Which is the most FAITHFUL translation of the Bible to the original texts? – 1

I have received this question from my virtual friend RomGabe, a Lutheran of Romanian origin, living now in Scandinavia, as a comment to a post on my blog about Southern Baptists banning the NIV 2011 from their shops (redirected from ABP). Since the issue is too important and complex to deal with in a comment, I have decided to respond with a separate blog post. Here it is.

Faithfulness to the Word? Which one?

To be fair, Gabriel, and sorry to say that, I do not share your anxiety about finding ‘the most FAITHFUL translation’ of the Bible. Let me explain.

I believe that the ‘Word of God’, in the highest sense of the word, is Jesus Christ, the son of God. Figuring him out, as much as humanly possible is the most important matter for me.

Now, you may ask ‘how could we do that without the Bible’? My response would be: Not necessarily without the Bible, but neither exclusively based on the book called ta biblia, the books) – this is the second meaning of the ‘word of God’. If we stop at this point, we are no different from the Muslim, for whom the holy Kur’an  is what Christ, the Son of God, is for the Christians.

If we stop at this point, we may also fall prey to the curse of the subjective interpretations of Scripture. This is precisely the Pandora box that Luther has inadvertently open (sorry, my brother, I could not resist the temptation). To this challenge, the Catholics have responded with the Magisterium. Evangelicals, though, have no solution to it. The continuous fragmentation of the Church is the proof of that.

Then, ‘what else is needed’, you may ask. And my response will be, in a Barthian manner, the inner hermeneutical work of the Holy Spirit that makes alive the words of the God’s book. This is the third and absolutely essential meaning of the phrase ‘word of God’.

Thus, the ‘word of God’, the Bible, which is the written testimony about the Jesus Christ, the ‘Word of God’who is co=-eternal with the Father, becomes alive in us through preaching (and other forms of witness) as the saving ‘word of God’, in the power of the Spirit of God.

Now, of course, without a validating instance, we may be back to the square one of subjectivity. How do we know that it is the Spirit of God and not that of heresy which is speaking in the words of the theologian, of the preacher, of the evangelist or of the simple believer giving a testimony of the gospel? The answer is not a simple one, but it can be found in what Grant Osborne calls the ‘hermeneutical spiral’. We cannot self-validate our interpretations. For that we absolutely need the Body of Christ, i.e. the abiding testimony of the Spirit: synchronically, in the various expressions of the Church at the present time, and diachronically, throughout the centuries, until today (that is precisely the Orthodox definition of Tradition, understood as a hermeneutical instance).

Without that, we are prone to err, no matter how faithful is the Bible translation we use.

It will continue…

18 thoughts on “Which is the most FAITHFUL translation of the Bible to the original texts? – 1

  1. […] Which is the most FAITHFUL translation of the Bible to the original texts? – 1 (via Persona) I have received this question from my virtual friend Gabriel Borlean, a Lutheran of Romanian origin, living now in Scandinavia, as a comment to a post on my blog about Southern Baptists banning the NIV 2011 from their shops (redirected from ABP). Since the issue is too important and complex to deal with in a comment, I have decided to respond with a separate blog post. Here it is. Faithfulness to the Word? Which one? To be fair, Gabriel, and sorr … Read More […]

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      • Right. But an interpretation that most certainly, in many cases, needs further explications. Translations, no matter how faithful, are still subject to a great deal of subjectivism. As well as the original text.

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      • @DanutM
        “Bible translation is ALWAYS Bible interpretation.” (“traduttore, traditore” as the Italian saying says),
        but what this axiom fails to mention is that some translations OUTRIGHT change the words, and others try to be grammatically correct and more literal to the original languages.

        I believe, that is people (like myself), get in an uproar when reading about the NIV 2011 politiking and machinations (pushing out NIV 1984 and Today’s NIV).

        “grammatically correct and more literal” is why I prefer the ESV, RSV, or Jerusalem Bible.

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  2. Dear Danut, first of all thank you for your time and response. I understand that you are taking this question & topic to a new and more expansive level. I do appreciate your thoughts and reflections.

    When I posted (& corrected the speling) in my response to the SBC outlawing the NIV 2011 bible from their stores, I said (a bit precipitously) “Which is the most FAITHFUL translation of the Bible to the original texts?”

    I think, the question was birthed of my belief that the NIV 2011 is NOT faithful to the original text and languages of the books in the Bible, and that there are quite a few better choices out there, that are closer to the original texts.

    Don’t get me wrong, I understand (in a partial way) how DIFFICULT the job of the translators is (no wonder they left “Selah”, in the Psalms, untranslated), and that there is pretty much NO perfect translation out there (even my beloved ESV).

