Literary History of the Bible
© 2003
 


TofC

In this chapter:

Introduction
Canonization
Manuscripts and Transmission
Translation Theories and Translation(s) of the Bible
Accuracy and Authority of the Text

I. Introduction

    In this chapter we will examine three issues related to the accuracy and reliability of the Biblical texts. First we explore the issue of canonization--the process by which the individual books of the Bible were selected for inclusion in the canon. Then we raise the issue of the transmission of the biblical texts--that is, the issue of how they were passed down from generation to generation from the time they were written until now. Then we look at the history of the translation of the Bible into other languages, such as English. How have these translations been produced? Why are there so many different translations of the Bible available in English, and why are some of them so different from one another?
    All of these issues impact the level of confidence that modern readers can reasonably have in the reliability of the text. For this reason they are crucially important for any serious discussion of the Bible.

II. Canonization

A.    Some Key Terms


    Look at the following lists of terms. Can you say what each one means? Some appear in boldface type within the chapters you have already read in preparation for class. Others appear for the first time in this chapter. Watch for them as you read, and return to this list when you get to the end of the chapter. At that point you should be able to give a brief definition of each one.
 
 
Canon 
Hebrew Bible 
Torah 
Prophets 
Writings 
Covenant
Testament
Apocrypha 
Deuterocanon
Scroll 
Codex 
Diaspora 
Pseudepigrapha 
Septuagint (LXX)
Dead Sea Scrolls 
Qumran 
Essenes
Athanasias of Alexandria 
367 CE 
The Gospel of Thomas
Catholic Epistles 
Pseudonymity 
Eusebius 
Marcion
Vulgate Bible

 

B.    Brief Discussion of Canonization
      1.    Introduction: A Brief Chronology of Canonization
    We do not know exactly how all the writings in the Bible came to be assembled in one single volume, but there is clear evidence that the books contained in the Bible originally circulated independently, and only after a long process which we call canonization were they gathered together into a single volume treated as canon. The term canon means an official list of books treated by a religious community as its authority for doctrine and conduct. The process of canonization appears to have begun when a female prophet named Huldah authenticated an early edition of the book of Deuteronomy around 621 BCE (See 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34).
    By the fifth century BCE (400 BCE) most Jews accepted the Torah as scripture. By the first century CE it was considered canon by all Jewish groups. There was still some debate, however, over the Prophets and the Writings. Most Jewish groups had accepted the Prophets as scripture by about 200 BCE, and all of the New Testament writers clearly accept them as such, but the Sadducees, a group with which Jesus had frequent contact (and more than a little conflict), probably accepted nothing outside the Torah as scripture. The Pharisees, on the other hand, regularly cited the Prophets, the Writings and even the oral tradition of the elders with the authority of scripture. That oral tradition would later be gathered together in written form as the Mishnah.
    Around 100 CE canonization of the Hebrew Bible was complete, with the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings all clearly accepted as scripture by all Jewish religious groups. This process was not without debate. In the years leading up to the time of Jesus, for example, Jews in Egypt produced a Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures and used a different order for the books of the Prophets and the Writings than the order later accepted as canon by the larger Jewish community in Israel. They also used several books which were later rejected by Jews elsewhere. This Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible became known as the Septuagint because of the legend that it had been produced by seventy (or seventy two) scholars working independently but producing identical translations.
    The order of the Prophets and the Writings used in the Septuagint became the standard for the Christian community, and the additional books continued to be used by many Christians even after they were rejected by the Jewish community. (In fact, these extra books may still be found in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles.) Protestants have retained the order of the Septuagint, but use only the books found in the Tanak accepted as scripture by the larger Jewish community.
    The New Testament writers--all of whom wrote in Greek--tend to follow the wording of the Septuagint where it differs from the Hebrew Tanak. Still, with only one exception, they quote only from those books of the Septuagint that are translations of books now accepted as part of the Hebrew Tanak.
    Within the Christian community about 90 CE someone (we don't know who) collected copies of Paul's letters from the churches he had served and put them all together into a single unit. Gradually, the Gospels, Acts, and other documents were added to this collection.
    The Gospels, Acts, and Paul's letters were probably widely known and used for teaching by the early to mid second century CE (100-150 CE). All of them were written before the year 100 CE. It took much longer, however, for a complete list of New Testament documents to be established. The specific books that did make it into the canon did so through long-term and widespread use in the Christian community. Canonization was a lengthy process of usage and habit, not the result of any act or decree of the church. (Church decrees came later).
 
