A History of Biblical Transmission-Cont'd

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Literally Speaking
ormal Equivalence (word for word, as opposed to meaning-based or Dynamic Equivalence) is the term which describes the more cautious approach to biblical translation, because the translator earnestly searches for a target language word that most closely aligns with each manuscript word in the most unambiguous sense. If a Hebrew or Greek word means to “run” then literal translators should render the word “run” in the target language instead of shuffle, amble, move, skip, prance, or stroll, because neither of these verbs convey the most literal sense of running. On some occasions localized colloquialisms, slang, or idiomatic constructions force the translator to be interpretive but most words in the majority of languages have very definite meanings. “Ich werde” in German means “I will” in English - a very simple promise. These words do not mean: “I might, or I could, or I should, or I'll think about it.” Understanding cultural and socialy distinctiveness is also paramount.

When being introduced, Americans generally ask: “What's your name?” whereas Germans say “Wie heissen Sie?” = How are you called? Interchanging these expressions into the other language would produce awkwardness. Translators must understand these cultural peculiarities. Formal Equivalence (also called Verbal Equivalence) is a much stricter discipline and there are tumultuous presumptions expected of literal word for word translation. Before the profusion of modern versions utilizing meaning-based methods such as Dynamic Equivalence, Paraphrase, and Theme (discussed below), the general approach to translation was the literal method. Tyndale, Coverdale, Geneva, Douay, Bishops, King James, Revised Version, American Standard, and Revised Standard translations were all produced during the age of Formal Equivalence, and they are still reviewed with a much more critical eye and less forgiveness. One could almost say that during this period, to translate implied that a literal process was involved. Faithfulness and literalness were deemed as common bedfellows and for this reason (with extremely few exceptions) to not be literal was to be unfaithful to the craft. Many scholarly papers have excoriated literal translators over the years for seemingly inconsequential infractions of verb tense, missing a dative, ignoring the genitive, misinterpretation, or inclusion/exclusion of the definite article. Formal Equivalence is an exacting discipline and literal translators should be forewarned - of their peers.

And. And. And. But. But. But. For. For. For. The text of the Bible was written by a conjunction loving culture that created long sentences by tying several clauses together with conjunctions. Quickly look through the four gospels using a very literal translation, you will notice that almost every fourth or fifth sentence begins with the word AND. This is one of several quick (but obvious not conclusive) methods for checking the literalness of a translation. Notice how conjunctions have been preserved in KJV and NASV or obliterated in NIV and NRSV. Students preferring the old RSV will also notice many other changes of literary style in the NRSV. Sentence length is another brief test for the literalness of a translation because the normative procedure had been to closely follow the manuscripts which had some very protracted sentences. However, modern readers prefer short sentences with an unsophisticated vocabulary. Thus, “And Jesus answering said unto them” of Luke 20:34 and numerous others places is reduced to simply “Jesus replied.” Ephesians 1:3-14 is the longest sentence found in the Greek New Testament by this writer, comprising a total of 270 words. The following list demonstrates how it has been preserved or modified.

      Translation                      Sentences    Published          

      American Standard (ASV)          1            1901               
      J.P. Green (LITV)                1            1987
      Young (YLT)                      1            1898
      Modern King James (MKJV)         2            1962
      King James (KJV)                 3            1611
      New King James (NKJV)            4            1982
      New American Standard (NASV)     4            1960
      New Revised Standard (NRSV)      6            1989
      J.B. Phillips (PHL)              6            1958
      New American Bible (NAB)         6            1970
      New English Translation (NET)    7            1997
      New International Version (NIV)  8            1973
      New Living Translation          15            1996

It should be clear from any reasonable study of sentence length and use of conjunctions that modern translations reject what previously was the norm. One of the classic objections to literal translations is that the sentences are too long and the wording too rough -- yet this is precisely the very trait to be found in most biblical Greek manuscripts. These are criticisms which might be considered affirmations for a literal translator, perhaps even a compliment.

“If the literal sense makes sense, seek no other sense” has been a trustworthy standard for literal translation. Therefore, the literal translator should employ interpretation only when its necessity appears obvious, but herein is the central issue, for many wish to argue fervently over the meaning of obvious. Unfortunately, if carried to extremes, a strict literal translation can easily become slavish, pedantic, rigid, or wooden. Although translators apply Formal Equivalence to much of the text, routine exceptions for interpretation are common in all literals. For example, in Romans 3:4, 6, 31; 6:2,15; 7:7,13 (and other places), there is a negative construction of two Greek words that literally means “not to be” and the KJV translates them routinely as “God forbid.” Is this interpretatively correct? Yes. Is this literal? No.

The specific Greek words or word variants for God and Forbid do not occur in any known manuscript. One might then ask: Would the original phrase, not to be, have sufficed, if translated rigidly? Possibly, but it might also weaken the impact as well as entertain assumptive questions concerning that biblical writer. To preempt such occasions, all literal, word for word translations will infrequently display momentary excursions into the wispy clouds of interpretation - sometimes by choice and sometimes by necessity.

