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Foundations for Christianity:
201 Bible Translations
and Manuscripts

Are Translations Unreliable? (Part 1)

Are Translations Unreliable? (Part 1)
Are Translations Unreliable? (Part 2)
A Brief Examination of Manuscript Variation Issues


A few months or so before the writing of this article, I received an email from an individual concerning the comparable reliability of translations such as the King James Version and the more modern New King James, NIV, and NASB versions. Near the end of his email, the author asked to hear my thoughts on the issues he had mentioned. When I wrote back, I told him that I agreed with his comments concerning the relevant differences between these translations. I also made one particular statement that, "ultimately, I do not feel that the intended meaning of God's Word is so fragile that essential clues are missing if one word or another here and there is translated into a slightly different meaning than the original." The author of the email responded back concerning this particular comment in my reply and said, "This is a very good point to help balance the whole situation."

This article is about how we see God's Word. Is it fragile? Is God's teaching so weak, unsure, and unclear that the original meaning is lost if so much as one word is translated imperfectly? Or is the teaching of God strong, clear, and difficult to obscure or erase the meaning from? I prefer to think that God's words are so perfect and so clear that it is difficult to erase or pervert the obvious meaning and intent. In cases where a word is translated less than ideally, the original word can be checked in the underlying Hebrew or Greek text.

In this way, the meaning of God's word is robust and resilient, mistranslations of a word are easy to remedy, and the meaning is abundantly clear. Under this view, misinterpretations are not a result of shortcomings in the clarity or durability of the meaning of the text but instead result from inconsistent or otherwise poor interpretive practices on the part of the interpreter. The alternative is that God's meaning is fragile and fleeting and a correct interpretation of the text is incredibly difficult, unsure, and precarious. Subsequently, certainty about the meaning is out of reach. Under this view, misinterpretations are the result of a text that is difficult to decipher and by its very nature prone to misinterpretation. The first view places the blame for misinterpretation on the shoulders of the interpreter. The second view places the blame for misinterpretation on the text itself and the inherent difficult with identifying the meaning.

Some months after that particular email, similar issues regarding the general reliability of translations again became the topic of conversation. For that reason, it seemed to be a good idea to write an article to explore and establish a proper view of these issues.

The Purpose of this Article

The purpose of this article is to address a very practical and fundamental question. Does the text of the Bible become unreliable as a basis for doctrine once the original statements are restated using different words, such as occurs in the process of translation? Or in other words, is the meaning and intent of God's Word so obscure and precarious that it becomes unusable and unreliable for understanding and living correct doctrine once it is translated?

Additionally, how reliable are translations? And by what means can we measure reliability so that we can build our understanding by means of an accurate translation of the text? These are the question that this article seeks to address.

First and foremost, we would like to reassert at this point one of the items in our basic doctrine, found in our "Just So You Know" section. Number 12 of our most basic doctrinal statement contains the following opening declaration.

12. We believe the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments were inspired by God, and free from all errors in their original form (2 Tim. 3:16 & 2 Pet. 1:21).

Our point here is simply that the scriptures are only infallible in their original languages. The reason for this is that translation itself involves a degree of human subjectivity, which removes from the translation the infallibility possessed by the original authors in the original texts. The interpreter/translator is not infallible as the original author was. However, despite the fact that translations lack infallibility, we also quickly state under item No. 12 that a translation can still remain reliable for both doctrine and consequently daily living.

12. (continued) ...We believe in the preservation of the text of Scripture through the providence of God for each generation (Psalm 12:6,7 KJV/NKJV, Matt. 5:17,18, Matt. 24:35, 1 Pet. 1:23).

By these statements under item No. 12, we declare that translations are useful and reliable for understanding both theology and daily living. However, reliability occurs in degrees so that one translation may be more reliable than another. The difference in reliability between one translation and another can even be dramatic. But most importantly, the degree of reliability can be measured using concrete methods and criteria. Those methods will be discussed in detail in later portions of this article.

Finally, as a consequence of our belief that the scripture is only infallible in its original language, even though translations can be reliable, we believe it is necessary to ultimately defer to the original language on questions of vocabulary and grammar, etc. Translations do not surpass and do not equal the original in this regard. They are fallible and their reliability is strictly a matter of how accurately they preserve the meaning of the original. As we move ahead, it will be important to keep in mind this central question:

Is meaning automatically lost by the very act of translating or attempting to articulate the same concept with alternate words?

As we have already mentioned, some modern scholars articulate just such a view in terms of the Bible. This is not simply a question of infallibility. We ourselves wholeheartedly believe that the scriptures are only infallible in their original language. As such, all translations must yield to the authority of the original language. But we entirely disagree with the idea that scriptures are only reliable in their original language. A text can be reliable without being infallible. Specifically, a translation can be reliable if it is an accurate preservation of the meaning of the infallible original. And reliability is determined by the degree to which a translation accurately reflects the original. This accuracy (and consequently the reliability) can be measured. And some translations are more reliable than others, even by large margins, but translations are not by their nature automatically unreliable for doctrine or practical application.