      2.    Marcion and the Gnostics: Motivation for Closing the Canon
    Why did the early Christian community decide that it was important for all Christians to agree on the contents of the New Testament? Why not just allow each church to judge which documents it should use? This, of course, was the practice at first. Some churches had copies of all of Paul's letters and one of the Gospels. Another church might have five of Paul's letters and two Gospels. Why not let this situation continue?
    A crisis arose in the middle of the second century CE, and large numbers of Christians began to realize that unless they agreed on the contents of the Christian canon they would not be able to prevent similar crises in the future. This one crisis was clearly not the only factor that led to closing the canon, but it illustrates well the problem that an open canon posed.
    Up to the 2nd century the Bible used by Christians consisted mostly of the Septuagint and--at least in some locations--one or more of the Gospels and the collected letters of Paul. About 140 CE conflicts within the church demonstrated the need for agreement on the canon of christian scripture.
 
        a.    Marcion
    A Roman Christian named Marcion said that Christians should discard the whole Old Testament. Marcion proposed that only his edited version of the Gospel of Luke and Paul's letters should be accepted as scripture. Of course, this proposal produced strong conflict within the church.
 
        b.    Gnosticism
    Marcion was heavily influenced by a movement called Gnosticism (Greek: gnosis = knowledge). According to the gnostics, a person reached salvation by attaining a certain 'knowledge' of spiritual truths. Reality, for the gnostics, was divided into two distinct modes of being: the spirit realm, which is good, and an inferior physical realm which is inherently evil. The human spirit belonged to the good spirit realm, while the body with its desires belonged to the evil realm of physical matter.
    Marcion concluded from this reasoning that there must be two Gods, since a good God--the Father of the Christ--could never have created the inherently evil physical world. There must be an evil creator God, Marcion thought. From this conclusion he reasoned that the Hebrew Bible, which begins with the words "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth", must be about the evil creator God, and therefore should not be read by Christians. Any supposedly Christian literature which spoke too approvingly of the Hebrew Bible must also be rejected, he thought. After deleting certain passages from Luke's Gospel and the letters of Paul, he presented these edited versions as the only Christian scriptures.
 
        c.    Recognition of the need for agreement
    While the process of canonization had begun long before Marcion (note the collection of Paul's letters by about 90 CE), Marcion's views helped emphasize the urgent need for deciding the question of what Christian scripture should include. How could the Christian community respond to wild theologies like that of Marcion if it had no agreement on what counted as scripture? How could Christians argue that Marcion was wrong in his suggestion that they only read Luke and Paul? They could answer people like Marcion only if they had a prior agreement on which documents really had the status of scripture.
    After Marcion was expelled from the church in 140 CE and his gnostic teachings were condemned as heresy, his influence lingered for some time. Many early Christians believed Marcion and left the church with him. This led to the first major split in the Christian movement. Church leaders were forced to respond to his teachings, and they began to publicly defend other christian documents as authoritative besides the Gospel of Luke and Paul's letters.
 
      3.    Empirical Evidence for the Growth of the Canon
    If you were asked to write a research paper to test whether the dates given in section II above were correct, what kind of evidence would you try to find? What would count as evidence that a particular document was considered scripture at a particular point in time? A small amount of evidence may be found in the New Testament itself. 2 Peter 3:15-16 indicates that by the time of writing of the latest New Testament documents themselves Paul's letters had been accorded the status of Scripture by at least one important segment of the early Christian community. At least three other kinds of evidence have helped scholars answer the crucial questions surrounding canonization.
 
a.    Comments by Early Church Fathers
    A number of the leaders of the early church in the second and third centuries, commonly called the Church Fathers, made comments about whether they considered a particular document to be scripture. We still have some of their writings, and these comments provide valuable evidence for reconstructing the veiws of the early churches on the issue of the canon.
    The first reference to one of the Gospels as scripture occurs in a letter which scholars call 2 Clement (early 2nd century CE). Justin Martyr, a few decades later, also refers to the Gospels as though they had authority equal to that of the Hebrew Bible (though he does not call them "Gospels", and we cannot be 100 percent sure that he was referring to the exact documents that we now use).
 
