it is so focused on accuracy that it is hard to follow. For this reason, in 1973, the New International Version was created. It was intended not to be a word for word translation, but to include more conversational English in phrases that common people could understand.

The last few decades have brought a revision to the King James Bible, the English Standard Bible, the Message Bible, and several others. The difference between these Bible translations and the many translations created through early history, primarily the 1500's, is that the translations are being created with the intent of clarity. The Bibles of the 1500's were loaded with inaccuracies, being translated from tainted translations - just like telephone.

The truth is that the more people you have along your telephone line, the more apt you are to have inaccuracies. The same goes for translations of the Bible. Don't rely on one person's translation. Yes, they have all been translated by mere men. Personally, I use several versions of the Bible when I want to clarify something. My favorite is a Hebrew-Greek Key Word study Bible. That way, no matter what version I am reading, and how it is worded, I can refer back to the original language, and figure out for myself the intended meaning. And, thus, remove several people from my telephone line.

The truth is that you need to rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, not the translations of men. And He will lead and guide you toward the truth.

Bye for now. I think the girls and I are going to play some telephone.


Martha said...

Oh! I followed a link from Lindsey and this article resounded with me! Welcome to blogging, btw! :)

I am interested to hear what you think about the ESV? It's really a "new" NASB. Word by word translation from the most recent and oldest manuscripts with the best readability of a word by word translation yet. This is my understanding anyway. Forgive me if my explanation is in anyway inaccurate. You can visit esv.com to read the version and about it. They even have a blog!

Hope this is something that interests you!

Martha said...

Doh! I just reread the paragraph where you mention the ESV! Sorry!

koinoniacommunity said...

Thanks Martha. And it was easy to miss the ESV. It was an awfully looooong blog. But I believe God wanted my to bring it up.

Zona said...

Thanks for writing this.