1.5 How Reliable are Today’s Bibles?
Thank-you for joining in on this topic! This is now my fifth post in a six-part series on why anyone should bother to read the Bible today.
This question becomes especially important when people are wondering How Reliable are Today’s Bibles – after being penned by humans, copied for centuries and now translated into thousands of languages worldwide.
Chapter Two of Nicky Gumbel’s book Questions of Life[i] covers the reliability of the Bible from a ‘study of ancient literature’ perspective. It shows that of all ancient literature we have from the past (that we use in school history classes and accept as fact, no matter what the subject or content), the quantity and quality of ancient Biblical manuscripts far surpasses every other historical document. These have then been reliably transcribed (comparing text for text across time using the earliest manuscripts available) and they’re now translated into almost every language on the planet. From a study of ancient literature perspective, it is true to say that literary science has no other piece of literature in all the world that is in the same class or category (with the age of the manuscripts found and available for study, the quality and outstanding quantity like no other and now the number of language translations of the same set of manuscripts) as that of the Biblical documents.
The incredible find in 1947 when the Dead Sea Scrolls were found[ii] gave us even older manuscripts and portions of the Bible. This bridged a gap of 1,000 years in texts to refer back to! The remarkable part to this historic find was the discovery that our current Bibles in use, had been received down 1,800+ years, almost perfectly to what was originally written! Quite incredibly, ‘the ship was still very much on the correct course’, even with the ‘absence of charts to sail by’ during a huge chunk of time! None of the central truths and teachings had been altered even when compared to the earliest manuscripts!
But the Bible was originally written in Hebrew (the Old Testament – approx. ⅔ of the Bible) and Greek (the New Testament – the last ⅓ of the Bible). Of course, most of us don’t know ancient Hebrew and Greek. So if the original Scriptures are faultless, one place where faults can creep in will be at the point when they’re translated into our own native languages today.
That being so then …
– Who’s Checking if the Bibles we have Today are Right?
The translations we have today in more than 1,900 languages worldwide are the result of painstaking labour. The idea is to get as close to the original meaning of the text as possible. A good translation will be a result of good linguistic work based on the original Hebrew and Greek. The texts used will be taken from the earliest and most widely sourced manuscripts available. But this isn’t all.
Bible translators also take in the culture of both the writer and the reader to ensure that the original context of what was said is brought into the new language and culture as it should.
Wycliffe Bible Translators[iii] are probably the best known around the world for good dependable Bible translation. They have helped to translate the Scriptures into almost every known language on the globe. Before people like John Wycliffe (a church reformer, preacher, translator and teacher at Oxford University in the 1300s), moved our Bible into a language other than Latin, the Bible was often only available for the Priests to read! Part of the reason was due to low literacy rates, and the expense of printing it.
In 2011, we had the privilege of meeting the producer of a brilliant dramatized documentary: KJB – The Book that Changed the World.[iv] It shows how the King James Bible came into being. It took seven years in the early 1600s to complete this extraordinary piece of work. It was commissioned using a team drawn from State Church Bishops together with the Puritans (the Protestant reformers). Quite incredibly, they were on opposing sides at the time!
The King James Bible was the closest translation into English that anyone could hope for at the time and, at God’s will, it served the English speaking world for the next 350 years! By the time King George VI came to power, he reigned over a quarter of the world’s population and the King James Bible was pretty much the only Bible commonly used across his Empire!
But what was particularly helpful for me when watching the KJB DVD, was to understand the years and hard work that was put into translating that particular English version of the Bible. Similar amounts of meticulous care goes into all the main translations.
Having said all that though, it’s possible to own a Bible that’s not ‘authorized’. A Bible may have been given to you by someone who’s telling you not to read any other Bible except the one printed by their organization. If you’re not free to purchase a mainstream Bible of your choice from a good book shop, you may be involved in some sort of a ‘fringe’ group or even a cult. If you want to know what Bible translation to buy and how close a translation it is to the original text, just drop me a line via firstname.lastname@example.org
The English speaking world has the most variety in Bibles than any other language in the world. So in countries where money isn’t an issue, it’s healthy and normal for a Believer to own more than one translation of the Bible. Especially if you’re wanting to really grapple with the text, and search for truth in it. Comparing Bible texts with other Bible translations (that express things slightly differently) is the best way to get a good rounded understanding of what you’re reading. This is most important if you’re about to base your actions and lifestyle upon what you’ve just read. But if you are wondering how to move forward in becoming a ‘Person of the Book’ yourself – someone who reads and lives by your Maker’s Handbook: His Word in the Bible, you may want to click onto my next post 1.6: How to Move Forward as a “Seeker”