Saturday, January 06, 2007

Translations of the Scriptures


It is fascinating to follow the histories of versions (translations, renditions) of the Bible. It is probably true that there was a great deal of good scholarly research that went into the King James Version of 1611. Its scholarly and academic heritage is impressive.

Nevertheless, later scholars were to find the King James Version to contain numerous errors of translation and rendition, despite all its care and scholarly cautions. Some have estimated the number of errors at about twenty thousand.

Thus, the need for later translations of the Scriptures.

A single example among many is Genesis 1:1, at the very start. KJ says, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." But all scholars of Hebrew know with certainty that this is a mistranslation, although very universal. For the noun used in Hebrew was elohim. This word does not mean "God." Instead, it is plural, and is correctly translated as "gods." So, the text should read: "In the beginning, the gods created the heavens and the earth."

Due to these and comparable errors, the modern spiritual student is open to using many versions of the Scriptures. The Jerusalem Bible and The New International Version spring readily to mind as tools for understanding. Only fundamentalists, who are not known for scholarly accuracy, insist on the "absolute fidelity" or "correctness" of the KJV. More progressive Christians and Jews are open to many other translations, some of which are demonstrably clearer, or better, than the KJV.

Hort and Wescott produced, in 1881, an excellent and reliable text of the ancient Greek manuscript of the Christian Scriptures ("New Testament").

The translation of J.B. Phillips, and those of Rotherham and Moffat, depend upon these texts. So does the New American Bible, and the Revised Standard, and the New American Standard. (The latter is corrupted by the error of mistaking the "Jehovah" of the ancient Hebrews for God, and has thus inappropriately and incorrectly inserted this name, illegitimately, into the texts of the Christian Bible.)

Perhaps The New American Bible or Today's English Version, or The Way go much too far in looseness and playing with the language. They veer far from the original, and contain much illicit paraphrase. But there are many others that cling much more closely to the ancient Greek, and hence, many of the modern Bibles are more accurate than the KJV.

Only extremist fundies cling to the idea that the KJV is "divinely inspired," or "the Word of God." [In the Scriptures ("New Testament") themselves, the "word" (Greek, logos) never refers to a book of any kind, but to the living Spirit that is God. (John 1:1, Heb. 4:12, etc.)]

Language itself is incapable of describing the core-realities, so there might never be a "perfect, flawless" translation of the spiritual texts. Still, a balanced, cautious, and wise study of the text implies that many versions can be used, without being dogmatically stiff and unbending about any particular one. Openminded flexibility is a mark of a true scholar, as well as of the balanced, growing spiritual person.

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