There is a debate about which version of the Bible is the best in terms of accurately stating God’s true Word.  Some say the King James is the best and others claim that newer translations are just as good if not better.  Sometimes Christians get quite heated about the subject even to the point of being uncharitable towards those who disagree with their position.  Most of the arguments are based on the way each version is translated and whether the ancient Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew  is interpreted  (See Fifteen Myths about Bible Translation).   Being a layman and not educated in ancient languages or methods of translation I cannot speak to these issues.  Being a Christian who wants to live according to and be guided by God’s Word, I do not want to be fooled by counterfeit versions of the Bible or be lead astray by poor translations.  What test can a simple layman apply?

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An old ‘proverb’ dating back to the 14th century provides some insight.   The proverb states; “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”  Wikipedia explains the meaning of this proverb; “The only real test of something is as what it is intended to be used for.”  What is Scripture intended to be used for?  The Bible tells us; “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16,17)  Scripture is to give us doctrine, correction and instruction so that we are equipped to do His work in the world.  If a particular translation doesn’t do as good a job at that compared to another translation then it isn’t hard  to pick the better translation.

This is a test that can guide as to  whether a particular translation is ‘good’ or not.  Does a particular translation promote proper equipping?  Let’s do an example, we can use an online Parallel Bible which is an invaluable tool when comparing versions of the Bible.  Consider the scripture, John 3:16; in the King James it reads; “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  And in the Message it reads; “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”   Immediately we see that ‘everlasting life’ and ‘a whole and lasting life’ don’t seem to say the same thing.  The former expression is very specific and points to an eternal life while the latter is general pointing to a fulfilled life that lasts but isn’t necessarily ‘everlasting’.   Which translation equips a person to share the full extent of God’s love towards us?  Clearly, I would use the King James  over the Message when citing John 3:16.

How does another version of the Bible stack up to the King James on John 3:16?  Lets look at the NIV version;  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  I think the NIV does a good job on this particular verse.  But in other areas the NIV doesn’t do as good a job.  Consider John 6:47, in the KJV the verse reads: “…He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” And in the NIV John 6:47 reads; “…He who believes has everlasting life.”  Missing words make a big difference – I believe a lot of things but it is my specific belief in Jesus and what He did for me that grants me everlasting life.  Yet The Message seems to be reliable on this verse; “I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now: Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life.”  I would argue that the King James is the most reliable standard but not necessarily the most readable standard.

Sometimes you just have to struggle with the wording and ponder the language in the same way you have to chew  your food before swallowing it.  A tasty Big Mac can be swallowed without chewing being basically comprised of mushy empty calories but it isn’t as good for you as a lean cut of beef.  The same is true for intellectual and spiritual food.  I think the best thing an honest Christian can do is get a variety of translations (KJV, NIV, NASB, NLT, . . .) or a parallel Bible (places the text of different versions side by side for comparison) and start comparing particular scripture.  Those verses that God has brought to you when you have had a special need for His Word are good to use because they have a lot of personal significance.  If your experience is anything like mine, you will find that the King James Bible has a beauty and power in its translation that is not matched in the other translations.  That’s why it has become my standard.

J. Kenneth Grider claims; “Pentecost is sheer proof that God wants His written Word to be translated into the many languages of the world.  At that event, people from 13 language areas heard the Christian message in their own tongues.” (Wesleyan-Holiness Theology, p 87)  God wants to communicate with us and today He does so by His Word (the Holy Bible – translated into our language)  and through  His Holy Spirit; “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things. . . .”  (Hebrews 1:1,2)  Jesus promised us that the Holy Spirit would help us; “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”  (John 14:26)

We have to trust that the Holy Spirit was there to help the translators if they asked for His Help; “One realizes that something of the exactness is lost when Scripture is translated.  Yet one is confident that the Holy Spirit has helped the translators as they have been opened up to His persuasions.” (J. Kenneth Grider, Wesleyan-Holiness Theology, p 89)  More importantly, we must pray that the Holy Spirit will guide and inform us as we read any translation of the Holy Bible.  This way we do not read it alone, so we are not at the mercy of translators who may or  may not have asked for the Holy Spirit’s help.  God promises us that he will always be there for us; “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”  (Hebrews 13:5)

God’s Word is meant for you to live by not debate over.  His Word is a living Word and so must be tested not by academic methods of any sort but by living His Word out in your life.  The danger of debate is to see the words but not Him.  Jesus nailed the Pharisees for this very thing; “You study  the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”  (John 5:39,40)

The proof of any translation of His Word is does it draw you to Him.  Are you transformed by it?  Does it have power in your life and the lives of those around you?

What do you think?

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