This highlights one of the exasperating problems of a literal translator, for in some cases, there is no unambiguous one-to-one correspondence between two languages, especially in the idiomatic sense (real meaning). Vocabulary can also be difficult if not, at times, impossible to yield appropriate receptor words. There are four different words for love in Greek while the English language offers only one - love. STERGEIN is rooted in one's own nature. ERAN is the love of passion and sex. PHILEIN is based on a pleasurable response from something. AGAPAN is a love that is evoked from a sense of value found in an object which causes one to highly prize that object. English is unprepared to adequately reproduce these shades of meaning.
  • STERGEIN is rooted in obligatory affection for objects of similar nature. It is the natural affection that human parents have for their children and similarly, the protective devotion of animals for their offspring. This word is not found in its root form in the Greek New Testament but does appear twice with an “alpha” prefix which negates the original meaning. Thus, “unnatural affection” is the usual translation of Romans 1:31 and 2 Timothy 3:3. It is also found with PHILEIN in Romans 12:10 to produce a compound meaning “kindly affection.” Stergein is obligatory love.
  • ERAN is not found in the Greek New Testament in any word variant. It was used by pagan writers to describe sexual passion, the dynamic enveloping of the conscious mind, to the near disregard of surroundings. Eran is passionate love.
  • PHILEIN is used about forty times and is the pleasure love that returns from a person or object. It is often a very normal, “unimpassioned” friendship of one person for another. For example, put two motorcycle riders in the same room at some event and when they discover their mutual interest, they will most likely be lost in their own private world of conversation about chrome and rubber. Put two graduates of the same college in the same work place and they will develop a unique friendship because of the pleasurable memories of life at that college. In each situation, the affection developed because of pleasure, inspite of no other commonality. In the first case, it was the PLEASURE of motorcycles: the roar of hot exhaust, the danger of taking curves too fast, the brilliance of polished chrome, the thrill of aerated freedom that drew these riders together. Philein is a pleasure responsive love (not a love for pleasure).
  • AGAPAN is used in its verb, noun, and adjective forms over three hundred times. It is evoked by an “awakened sense” of value for a person or object. Agapan goes beyond the pleasurable response of Philein to recognize the “precious value” in something. In contrasting Philein and Agapan, the former is a love of pleasure and the latter is a love of esteem; the former takes pleasure in and the latter gives value to; the former delights in receiving while the latter excels in giving. Agapan was used grudgingly by secular writers during the Greek Classical period and use of the noun form, Agapesis, was rare. This was true, perhaps, because the human condition did not frequently share in this type of love, plus the other three encompassed the whole human experience (Stergein-Obligation, Eran-Passion, Philein-Affection). Here was a word, nearly dormant, waiting for something to give it prominence, and that happened with the telling of God's love for people through His “esteem” for us. Imputed love that we did not deserve. Agapan possessed the necessary concept to fully expound the love of God. Agapan was made for biblical writers. Agapan is God's merciful esteem for us.
English vocabulary is unprepared to adequately reproduce these shades of meaning and translators have abandoned any refined pursuit of their explanation. Thus, we arrive at the infrequent impasse of literal word-for-word translation; in some cases there is no receptor word, and in other situations, being too literal creates one ill effect while speculation produces another.

The word construction of John 8:25 has troubled scholars for centuries so it is understandably inviting for the translator to employ interpretation rather than follow a pure literal methodology. Jesus is here responding to a question from His detractors “Who are you?” by stating to them that He is exactly who He has been saying or professing from the beginning (of His ministry). A literal rendering might be: “The beginning that which also I say to you.” NRSV interprets this passage into an exclamation of frustration: “Why do I speak to you at all?” In other words: “If you guys don't understand who I am by now, why do I even bother trying anymore?” It grasps the meaning but it is not literal. Surprisingly, this is a notable departure from the original, and more literal, RSV which reads: “Even what I have told you from the beginning.”

This raises a very pertinent but complicated question. When and for what reasons should literal translation be permitted to digress into interpretation? Is it simply a matter of personal choice? Has there already been a precedent established by translation committees? Should we redefine the word literal? Does literal mean following all the words, or just those words that are helpful? What is the difference between this and meaning based? For example, in Mark 4:1 the second gospel writer states that in order to speak to a large multitude, Jesus sat in the sea: “And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea” (KJV - translated exactly as Mark wrote it).

Did Jesus sit down in the boat or in the water? Admittedly, this matter would be irrelevant for a translation following the methodology of Dynamic Equivalent or Paraphrase (discussed below) because each would predictably discard the troublesome phrase and make the sentence convey the meaning that Jesus sat down in the boat. However, literal translations must adhere to a different set of presumptions and the question is not where or how Jesus sat down, but when should translators remain literal and when should they engage in interpretation. When should the reader be encouraged to ascertain unusual or difficult readings by their own abilities and literary resources? Translators and readers fall on both sides of the issue. Some earnestly contend for the manuscripts while others similarly aver for interpretation. Unfortunately, confusion may also arise when the uninformed criticizes a literal translation for making a nonsensical reading when all the translator did was present the manuscript to the reader. Who then is at fault? The informed translator's choice or the uninformed readers misunderstanding?

Nonsensical Phrases

To highlight these questions even further, another troublesome passage which has plagued scholars, commentators, and translators for centuries is Isaiah 15:5 where the Hebrew words “...Eglath-shelishiyah” are simple to understand yet make absolutely no sense in the context of the passage. There is no linking adverb or preposition or conjunction nor general syntax, or anything else that even attempts to suggest how they should be translated - nothing! The words simply mean a female cow that is three years old. KJV, NKJV, Green, Young, and Douay translate each word exactly as written. New American and Jerusalem Bible transliterate the Hebrew words inside brackets to alert the reader to its strangeness. RSV and NRSV add the preposition “to” which suggests that it is the name of a town in the vicinity of Zoar. NASV inserts the conjunction “and” which similarly creates the illusion of a second town. NIV further adds to the confusion by inserting “as far as” which not only presumes the name of a town, but then expects the reader to also believe that the new mystery location is situated beyond Zoar.

There is no evidence in biblical or secular literature nor archeological inscriptions that suggest to the slightest degree that any town with this name ever existed. Without context or substantiated grammar this passage often becomes an illusion created by the translators. Interestingly, NKJV inserts the word “like” which suggests that the mystery words are not a town but really a description of how the fugitives were running to Zoar - the Moabite refugees were fleeing like three year old heifers. Amusing but not scholarship.

In balance, the word heifer has been used by biblical writers to describe attributes or qualities such as in Hosea 4:16. Unfortunately, without an adverb, a preposition, a conjunction, or other grammatical link, this phrase remains awkward, unexplainable with certitude, and challenges Formal Equivalence to render such passages for the benefit of the novice reader without creating an illusion.