b.    Early Canon Lists
    In at least three cases, someone in the early church made a list of what she or he considered to be scripture and sometimes even offered an explanation for why each document should be accepted. These lists demonstrate the diversity of views in the early churches. They usually contained the four Gospels, Acts, and Paul's letters, but beyond that they vary greatly.
          1.    The Muratorian Canon
    The Muratorian Canon is an early list dating from some time between the end of 2nd century and the early 4th.  It lists the following items and gives arguments supporting each one. (The items in boldface type are not found in present day New Testaments.)
 
4 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) 
Acts 
13 letters of Paul
Jude
1 Peter (but not 2 Peter
Wisdom of Solomon
Revelation 
Apocalypse of Peter

2.    Athanasius of Alexandria's Easter Letter
    On Easter Sunday of the year 367 CE Athanasius of Alexandria, Bishop of the church in Alexandria Egypt, presented his church with an Easter letter. In this letter he listed the books now found in the New Testament and argued that these should be the ones used in Christian churches. This is the oldest list which agrees totally with the list of books Christians use today.
 
          3.    Codex Claromontanus
    Codex Claromontanus is a sixth century copy of the Pauline epistles plus the letter to the Hebrews in Greek and Latin. An early canon list, dating from the fourth or early fifth CE, was inserted between the letter to Philemon and the one to the Hebrews in this manuscript. That list includes four books as scripture which would later be rejected as non-canonical.
 
Books included in the Codex Claromontanus list, but later rejected
The Epistle of Barnabas 
The Shepherd of Hermas
The Acts of Paul 
The Revelation of Peter

Other than these four books, however, the list in Codex Claromontanus agrees substantially with the present list of contents for the New Testament.
 

c.    Ancient Copies of the Bible
    Finally, we have many ancient copies of the Bible which can serve as valuable evidence. To the surprise of some students, a number of these Bibles contain books that are no longer in the Bible today. Others are missing some books that are used today.
    Codex Alexandrinus (5th century CE), for example, contains both 1 and 2 Clement as part of the NT. While 1 Clement is a letter written about 96 CE by a historical bishop of Rome, 2 Clement is a pseudonymous document written later.

    Comments by early Church leaders, early canon lists, and ancient copies of the Bible all provide evidence suggesting that canonization of the New Testament involved a long process of debate, with a consensus arising only after several centuries of the Church's experience with these documents.
 

      4.    Books Accepted Late
    Revelation, Hebrews, and several of the Catholic Epistles (2 Peter, James, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Jude) took much longer to be accepted into the Canon than did the other books. Even the Gospel of John was not accepted by some of the early churches since some parts of it seemed to them to support gnostic teachings.
 
      5.    The Definitive List
    Two events helped resolve the debate over the canon. First, Athanasius' Easter letter (367 CE, discussed above) had tremendous influence. Athanasius was a respected church leader, and his views on this topic seemed compelling to many other church leaders who came after him. Second, Jerome's translation of the Bible into Latin (4th century CE), knowns as the Vulgate Bible, soon became the standard for the Latin-speaking churches, and Jerome followed Athanasius list.
   
      6.    Conclusion
    Each of the books of the Bible originated separately and at first circulated independently of the others. They were gradually gathered together into a single collection and gained the status of scripture through longterm use in the churches.
    Canonization served at least two main purposes: it helped clarify acceptable Christian belief, and it gave a certain level of unity to the diverse churches spread over the vast Roman Empire.
 
 

III. Manuscripts and Transmission

    Once the contents of the Bible were settled, how was that Bible transmitted from generation to generation so that it has survived until now? Another way of approaching this issue would be to ask, "How certain can we be that the documents in the Bible are faithful copies of the ones written by the original authors? How confident can we be that the text we have is what they wrote?"
    Virtually all scholars familiar with the evidence presented by the manuscripts (handwritten copies of the Biblical texts produced before the invention of the printing press) would agree with the five basic statements of fact listed below. They would agree on this basic evidence, but might disagree widely on what the evidence implies.
 
