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The Bible – Original Text Versus Translations

The original books of the Bible were written in Hebrew (the Old Testament) and Greek (the New Testament). Parts of the books of Daniel and the Gospel of Matthew might have been originally written in Aramaic.

Illustration of John 3:16 (KJV) — For God so loved the world, that he gave  his only begotten Son, that… | For god so loved the world, Begotten son,  Everlasting life

Many translations have been made over the years. In the early days of Christianity the Hebrew Old Testament was usually read in a Greek translation (the so-called Septuagint). As the church spread, the need for translations grew, taking the sacred text into widely accepted languages as well as local tongues. The Bible was soon translated into Latin (the language of the Roman Empire), Syriac (an Eastern Aramaic language), Coptic (Egyptian), and Arabic. By 500 AD, some estimate, scripture could already be found in more than 500 languages.

Unfortunately, translations were not always accurate and errors were made. For this reason – and also because they did not want “ordinary” people to be able to read the Bible – the (Roman) Catholic Church banned any further translations and used only a particular Latin text known as the Vulgate,which had been translated from the Greek around 600 AD. In the 1380s the first English translations were made by John Wycliffe. By 1455 the printing press was invented (Gutenberg), and mass-production capabilities made additional English versions and other language translations more readily available john 3 16 kjv.

Hundreds of translations into English (estimated around 450) have been made over the years. Some of the best known are: the King James (KJV, 1611), the New International Version (NIV, 1978), the New King James (NKJV, 1982), the New American Standard Bible (NASB, 1971) and the English Standard Version (ESV, 2001). This large number of translations is usually grouped into three main categories:

Literal translations: These translate the original texts word for word into the best English equivalent words. These translations are sometimes also referred to as interlinear translations, placing the English rendering along side the original Hebrew and Greek. Although they are undoubtedly the most accurate translations, they can be difficult to read because the flow of language follows the original Hebrew and Greek, quite different from modern English. The NASB as well as the ESV are good examples of literal translations.

Dynamic equivalent translations: These translations attempt to be as literal as possible, but restructure sentences and grammar from the original language to English. They attempt to capture thought and intent of what writers wanted to say. As a result, these are more readable in English, but have a higher degree of subjective interpretation than the literal translations. These translations include the KJVNKJV, and NIV.

Contemporary language translations: These translation paraphrase the thought and intent of the original text into contemporary English. The result is easy to read, but the text is largely a subjective interpretation of the translator. These versions, such as the well known The Message and The New Living Translation, should be approached with great care. Use them perhaps for supplementary readings, but be aware that these texts can (and often do) differ significantly from the original Bible texts.

Every translation requires interpretation. Why? Because languages do not translate one on one. That is, not every word has a unique word to match it in the other language. Also some tongues are richer in expression than English (such as Greek) or smaller in vocabulary (such as Hebrew). A translator must interpret the original meaning and find an equivalent wording, but this makes the result subject to the biases of the translator. Bottom line: interpretations differ and errors can occur. When translations differ significantly, research into the original language can help clarify the message.

To complicate things a bit, a small number of NT verses are not supported by all ancient manuscripts; this forces translators to decide which verses to incorporate. Most translators are cautious to err on the safe side and note for the reader any verse not supported by the majority of manuscripts.

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