What Is At Stake?

Before we move on it is necessary to explain the consequences at stake with this question. There are two possible scenarios.

1.) Translations from the original language by their nature render the text unreliable for doctrine or practical application and as such, in order to obtain a reliable understanding of the scripture one must be fluent in the original languages of Greek or Hebrew or accept the interpretation of someone who is.

2.) Translations from the original language are reliable in degrees based upon how accurately they reflect the original, that accuracy can be measured, and as such it is not necessary to be fluent in the original languages of Greek or Hebrew.

Concerning Scenario No. 1, if the meaning of scripture is so precarious and fragile that it is lost in unreliability once that meaning is conveyed with new words, then either we all must learn to be fluent in Hebrew and Greek in order to preserve the principle of sola scriptura and to understand God's teachings in the Old and New Testaments ourselves or those who are not fluent in Hebrew and Greek must have an infallible interpreter to tell them what the Hebrew and Greek means.

This interpreter should be classified as infallible because their audience necessarily has to accept and rely upon their interpretation of scripture. Since the audience cannot read Hebrew or Greek, any interpretation they derive themselves is by definition unreliable since they didn't get it from the original language or from the fluent interpreter. It does not matter whether or not the meaning they derive aligns or disagrees with what the fluent interpreter proclaims. Thus, any interpretation that the audience derives themselves provides no basis for questioning or doubting the proclamation of the interpreter who does read Hebrew or Greek and explains it's meaning to them. In short, the only source that the audience has for a reliable understanding of the scripture is the fluent interpreter. Likewise, the fluent interpreter is the only source that the audience has for knowing what to believe or how to live. They cannot get such information from reading the text themselves since they do not read the original languages.

Even if two fluent interpreters disagree with each other, the audience is in no position to judge between the two since judging between the two would require that the audience, who cannot read Hebrew or Greek, is capable of reliably discerning the interpretive errors of those who are fluent in Hebrew or Greek. Weighing and judging the interpretive errors of those who are fluent in Hebrew or Greek requires sufficient understanding of the issues under debate, namely the original Hebrew or Greek text including the rules of grammar and interpretation, etc. so that the audience can know when an error has been made, why it is an error, and what meaning is correct. If the audience had that kind of understanding of the text, they wouldn't need the fluent interpreter in the first place.

Moreover, in this scenario there is ultimately no real benefit or purpose for the audience to read the scripture for themselves since any understanding that they might obtain either will already agree with what is proclaimed by the fluent interpreter or will be entirely unreliable since they do not read Hebrew or Greek. We use the phrase "entirely unreliable" instead of "partially unreliable" for a reason. That reason is simple. If the interpretation of someone who isn't fluent in Hebrew or Greek can still be reliable to some extent, then reliability is not restricted only to those who are fluent in the original languages. Furthermore, if some measure of reliability is possible when using translations of scripture instead of the original languages, then reliability is not automatically lost in translation. In this case, Scenario No. 1 dissolves entirely and reverts automatically to Scenario No. 2.

Scenario No. 2.) Translations from the original language are reliable in degrees based upon how accurately they reflect the original, that accuracy can be measured, and as such it is not necessary to be fluent in the original languages of Greek or Hebrew.

Conversely, so long as translations can be reliable as long as they accurately reflect the original and that accuracy can be measured, then scripture itself remains the supreme authority in the life of every believer because they do not need an interpreter to act as an intervening authority - an authority that rules over even the meaning of scripture itself. It is these issues that are at stake when answering the central questions examined in this article. Or to put it in historical terms, to assert the need for an intervening authoritative interpreter to preside over the very meaning of scripture for layperson is to borrow the principles necessitating Roman Catholic Papal authority and reject the Protestant Reformation's affirmation of sola scriptura.

Word Meaning in the Koran

It should be noted that the Islamic view of the Koran is that the meaning is so fragile that it ceases to be reliable the moment that it is translated or rearticulated from the original into alternate words.

"Qur'an - The Qur'an is held in high esteem as the ultimate authority in all matters legal and religious and is generally regarded as infallible in all respects. Its Arabic language is thought to be unsurpassed in purity and beauty and to represent the highest ideal of style. To imitate the style of the Qur'an is a sacrilege. To imitate the style of the Qur'an is a sacrilege." - Britannica.com

"Qur'an - The Qur'an itself is a miracle and cannot be imitated by man. As a consequence of this, it is regarded as unfitting to translate the Qur'an. In countries in which other languages are spoken, the Qur'an is still recited in Arabic. There exist Muslim translations of the Qur'an; e.g., into Turkish, Urdu, and English (the latter during the Ahmadiyah movement founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in the Punjab region of India), but on principle these are regarded as paraphrases, not as translations that can be used for ritual purposes." - Britannica.com

