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New Bible Translations:  Part of a Conspiracy?

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Question:  I thought you might be interested in a new book "The New Age Bible Versions" by G.A. Riplinger. I'm certainly not sold on the idea the book puts forth that the NIV, NASB, Living, Today's English, and NKJV (basically new translation) is part of a vast conspiracy to take Satan out of the Bible and make God the spirit of man etc. The book's scholarship is very weak I thought and it really annoyed me at times when I was flipping through it. However the interesting part of it to me which actually had some decent documentation behind it was the section of the original manuscripts. Their were two basic points put forth: the first that the translations showed poor understanding of Greek. The second was the idea of the majority vs minority text in the New Testament. Basically what they said is there were 5366 different Greek Autograph's of the various New Testament books. Approximately 5000 or 90-99% of the text agree almost word for word the King James (and every Bible basically before 1881) were based off one of these text. The rest are dissenting or minority text which don't agree with the majority or it claims each other. They are taking from Alexandria or what he referred to as the p75 text. I'd be curious if you know if any of the above stuff about the basis and quality of the more recent translations is true etc. I truly appreciate your time.

Response:  I am certainly not going to defend the "Living" or "Today's English" versions - they are part of a trend to play fast and loose with the Word of God that truly is alarming (if there is any conspiracy, it seems to be one involving making as much money as possible at the expense of the truth). But the problems with those two version is one of misunderstanding (or having inadequate respect for) what the Bible actually means in the original languages, and not really one of following a different manuscript tradition. A case in point is the "New King James Version". I believe that just a quick reading of any New Testament book in both the original KJV and the "New KJV" would be enough to show that there is no "conspiracy" here - the two translations are almost identical, for the NKJV is aimed mainly at updating the language of the KJV - not my cup of tea, but no conspiracy (incidentally, one of my former professors was involved in translating the New KJV, and he is certainly a staunch, conservative Christian). I do enjoy the KJV, and it is a wonderful translation of the Bible, probably the best in the English language (if one has become accustomed to its archaic language, that is). It is also true that some of the newer translations are a lot less scrupulous than the KJV when it comes to attempting to reflect the actual Greek and Hebrew texts. This is still not a conspiracy, however. Translation, as you may know from any of your own language studies, is not a precise process, because no two languages work exactly the same way. It is impossible, for example, to translate res gestae into English from Latin "literally", because English has no equivalent idea. This sort of thing happens not only with vocabulary, but also with grammar, accidence, figures of speech, and cultural perspective (to name but a few of the problems every translator faces). All translation, therefore, is in some ways really interpretations of the text one is translating, because the translator is in effect saying "this is what I understand the text to mean". The translator really can't say "this is what the text says" without being disingenuous, because what the text actually says is in another language altogether - THAT is what it "says" (in the other languages), and no "word for word" rendition will be "literal" because the words are not the same words and do not mean the same thing exactly. The NIV, for example, goes too far towards this interpretive side of things for my money, though it is a very helpful translation in those places where it has interpreted the original well. The problem one has with the Bible which would not be the case if, say, we were translating an ancient weather report, is that the issues are often very complicated doctrinal ones (people are still arguing about baptism, for example) and every word and phrase is important. This is why it is so important for serious Christians truly interested in spiritual growth to avail themselves of competent and orthodox Bible teaching in addition to their own Bible reading. For it is only through detailed study that takes in to account the original languages, the entire teaching of the Bible (i.e., its whole theology), and the historical environment in which it was produced that Christians can be expected to find the answers to this and other deeper theological issues which are not patently obvious in a translation.

That having been said, it is true, contrary to the book you reference, that most of the newer translations, while they may not be as "good" in many ways as the KJV (an exceptionally scholarly effort), are based on better manuscripts. Yes, there are more manuscripts that agree with the readings of the KJV's textus receptus (i.e., the common text used by the KJV translating teams), but more is not necessarily better. Put is this way. If you were playing fantasy basketball, and you could have either 5,000 junior high school players or Michael Jordan, which would you pick? You see, just like in basketball, you can only "play" one manuscript at a time, so the question becomes not "what do most say", but "what is the better authority". Since the KJV was written, some very old, very good manuscripts have come to light. One, in particular, codex Sinaiticus, is, to my mind, the best of the lot. It has a likely date of composition in the second century A.D., and is, again in my considered opinion, closer to what the original authors actually penned than any other single source. Would you be more willing to trust this unique manuscript, copied within only a few centuries of the original texts, or 5,000 manuscripts of uncertain lineage, written after A.D. 1,000? I have been doing textual criticism of the Bible since I got into Greek and biblical studies, and the more of it I do, the more ridiculous the thesis of the book you cite appears (I have heard the idea before). As I say, I have nothing against the KJV, but it is absolutely clear to me that if the scholars at Oxford, Cambridge and London College who produced it had had access to the earlier manuscripts, they would have preferred them, not only because of their earlier dates, but also because of their superior quality (evident from use, I can assure you). In any case, I would put the percentage of change of the New Testament text as a result of these better manuscripts at well less than 5% (perhaps as little as 1% - it all depends on individual decisions of textual criticism). And indeed, the instances where these changes affect any principle of faith or practice in any decisive way is even less. Don't get me wrong - this is an important issue, but one of the other problems with the theory you are asking about is that it over-blows the "problem" by an incredible degree (as anyone who has read the KJV and then also read, say, the NASB, can readily tell). A far more important issue is how to translate the text of the New Testament, once it has been established, and the second point on which I would criticize this author is that this point has been muddied. The "Living Bible" is a problem because of mis-translation, not because of the better manuscripts (which they have mis-translated).

It is admirable to make the Bible the rock upon which we build - for so it is: it is God's message about Christ to us and for us. But it is so only in the original manuscripts, not in any translation, and we should be suspicious of any attempt to elevate a translation over those original scriptures. There is not now nor has there ever been any substitute either for reading the Bible (see Read Your Bible: Protection against Cults) or for solid Bible teaching - both are essential for spiritual growth (1Cor.12:27-31; Eph.4:11-16).

Please also see these links:

Who Wrote the KJV?


New Testament Quotations from the Greek Septuagint Version

Why English-only Approaches to Bible Interpretation are Dangerous.

False Friends: Famous Interpolations into the Bible

Bible Interpretation: Interlinears, Academics, Versions et al.

Tools and Techniques for Bible Translation.

Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations III

Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations II

Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations I

Ichthys Bible Translations

Hope this helps!

Bob L.

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