Sjolander Road Fellowship




Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

Bible Translations

2/18/13

 

Every translation of the Bible is invariably influenced by the presuppositions of translators as to what the Bible means by the words employed. Original translations also involved a decision as to what individual documents were a legitimate part of the Bible.

 

By the very nature of human languages, the practice of translation is an inexact effort. Words often carry widely disparate meanings, and the reader is left to depend on the overall context in order determine which meaning is correct. Also, all languages employ idiomatic expressions which cannot be understood from a word for word translation. Such expressions can only be rendered by someone intimately familiar with the nuances of that language.

 

The Bible is a perfect example of the challenge presented by the translation process. Additionally, when translators have been pre-conditioned to a certain rendering of the Bible by church tradition, they are hard pressed to deliver an unbiased translation, one which does not automatically assume certain shades of meaning as being the correct ones.

 

If one does a careful study, using a Strong's concordance for instance, you will notice certain assumptions which give priority to select verses making them axiomatic in understanding the overall thrust of the Bible. These verses and the traditional understanding of their meaning then colors how all other verses are translated. Axiomatic verses are taken as conveying basic truths which require no further evaluation or questioning. Such verses tend to be taken at face value as originally translated centuries before. Other verses are allowed to mean something different from what the literal words seem to convey. Non-axiomatic verses must be conditioned by the prevailing understanding of the axiomatic ones.

 

When one considers the force exerted by the King James Version of the Bible on current day Christianity in America, it becomes important to explore the background to this translation. A study of the history of this translation and its subsequent impact on English speaking Christianity is quite revealing.

 

The first thing one might note is that this much revered translation does not come into being until 1611, after the institutional church has held unopposed sway over the teaching of the Bible for 1200 years. This centuries long period of time meant that the church's version of the Bible message was firmly fixed in the minds of most people long before any real attempt to provide an English Bible to the world. This church influence certainly extended to the scholars who actually worked on the KJV.

 

In addition, this translation effort was commissioned under the authority and oversight of King James, the English monarch of that day. He, like all such rulers of that time, believed firmly in the divine right of kings, meaning that he was God's chosen agent on earth, ruling at God's behest over his people and controlling their destinies. One need only read the preface to the original document to get the sense of what I am saying about James and the effect on the translators.

 

This divine right of kings was inextricably interwoven with the prevailing doctrines of the church, since church and state functioned together to control and restrain society at large. A translation process overseen by this monarch was not going to allow anything dramatically new to be introduced into the Bible translation which might jeopardize either his position and authority or that of the church as his supporter. Church tradition, established centuries before, would necessarily be upheld by the translators because their personal position and security were at stake in the world of 17th century Christendom.

 

Given all of this history, the reverence shown by the present day church for the renderings of the KJV is highly questionable. One cannot prove to what extent the KVJ translators were swayed from a personal opinion about the meaning of a passage and pressured to embrace something more palatable to the king and the church, but one must admit the pressure to conform to tradition was unavoidable and likely powerful. Even if none of the translators felt coerced to accept a meaning contrary to their own, as a group they were unavoidably biased to what they had been taught by the church.

 

The KJV of the Bible is a masterpiece of English literature and rightfully a centerpiece of religious thought and discussion. That does not mean, however, that it's wording is divinely sanctioned and therefore conveys unadulterated divine truth. Such is impossible to imagine, given the process by which it was generated and transmitted to our ears

 

 

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