"Qur'an - Being the verbatim Word of God, the text of the Qur'an is valid for religious purposes only in its original Arabic, cannot be modified, and is not translatable, although the necessity for non-Arabic interpretations is recognized. This has made the Qur'an the most read book in its original language and preserved a classical form of Arabic as an Islamic lingua franca and medium of learning." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

As the above quotes state, the Koran is only considered a reliable "authority in all matters legal and religious" in its original language. The text loses reliability as an authority the moment it is translated. As such, translations are regarded as nothing more than paraphrases that cannot be used in practice, particularly ritual. The question is whether or not Christians today should have this Islamic type of view when it comes to the Bible or if the meaning of the Bible is clear and robust enough to remain reliable (although not infallibly so) even when translated.

If it turns out that such a view of the Bible is incompatible with scripture and Judeo-Christian history, then we might well regard this view as an influence from Islam. Even if this view was not borrowed from the Islamic view and is merely coincidentally similar to that view, we will need to discard such a view of the Bible on the grounds that it is incompatible with scripture itself and with Judeo-Christian history. In this article, the evidence will demonstrate that the orthodox view contained in scripture and held in scriptural times is that 1) the text was only infallible in its original language but that 2) translations can indeed be reliable for doctrinal and practical living purposes.

Does Translation Automatically Remove Reliability?

When a government official from one country speaks to an official from another country in which a different language is spoken, each official will likely bring an interpreter. It is the function of the interpreter to take the original words of one official and to articulate the exact same concepts using different words (from another language) without altering the meaning. In legal, religious, and literary circles, there are also interpreters. Their function is to take the words of an original text or document and articulate them using different words for the purposes of explaining or applying the intended meaning. In both cases, whether different languages or the same language is involved, such an individual is known as an interpreter and the work performed is known as interpretation.

The absolute key in this concept is to understand that the goal of interpretation is not to alter the meaning but instead to preserve the meaning and create an understanding of that intended meaning by articulating it using alternate words from the original. Translation is merely a sub-category under the larger category of interpretation. Specifically, translation is a form of interpretation where the new articulation involves a different language than the original. But whether translating between different languages or simply interpreting within the same language, the process is identical. The original words are exchanged for alternate words with the goal of preserving, rather than altering, the meaning contained in the original.

In short, interpretation is a process of understanding the intended meaning of words and ultimately sentences. Any time we take the original words and exchange them for others to articulate the same idea we are translating and transferring the meaning from the original words that conveyed it into alternate words. It does not matter if this process involves exchanging words in a particular language for other words in that same language or words in a different language. Although different processes might be involved for each, the essential nature of the transaction is the same: meaning is preserved while the words conveying the meaning are replaced.

Thus, it is the goal of interpretation and translation to preserve meaning reliably. Either this concept is possible or it is not. Those who reject that translations of the Bible can be reliable for accurate understanding of doctrine and practical application necessarily hold that meaning cannot be reliably preserved when the original words are exchanged for alternate words. Thus, those who reject that translations of the Bible can be reliable for accurate understanding necessarily hold that interpretation and translation are not possible. They are effectively anti-translationists and anti-interpretationists because they believe that meaning cannot be reliably preserved when expressed in alternate words.

Consequently, there arises the interesting question of why an interpreter that is fluent in Greek or Hebrew is needed at all if the very process of trying to preserve meaning in new words is inherently unreliable by its nature. If reliable interpretation or translation is not possible, then what need is there for an interpreter or a translator? Such persons are nothing more than tricksters or con artists promising to deliver something that they themselves assert cannot be done - namely, an explanation of the text to the audience in words other than the original.

But such a dismal view is not the view of the authors of this site. The fact is that preserving the meaning while expressing it in new words is an inseparable necessity of both understanding and applying the text to everyday life. If we are to give up the notion that meaning can be reliably preserved in new words, we give up on understanding the meaning altogether. For how can meaning be known at all if it cannot be described in parallel terms?

Can you conceive of a dictionary in which the definition for every word is that word itself? The definition of strong is strong. The definition for hyper is hyper. The definition for fluid is fluid. How would we understand the meaning of anything if meaning cannot be accurately conveyed in alternate words? As we will see in the paragraphs below, preserving meaning with new words is not only possible, but understanding meaning inherently requires our ability to convey and perceive that meaning in alternate phrasing.

Let's look at this on a practical level where scripture is concerned. We all translate the text of scripture into terms that we understand and live. When we come into a situation containing elements that the Bible speaks of, we don't quote back an entire verse or passage verbatim. Instead, we remember meaning and the application in simpler terms. In doing so, we are translating from the original text into our own words with the goal of accurately preserving the meaning.