Blanks / Paradox / Ambiguity

Italicized words have benefited translators by allowing them to offer possible solutions to difficult problems or resolve minor anomalies. For example, verbs are missing in some New Testament sentences. There are no main verbs in all manuscripts containing the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10) where Greek texts simply read: “Blessed the poor, Blessed the meek, or Blessed the peacemakers.” Naturally, this does not conform to the basic principles of proper English without the verb ARE being included. KJV italicizes these words so that you will know that something has been supplied to the underlying text, in order to make sense of the passage. Thus, we properly have: “Blessed are the poor,” “Blessed are the meek,” or “Blessed are the peacemakers.”First to use italics in this fashion was the Geneva Bible of 1560.

Cross-referencing also benefits translators. In 1 Samuel 13, the numbers pertaining to the reign of King Saul have been lost through scribal transmission. It appears that every manuscript containing this verse has a glaring omission of dates. Volumes of learned opinions have been written on this passage, for it is well known in the scholastic community. Not a few have suggested that it properly belongs with the preceding chapter because it would then explain that all those events took place in the first year of Sauls reign. The Septuagint has omitted the reading entirely and begins with the second verse. Biblia Hebraica literally renders: “Saul was ... years old at his reign and he ruled for ... two years over Israel.

Most translations did not attempt to guess the original numbers, but NASV conjectured from other passages such as Acts 13:21 and extra-biblical works (Josephus' statement that Saul reigned 18 years before Samuel's death and 22 years after it - Antiquities 6:14:9) that the years must have been forty. Thus cross-referencing can solve problems (and sometimes create them). It is interesting to note that NIV did the same thing but then reversed the numbers.
“Saul was forty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty two years over Israel.” - NASV “Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty two years.” - NIV.

KJV did the same thing in 2 Samuel 21:19 where the text appears to invalidate David as the slayer of Goliath the Philistine giant (1 Samuel 17): There was war with the Philistines again at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam” (NASV). Although many translations ignored the discrepancy and left the text as is, KJV translators cross-referenced the parallel reading in 1 Chronicles 20:5 “And there was war again with the Philistines; and Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi THE BROTHER OF Goliath the Gittite, whose spear staff was like a weaver's beam” which informs us that Elhanan actually slew Lahmi who was the brother of Goliath. The words “the brother of” were then italicized into the 2 Samuel passage. Thus, the use of italics and cross-referencing can be applied to resolve discrepancies or to highlight a meaning.

Ambiguity is noticeable in passages such as 1 Corinthians 7:36 where some translations present the “virgin” as a father's daughter while others suggest a groom's fiancee. A few versions even made this passage more difficult to understand. Search your favorite Bibles and ask these questions: “To whom is this woman associated? Father? Husband? Who is permitting who to marry who?”

Historical Present

Original language tenses will always challenge translators because some tenses do not carry the same context in different languages such as the Greek Aorist and Imperfect. Especially perplexing for the die-hard literalist is the common use by Greeks of the Historical Present. To add emphasis and drama to a conversation while relating a “past” experience, they leap into the present tense at the point to be emphasized or highlighted.

For example, in Matthew chapter 14 (KJV, Darby, Young)
        Past tense conversation     16  Jesus said unto them ...
        Switch to Present tense     17  And they SAY unto him ...
        Revert to Past tenst        18  He said ...

The idea behind leaping from the past tense into the present tense is to make the conversation more vivid and real at that point, by trying to transport the listeners or readers back in time to enjoy that moment as though they were actually there. It works for Greeks but immediately sounds odd and disconnected in English. For this reason, modern translations generally ignore the Historical Present and leave the entire conversation in the past tense.

NASV sets these verbs in the past tense but employs an imaginative marking device (asterisk) to denote the present of such verb tenses. The above verse 17 reads: “And they *said to Him.”Since this translation is generally used by students, it can be a noteworthy attempt to help the more serious reader understand the context of a passage. In this case, they would then hear in their minds: “And they SAY...”


Greek genitives can be formidible. Some may be translated using a corresponding form such as a prepositional phrase, but too often the English phrase must then be adjusted to retain the original meaning of the genitive. Especially challenging will be verses such as 2 Corinthians 4:6 where there is a string of eight genitives in the latter part of the verse. Most literals have tried to preserve some elements of these genitives while the Dynamics toy with alternate phrasing, and the Living Bible has actually changed the word GNOSIS (knowledge) into something of an idiom (made us understand).
  • KJV: “...light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”
  • TEV: “...light shine in our hearts, to bring us the knowledge of God's glory shining in the face of Christ”
  • LB: “...has made us understand that it is the brightness of his glory that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ”
Obsolete Vocabulary

Another factor which affects translation is the emotionally charged preference or displeasure for the King James Version. Proponents speaking with heartfelt conviction on both sides of this issue have too often obscured a basic appreciation for one of the most historic accomplishments in English literature, and perhaps the only Bible that has ever acquired the label of being “the” Word Of God - deserved or undeserved. King James Onlyists inadvertently provide ammunition for the guns of their foes by requesting an exclusive proposition in a tenuous framework, and modernists provide reciprocal ammunition by labeling the KJV a poor translation based on a derelict Greek text. Textual Criticism is beginning to validate the earliness and strength of this text. The scholars from Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster, although unfamiliar with the papyri enjoyed by modern textual critics, were individuals of impeccable academic credentials.

They understood the nuances of language well, did not exhibit ignorance of their craft or unawareness of transmission theory, and displayed a profound reverence for the task before them. In a few cases, one might be enticed to argue that the difficulty of reading the King James in the New Testament is frequently a result of the translators following Greek word order too carefully (see 2 Corinthians 6:12 or James 5:1). Objection to its archaisms is noteworthy but generally excusable for words do fall into disuse and frequently change meaning. Arguments persist on what qualifies as archaic, obsolete, or non-current. The following table lists some of the more unfamiliar KJV words and expressions.

