In the past few years there have been a lot of questions regarding which Bible translations are the best ones to use. This question usually revolves around which translations are the most accurate. Some have decided that the NIV (New International Version) is not good. Others say it’s the best. Some say that the King James is best.
How can you know which one is best to use? A number of different questions need to be asked in order to answer that. Questions like, who will use it? How will they use it? What will they use it for? Some Bibles make excellent light-reading Bibles. Some make good modern English children’s Bibles. Some make good research Bibles. Some are closer to the original than others.
Depending on the purpose, several translations might be “best” for that use. It is not necessary to get yourself locked into one translation and then ignore all the others.
The question, “Which English Bible is most accurate, or closest to the original?” is another matter. This may be the question that most members are really asking.
But to answer the question “Which English Bible is most accurate, or closest to the original?” we need to examine some information. All translations from other languages into English, are just that-translations. The Old Testament was originally recorded for us in the Hebrew language. The New Testament was first recorded in the Greek language. So we need to look at the texts of those languages.
The Old Testament
There have been many men who have given their entire lives to the study of the history and accuracy of our English Bible. Many books have been written, and many controversies still exist. So I will attempt to summarize all of that in this article.
Most of our English Bibles today represent good to excellent translations of the Old Testament. The Hebrew Masoretic text of the Old Testament has been well translated and for the most part well presented in most Modern English Bibles. Few significant controversies exist in the translation from Hebrew to English for our purposes today. Most scholars agree that the Masoretic text is the one to use when translating the Hebrew Bible into English.
The New Testament
Most of the controversies in translation today revolve around the New Testament, so we will spend most of our time there.
In order for us to see what English translation(s) are most accurate or reflect the “original” the best, we need to look at the various Greek copies that exist today. There are no original or “autographs” in existence today of any of the New Testament books. All that we have today are copies. The men who study these copies and try to determine which ones are the most accurate or closest to the original are called textual critics. And unfortunately, textual critics are divided in their opinions.
There are probably somewhere between 4,500 and 5,000 Greek manuscripts in existence today. Our task would be easy if they were all the exactly the same, but they are not. They all were copied from some other manuscript, and so they all have different dates when they were made too. (We could also look at several thousand Latin texts of the New Testament but they were all translated from Greek texts originally, so that wouldn’t be of much profit.) The Greek texts have been classified into different text families, and even these classifications vary depending upon the textual critic who lists them.
The vast majority (approximately 4,500) of all these Greek manuscripts are of one major group called the Byzantine family or Byzantine text type. Most of them come from the area of Asia Minor or modern-day Turkey. Most of the earliest ones of these come from the fourth and fifth century A.D. There is a great deal of consistency between these many manuscripts and there are not many variants between them as compared to other types. Variants are simply differences in spelling, wording or phrasing.
Different scribes made each copy by hand. Sometimes a scribe copying these manuscripts made a “slip of the quill.” Although in the vast majority of cases an error would have been caught, a few slipped by. But because we have many copies of this type (Byzantine) available today, we are able to compare them with each other and eliminate most errors. Several men have produced Greek versions of the Byzantine text attempting to take the most common reading (wherever there are variants) and have named it the Majority Text. It represents the most consistent reading of the majority of all the manuscripts of the Byzantine type.
However, in 1607 when the King James version began to be translated into English from Greek there was believed to be only one Greek Byzantine text used by the men doing the translating. Years before, a gentleman named Erasmus assembled his own Greek version of the New Testament from less than a half dozen copies or exemplars of the Byzantine text type that he had available to him. The King James translators used Erasmus’ version as their primary Greek reference. In fact, the King James translators used Greek, Latin and several previous English texts in the process of translating the King James version.
This is not to say that the KJV isn’t an excellent version of the Bible; it certainly is. Erasmus’ Greek text has come to be called the Textus Receptus, Latin for the Received Text. But it is based upon just a handful of Byzantine texts of the approximately 4,500 available today. So even it is not based upon the best available Greek texts we have today.
For the most part, there are few variants between the King James (Textus Receptus) and the Majority Text. Unfortunately, there are only two reputable English Bibles printed today that are based upon the Textus Receptus, the King James Version and the New King James Version.
Sadly, there are no recognized English translations of the Majority Text in existence today. This is a disappointment, and there has been a call by a few scholars for such a translation to be made. Certainly one would think that the most reliable and accurate English version would be made from the Majority Text, since it is the best Greek text, but this is not the case. This leaves us with the next best thing-the King James and the New King James versions.
But we are not finished. One more major problem needs to be discussed. There are several ancient manuscripts in Greek that do not belong to the Byzantine family of texts. The most important ones are called the Alexandrian text type because most come from Egypt or the Sinai.
Three of them are very old, dating from as early as the third century A.D. Most of this world’s textual critics feel that because these are the oldest copies known, they should be considered “more original” than any of the Byzantine text types. And at first we might be inclined to agree.
But if we consider this carefully, several questions arise. Is older always better?
What about the care and discipline of the scribes who did the copying? There were strict standards in Asia Minor, but archaeological evidence today indicates that the discipline of copying in Egypt was not strict. There was less structure, fewer scribes and copies were not handled, maintained or destroyed properly. Also we find that there are many variants between the three most complete Alexandrian manuscripts that we have today. So it is clear certain liberties (or laxities) in copying were allowed rather than faithful, precise reproduction to the letter.
In addition, we find that thousands of words are missing from the Alexandrian text types of the New Testament when they are compared to the Byzantine text types. There is much more we could say, but my conclusions are that the Alexandrian text types have been edited and are not as reliable as the Byzantine text type. But I am in agreement with only a few of this world’s textual critics. Most textual critics feel that because the Alexandrian text type is older it must be better or more accurate. Many feel that the church edited and added to the Byzantine text type manuscripts. Of course, no proof of this has ever been found or shown.
So where does this leave us in our search for the most accurate English version, the one closest to the original? If you look into the front of most English Bibles they will tell what Greek text they are based on. Today, sadly, most modern translations come to us from the Alexandrian text type because this is where most scholars have chosen to go. As I stated before, the only two translations not based upon the Alexandrian texts today are the King James and the New King James translations. So for your research and study, these are probably the best translations to use.
However, the numbers of variants of any real significance in the New Testament between the Alexandrian text type and the Majority Text or the Textus Receptus are relatively few in an overall sense. These variants would involve less than one tenth of 1 percent of the text of the New Testament. The numbers of variants that actually affect the meaning (not just spelling) of the text are very few. And many of these are not a significant change in meaning.
God is ultimately responsible for His Word. He chose to preserve it in Hebrew and Greek. No one English translation preserves the essense of God’s thought completely. In moving from any language to another, something is lost. But in the process of examining several translations, we can grasp more of it than by simply reading one. And God has seen to it that we have several English translations from which to obtain understanding; each with different uses and purposes. God’s Holy Spirit will guide the true believer into understanding the essence of His Word.
So for simple reading of the Bible, feel free to explore other translations. The King James and New King James provide a good base for study and research. I find that the New International Version is an excellent children’s Bible, in modern English they can understand. I also like the New Revised Standard Version for the English it uses. For those in Great Britain the Revised English Bible has excellent English in it.
It’s a good idea to have several translations available in order to gain perspective on the meaning of some verses. The Amplified Bible tends to add a lot of extra words in order to amplify the meaning, so it is a good source. The New Testament From 26 Translations is also an excellent reference to grasp more of the subtle meanings lost in translating from Greek to English. Learn to use them all-when each is appropriate-and enjoy the Word of God. UN