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Chapter 6

An Inspired Translation?

 

As boys we travelled by train more than 1000 miles each Christmas vacation (remember that is summertime in Australia), from our home city of Newcastle to the beautiful Barossa Valley of the state of South Australia. This valley was the ancestral home of our father, and was the home of hundreds of Reformed Lutheran Germans who emigrated to Australia between 1838 and 1850, fleeing persecution from the state Lutheran Church in Germany.

Our great-great-grandfather, Thomas Standish, migrated to Australia from Lancashire in England as a young man. On the boat, he met a young German lass and they married upon arrival in the new state. These Germans from the area of Germany known as Silesia (now part of Poland) had adhered to their primitive Lutheran faith despite the fact that the Prussian emperor adopted a course of persecution against them because they refused to accept his enforced form of State Lutheranism, which they judged to be apostate. Initially they sought refuge in the Ukraine, but their leader, Pastor Kruger, on a visit to England met Sir William Angus, who had devised a scheme to settle the state of South Australia and what became its capital city, Adelaide. This, the only Australian State which did not commence as a convict settlement, was first settled by Europeans in 1836.

In spite of the fact that our father was a fourth-generation Australian, and despite the fact that he was of partial English ancestry, German was his primary language. Following the failure of the German community of the Barossa Valley to support the Australian war efforts in the First World War, the German schools run by the Lutheran Church were closed and all children of the Barossa Valley, including our father, were required to study in English-medium schools. In a single generation the inhabitants of that valley thus became Australians rather than Germans living in Australia.

We were always intrigued by this "little Germany." In our grandmother’s home, we saw the primacy of the Martin Luther Bible. To fit our needs, the English King James Bible was dusted off for worship time during our visits. We still remember, however, the reverence with which our great-uncle Oscar held the Luther Bible. Occasionally, he would point to a passage, indicating his view that there was a deeper meaning in the German Bible as compared with the English translation. Clearly God spoke to him in German.

In the English-speaking world it is possible for us to forget that the Bible has been translated into hundreds of languages. Every one of these languages possesses words with slightly different shades of meaning—often unique to the cultural heritage of that language. It is not possible for one language to be translated into another language with perfect accuracy. Though the Hebrew scholars were among the finest in the world, nevertheless it is not difficult to detect the differences in expression in the Greek Septuagint translation of the pre-Christian era when compared with the original Hebrew. If anyone has doubts about translation difficulties, he should examine a Diaglot, which attempts to provide a word-by-word translation into English language from the Greek.

There are other considerations. Of all the 5,000 or so older manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, many are fragmentary or partial. Further, whenever there are significant portions of the New Testament, no two are precisely identical. D.A. Carson, The King James Version Debate, 18, Baker Book House, Michigan, 1979

It hardly needs emphasis that we have none of the original writings, and that even manuscripts of the Byzantine (Eastern) text have in many cases been altered from the original at least slightly, either by accidental error of the scribe or by deliberate change. However, almost always these errors can be identified by comparison with other copies, with early translations into other languages, and with reference to scriptural quotations of the early church fathers. It must be remembered that the leaders of Christianity in the East followed very strict rules of copying. Most errors are simple misspellings or omissions of words in one manuscript which are correct in the vast majority of others. Thus the Textus Receptus, for all practical purposes, represents the original writings.

We now examine the problem of whether any translation is divinely inspired. Obviously, if no manuscript in the original language is a perfect reproduction of the original writings, then it is impossible for any translation from these imperfect manuscripts to be perfect. Yet by comparing manuscript with manuscript and examining other ancient writings it is possible to discern the original writings with great accuracy.

Many textual critics greatly overstate the presence of errors in the Greek manuscripts. The lesson of the Hebrew manuscripts should not be lost. Textual critics had pontificated major copyists’ errors in this text. But the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls put such guesswork to rest. God had preserved His Word. That He has just as miraculously preserved the New Testament cannot be doubted.

Some, however, have been so bold as to assert that the King James Version of the Scripture is a divinely inspired translation. Such a claim must be doubtful. Every evidence we have indicates that, though the King James Version is an excellent translation, it is not a perfect translation, which presumably is what an inspired translation would be. Yet we do not doubt the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the work of these translators, a guidance that could hardly be expected to guide men deliberately bent on falsifying God’s Word.

Generally the exact-equivalence method of translation does not necessarily completely remove all bias in translation. For example, the Authorized Version, though giving many strong evidences of the doctrine of free will, nevertheless reflects the Calvinistic leanings of some of its translators with its heavy predestination emphasis in a number of New Testament passages. It is likely that the writings of the Dutch scholar Armenius, who died just about the time that the King James Version began to be translated, were known to the translators. It is possible that they were reacting against his free-will theology. Some have also felt that the King James Version reflects the pagan error of immediate life after death, with its emphasis on an everlasting burning hell. But, if these biases are present, they do not misdirect the Spirit-directed soul who is endeavoring to find the truth of the Bible by studying precept upon precept and comparing Scripture with Scripture. Overwhelmingly, the King James Version portrays a concept of free will through such texts as the following:

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. Joshua 24:15

And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? If the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. 1 Kings 18:21

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Matthew 23:37

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. Revelation 22:17

The Lord is not slack concerning his promises, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25

The King James Version portrays the sleep of death awaiting the resurrection through clearly translated texts:

For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Ecclesiastes 9:5

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. Ecclesiastes 9:10

For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me. Job 19:25-27

And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Daniel 12:2

These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. John 11:11-14

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. 1 Corinthians 15:20-23

Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 1 Corinthians 15:51-54

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

Dr. D.A. Carson, in his book The King James Version Debate, gives a wide range of ways by which errors crept into the manuscripts of the New Testament. Most of these errors are readily detected. For example, if a scribe accidentally left out a word, that word is attested to by many other manuscripts. Overwhelmingly, the words of the New Testament are sure, and where scholars are unsure, there is in most circumstances, high probability of the words of the original. Where there is vigorous debate, it is over issues that do not touch the central truths of the Bible. There is no reason to doubt the veracity of God’s Word.

Problems arise, however, when translators seek to interpret Scripture according to their own biases. We can expect that as we come near the end of earth’s history, this bias will increasingly be the object of Satan’s efforts. The reason we uphold the King James Version of the Bible is not that it is an inspired or perfect translation. We recommend the King James Version not just because it is easier to memorize or its language more sacred, or its cadence superior to modern translations. We recommend the King James Version as the primary Bible for both the individual and the church, simply because it is still the most accurate and reliable translation available in the English language. Whenever a more accurate, unbiased translation comes out in good quality, contemporary English, the authors will quickly join those who endorse its primary usage. We had hoped that the New King James Version would provide just that, but it does not measure up to the King James Version, and seriously erodes some precious truths of Scripture.

 


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