      Word               Scripture           Meaning
      Blains             Exodus 9:9          Sores
      Daysman            Job 9:33            Arbiter or judge
      Fetch A Compass    2 Samuel 5:23       Circle around behind 
      Let                2 Thess. 2:7        Obstruct or interfer
      Rereward           Joshua 6:13         Rear Guard
      Prevent            Psalm 88:13         Precede
      Tabering           Nahum 2:6           Beating on
      Wen                Leviticus 22:22     Ulcerous sore

Unfamiliar words are not confined to just the King James Version, for other translations also contain words that may not be readily understandable for an eight-grade reading level. Here is the short list on a few modern versions:
  • NASV: almug, darics, denarius, ephah, fatlings, hin, kors, minas, snuffers, terebinth
  • NRSV: buckler, calyxes, coneys, denarius, ephod, freshets, gerahs, handpike, mantelet, onycha, spelt, stacte, terebinth, trigon, weal
  • NIV: armlets, breakers, cors, denarii, galled, hoopoe, mina, porphyry, satraps, stadia, terebinth, vaunts
Many of these words can be troublesome but there are not that many for which the exact meaning cannot be ascertained with modest consideration for how the words are employed in the framework of the passage. Many will contend that a dictionary should not be required in order to read the Bible. An objection that would probably be mute to readers of numerous modern periodicals such as Popular Science or National Geographic, for these monthly issues (directed towards average readers) contain many words that require a dictionary or encyclopedia for accurate comprehension. National Geographic alone will offer: amphora, bard, paleozoic, qua, and waft. It is very important for the modern reader to utilize a dictionary for the most accurate comprehension of modern literature. Similarly to the biblical reader, many of the terms in Leviticus, the customs in Proverbs, and the geography of Ezekiel will be unfamiliar to most people not employing a Hebrew dictionary or commentary.

Footnotes and Margins

From the earliest period of biblical scribal activity, Hebrew copyists routinely used the Margin area of their manuscript to either note variant readings Kethiv (literally “what is written” and pronounced “keh-TEEV”) or note opinions Qere (literally “what is to be read” and pronounced “keh-RAY”). These marginal notes give translators an opportunity to explain and resolve many of the textual problems that have been previously mentioned. Without this innovation, the reader would be solely at the mercy of the text and assuredly misunderstand the reasoning of the translator.

For example, some textual critics have marked doubtful the passage of John 8:1-11. RSV excused it to the footnotes (with explanation) but NRSV restored it to the text. Occasionally upon arriving at controversial passages, scribes might leave blank an entire column of a new manuscript because they were not certain if the passage was genuine or not, thus the basic text becomes a “marginal note.” At a time when the biblical Canon was not yet decided and there already existed a variety of readings, some scribes would allow the opportunity for a future Corrector to fill in the passage if it proved to be genuine.The last twelve verses of the Gospel of Mark have been marked doubtful by some scholars, and translators must then decide whether to place these verses in the text or the margin. In either case, the reader usually expects an explanation for these well known passages. Similarly, the original scribe of Codex Sinaiticus did not include the last twelve verses of Mark, but was so uncertain of their possible genuineness that he left enough of the column blank so that a later Corrector may restore the passage if it should prove to be genuine.

Over recent years, many independent authors, especially publishing study bibles, make extensive use of the margin to assist the reader with commentary or invaluable chain-references to many other scriptures containing related information.

Formal Equivalence or literal word for word translation is a special discipline that is very much respected by the serious bible student. It is still the diplomatic rule for international conferences when attendees require the most accurate rendering of their colleagues. This rigidity finds opposition in younger and more casual readers who are demanding easy to read text with modern terminology - too often at the expense of reliability. New methods of translation to soften the language were inevitable.

Equivalent Thinking

hought for thought is another way of explaining Dynamic Equivalence, a recent innovation that provides for more comprehensible reading. Translation theorist Eugene Nida (who served as translations secretary for the American Bible Society) suggested that biblical translations should have the same “dynamic” impact on modern readers as the original conveyed to its first audience. Dynamic (thought for thought) Equivalence has now become a popular method of biblical translation that frequently uses alternate receptor words to hopefully produce the original impact or dynamics to the modern reader. However, this is often difficult because historical and cultural differences usually need explaining, and objective, non-assuming interpretation is a very delicate process.

For example, the word beauty as used to describe a woman in the modern era generally means a cute face and slender build, whereas in the Roman world it might have implied full-figured or even portly. Sweat is loathsome to the modern career women but aristocratic women of Rome highly prized the sweat that was hand scraped from athletes and gladiators. It was collected in jars and then rubbed over their own bodies. The word “book” meant an expandable scroll in the Roman world, but now generally refers to a collection of sheets glued together at one edge, a structure termed Codex. These differing values must be communicated by the translator or the reader continues under a modern illusion. By using Dynamic Equivalence, translators are free to use more readable expressions instead of being forced to reproduce original language idioms. However, the disadvantage of the Dynamic method is that there is a price to pay for readability. Dynamic Equivalent translations lose precision because they omit subtle cues to meanings which only literal translations can preserve. Additionally, they also run a greater risk of incorporating doctrinal views of the translator into the text because of this greater liberty. In order to address this situation, a few translators have resorted to yet another innovation in translating, the Paraphrase, where entirely different words are used to transmit and highlight concepts through interpretative language which makes the basic text a commentary. By openly admitting to the use of commentary, the translator escapes criticism of the Dynamic method. Used carefully, this greater freedom can enlighten the reader, but unadvisedly it may discolor ancient values and forthrightly obscure historical truths.