A.    Five Basic Facts about Manuscripts and Transmission of the Texts
    First, a diverse group of scholars--including very liberal ones and even fundamentalist ones who are familiar with the manuscripts--would agree that none of the original manuscripts of any biblical book have survived to the present. What we have are copies of copies of copies, no two of which are exactly identical (except that some of the tiniest fragments may be identical to the relevant passage in a larger manuscript).
    Second, they would agree that scholars must reconstruct the original texts from the evidence provided by these copies.
    Their third point of agreement would be that the oldest surviving copies of any of the books of the Hebrew Bible were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and date from around 150 BCE. Before the discovery of these scrolls, the oldest complete copy of any Old Testament book dated from the 900s CE. The Dead Sea Scrolls, therefore are tremendously important for reconstructing the text of the Old Testament, since they are roughly 1000 years older than the next oldest complete copies. [Incidentally, the differences between the DS Scrolls and Codex Leningradensis are relatively minor, suggesting that the process of transmission was amazingly careful.]
    Further, our diverse group of scholars would agree that the oldest complete copies of the New Testament date from the fourth century CE (300's CE), and finally, that the oldest fragments of any New Testament book date from the second century CE (100's CE).
 
B.    A Few Implications of these Facts
    Rather than seeing this evidence as a cause for concern, many biblical scholars see the diversity of evidence for the original text as incredibly fortunate. If all of the copies were identical would we not have to suspect that someone had gathered up the copies at some point and destroyed the ones they thought were wrong? If that had happened we might never be able to evaluate their judgment. As it is, however, it is clear that this was not done. The early churches preserved even those copies which differed from the ones they thought were best. That means that we have an incredible wealth of information from which to work when we attempt to reconstruct the exact wording of the original text. While we may not be able to have total certainty about the wording of some verses, we have better evidence for the wording of the text of the New Testament than for any other document from the ancient Western world.

C.    Manuscript Types and Textual Criticism
    We do not have the original copies of any of the books of the Bible. None of the original authors' copies have survived. Most of our oldest fragmentary copies of the New Testament date to about 200 CE, though one piece containing four verses from the Gospel of John dates from about 125 CE. Our oldest copies of the Hebrew Bible are among the Dead Sea Scrolls, dating from about a century and a half before Christ.
    The oldest copies of the Christian Bible as a whole, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, date from the fourth century (300s) CE. These were written on parchment.The parchment copies date from the period after Constantine I (Emperor of the Roman Empire) came to power and encouraged literary productivity. Diocletian had earlier attempted to exterminate Christianity. He had Christian books burned. His attacks help explain why no complete copies of the NT from before Constantine I remain. During the time of Diocletian Christians often cut up copies of documents like the letters of Paul and send pieces home with different members of the congregation so that if the authorities found part of the document, they would not be able to destroy all of it.
    After Constantine came to power, Christians pioneered the use of the codex, a group of individual sheets bound together as in a modern book. This system replaced the use of scrolls since it was more practical for finding scriptural passages.
 
      1.    Manuscript Types
    We can divide the available manuscripts into types on the basis of the materials used to produce them and the type of writing (orthography) used. The earliest copies of the New Testament books, and perhaps all the biblical books, were written on papyrus, a material which is not very durable. As the communities which used these texts became more affluent they copied them onto parchment--animal skins used for making scrolls which would last many generations. Some of these early parchment copies have survived to the present.
    The great fourth century codex editions are written in uncial (or majuscule) script--large capital letters written in continuous script with no punctuation or spaces between words. Later manuscripts, called minuscules, are written in small cursive letters, with spaces added between words and individual letters connected to form groups and syllables.
 