To take a simple example, suppose we find ourselves in a situation where there arises the opportunity or temptation to physically strike someone. Even if a particular verse like "turn the other cheek" comes to mind, for the purposes of guiding our actions we translate the meaning of that verse into "do not physically strike someone." The meaning is not so fragile as to be lost or unusable simply because we take the words of the text and translate their meaning to articulate the same concept another way.

Of course, our articulation of the concept is not infallible and is only as reliable as it is an accurate representation of the meaning of the original. And there are rules by which we can measure accuracy and preserve the intended meaning of the original, which we will get into later on in this study. For now, this simple example from the phrase "turn the other cheek" illustrates that even within the same language, in the process of understanding and applying scripture to our lives, we all take the words of scripture and articulate them in practical terms. If this were not the case then we would not be able to understand that the phrase, "turn the other cheek," is intended to instruct us concerning how to respond to physical assault. Instead, when faced with the temptation to engage in physical violence, we would simply turn our cheeks and then punch our adversary because we perceive that "do not engage in physical violence" cannot be a reliable preservation of the meaning of "turn the other cheek" since meaning cannot be reliably preserved in translation.

In fact, it may well be said that the only true way to understand something is by the ability to take the original statement and convey the same meaning back in one's own words without changing the idea or meaning. Consider this. If a teacher makes a statement to a student, and the student merely repeats that statement back word for word to the teacher, is this learning? Does the student really understand the meaning of the concepts described by the teacher? How does the teacher know whether the student understands his meaning or is just imitating him without understanding?

This is very similar to our earlier illustration of a dictionary that defines every word only with that word itself without offering any alternate words to compare and express the meaning. How can we possibly gain an understanding of what a word means if we cannot perceive its meaning with alternate words. Likewise, the only way the student can develop and even demonstrate his understanding of the concept is to try to articulate that concept in his own words while preserving the meaning.

If the teacher were to make a statement and then ask the student if he understands, the student demonstrates his understanding by articulating the concept back to the teacher in his own words at which point the teacher evaluates whether the student's articulation conveys the teacher's concept or falls short. If it falls short, then the student has not yet grasped the concept. If the student's articulation perfectly conveys the meaning of the teacher's statement but using the student's own words, then the teacher knows that the student has understood him.

Furthermore, to return to our previous example, the teacher knows the student has understood the meaning of "turn the other cheek" when he sees the student decline the temptation to get into a fistfight. By watching the student apply the teaching in this way, the teacher knows that the student has properly translated the intended meaning of "turn the other cheek" into "do not engage in violence."

These examples are admittedly oversimplified and do not get into the details of doctrines concerning Christian participation in violence. That is the subject of other articles on this website. However, the examples illustrate one of the key points of this article. That point is simply this. It is far from being the case that meaning is inherently lost by translation to alternate words. Or to put it conversely, it is far from being the case that meaning cannot be preserved through translation or articulation into different words. On the contrary, grasping the meaning of a statement or teaching not only inherently involves the learner articulating the concepts accurately in alternate terms while preserving the meaning, but without this process, applying the Bible to guide our beliefs and everyday actions would effectively be impossible.

Meaning Preserved in New Words: Scriptural Examples

As we stated in our previous segment, preserving meaning with new words is not only possible, but understanding meaning inherently requires our ability to convey and perceive that meaning in alternate phrasing. The scripture itself affirms and records this process at work. Let's take Jesus' words in Matthew 16 for example.

Matthew 16:6 Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. 7 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread. 8 Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread? 9 Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? 10 Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? 11 How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? 12 Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.

In this passage, Jesus gives his disciples instructions concerning the Pharisees and Sadducees. He states to his disciples that they "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees." And how does Jesus know that they do not understand his intended meaning? He knows this because their re-articulation of the concept is not accurate. When Jesus says, "beware the leaven of the Pharisees," the disciples rearticulate this teaching as "we don't have enough bread to eat." This is not what Jesus' meant, so he knows by their re-articulation that they do not understand the meaning of his words.

By contrast, what if Jesus had said, "do you understand what I mean when I tell you to beware the leaven of the Pharisees?" and his disciples had said, "Yes, we understand, you want us to beware the leaven of the Pharisees." Because, in that scenario, the disciples would be simply repeating Jesus' words back to him word for word, there is no way to detect if they understand the concept or if they are just repeating his words without understanding his meaning.

Conversely, when we take a look at verse 12, we can see that not only is misunderstanding demonstrated when the original statement is rearticulated, but correct understanding is also demonstrated when the original statement is rearticulated. When Jesus makes his statement a second time, telling his disciples to "beware the leaven of the Pharisees," the fact that they understand him this time is evidenced by the fact that they rearticulate his meaning accurately in their own words as a reference to "the doctrine of the Pharisees." In verse 12, instead of meaning being undermined inherently by an attempt to rearticulate it, understanding meaning involves accurately rearticulating that meaning in words that relate to real life experience. The meaning of Jesus' original statement, "beware the leaven of the Pharisees" was only properly understood once the disciples had processed the concept and in processing it rearticulated it accurately as an instruction to "beware the doctrine of the Pharisees."