Transposition of Words and Phrases

Following is an brief example of each methodology using John 18:34 with a concise explanation of how they differ from one another. Numerous verses could have been selected for such a comparison and this verse has no unusual properties. In most cases, it properly reflects the same attributes and particulars that would have been noticed from other verses. It was selected because it was a pivotal moment in the trial of Jesus. To maintain continuity through these following comparisons, the previous verse is offered from Literal Translation by Jay P. Green.
          "Then Pilate again went into the praetorium and called Jesus,
          and said to Him, Are You the King of the Jews?" - John 18:33 (LITV)
Verse 34 is principally composed of these three clauses: Jesus, Yourself, and Others. In the first clause, Jesus responds to the question in the previous verse. The verb (he answered) is in the Aorist (past) tense, 3rd person singular. The middle clause identifies Pilate (you) and the verb (you say) rests in the present tense, 2nd person singular. In the last clause, outside interests may have coached Pilate's decision making, and the verb (they said) is in the Aorist (past) tense, 3rd person plural.


First noticeable is the greater length because almost every word is translated. Grammar and syntax is caringly observed, verb tense and person are mostly regarded. Word order in the KJV exactly follows Greek texts: 1-Jesus, 2-Yourself, and 3-Others.

Length has been shortened because several different words have been substituted for modern readers who prefer short sentences (first five words do not literally appear in Greek texts). NIV often engages in paraphrasing to stress modern word usage. IDEA does not translate a literal word but suggests mental evaluation to highlight the motive behind the question.

Jesus clause is moved to the middle and is changed into a question which departs from Greek texts where the interrogative begins after the Jesus clause. Syntax, grammar, and word order begin to suffer in Dynamic Equivalence because of its very nature.

Shortest of all examples because the text has been completely redone. KING is borrowed from previous verse to continue same thought but excuse more words in deference to the modern reader. JEWS is not a translation but an interpretation of the unidentified others. Jesus clause is moved to the end and likewise follows the Dynamic by changing it into a question, easier now because the interrogative begins in the second.

These few particulars highlight the major function of paraphrasing which attempts to convey similar meanings by using different and fewer words along with major textual reconstruction. No surprise that grammar, syntax, and word order, suffer most in the Paraphrase because it involves monumental reinterpretation of ancient understandings into modern contexts.

Why so many Bibles? That question has become a central issue because of the explosion of newer and more controversial versions over the last forty years. Most older Christians grew up on one or two translations but the modern biblical student may have more than twenty! One of the reasons for this explosion is the simple fact that the latter two methods give more freedom to use alternate words that present a variety of meanings. This is much easier than being held literally captive to each Greek word. Additionally, this has also let the genie out of the bottle, for there remains no universal safeguard to guarantee the authenticity of their interpretations.

Now the race is on for translators to be the most imaginative and visionary. Indicative of the inquisitiveness of human nature, many are accepting the challenge to produce more sensationally reading bibles that exhibit a greater latitude of imagination. Dynamics and Paraphrases are interpretative by nature and this should be well understood by the reader, because this freedom has often removed the guard rails of safety where not a few verses have leaped from roadbeds of propriety into fields of recklessness.

Modification can elicit new meanings

An example of this new free expression can be found in Matthew 1:19 where paraphrased by Today's English Version (Good News for Modern Man) reads “Joseph ... always did what was right,” an indefensible theological faux pas. Is it possible for a temporal human being to always do the right thing? In every situation? Without error? Free from peer criticism? Even the New English Bible, which gained a deserved reputation for minor excursions of recklessness offers an acceptable: “being a man of principle.” This is adequate because men of principle may occasionally do things wrongly. In their attempt to interpret a Greek word meaning righteous, TEV has failed to consider that the underlying Greek word means righteousness, a quality that is conferred instead of achieved. Using the word DO implies that righteousness is dependent on our behavior, and ALWAYS further suggests an impossible pursuit. This seriously undermines the awesome majesty of grace, for God bestows righteousness upon us through our confessions - in spite of our sinful behavior. Literal versions naturally play it safe and translate the word as Just or Righteous. Perhaps the inclusion of the word TRIED would have been theologically more wholesome and contextually defensible: “Joseph...always tried to do the right thing.”

One serious difficulty in making a fair and balanced comparison of various translations is the actual intent of the sponsoring committee. Unless we appreciate their stated framework, we accomplish little more than offering our own presumptions of their work. Introductions and editorial remarks are usually helpful in understanding the underlying process of these committees. Yet, many times we still need to read between the lines, because committees do not unwaiveringly attend their own statements of purpose. Because of its current popularity (thus being fair game), we shall review an excerpt taken from the Introduction to the New International Version which admits to a moderate degree of textual, style, and grammatical remanufacturing:

...because thought patterns and syntax differ from language to language, faithful communication of the meaning of the writers of the New Testament demands frequent modifications in sentence structure and constant regard for the contextual meanings of words.

Textual modifications in the NIV frequently: (1) create additional commentary which readers may assume to be original, (2) omit words that will never be missed without cross-reference, (3) alter meanings from that intended by the biblical writer. Such occasions give readers different understandings ranging from the inconsequential to the notable. Following is a brief sampling of each type:


Luke 1:15 - John being filled with the Holy Spirit before birth has been lost (see also Luke 1:41-44)
NIV - “from birth”
TNIV - “even before he is born”
NRSV - “even before his birth”
NLT - “even before his birth”
ISV - “before he is born”
NASV - “while yet in his mother's womb”
PALMER - “beginning yet in his mother's womb”

COTTON PATCH - “while his mother is still carrying him”
British pastor and theologian John Gill adds this commentary: “whilst in his mother's womb, as the Syriac, Arabic, and Persic versions render it: like Jeremiah (1:5), he was sanctified, set apart, and ordained to be the prophet of the Highest, before he came out of his mother's womb.”
John 16:31 - Jesus' words are in the form of a question but the NIV changes it into an answer. Notice that the new TNIV has rejected the previous NIV interpretation.
NIV - “You believe at last!”
TNIV - “Do you now believe?”
KJV - “Do ye now believe?”
NASV - “Do you now believe?”
NAB - “Do you believe now?”
NLT - “Do you finally believe?”
PHILLIPS - “So you believe in me now?”


