In Translation: Are new versions of the Bible truly accurate?

25th November, 2010


Catholic leaders had control of the Holy Bible without many recorded challenges for more than one thousand years, according to several historical documents. Church authorities told church members they could neither read nor interpret the text themselves. Churchgoers often believed what clergy taught them in church. Eventually, a high-ranking German monk named Martin Luther challenged church officials in the 16th century and began interpreting the Scriptures. He found many faults in the Catholic Church's teachings and believed everyone should have an opportunity to read the Bible himself or herself to determine what the Bible meant. During this Protestant Reformation period, many churches accepted the Bible as a collection of 64 individual books filled with words inspired by God himself through various writers. Christians now had the option of exploring new opinions offered by new blossoming Protestant churches.

Luther's actions also brought into question whether or not the Bible had been accurately translated from its original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Several new English Bibles emerged in the first one hundred years after the Protestant Reformation until Christian authorities accepted the King James Version as the principal Bible in 1611 (Halkin 55). No one seriously challenged The King James Version for the next 300 years, but evolving changes in the English language during the past few decades have caused Biblical scholars to consider and publish new translations. Bookstores now sell dozens of different Bibles, and this has set off an ongoing debate of whether or not the new translations have maintained their integrity. Causing palso spurred arguments among some people who do not even practice or believe in the Christian faith. In the excerpt "Corrective Measures: the Bible in feminist frame," its authors have it right when they describe translation as an act of interpretation (Simon, Bassnett, and Lefevere 106).

Religious authorities, they state in the fourth chapter Gender Translations, have always recognized this fact and that is why each major religious denomination has its own approved translation of the Bible (106). There have been changes in the English language over time. Does that necessarily mean scholars should change much of the Bible's terminology? I believe so -- at least to some extent. However, there must be a limit to what and how much needs changing.

The King James Version of the Bible, accepted by many authorities as the most accurate English translation of the Scriptures, has gained much notoriety for its words such as thee, thou, ye and shall (Halkin 60). Those Old English pronouns and verbs should be changed to their current meanings since most people today are unfamiliar with the ancient terms. New punctuation principles should also be updated to today's standards. However, some of the newer versions of the Bible have completely changed vocabulary sentence structure in various verses. Publishers have even changed many of the Bible's direct personal quotations. If any journalism or English student did so in his or her composition, it would be considered a major error. When publishers allow full sentences to be changed, the Bible's pure accuracy is brought into question.

When these practices are accepted, there is danger in daring to pit one's own words against the rule of tradition or the sovereignty of a word considered to be of divine origin(Simon, Bassnett, and Lefevere 106). Furthermore, some original Hebrew and Greek words have been changed to different synonyms in an attempt to avoid redundancy. From a literature standpoint, the idea of avoiding repetition sounds like an excellent idea. However, readers cannot be sure that the English words are completely accurate. There is too much doubt with the newer versions of the Bible.

In Hebrew, the word "hineh" literally means "here" (Halkin 58). In Genesis 37:7, the original verse with this Hebrew term reads, "'And Joseph said to his brothers, 'Listen, pray, to this dream that I dreamed -- hineh [here] we are binding sheaves in the field, and hineh [here] my sheaf arose and actually stood up, and hineh [here] your sheaves drew round and bowed down to my sheaf.'" (Halkin 58). The King James Version: "For behold, we are binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose and also stood upright, and, behold, your sheaves stood round about and made obeisance to my sheaf. The verse's second example flows better, but that does not mean it must be changed. If small changes such as this one are allowed, how can readers be sure that other changes to word translation are completely accurate? In the English language, one or two words can completely transform the meaning and context of a sentence. Readers can only be certain about the accuracy of the Scriptures if publishers could print a true translation of the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts.

Perhaps the most controversial issue among Biblical translations has been the inclusion of neuter-gender pronouns in place of masculine ones. This highly publicized issue has not only caused dissent among several religions, but it has also caused arguments within denominations. John Stossel, while reporting for ABC's 20/20 investigative news program in the summer of 2007, revealed that some churchgoers left their churches because ministers embraced Bibles that removed masculine pronouns. D.A. Carlson states in "The Debate Over Gender-Inclusive Language" that many high-profile evangelical leaders, whether or not they know anything at all about Greek [or Hebrew], translation theory, or any language other than English, [have been convinced] to sign on to the agenda (1). During a time when political correctness rules, it makes sense to change some verses to include the female gender. However, it again raises the question of whether or not publishers are tampering with the authors' original meanings.