In this second example, we see that meaning is not automatically undermined or lost by the mere process of rearticulating or translating the original words to new words. Instead, re-articulation is quite normal and it is by rearticulating accurately that the disciples understanding of the correct meaning is demonstrated. Furthermore, in this example we can see that it is possible to accurately measure and distinguish between accurate re-articulations of the intended meaning (as seen in verse 12) and inaccurate re-articulations of the intended meaning (as seen in verse 7). Since the accuracy of a re-articulation or translation can be measured and assessed, there is no need to assert that a re-articulation or translation is unreliable simply because it is a re-articulation from the original words. Reliability is a matter of accuracy, not simply a question of whether or not a statement has been rearticulated or translated into alternate words.

And this process of birthing understanding by contemplation and then re-articulation of the concept while preserving the meaning is exemplified elsewhere scripture as well. Consider Acts 8.

Acts 8:27 And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, 28 Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. 30 And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? 31 And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.

There are several things worth noting from this account. First, notice that the Ethiopian eunuch is reading the scripture straight out of the book. He's not altering the words. He's merely reciting the text word for word. He is not re-articulating it nor could he even begin to do so because he does not understand its meaning. So, the meaning is contained in the text in its original form but the event of the eunuch understanding that meaning has not taken place even though he has direct access to and is reciting the text word for word. Thus, reciting the text without rearticulating it into alternate words does not help convey the meaning. The meaning is preserved in the original text but it remains there until it is perceived and framed accurately in alternate words.

Second, notice that Philip himself understands the difference between simply repeating the original words and understanding the meaning of those words. The eunuch also perceives that understanding the meaning of the text is not displayed by one's ability to merely repeat the original words unaltered but by someone's ability to articulate the concept accurately in alternate words. When Philip asks the eunuch, "do you understand the words?" the eunuch replies, "How can I, except some man should guide me?" In saying this, the eunuch indicates that simply reciting the original words does not produce understanding and that in order for understanding to be birthed, it is necessary that someone must articulate the concept accurately in different words just as Jesus' statement to "beware the leaven of the Pharisees" had to be perceived and articulated as "beware the doctrine of the Pharisees." Only once the meaning of the original statement had been rearticulated in alternate terms was the understanding birthed.

For this reason, the eunuch sought for Philip to instruct him and take the original words of the text and explain the concepts accurately with alternate words that would make the meaning clear in terms that the eunuch understood. And in verses 32-35, this is exactly what Philip does.

Acts 8:32 The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: 33 In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. 34 And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. 36 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? 37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Notice verse 35, which recounts that Philip, "opened his mouth, began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus." Philip is taking the words of the prophet and articulating how those words describe events in Jesus' life. This process inherently requires Philip taking the original words of the text and articulating the concepts in them accurately in alternate words for the eunuch. Not only does Philip's re-articulation of the scripture in alternate words convince the eunuch that Philip understands the original words accurately but this re-articulation of the original words also produces an understanding of the original text in the eunuch as well. The eunuch's own understanding as well as his recognition that Philip understood this passage is evidenced fully by the eunuch's acceptance of the Gospel message and desire to be baptized in verses 36-37.

The end result is that the meaning preserved infallibly in the original words is not so fragile as to be lost immediately or automatically by the mere process of rearticulating those same concepts in new words. In fact, the opposite is true. This example along with our previous examples from scripture demonstrate that it is outright Biblical fact that the meaning of the original words is durable enough and clear enough that not only can it be re-articulated reliably into alternate wording, but the process of re-articulating the original words accurately is an essential component of birthing understanding.

Now, it is possible that someone might suggest that Philip is acting as the authoritative interpreter and that this passage supports the suggested need for modern Christians to rely on similar authoritative interpreters. Even if that were the case, the need for an interpreter itself demonstrates that meaning can be preserved reliably in translation. However, later sections of this article will further demonstrate how and why such an authoritative interpreter is not needed. While Philip is explaining the meaning to the eunuch, there is nothing in this text that demands or indicates that an authoritative interpreter is required. At the most, the text simply demonstrates that it is helpful to have someone who already understands the concepts to act as a teacher. This article is not about whether a teacher is necessary. This article is instead about whether or not it is necessary to be fluent in Greek or Hebrew to be a teacher or whether or not translations can reliably preserve the meaning of scripture for teaching.

The point of this segment is simple. The intended meaning of scripture is not so fragile that it is lost or becomes unreliable the minute that it is articulated using alternate words from the original. There is absolutely no reason to reject or dismiss a translation or interpretation just because it involves rearticulating the original text in alternate words, either in the same language or a new language. While a translated or rearticulated idea is not infallible, it can be wholly reliable for daily living so long as it accurately reflects the original meaning without alteration. And there are concrete methods for measuring accuracy (and by extension reliability) and thereby for preserving meaning accurately.