Hebrews 11:11 - Emphasis on the faith of Sarah has been transferred to Abraham who is not mentioned in this verse from any manuscript. There are variant readings and interpretations on this verse but none that clearly subjugate Sarah from the nominative case with the closest verb being LAMBANO (receive). In other words, Sarah received something. Notice that the new TNIV has rejected the previous NIV interpretation.

NIV - “By faith Abraham, even though he was past age -- and Sarah herself was barren -- was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.”
TNIV - “And by faith even Sarah, who was past age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.”

KJV - “Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed...”
AMP - “Because of faith also Sarah herself received physical power to conceive a child...”
NASV - “By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life...”

CEV - “Even when Sarah was too old to have children...”
YOUNG - “By faith also Sarah herself did receive power to conceive seed, and she bare after the time of life...”

PHILLIPS - “It was by faith that even Sarah gained the physical vitality to become a mother despite her great age...”

All words appearing in red have been added as commentary by the NIV. There is no mention of Abraham in this verse. The real emphasis is on the faith of Sarah because she believed in what God had promised. Due praise to her has been obscured. Not only does each word lack manuscript support but the added words might easily mislead the reader to believe that Abraham was also barren. He was not - only Sarah was barren. Abraham with Hagar produced Ishmael before this time and with Keturah, six more children after Sarah's death. (Genesis 25:1).

Sentences and phrases are routinely shortened as in Mark 11:22 (Matthew 13:37, Luke 9:13, and others)

NIV - “Jesus answered”
KJV - “And answering he said unto them”
NASV - “And Jesus answered saying to them”
NLT - “Then Jesus said to the disciples”
AMP - “And Jesus, replying, said to them”
CEV - “Jesus told his disciples”
NAB - “Jesus said to them in reply”

Modern readers tend to prefer brevity and might argue that such examples are really a compliment. In any case, this example stands to illustrate how the translators routinely excuse the appearance of numerous words.

Little words are omitted much of the time. BEHOLD occurs 222 times in 218 verses of the New Testament but is usually discarded (e.g., Matt. 1:20, Mark 13:23, Luke 10:19, John 16:32, Acts 20:22).

Concepts or Analogies Obfuscated

Additionally, the NIV frequently interjects novel and even questionable concepts, such as the routine exchanges of capstone for cornerstone throughout the New Testament. Archeology has confirmed that biblical writers most certainly had a foundation stone in their mind. “Behold, I lay in Zion for a FOUNDATION stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure FOUNDATION” Isaiah 28:16. “And they shall not take of thee a stone for a corner, nor a stone for FOUNDATIONS; but thou shalt be desolate for ever, saith the Lord” Jeremiah 51:26. UPON this rock I will build my church” Matthew 16:18. “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house UPON a rock” Matthew 7:24 and Luke 6:48.

Repeatedly, biblical writers use the word “foundation” or “upon” or other words that reasonably create an image of this stone being “underneath” a structure. No where in the New Testament do there appear words distinctively linking the past ministry of Jesus or the future ministry of the Church with the TOP of a wall (Ephesians 2:20, 1 Corinthians 3:10-12, 1 Timothy 6:19). No other translation has followed the NIV. In fact, the new TNIV has changed each instance back to Cornerstone.

In most of the New Testament, we discover the literal Greek words KEPHALEN GONIAS or “head of the corner” (excluding Ephesians).

  Matthew 21:42 - KJV
    Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read              PHILLIPS  Head of the Corner
    in the scriptures, The stone which the                NASV      Chief Corner Stone
    builders rejected, the same is become the             NRSV      Cornerstone
    head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing,         EVS       Cornerstone
    and it is marvelous in our eyes?                      NIV       Capstone

  Mark 12:10 - KJV
    And have ye not read this scripture; The              PHILLIPS  Head of the Corner
    stone which the builders rejected is become           NASV      Chief Corner Stone
    the head of the corner.                               NRSV      Cornerstone
                                                          EVS       Cornerstone
                                                          NIV       Capstone

  Luke 20:17 - KJV
    And he beheld them, and said, What is                 PHILLIPS  Head of the Corner
    this then that is written, The stone                  NASV      Chief Corner Stone
    which the builders rejected, the same                 NRSV      Cornerstone
    is become the head of the corner?                     EVS       Cornerstone
                                                          NIV       Capstone

  Acts 4:11 - KJV
    This is the stone which was set at nought             PHILLIPS  Head of the Corner
    of you builders, which is become the                  NASV      Corner Stone
    head of the corner.                                   NRSV      Cornerstone
                                                          EVS       Cornerstone
                                                          NIV       Capstone

  Ephesians 2:20 - KJV
    And are built upon the foundation of the              PHILLIPS  Corner-stone
    apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself           NASV      Corner Stone
    being the chief corner stone.                         NRSV      Cornerstone
                                                          EVS       Cornerstone
                                                          NIV       Corner stone

  1 Peter 2:7 - KJV
    Unto you therefore which believe he is                PHILLIPS  Head of the Corner
    precious: but unto them which be disobedient,         NASV      Corner Stone
    the stone which the builders disallowed, the          NRSV      Head of the corner
    same is made the head of the corner.                  EVS       Cornerstone
                                                          NIV       Capstone

Actually these were stone pads in the building's foundation, directly underneath the corner of intersecting walls. Field stone was used to construct the walls of most smaller buildings, and being the most unstable at corners, these pads helped to insure the building's integrity. Here is the analogy. These pads held the weight, interlocked the walls, and provided stability for the entire building and precisely describe Christ's relationship to the church; for He undergirds the church, interlocks the members, and provides stability for their faith. However, a capstone is a crown block which rests on the top of a wall. It undergirds nothing, interlocks nothing, and could be removed without affecting the integrity of the building whatsoever. The NIV has ruined the very analogy that the biblical writers were trying to make.

