When you read your Bible, what do you read if not from a long line of transcription and translation?
A high-fidelity rendition, even down a line of a series of manuscripts, remains, for the most part, a faithful representation of the original. That writing on parchment, made by the original biblical author, is an autograph. There are no autographs extant (at least none have been found). We rely, rather, on translations and transcriptions from manuscripts — at best, perhaps, transcriptions or translations of copies of copies of the original.
Problems arise with hurried transcriptions or incomplete translations. A copy, of a copy, of a copy, of a copy, then analogises, albeit rather crudely, to a written form of ‘Chinese Whispers’. Meaning also can be lost upon literal translation (transliteration) of unique cultural and historical idioms. Other instances, however, necessitate such exact word-for-word translation.
Many a predecessor, moreover, lost more than limb in an attempt to preserve what they supposed rendered an accurate representation of scripture; numbers of whom are too many to mention (see Foxe’s Book of Martyrs). That suggests we would err if we were too hasty in dismissing all versions, and all translations, of scripture as flawed. At the same time we may need to accept that no-one version, as they stand, to-date, is perfect. But some are better than others. We may need to be prepared to cross-check verses with two (and perhaps more) versions, where there is doubt.
But the original text is not a physical object. The autographs contain the original text, but the original text can exist without them. A text can be preserved in other ways. One such way is that the original text can be preserved in a multiplicity of manuscripts. In other words, even though a single surviving manuscript might not contain (all of) the original text, the original text could be accessible to us across a wide range of manuscripts.
That range of manuscripts, the Gospel Coalition continues, is presently around 5,500 for The New Testament in Greek alone:
No other document of antiquity even comes close.
Translations into Different Languages
- Chinese Bible
- England ca. 8th Century
- The Bible Historiale
- Czech Bible
- English Bible of John Wycliffe
- English Bible of William Tyndale
- French Bible
- Icelandic and Finnish New Testaments
- Spanish Bible
Timelines and History
- Canonical Books of Scripture
- Bible Translation Timeline
- Providential Preservation of the Text of the New Testament
- The Bible: Its Origin and Importance
- History of the Bible: How the Bible Came to Us
- Bible – Wikipedia
- Bible Versions – The International Bible Society [with PDF downloadable bibles]
- History of Bible Translations – History World
- What early manuscripts of the Bible exist today? – Prove the Bible
Ethiopian Manuscripts Collection showing Baptism [Wikimedia Commons]