These methods for measuring and preserving accuracy will be the subject of a later portion of this article. But for now, since meaning can be accurately preserved when rearticulated, there is no need to discount or reject a translation automatically. So, when modern scholars assert that a particular translation of a text cannot be relied upon merely on the grounds that it is a translation, they are most certainly in error and misleading their audience. Such suggestions or portrayals of scripture by scholars must be rejected. They themselves engage in a process affirming that meaning can be reliably preserved in translation.

Up to this point, we have disproved the idea that translations are inherently unreliable for doctrine simply on the conceptual level. We have even used examples in scripture itself. However, in our next few segments we will demonstrate the central fact that translations cannot be automatically rejected as unreliable by nature from both Church history and more importantly from the Bible itself.

The History of the Church Affirms the Reliability of Translations

It is a contradiction of both historic and modern Church theology for any modern scholar to suggest or imply that doctrine based upon a translation of scripture is inherently unreliable because of the nature of translating. Likewise, for a scholar to reject a doctrine merely on the grounds that the interpreter of that doctrine only had access to a translation or was not fluent in the original languages is also contradictory of both historic and modern Church theology.

Augustine is the essential example.

The significant influence and contribution that Augustine has exhibited on the church of his day and in the centuries since then up into modern times is undeniable.

"Eastern Orthodox - From the 4th to the 11th century, Constantinople, the centre of Eastern Christianity, was also the capital of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire, while Rome, after the barbarian invasions, fell under the influence of the Holy Roman Empire of the West, a political rival. In the West theology remained under the influence of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), while in the East doctrinal thought was shaped by the Greek Fathers." - Britannica.com

"Origen - Before St. Augustine, Origen was the most influential theologian in the church." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001

"Augustine - bishop of Hippo from 396 to 430, one of the Latin Fathers of the Church, one of the Doctors of the Church, and perhaps the most significant Christian thinker after St. Paul. Augustine's adaptation of classical thought to Christian teaching created a theological system of great power and lasting influence. His numerous written works, the most important of which are Confessions and City of God, shaped the practice of biblical exegesis and helped lay the foundation for much of medieval and modern Christian thought." -Britannica.com

"Augustine - His distinctive theological style shaped Latin Christianity in a way surpassed only by scripture itself. His work continues to hold contemporary relevance, in part because of his membership in a religious group that was dominant in the West in his time and remains so today." -Britannica.com

"Augustine, Saint - St. Augustine's influence on Christianity is thought by many to be second only to that of St. Paul, and theologians, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, look upon him as one of the founders of Western theology." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

Augustine's influence on the church is said to surpass Origen, to lay a foundation for medieval and modern Christian thought, to remain dominant to this day among both Roman Catholics and Protestants, and to be second only to Paul and the rest of scripture. So, Augustine's contribution and value as a theologian are widely accepted in the modern church. However, what is also widely known is that although valued by many as a teacher of Christian doctrine for nearly sixteen centuries, Augustine was neither a master of nor fluent in Greek, the original language of New Testament scripture.

"Augustine of Hippo Bishop and Theologian - He was from the beginning a brilliant student, with an eager intellectual curiousity, but he never mastered Greek -- he tells us that his first Greek teacher was a brutal man who constantly beat his students, and Augustine rebelled and refused to study. By the time he realized that he really needed to know Greek, it was too late; and although he acquired a smattering of the language, he was never really at home in it." - James E. Kiefer, Society of Archbishop Justus, Biographical Sketches of Memorable Christians of the Past, www.justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/50.html

[NOTE: The website and quote above are the product of the Society of Archbishop Justus, an online Anglican organization. The authors of this website ("Studying the Word of God") are not Anglican. The quote simply demonstrates outside corroboration for the point under examination.]

"Augustine, Saint - The most widespread and longest-lasting theological controversies of the 4th century focused on the Christian doctrine of the Trinity-that is, the threeness of God represented in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Augustine's Africa had been left out of much of the fray, and most of what was written on the subject was in Greek, a language Augustine barely knew and had little access to." - Britannica.com

"Works of St. Augustine of Hippo - The most remarkable of his Biblical works illustrate either a theory of exegesis (one generally approved) which delights in finding mystical or allegorical interpretations, or the style of preaching which is founded on that view. His strictly exegetical work is far from equalling in scientific value that of St. Jerome. His knowledge of the Biblical languages was insufficient: he read Greek with difficulty; as for Hebrew, all that we can gather from the studies of Schanz and Rottmanner is that he was familiar with Punic, a language allied to Hebrew. Moreover, the two grand qualities of his genius -- ardent feeling and prodigious subtlety -- carried him sway into interpretations that were violent or more ingenious than solid." - the Catholic Encyclopedia