   Characteristic of        Biblical Writers &                          NIV
   Jesus                    Foundation Stone                            Capstone
   INVISIBLE in Heaven      INVISIBLE in the ground                     Visible on top

   SUPPORTS the church      SUPPORTS the building                       Nothing is supported 

   INTERLOCKS members       INTERLOCKS adjacent walls                   Interlocks nothing

   (if removed)             (if removed)                                (if removed)
   Church collapses         Building collapses                          Nothing changes

This writer has seen numerous ancient building particulars in the ruins of archeological digs while traveling in the Middle East and is convinced that biblical writers of both Testaments had a foundation stone in mind - not a crown block. Hymn authors understood this foundational undergirding analogy, for their titles and verses have captured this same essence of Christ in their hymns: The Churches One Foundation by Samuel J. Stone, How Firm A Foundation by George Keith, and the powerful Christ Is Made A Sure Foundation, a 7th century Latin hymn translated by John M. Neale. This textual alteration may be of little consequence to novice readers or those who delight in innovation, but it does sadly push the envelope for serious biblical study, because the precise analogy of the biblical writers has been obfuscated.

hese numerous examples do not mean that the NIV Committee was not seriously endeavoring to produce a more readable and understandable version, but the point herein to be made is the real danger of crossing that line between literalness and interpretation where there remains no inherent guard rail to restrain one from allowing the text to reflect theological disposition, presumption, or imagination. It requires an extra amount of caution on a leash to successfully use this methodology.

Robert L. Thomas (see bibliography) pleasingly demonstrates that serious translation often uses Equivalence as a system of hermeneutical interpretation and exegesis whereas Nida emphatically separated each methodology. Thomas further contends that Equivalence and exegesis frequently overlap, and offers adequate explanation, such as: De Waard and Nida object to formal-equivalence renderings of Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” by stating flatly, “want no longer means to lack but rather to desire.” In contrast, contemporary dictionaries give the intransitive verb “want” a first meaning of “lack” or “have a need,” exactly what the psalmist intended to say. Rather than correcting the formal-equivalence translators, the linguistic specialists should have acknowledged the legitimacy of their word choice. They would also have been more credible if they had prefaced their critical remark with “in our sphere of knowledge” or “according to our judgment,” but to say without qualification “want no longer means ‘to lack’” raises questions about their judgment in general.

Dynamic Equivalence can be a helpful method when exercised with caution and respect, otherwise, unguarded attempts to explain result not only in misunderstanding, but as Jerome stated above concerning scribal activity, translators blend and mix their own guesswork. Paraphrase on the other hand is mostly conjecture, and readers must clearly understand this fact or the opinions of the translator may be construed to be the language of the Divine.


new form of translation called paraphrasing gained popular attention with Kenneth Taylor's publication of The Living Bible popularized a. Although not historically the first such enterprise, its wide acceptance certainly established a translational milestone. Paraphrases are more than just translation, for by definition, the author tries to place besides (para = parallel) the correct translation, “other words” which contain similar meanings. Since this frequently employs commentary, the paraphraser must execute gigantic levels of self-discipline, in order to prevent the acceptance of conjecture as Scripture. Paraphrases attempt to reconstruct the literal equivalent in an “idiomatic sense” of the culture and time period of the modern world. Because of the novelty of this textual innovation, The Living Bible has enjoyed both blessings and cursings from the readership because it is distinctly the commentary of one person who has entered areas of interpretation, heretofore, inviolate for normal translation. For example, in 1 Samuel 20:30 the rendering is quite expletive (S.O.B.), and in Revelation 18:22, irrefutably anachronistic (piano). But the Introduction of the Living Bible clearly delineates its own framework of caution:

"Its purpose is to say as exactly as possible what the writers of the Scriptures meant, and to say it simply, expanding where necessary for a clear understanding by the modern reader... ...There are dangers in paraphrases, as well as values. For whenever the author's exact words are not translated from the original languages, there is a possibility that the translator, however honest, may be giving the English reader something that the original writer did not mean to say."

Some criticisms of Paraphrases are unjustified, simply because the argument fails to maintain that a Paraphrase, by nature, resists the civility of normal interpretation for the speculative. However, speculation must still be united with reasonability, for in Mark 11:23, The Living Bible places the tossed mountain in the Mediterranean Sea. Even though manuscripts do not indicate the specific body of water that Christ had in mind, it is less problematic to consider the DEAD SEA, which is only eighteen miles distant (as opposed to seventy), encompasses over five hundred square miles (12 miles x 46 miles), and nearly within eyesight from the very point where Jesus was speaking. Reason and logic must be close friends with speculation.


Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia, in his Cotton Patch Version has taken translation across the horizon into a new land which this writer calls “thematic interpretation,” another step beyond the normal demarcation of the Paraphrase. In this unfolding of the author's imagination, a THEME is used to alter the entire context, but yet hopefully in a way that artfully explains the biblical writer's intent. Jordan's theme is a laid back “southern walk through Georgia” which delivers Zack Harris the preacher for Zacharias the priest in Luke, and Apostle Paul's first missionary journey to the island of Crete by way of Pensacola and Montgomery -- riding on a bus! For some people, this type of translation is blasphemy or heresy. Admittedly, in order to enjoy (or tolerate) this kind of approach, you must first accept the premise. Many do not.
Chief Priests
Seminary Professors
Denominational Executives
Mount of Olives
Peach Orchard Hill
Although Clarence Jordan holds a Ph.D. in New Testament Greek from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, his very imaginative use of a Theme has been regarded as both heresy and hilarity, depending on the acceptance of the premise by the reader. In all cases, extreme caution must be utilized in such variations because the reader may inadvertently accept a thematic suggestion as actual truth. Regardless of ones theological habitude, the Bible prescribes very serious consequences for those who knowingly create stumbling blocks on the pathway to truth (Deuteronomy 4:2; Revelation 22:18-19, Matthew 18:6).

