Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Biased Translation?

Back in October, I blogged about the reliability of the transmission of the Gospels (and other New Testament books), and shared that the quality, number, and dates of the copies of these books far surpasses what we have for any other ancient writing. But I recently had a different question come across my screen, and that had to do with the translation of the Bible.

In particular, my friend was having difficulty with the use of the word 'version' in referring to some English translations (King James Version, New International Version, and such). Today, the word 'version' may carry the connotation of subjectivity ("Now let's hear your version of the story"). But the word does not necessarily mean or imply subjectivity, or the various Bible translations wouldn't have used them.

But lurking behind this semantic issue is a fair question: do the English translations of the Bible that we have available to us do a good and unbiased job of reproducing accurately the meaning of the original Hebrew and Greek (of the Old and New Testaments, respectively)?

This question may be provocative for the person on the street, but (as I shared with my friend) it is a complete non-issue among scholars. Here's why. There is no shortage of Greek and Hebrew experts of every religious (and irreligious) persuasion, and the evidence is readily available to them. If a Bible translation were in fact biased in the way it rendered the original into English, it would be easily exposed as such. In other words, one could take any English translation to a couple of Greek (or Hebrew) scholars (ones that hold quite divergent theological views) and ask "Is this a faithful rendering?" Invariably (unless the translation in question happens to be the New World Translation of the Jehovah's Witnesses, which is indeed biased and inaccurate), the answer will be "Yes."

There are more than 100 (modern) English translations of the Bible. They differ in word choice, and style, in the set of manuscripts (in the original languages) on which they are based, and in whether they choose to translate word-for-word or thought-for-thought. But all (with the exception of the New World Translation) are produced with integrity by experts seeking to do the best job possible. And--because they are available for critique by every other Greek or Hebrew expert--all are recognized as reliable and trustworthy renderings of the original languages.

The charge that our English Bibles are the result of biased translation is a non-starter.

1 comment:

JohnOneOne said...

With regard to your comment about the Jehovah's Witnesses "New World Translation," the following website might be of interest to you and others looking on:

In Defense of The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures

Agape, Alan.