Bible Translations

When you read your Bible, what are you reading? You are, in fact, reading from a long line of transcription and translation.

Were the transcription or translation is of high-fidelity, even down the line of a series of manuscripts, the reproduction will still be, for the most part, a faithful representation of the original. That original writing on parchment, made by the original biblical writer, is called an autograph. There are no autographs extant (at least none have been found). We rely then on translations and transcriptions from manuscripts, which are, at best perhaps, transcriptions or translations of copies of copies of the original.

Problems arise when there are hurried transcriptions or incomplete translations. In these latter situations, a copy, of a copy, of a copy, of a copy, is inherently akin to a written form of ‘Chinese Whispers’, and proverbially not worth the paper it’s written on. Meaning can also be lost when unique cultural and historical idioms are translated literally. At other times, exact word-for-word translations are called for.

At the same time, many a predecessor has lost life in an attempt to preserve what they believed was a true and accurate representation of scripture, the numbers of whom are too many to mention. We should not then be too quick to dismiss all Bible versions and all translations as flawed. At the same time we may need to accept that no-one version, as they stand to-date, is perfect. Certainly, some are better than others. But we may need to be prepared to cross-check verses with two (and perhaps more) versions where there is any doubt.

I think that the Gospel Coalition says it well:

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 wide range of manuscripts, they go on, is currently around 5,500 for The New Testament in Greek alone.

No other document of antiquity even comes close.

Translations into Different Languages

Also see Bible and the List of Bible translations by language:

Timelines and History

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Further Reading

Featured Image (where shown)

Gutenberg Bible, New York Public Library, USA [Wikimedia Commons]


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