    Having said that, the following translations DO NOT mess with the biblical texts, by making (read that CHANGING) nouns and pronouns gender neutral:

    ¤ ESV 2001 (English Standard Version) – endorsed by Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) as the liturgical text, also John MacArthur Study Bible is only in ESV now. IMHO, this translation is far superior to NIV 1984.

    ¤ Jerusalem Bible 1966 (the mostly used RomanCatholic Bible outside the US, originally in French, but also available in English) great commentaries.

    ¤ RSV 1952 (Revised Standard Version) Bible translations – a bible used by quite a few scholars and seminaries, and Bruce Metzger has been the most influential in its formation.

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  3. @DanutM

    you wrote “the curse of the subjective interpretations of Scripture. This is precisely the Pandora box that Luther has inadvertently open (sorry, my brother, I could not resist the temptation). To this challenge, the Catholics have responded with the Magisterium. Evangelicals, though, have no solution to it. The continuous fragmentation of the Church is the proof of that.” … AGREE with you 90%.
    Except the Luther part.

    The Bible existed in the Germanic language (even before Luther’s 1522 translation in the colloqual language; and the same with the English language, Tyndale, Wycliff, or spanish). It was the printing press that made the availability of the Bible more widespread, and thank God for that.

    The “Evangelical Catholics” (as the german reformers called themselves, before the pejorative term of “Lutheran” became the norm) all they did was try to correct the abuses (theological AND political) of the Western medieval Church … anyone who reads the short AUGSBURG CONFESSION (1530) sees that. http://www.bookofconcord.org/augsburgconfession.php

    In the near-future confessions and writings of the german reformers (Philipp Melanchthon, not Luther wrote “The Apology of the Augsburg Confession” – 1931; “Formula of Concord” – 1577 was arrived at after 30 years of Luther’s death and lots of internal lutheran doctrinal fighting; see also BOOK OF CONCORD FAQ http://cyberbrethren.com/2010/06/15/book-of-concord-faq/)
    the reformers outlined the doctrines that put Christ first, Gospel at the center, and the Bible as primary and only source of Christian doctirne (Sola Gracia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo gloria).

    FURTHERMORE, the Reformers also found that the Church Fathers agreed with them. For best resource, see Martin Chemnitz (the best german theologian) of the 16th century and his responses to the Council of Trent and his knowledge of the Church Fathers.

    Danut, unlike the Pandora box that exists in the Protestant and non-magisterial denominations, with varying or subjective interpretations, the Lutherans have “The Book of Concord” aka “Concordia – the lutheran confessions” as “the true and faithful exposition of the Word of God.” http://www.bookofconcord.org/

    So, Lutherans did not open the pandora box, quite on contrary, stayed withing the bounds of the biblical texts and confirmed their beliefs with the Church Fathers. Every Evangelical-Lutheran pastor is bound (and takes a vow to teach not contrary to) by the Book of Concord (for teaching of doctrine).

    I think the Roman-Catholics have the Magisterial Office (bulls, papal encyclicals, church councils) and the RCC catechism for teaching “morals and faith” of God’s Revelation (Holy Bible and Holy Tradition) as norm.
    The Orthodox churches say the norm is the Bible and Holy Tradition (as two separate branches, not mixed as the RCC Vatican II sustains). I read that the Anglican Church has four sources as norm for Truth and Praxis: the Bible, the Church tradition, Reason, … and I forgot the 4th.🙂

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    • Gabriel,

      I have read a book about the relationship between the Orthodox Church of the XVIth century and the Lutheran theologians. http://www.sophia.ro/Marii-reformatori-luterani-si-Biserica-Ortodoxa.-Contributii-la-tipologia-relatiilor-luterano-ortodoxe-din-secolul-al-XVI-lea-de-Pr.-Dr.-Daniel-Benga-autor-ro-86.htm

      From what I understand, when the reformat theologians started a dialogue with the Orthodox representatives, they already had formed their beliefs and theology. There have been little to none influence from the Orthodox part, if I am not wrong.

      Regarding your statement “So, Lutherans did not open the pandora box, quite on contrary, stayed withing the bounds of the biblical texts and confirmed their beliefs with the Church Fathers.”:

      If the Lutheran church is in agreement with the Fathers of the Church, when exactly do you think that the Orthodox Church stepped away from the line set by the Parents? Do you think that in the during the period of the councils, the Church was basically ‘lutheran’ in its doctrine and liturgical rituals? Or you think there was a conflict between Fathers and the Church?

      I am honestly interested in knowing your point of view!

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      • I continue to believe that Luther is the one who opened the Pandora box, in spite of his best intentions. It is true, he was pushed to that by an irresponsible pope.
        The fact that he had to use the Formula of Concord to bring unity, when he observed the excesses created by the individualisation of interpretation simply proves my point: church fragmentation is unavoidable outside of an instance besides the Bible.