      2.    Modern Textual Criticism
    How do scholars decide which manuscripts to follow when they produce a new translation of the Bible? Often they use a standard critical text produced by weighing the evidence presented by the manuscripts.
 
        a.    Weighing the Manuscripts
    Perhaps the most valuable manuscripts are the early uncials. Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, for example, date from the fourth century and are extremely valuable for reconstructing the text of the NT. While Codex Vaticanus is the older of the two, Codex Sinaiticus is more complete. Two other uncial manuscripts are slightly later: Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Bezae.
    In addition to these early uncial copies, textual critics must consult hundreds of fragments, quotations from Church Fathers (2nd-4th century), minuscule editions, and translations into Latin, Coptic, Syriac, etc. Each manuscript must be evaluated to determine its age and reliability. In all, there are over 5000 ancient manuscript copies of parts of the New Testament alone, no two of which are identical, but with the help of modern text-critical tools scholars are able to evaluate them and determine which ones are most reliable.
 
        b.    The Dead Sea Scrolls
    The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls beginning in 1947 near Qumran provided us with copies of books of the Hebrew Bible about 1000 years older than the ones available before that time. Before this discovery the oldest known complete Hebrew manuscript of the Tanak dated from near the year 1000 CE. The Dead Sea Scrolls were produced before the destruction of Qumran in 70 CE and many of them may date back as far as 150 BCE.
 
        c.    Standard Critical Texts
    Beginning in the early 16th century, scholars like Desiderius Erasmus attempted to establish a reliable Greek text of the New Testament. In 1881-1882 B.F. Westcott and F.J. Hort published New Testament in the Original Greek. Today there are reliable critical editions of both the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament. These texts are the result of careful, detailed studies of the available manuscripts, and they provide modern scholars with the ability to see the wording of an amazing number of the manuscripts without having to travel to the museums where they are housed.
    Translators have a much more reliable basis for their translations than ever before. Many differences between the King James Version (KJV) and the more recent translations stem from the availability of such a well researched critical edition. The text available to the KJV translators was based on far fewer manuscripts.
 
      3. Conclusion
    The earliest copies were written on papyrus. As the communities which used these texts became more affluent they copied them onto parchment. Some of these early parchment copies have survived intact to the present.
    The oldest copies of some of the books of the Hebrew Bible were among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The oldest complete copies of the NT date from the fourth century CE, though much older fragments are also available.
    The diversity of manuscripts allows us to reconstruct the original text with a high degree of accuracy.

    Take a few minutes now to examine the lists of terms below. Do you know the meaning of each one? Why is each one significant? Look back at the discussion above and try to identify each one.
 
Manuscript
Dead Sea Scrolls 
1947 CE
150 BCE 
The Masoretic Text 
Diocletian 
Constantine I
Scroll
Codex
Codex Sinaiticus
Codex Vaticanus
Textual Criticism 
Papyrus
Parchment (Velum)
Uncial
Minuscule
Erasmus
Westcott and Hort

 
 

IV. Translation Theories and Translations of the Bible

   Once the wording of the original text has been determined, scholars must then translate that text into modern languages for the churches to use. Let us begin our study of the translation process by examining a few key terms.
 
A.    Terms
    Examine the following lists of terms. What does each one mean? Who are the people named in these lists? What is significant about the dates? Use your textbook to help you find the information you need.
 
Venerable Bede (730s CE) 
John Wycliffe (1384 CE) 
1455 CE 
1517 CE 
William Tyndale (1525) 
King James Version 
Authorized Version (1611)
B.    Mini-lecture on Translation Theory and Translations of the Bible
    Long before there were translations of the Bible into English, Christian and Jewish scholars had produced translations of the Hebrew Bible in languages such as Greek, Latin, and Syriac. After examining a few of these early translations we will look at the first translations into English, then address a number of issues related to more recent translations of the biblical texts.
 
      1.    The Septuagint Bible (LXX)
    The earliest known translation of the Hebrew Bible is often called the Septuagint. The Septuagint is a translation into the common Greek of the Eastern half of the Roman Empire. It was produced by Jewish scholars in Egypt, but became particularly influential for the early Christian missionary movement since most of the earliest missionary work (including all of Paul's journeys) took place in Greek-speaking areas.
    The term Septuagint comes from the Greek word for seventy. The legend which circulated widely about the origins of the Septuagint--but which is certainly exaggerated--claimed that it was produced by seventy (or seventy two) scholars working independently. According to the legend they all produced identical translations. Because of this legend, the common abbreviation for the Septuagint is the Roman numeral LXX (seventy).
    The Septuagint is significantly different at many points from the Hebrew text we now have for the Old Testament. This could mean either that it is a particularly sloppy translation or that it is based on a Hebrew original which was itself different from the Hebrew text known today.
    The LXX and the New Testament continued to circulate in Greek in the eastern half of the Roman Empire. In the west, however, the dominant language was Latin. Translations of the NT into Latin began to appear early. This process culminated in the production of the Latin Vulgate translation.
 