"AUGUSTINE (AURELIUS AUGUSTINUS) - His acquaintance with Greek literature was much more limited, and, indeed, it has been doubted whether he could use, in the original, either the Hebrew or Greek Scriptures [1]1. Apparently, he was in the habit of using translations of Plato (Confess., viii 2), but, on the other hand, Greek words frequently occur in his writings correctly rendered and discriminated; aud he speaks in one of his epistles to Marcellinus (LIX. tom. ii. 294) of referring to the Greek Psalter and finding, in reference to certain difficulties, that it agreed with the Vulgate. Clausen, who has particularly investigated the point, sums up the evidence to the effect that Augustine was "fairly instructed in Greek grammar, and a subtle distinguisher of words," but that beyond this his knowledge was insufficient for a thorough comprehension of Greek books, and especially for those in the Hellenistic dialect." - Encyclopaedia Britannica, Ninth Edition, Vol. III, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1878, available online at "Christian Classics Ethereal Library," http://www.ccel.org/

The fact that Augustine was neither fluent in nor a master of Greek means two things as far as this article is concerned. First, Augustine's theological views were based primarily on translations rather than the original language. Second, reliance upon translations does not in any way on its own automatically diminish the reliability of a theologian's doctrine, nor does a lack of fluency in or mastery of the original language of scripture. An interpreter or theologian, such as Augustine, can be unable to read or master the original languages of scripture and rely instead upon translations and still be considered a significant, valuable, and reliable source of Christian teaching.

The result is that historically the Church over nearly the last 16 centuries, including the modern Church, have largely endorsed and embraced doctrinal determinations and theology that was based upon translations. In other words, both the historic and modern Church have accepted translations of scripture as a reliable basis for doctrine and theology and have accepted doctrine and theology based upon translations of scripture as reliable and valuable. This is evidenced most clearly in the case of Augustine.

The modern Church must either reject the assertion that fluency in Greek or Hebrew is necessary for doctrinal determinations or they must reject all of the doctrinal determinations made by Augustine. It is not possible to assert the necessity to fluently read Greek and Hebrew in order to make doctrinal determinations without rejecting the doctrinal determinations of Augustine who was neither fluent in nor a master of Greek. And it is also important to note that the prominent example of Augustine demonstrates that any rejection of doctrine based upon a lack of fluency in Greek or Hebrew is a novel invention on the part of modern scholars that has not been historically held by the Church.

This does not mean that the last 16 centuries of Church history are necessarily a model or measuring stick for what is appropriate. It simply means that persons who do value the last 16 years of Church history or value Augustine in particular cannot reject doctrinal determinations based upon translations of scripture. Thus, any modern scholar that embraces doctrinal determinations from Augustine while rejecting the reliability of any doctrine based upon a translation of scripture is engaging in self-contradiction.

The Bible Affirms The Reliability of Translations

In our previous segment, we looked at the prominent of example of Augustine to demonstrate that it has been the consistent standard throughout Church history for nearly the past 16 centuries that translations were reliable for making doctrinal determinations. Likewise, the prominent of example of Augustine also demonstrated that historically-speaking doctrinal determinations based upon translations can be and are, in fact, considered reliable even though the interpreter is not fluent or a master of the original languages.

In this segment, we will show even more importantly that not only is this the Church's own historic standard for the past 16 centuries, but the Bible itself affirms that translations are reliable for making doctrinal arguments. The reasons for this are simple fact.

First, figures of the New Testament and especially writers of the New Testament very often used the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament, rather than the original Hebrew texts when supporting the doctrine in the New Testament. This affirms that the Bible itself inherently requires that translations are reliable for making and supporting doctrinal arguments.

"Septuagint - oldest extant Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible made by Hellenistic Jews, possibly from Alexandria, c.250 B.C...It was the version used by Hellenistic Jews and the Greek-speaking Christians, including St. Paul; it is still used in the Greek Church." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

"Septuagint - The language of much of the early Christian church was Greek, and it was in the Septuagint text that many early Christians located the prophecies they claimed were fulfilled by Christ. Jews considered this a misuse of Holy Scripture, and they stopped using the Septuagint. Its subsequent history lies within the Christian church." - Britannica.com

"Biblical literature, New Testament literature, The Synoptic Gospels - Luke uses a good literary style of the Hellenistic Age in terms of syntax. His language has a "biblical" ring already in its own time because of his use of the Septuagint style; he is a Greek familiar with the Septuagint, which was written for Greeks; he seldom uses loanwords and repeatedly improves Mark's wording. The hymns of chapters 1 and 2 (the Magnificat, beginning "My soul magnifies the Lord"; the Benedictus, beginning "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel"; the Nunc Dimittis, beginning "Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace") and the birth narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus either came from some early oral tradition or were consciously modelled on the basis of the language of the Septuagint." - Britannica.com