For those individuals whose predilection leans towards the novel or extraordinary, these mythological departures may be slight, but others who fervently regard every biblical word as inviolate, the very concept of thematic interpretation is immediately an unforgivable departure which they are more than willing to abandon. For the benefit of the online visitor, here is an example of a “theme” alteration in Clarence Jordan's, the Cotton Patch Version

Acts 2: When Thanksgiving Day arrived, they were all gathered in one place. Then all of a sudden there came from the sky a rumbling like a tornado, and it filled the whole house where they were gathered. And they saw forked flames as from a fire, and it stayed in contact with each one of them. Everybody was bursting with Holy Spirit and started talking in whatever different languages the spirit directed. Now at that time there were a lot of delegates gathered in Atlanta, religious people from countries all over the world. So when they heard this great noise, they all came running together. And then they heard these folks talking to each one of them in their own native tongue, and were they excited! Amazed and astounded to no end, they said, “Look, aren't all these speakers Americans? Then how is it that each of us is hearing it in his own native tongue -- French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Chinese, Russian, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Burmese, Hebrew, Swedish, Afrikaans, Hindi -- in our own languages we are hearing them tell of God's mighty doings.” Everybody was dumfounded and puzzled, saying one to another, “What's the meaning of this?” but others sneered, “They're tanked up on white lightning.”

Hopefully, you have enjoyed this modest educational introduction to the elusive disciplines of textual criticism, transmission theory, manuscript text-type, and translation methods. It has been the wish of this writer to demystify these often esoteric terms and provide you with a more complete understanding of why translations differ so much from each other. Please advance to our next section which offers you the opportunity to enjoy Biblical Translations Compared.

~ Footnotes ~

1 TRADUTTORE TRADITORE: Old Italian proverb meaning “Translator (is a) Traitor.” If one translates the idiomatic sense, it will be unwelcome for those expecting a literal sense. Likewise, if one expresses the literal sense, it will be disappointing to one anticipating the idiomatic sense. Readers yield their trust for a translated work and naturally feel betrayed upon discovering the original meaning. 2 E.C. Colwell, Scribal Habits in Early Papyri: A Study in the Corruption of the Text, the Bible in Modern Scholarship, New York: Abingdon Press, 1965, pp. 376-77. 3 Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, Oxford University Press, London, 1964, p. 201. 4 Bruce Metzger, Ibid.,, p. 195.
5 Ernest Colwell, The Origin of Text-types of New Testament Manuscripts, Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1961, p. 138.
6 G. D. Kilpatrick, Atticism and the Text of the Greek New Testament, Regensburg: Pustet, 1963, p. 128.
7 Frederick Scrivener, A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, 4th Edition 2 Vols, London: Bell & Sons, 1894, Vol II., p. 264.
8 John Burgon, The Revision Revised, London: Murray, 1885, p. 323.
9 Bruce Metzger, Introduction to: A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Stuttgart: Biblia-Druck GmbH (German Bible Society), 1975, p. xx.
10 Harry Sturz, The Byzantine Text-Type & New Testament Textual Criticism, New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers, p. 84.
11 Bruce Metzger, Ibid.,, p. xvii.
12 David Fuller, True or False, Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids International Publications, 1973, p. 78.
13 John Burgon, The Revision Revised, p. 12.
14 Herman C. Hoskier, Codex B and Its Allies, London: Bernard Quaritch, 1914, Vol 2, I.
15 D.A. Carson, The King James Debate: A Plea for Reason,, Grand Rapids: Baker House Books, 1979, p. 110.
16 Bruce Metzger, Ibid.,, p. xviii.
17 Bruce Metzger, Ibid.,, p. xx.
18 B.H. Streeter, The Four Gospels, London: Macmillan, 1924, p. 57.
19 F.F. Bruce, History of the Bible in English, New York: Oxford University Press, 1978, p. 151.
20 David Fuller, Ibid.,, (Burgon, Revision Revised) p. 193.
21 F.G. Kenyon, Handbook To The Textual Criticism Of The New Testament, London: Macmillan, 1912, p. 302.
22 Philip Comfort, Early Manuscripts & Modern Translations of the New Testament, Wheaton: Tyndale House, pp. 14-15.
23 Sturz, The Byzantine Text-Type & New Testament Textual Criticism, New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers (four separate chapters), pp. 145-227.
24 Bruce Metzger, Lucian and the Lucianic Recension of the Greek Bible, New Testament Studies, 8 (April, 1962), pp. 38-39.
25 Sturz, Ibid.,, pp. 64-65.
26 Kurt Aland, The Significance of the Papyri for Progress in New Testament Research: The Bible in Modern Scholarship, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1965, pp. 334-337.
27 Eberhard & Erwin Nestle and Kurt & Barbara Aland - Introduction to Novum Testamentum Graece, Stuttgart: Biblia-Druck GmbH (German Bible Society), 1979, p. 43.
28 Gunther Zuntz - The Text of the Epistles, London: Oxford University Press, 1953, pp.55-56.
29 United Bible Societies, THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT, Stuttgart: Biblia-Druck GmbH (German Bible Society), 3rd Edition. A few examples are John 1:13,28; 3:25; 4:11; 6:42,55; 7:9,12,37,46; 8:16,38; 10:22; 12:32; 13:18,26; 14:7; 16:22; 17:12; and 20:30.
30 United Bible Societies, THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT Ibid., p. 13. See also Nestle-Aland Greek Text, NOVUM TESTAMENTUM GRAECE, 26th Edition, p. 10.

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