      2.    The Latin Vulgate
    The Latin Vulgate translation, which remains the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church, was produced by Jerome (c. 374-419 CE). The Roman Empire collapsed in the late fifth century (400's) under the weight of barbarian invasions. During the Dark Ages of the early Medieval period, new European languages began to appear. Latin remained the official language of the Roman church, however, and no major new translations appeared for nearly 1000 years.
 
3.    Early English Translations
    Translations of the Bible into English began to appear over 1000 years ago, but the English of those translations was so different from the English that we speak today that you would hardly recognize a word of them.
 
        a.    Early Translations from the Vulgate
    Even during the dark ages a few people did attempt to translate the Bible into one of the new European languages. The first credited with doing so was the Venerable Bede, a Benedictine monk and historian of Anglo-Saxon England. In the 730s he rendered part of Jerome's Latin Vulgate into Old English. If you could see a copy of Bede's work you would not recognize it as English.
    Not until the 14th century did the entire Bible become available in English. John Wycliffe finished his translation in about 1384. The national church, however, feared the consequences of the Bible being read and interpreted by laypersons. Wycliffe's translation was condemned in 1408 and the church forbade any further translations.
 
        b.    The Printing Press and the Protestant Reformation
    Johann Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in 1455 made the production of Bibles much easier. This fact, together with a movement called the Protestant Reformation, insured that the Bible would at last become available to a larger reading public in English.
    The Protestant Reformation began in Germany in 1517. A German priest named Martin Luther strongly protested corruption in the Roman Catholic Church. His German translation of the Bible in 1522-1534 was the first translation in a modern European language based on Hebrew and Greek texts rather than the Latin Vulgate. It served to increase the desire for an English translation made in the same way.
 
        c.    English Translations from the Greek and Hebrew Texts
    The first English translator to work directly with the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts was William Tyndale. His English translation of the NT was published in Germany in 1525 (later revised in 1534). Though Tyndale's work was done well after the invention of the printing press, it was produced by hand since he could not afford the cost of printing. Tyndale was eventually burned at the stake for his work.
    The first printed English Bible (the Coverdale Bible) appeared in 1535, only one year after the revised edition of Tyndale's Bible. While the church forbade the reading of Wycliffe's and Tyndale's translations, it permitted the distribution of the Coverdale Bible, which relied heavily on Tyndale's work.
    Matthew's Bible (1537), which contained additional sections of Tyndale's OT, was revised by Coverdale and the result was called the Great Bible (1539). The Bishop's Bible (1568) was a revision of the Great Bible, and the King James Version was intended as a scholarly revision of the Bishop's Bible. The Geneva Bible (1560), produced by English Puritans in Switzerland, also significantly influenced the KJV.
    From this rapid overview of early English translations from the Greek and Hebrew texts you can see that in the period between 1525 and 1611 many new translations of the Bible appeared in English. The King James Version was the latest in this wave of translation work.
 
        d.    The King James Bible
    The King James Version was authorized by James I, son of Mary, Queen of Scots, who appointed 54 scholars to make a new version of the Bishop's Bible for official use in the English (Anglican) Church. After 7 years labor, during which time they consulted the oldest manuscripts then available, they produced the King James Version in 1611. At first many English readers were skeptical about the new translation, but in time it won the favor of the public and eventually put most of the other English translations out of print.
    The tremendous popularity of the King James Version can be explained by two factors. First, it was a much more polished literary production than most of its predecesors. Second, it was a very carefully done translation which made significant improvements on the accuracy of earlier editions.
 