"Biblical literature, The New Testament canon - The Old Testament in its Greek translation, the Septuagint (LXX), was the Bible of the earliest Christians. The New Covenant, or Testament, was viewed as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of salvation that were continued for the new Israel, the church, through the Holy Spirit, which had come through Christ, upon the whole people of God. A possible factor in the timing of this Jewish canon was a situation of crisis: the fall of Jerusalem and reaction to the fact that the Septuagint was used by Christians and to their advantage, as in the translation of the Hebrew word 'alma ("young woman") in chapter 7, verse 14, of Isaiah-"Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel"-into the Greek term parthenos ("virgin").' - Britannica.com

"The Letter to the Hebrews - The language of Hebrews is extremely polished, elegant, and cultured Greek, the best in the New Testament. Linguistically and stylistically, it shows only a slight influence of the Koine (common Greek). The Attic style is broken only in passages in which Hebrews quotes the Septuagint." Britannica.com

"Biblical literature, Texts and versions, The Septuagint (LXX) - The Septuagint became the instrument whereby the basic teachings of Judaism were mediated to the pagan world and it became an indispensable factor in the spread of Christianity. The adoption of the Septuagint as the Bible of the Christians naturally engendered suspicion on the part of Jews." - Britannica.com

"Quotations - Quotations from the Old Testament in the New, which are very numerous, are not made according to any uniform method... In general, the New Testament writers quote from the Septuagint (q.v.) version of the Old Testament, as it was then in common use among the Jews. But it is noticeable that these quotations are not made in any uniform manner. Sometimes, e.g., the quotation does not agree literally either with the LXX. or the Hebrew text. This occurs in about one hundred instances. Sometimes the LXX. is literally quoted (in about ninety instances), and sometimes it is corrected or altered in the quotations (in over eighty instances). Quotations are sometimes made also directly from the Hebrew text (Matthew 4:15,16; John 19:37; 1 Corinthians 15:54)... There are in all two hundred and eighty-three direct quotations from the Old Testament in the New, but not one clear and certain case of quotation from the Apocrypha (q.v.)." - bible.crosswalk.com, Easton's Bible Dictionary, Quotations

In fact, the use of the Septuagint by the Jewish founders of Christianity and other writers of the New Testament became an issue for which the unbelieving Jews criticized the early Christian Jews and their teaching as erroneous. It was the unbelieving Jews who first criticized Jewish and non-Jewish Christians for relying upon a translation. It was the unbelieving Jews who first criticized that using a translation was unreliable. Since the entire New Testament is written in Greek and therefore inherently involves translations of the Old Testament passages, if modern Christians agree with that criticism now, we undermine every argument in the New Testament that uses Old Testament scripture to prove the doctrine of Jesus Christ is correct. If we adopt such a criticism, we irrevocably lose the reliability of the New Testament scripture itself since the New Testament both employs and relies upon the use of translated Old Testament passages to prove that Jesus Christ and his doctrine were the fulfillment of Old Testament promises and prophecies.

Second, as mentioned in the quotes above, since the New Testament was written in Greek, there are also occasions where the Septuagint was not used but instead New Testament authors made up their own direct translation of Hebrew in Old Testament passages into Greek on the spot as they wrote the New Testament. Since these translations of the Hebrew original into Greek are contained in what Christians consider infallible New Testament scriptures, this affirms that the Bible itself inherently requires that the meaning of a passage can be reliably preserved in a translation.

Third, also as mentioned in the quotes above, at times the writers of the New Testament would use the Septuagint but correct translating errors in it on the spot according to their knowledge of the original language. This tells us that the Bible itself inherently requires that while translations are reliable for doctrine, they are not infallible and it is good, when necessary, to defer to and check with the underlying original language to measure and establish accuracy in the translation.

In these three absolute facts, the writers of this website do not differ in any way from the writers of the New Testament. We make doctrinal arguments using translations, just as they did with the Septuagint. We operate on the presumption that meaning can be reliably preserved through translation. And we operate on the basis that although translations are reliable, they are not infallible and so the original language should be deferred to when necessary for the purposes of maintaining accuracy.

The result is that the use of Old Testament passages translated into Greek to support Christian doctrine throughout the infallible New Testament demands that translations can be reliable for supporting and establishing doctrine and cannot be discarded as unreliable merely because they are translations. This unequivocally ends the debate over whether or not translations by their very nature are unreliable for doctrine. It is a clear, simple scriptural fact that translations can be reliable for establishing doctrine and, therefore, that intended meaning can be accurately and reliably preserved through translation.

Having established that doctrine can be reliably established from translations of scripture, we will now move on to discussing the criteria that establish and measure accuracy in translation and the interpretation of meaning. In this way, we will demystify the process of interpretation, demonstrate that reliable translation can be done without creating the need for an authoritative interpreter who presides of the meaning of scripture, and establish simple, uniform procedures for discovering and preserving the intended meaning, whether that involves translation to a new language or interpretation in the same language.