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      • Danut, you said … “I continue to believe that Luther is the one who opened the Pandora box, in spite of his best intentions. It is true, he was pushed to that by an irresponsible pope.”

        Let me be honest … Luther DID NOT help himself either … wanting to maintain the UNITY of the Wester Church! He was a master swordsman with his words and some of the language used was rather crass and harsh … especially in his criticism of ecclesiastical authority and abuses (something only a rebel would want to do). Having said that, you HAVE to check out Hans Kungs book “Great Christian Thinkers” … this “liberal Catholic” theologian gives Luther the BEST defense and shows how the revolutionary thinking of Luther really put him at such odds with the Curia, that basically there was no other solution than to shove this guy (Luther) out.

        “The fact that he had to use the Formula of Concord to bring unity, when he observed the excesses”

        I beg to differ with you here. The historical record is that The Formula of Concord was written in 1577, Luther died in 1546. Only 3 of the 9 documents in CONCORDIA – the lutheran confessions are penned by Luther.

        ” individualisation of interpretation” – lutherans would disagree with this statement. They look at Concordia, as simply a group of documents confessing the Faith and what the Bible says. Check out the short yet education witness video “Non-Huguenots in Harmony” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2uk6xaKOYo

        “church fragmentation is unavoidable outside of an instance besides the Bible.” – I agree with this statement … although feeling challenged to see the unity in the early Church and diversity existant in the book “The Heresy of Orthodoxy – How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity” by Andreas J. Kostenberger, Michael Kruger and I. Howard Marshall (Jun 9, 2010; Crossway Books.)

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      • Gabriel, I said myself that the stupid pope put the fiery reformer with the back on the wall and he had no choice but to secede. A sad choice, but he had no other. What I said was not meant to discredit Luther and, again, you do not need to be so apologetic. I am not a Lutheran, but I am not an anti-Lutheran either.
        The same is true about the second issue. This is not about Luther, but about the reformation and a need for an hermeneutical instance besides the Bible.

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      • Danut,

        sorry, did not mean to come across as apologetic (i am by education, an engineer, so precision counts).

        On the 1st point, I have no bones to pick. The picture is quite complex … I’m not a lutheran or Reformation historian … but have to be fair to both sides … Luther AND Pope Leo X made mistakes.

        On the 2nd point, I now I understand your overarching thought/theme. I got bogged down in the details. True, most early Reformers had a peg (you say “hermeneutical instance”) to differentiate themselves from the others and the RCC. I think this case can be also made for the Anabaptists (even tho they did not have a formulated creed … see writings of Menno Simons).

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      • @Christian

        you said
        “If the Lutheran church is in agreement with the Fathers of the Church, when exactly do you think that the Orthodox Church stepped away from the line set by the Parents? Do you think that in the during the period of the councils, the Church was basically ‘lutheran’ in its doctrine and liturgical rituals? Or you think there was a conflict between Fathers and the Church?

        I am honestly interested in knowing your point of view!”

        These are very important questions and issues, and I believe this conversation deserves its own post/blog/thread and I do not have such luxury. I would like to explore and answer your questions via email, and hope thru that medium we would both have an enriching conversation and learn something from each other.

        My email is Gabriel.Borlean@gmail.com

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  4. Is the question a valid question? Which is the most faithful translation? Are we talking about the methode used, I mean by that what the purpose of the translators is, or ar we talking about most faithful to the original? And when we talk about the original what do we mean by that? In French they are called autographes. Do we still have them? What Bruce Metzger held as norm regarding certain passages is questioned today by Ben Witherington and others and I hope we are not assuming that English is the language of the Bible. I know some believe KJ to be but….

    I believe the statemant that the Word, the Logos is Christ, is true. I recomande the book of Jacques Ellul on that, exellent book, La parole humilié. I think also that while we do have to respect the Bible and read it we have to be worshipers of God and followers of Christ, of the Incarnate Word. Otherwise the risk is to resemble the Moselems.

    And in the interpretation of it we have to try to transcend time and culture.

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    • Maria,

      When I posted (& corrected the speling) in my response to the SBC outlawing the NIV 2011 bible from their stores, I said (a bit precipitously) “Which is the most FAITHFUL translation of the Bible to the original texts?”

      I think, the question was birthed of my belief that the NIV 2011 is NOT faithful to the original text and languages of the books in the Bible, and that there are quite a few better choices out there, that are closer to the original texts. It was not out of the belief that there is one perfect translation (that is merely impossible … in any other language than if reading the originals: hebrew, greek).

      When I mean by the original, is the Textus Receptus, and in general all the 5000 plus extant manuscripts from the first 5 centuries and the textual analysis done by the experts.

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