Verbal Inspiration and Translations of the Bible

It is not likely that we spend a lot of time thinking about how translations of the Bible are related to the concept of its verbal inspiration, but perhaps we should. It might help us in making a decision about what Bible we purchase and which one we use in our study.

To do this, we must clearly understand what the terms mean. When the Lord gave the Bible, He is the one who selected each word found in it. Such is obvious when we consider that He chose every individual word He wrote on the stone tablets which Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai. Think of the confidence such knowledge would give to those who read them. Beyond a shadow of a doubt every reader of the Ten Commandments could know precisely what God wanted them to do. Does not common sense tell us that when Moses wrote the rest of the law given to him, it would be so comforting to the readers to know that God selected every word? Why would He allow the possibility of error to come in if He left it up to Moses, David, Isaiah or any writer to decide how to express such important matters?

Think of how Jesus regarded the verbal inspiration of the Old Testament. In Matthew chapter 22, Jesus showed that the tense of a single word was sufficient evidence to prove a doctrine as important as the resurrection—God said I “am” the God of Abraham, instead of saying I “was” Abraham’s God. In fact, Jesus affirmed that God protected every single letter (jot) of the Old Testament (Matt. 5:17-18) and such would not have been necessary if there were no verbal inspiration.

How do translators and translations fit into this picture? Since almost no one is highly proficient in reading the original texts, we are dependent on the honesty of those who take the Hebrew and Greek texts and bring them into our own language. Think about the following. “It is the solemn responsibility of the translator to place the reader of his translation in precisely the same place as the original reader of the Greek or Hebrew text.” Verbal inspiration in the original must be reflected in the translation! Tragically, some have failed in this effort. The reasons vary. Some religions, like the Jehovah Witnesses, have produced their own translations because no reputable translation teaches their doctrine. Others fail because they cannot lay aside their personal theological prejudices, and this is reflected in the text. Still others are motivated by financial concerns and produce translations which will guarantee greater sales.

So what should we do? Study these matters before you buy a new Bible. We will write more about this later.

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