The Today's New International Version of the Bible, which can be bought in most bookstores today, burst onto the scene in March 2005 and has caused many public debates. An updated version of the New International Version of the Bible, the TNIV translation has changed words such as "man" to "humankind," "men" to "people," and "all men" to "everyone." Other versions of the Bible that include gender-inclusive pronouns are the English Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version and the NET Bible, which includes footnotes to describe the changes made in the text (Carson 3). Modifications to the pronouns are unnecessary and, quite honestly, wrong. Carson, one of many authors of The Challenge of Bible Translation: Communicating God's Word to the World, points out that a few changes have altered some words' form and function.

In Mark 1:17 of the King James Version, Jesus tells his disciples that he will make them fishers of men. In this text, "fishers" serves as a noun. In the New Revised Standard Version, the same verse renders that Jesus will make his disciples fish for people. The word "fish" now becomes a verb and suggests action. Furthermore, the meaning of the sentence also changes. Jesus seems to honor his followers in the first example and command them to act in the second illustration. If minor changes such as these are allowed in the Bible, how can readers be sure that the entire volume has not been severely tampered with? Few people may recognize these changes.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton actually started the wave of Biblical feminism in the late 1800s (Simon, Bassnett, and Lefevere 108). She and many other women, angered by the apparent oppression of women in the Bible, completed The Woman's Bible in 1895. Though church authorities immediately condemned it, The Woman's Bible became the first translation to add gender-inclusive language (108). Editors even changed "God the Father" to "God the Father and Mother" to lessen the male's dominant role (Simon, Bassnett, and Lefevere 120). There are several instances of women being oppressed in the Bible. Barbara E. Reid, in her article, "Women and Paul," mentions how Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 said that "women should be silent"and listen to their husbands (21). However, the famous apostle also in Galatians 3:28 used the phrase "no longer male and female," which Reid writes is often "held up as a banner for women's equality" (20).

Women are also praised and honored in the Bible. The book of Esther focuses on a righteous queen's life and how she saved the Jewish people. The book of Ruth also tells the story of four upstanding women. Other notable women leaders include Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and Phoebe (Reid 20). None of the women would have been recorded in history if the Bible's authors meant to leave them out. The other instances of women oppression in the Bible does not make it OK for writers to replace masculine pronouns with gender-inclusive ones.

The Bible should be left alone unless the next translation is directly compatible with its original text. There are too many English translations of the volume on the market, and it will only lead to more confusion among readers. More translations only give critics more fuel to dispute the Bible's authenticity. I prefer the New King James Version, which is an updated adaptation of the King James Version that uses contemporary terms in place of thees and thous. It does not need to be translated more than that. Halkin correctly writes that the Bible's vocabulary is small, its syntax is simple, its verbal embellishments are few, and it's rarely a hindrance to understanding the passages they occur in (54). Profit and politics seem to be the driving forces behind Biblical translation. Publishers probably are not concerned about accuracy. If they can print an easy-to-read and Bible that also pleases various groups of people, they cannot be blamed for catering to their readership.

Most readers would prefer simply reading text without having to study the writings. In reality, Bible translation has become a business. Well, most people have heard what the Bible says about money. 1 Timothy 6:10's author says, "the love of money is the root to all evil." Evil breeds distortion.

Works Cited

Carson, D.A. "The Limits of Functional Equivalence in Bible Translation -- and Other Limits: The Debate Over Gender-Inclusive Language." The Challenge of Bible Translation: Communicating God's Word to the World. Ed. Glen G. Scorgie, Mark L. Strauss and Stephen M. Voth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003. 1-16.

Halkin, Hillel. "Doing Justice to the Bible." Commentary 119.2 (Feb. 2005): 54-60. Religion and Philosophy Collection. EBSCO. Nicholls State University Library. 27 Nov. 2008

Reid, Barbara E. "Women and Paul." America 199.15 (10 Nov. 2008): 20-22. Military & Government Collection. EBSCO. Nicholls State University Library. 29 Nov. 2008

Simon, Sherry, Susan Bassnett, and André Lefevere. "Chapter 4: Corrective measures: the Bible in feminist frame." Gender in Translation (05 Sep. 1996): 105-126. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. Nicholls State University Library. 28 Nov. 2008.

The Holy Bible. King James Version.

The Holy Bible. New International Version. New York: Zondervan 1978

The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.