Does it matter which Bible you use?

Today I share the “google-translate”-version of an article I wrote recently for the Reformed Daily: Maakt het uit welke Bijbel u gebruikt?

Gutenberg_Bible,_Lenox_Copy,_New_York_Public_Library,_2009._Pic_01

Prof. dr. Benno Zuiddam

When a Latin translation changed one word from the book of Jonah in the fourth century, a riot broke out in the church of Africa. Augustine forbade that Bible in his congregation. Modern Bibles change a lot more. Does it matter which Bible you choose?

At first glance it seems to make little difference. We read the Gospel in all Bibles, from (Revised) King James Version to Great News / NIV. Converted it involves one different word per hundred words in the New Testament; 99 percent is just the same in all translations. The main issues of the Christian faith can be found in almost all translations. So if you want to practically move forward as a Christian, it seems obvious to choose a well-readable, modern Bible. Also as a church bond. After all, do we want to be a church of this time?

The Gospel must indeed land in our lives and in the lives of others. Yet not everything is said. In this contribution, I deliberately limit myself to the text of the New Testament and do not go into linguistic deliberations.

The Church has always believed that all Scripture comes from God. According to Reformed Catholic teaching, the Bible does not contain inspiring stories of religious people, but God speaks through human minds. The Early Church spoke of “sacred letters and syllables”.

The textual tradition of Scripture is part of the faith community of the church. Inspired editing and growth of the Bible text is part of this. Theologians know that for as long as the church exists. We see it in the place names of Genesis, in the Psalms and at the end of Deuteronomy. For the Early Church the original version (“autografon”) of Moses or David was irrelevant. Nobody thought of deleting verses because they did not “originally” belong to it.

Yet that is the philosophy behind most modern Bibles. Tradition is full of mistakes, they say, and we must try to reconstruct the original text of Scripture. Only since a mere hundred years have we thought that this is desirable and possible. Or can be approached.

But it is quite possible that what is now the accepted way of thinking – and a theologian who wants to make a career may not deviate from it – will be typified as a fallacy by subsequent generations of scientists. A fallacy that did not do justice to the nature of religious texts.

The foundation for modern Bible translations was compiled in the last century by a committee of the United Bible Societies. By choosing phrase for phrase from thousands of manuscripts, a reconstruction of the original text was intended. Technically, however, it became a new text, for which as such, however, primary sources are missing. It is therefore a matter of faith in the deliberations of the committee and in the religious desirability of such a reconstruction.

Is that problematic? No and yes. In the ecclesiastical tradition, comparison and correction have always taken place when writing manuscripts. The new text is not only about linguistic nuance, but also substantial substantive differences. The ecclesiastical text that has been used demonstrably in the churches of East and West throughout the world for some 1,500 years has been set aside.

Continuity of that age-old ecclesiastical text can now only be traced back to Protestants using the (Revised) King James Version, to the Eastern Orthodox Churches and to some Roman Catholic communities. Recently I wrote about this in the journal Neotestamentica (https://muse.jhu.edu/issue/39817). In that article there are more than twenty verses that have disappeared from modern Bibles, but are included in the King James Version. This check is a fun project for the religious lesson or the catechism.

What Bible we read shows what we believe about God’s speaking in our lives. It also determines our experience of the communion of saints, the church of all times and places. Does God speak infallibly and does He watch over His Word? The Early Church answered affirmatively.

The author is a classicist and a New Testamentist. In this section answers are given to questions about the Christian faith.

 

 

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