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Friday, May 19, 2006

Bible Versions: An Introduction

We conduct a class every other year at our church that is called: Wading Through the Pool of Bible Translations. One of the neat interactions at the beginning of the class is when the leader says, “What Bible version do you use?” Typically about 40% of the class does not know without looking at the spine! As over 200 English Translations have been produced since the mid-sixteenth century and there are over 50 currently in print, what is a person to do who wishes to choose a Bible?

There are essentially four important distinguishing characteristics that there can be between Bible versions. I will discuss them in what I would present is the order of importance to the person choosing a Bible. They are:

1) Translation Philosophy – How true are the words of this Bible to the Greek and Hebrew they translate from?
2) Textual Philosophy – How did the translators choose which Greek or Hebrew to translate?
3) Theological Influences – Is the translation slanted as a product of translators who hold to the same specific denominational beliefs that are not critical to Christianity?
4) Language Issues – Are the English words appropriate for the meaning of the original languages to us today?

There are two thoughts I wish to introduce before expanding the four major points: the role of God in the inspiration and preservation of the Bible and the “KJV Only” position.

If we are going to consider the book that holds the key to faith, because it tells us of God’s will for us, his nature, his salvation and his works, we must not consider the Bible as “just another book”. It is ridiculous to believe that God had a hand in producing the Bible in the first place, but that he then allowed us to foul it all up! Therefore, there have to be right and wrong answers in Bible translation and right and wrong “Bibles”. While we cannot always be 100% certain, we can be as certain as men can be using the tools given to us – standard tests of literary reliability and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Both must be active for our discernment to be true.

Furthermore, be aware, if you do not know already, that there are a number of people for whom the King James Version (KJV or AV 1611) is the Bible of choice. There are essentially four categories of them:

A) The “I like the KJV best” group. Those who hold this view are not to be confused with the “KJV Only” crowd. They often hold solid reasons for preferring the KJV, but are not dogmatic about it, nor demand that others conform to their preference. They likely would not call other English translations wrong.
B) “The KJV is superior” group. These individuals (of which I am one) are convinced that the KJV is the best of all English translations. Their views are typically formed through a combination of textual, historical, and theological reasons. They do not hold that others must use the KJV, but that it is the best English translation. They also disqualify some English translations as worthless by the same criteria.
C) The “Received Text Only” group. These individuals hold that the underlying Greek text of the KJV is superior to that of the Greek texts used as the basis for the vast majority of recent Bible translations. Thus, modern English Bibles would almost all be disqualified from use in Bible study, because their underlying Greek texts are corrupted.
D) The “KJV Only” group. These blights on the landscape of discussions of Bible versions hold that the KJV is the inspired (or in slightly less radical cases, preserved) word of God, and ALL other English translations are part of a demonic attack upon the Christian faith. I have read their work extensively in my search for the truth, and have found that they rely heavily upon personal attacks and accusations of intentional twisting of the Bible when there simply is no evidence of such. These men and women make this entire subject hard to engage in, because their emotional vitriol often inspires similar reactions in their detractors. Many who wish to discuss Bible versions are either “pro-KJV” or “anti-KJV” because of their influences. I would hold that neither is a necessary starting point.

Discussion of the “KJV Only” position will be imbedded with the rest of the discussions of the four characteristics above.


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