      4.    Modern Translations of the Bible
    I want to address two issues with regard to more recent translations of the Bible. First, why do we need them? Second, why do they differ so much from one another?
 
        a.    The Need for Modern Translations
    We need more recent translations of the Bible than the King James Version for two main reasons. First, the English language has changed significantly since 1611. Read the following verses from the KJV: Would you read these texts differently if you knew that in 1611 the word "prevent" did not mean "stop from doing something" but "come before" or "come into the presence of"? In some cases this knowledge could make a tremendous difference.
    Second, we need more recent translations because we can do a far more accurate job today of reconstructing the exact wording of the original text than was possible in 1611. In 1611 the translators of the KJV had at their disposal only a handful of manuscripts for some portions of the Bible. Today we have hundreds of manuscripts for some of those same texts.
 
        b.    The Differences between the Modern Translations
    There are two main reasons that modern translations of the Bible differ so much from one another. First, the translators must decide which manuscripts to translate. Different decisions lead to different translations. Second, even if they agree on the proper manuscripts, they may differ on how they believe a good translation must be produced. They may have different translation theories. Let's look at these two issues in reverse order. Let's examine a few key issues about translation theory, then we will look briefly at the question of manuscripts.
 
          1)    Translation Theory
    The views of translators on the nature of translation itself and the level of literalness a translation should exhibit influence the final form of their work.
 
            a)    Translating
    A translation is a statement in one language of something originally stated in another. If I had started the term by saying to you "Buenas tardes, alumnos. Me llamo Micheal Palmer. Soy su profesor de la historia y la literatura de la biblia. Vamos a estudiar la historia cultural, sociológica, y política de la época de los documentos bíblicos," you would need a translation if you don't speak Spanish. A translator would have to first decide what I meant, then say something in English which means as close to the same thing as possible. [By the way, the Spanish text means roughly, "Good afternoon, students. I'm Micheal Palmer. I'm your History & Literature of the Bible professor. We're going to study the cultural, sociological, and political history of the time of the biblical documents."]
    Almost all of the versions of the Bible available in English are translations. That is, a translator or group of translators started with the text of the Bible in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek and restated what they believed it to mean in English. One of the versions available today, though, is not a translation. The people who produced the Living Bible did not start with the text of the Bible in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. They simply took the King James Version and restated it in their own words. For that reason, the Living Bible, while it may be very helpful to some people in terms of their own spiritual development, is not an accurate tool for finding the exact meaning of the biblical text.
 
            b)    Paraphrasing
    All of the versions of the Bible now available in English (including the King James Version) are also paraphrases to one extent or another. A paraphrase is a restatement of a message, usually for the sake of clarity, using different words. For example, let's imagine that you said to me, "I won't be in class next Tuesday." I could related this information to someone else in several different ways. I could say, "She said, 'I won't be in class next Tuesday.'" That would be a direct quote. On the other hand, I could say something like, "She said she wouldn't be in class next Tuesday." That's not a direct quote, but it is a good paraphrase. It accurately represents what you said, but uses slightly different words to do it.
    There is an important sense in which every translation must also be a paraphrase. It would be impossible to translate a message from one language into another and use exactly the same words. No word in Greek or Hebrew means exactly the same thing as any word in English. No word in English means exactly the same thing as any word in even a closely related language like Spanish (though some are deceptively close). Even if all the words of Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek did have exact matches in English (and they don't), the grammar of these languages is different from the grammar of English. The order of words in a sentence is different from one language to another. Some words, such as the verb "is" in the sentence "Mary is tall" are required in English, but not in Greek, so they have to be added to make an English translation understandable. Because of these differences it is impossible to translate from Greek and Hebrew into English without paraphrasing.
    When people make comments like "I like that version of the Bible because it's a translation, not a paraphrase," they are not accurately understanding the nature of paraphrase or of translation. The distinction that they are really making is not one between translation and paraphrase, but between literal and non-literal translation.
 
            c)    Literal vs Non-literal Translation
    Some translations of the Bible were produced by translators who tried to be as literal as possible. Whenever possible, they used one English word to represent each Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic word. Many scholars now feel that these translations have led to serious misunderstandings of some biblical texts. Some good examples of extremely literal translations are the King James Version, the Revised Standard Version, and the New American Standard Version. The New Revised Standard Version is also literal, but slightly less so than these.
    The positive contribution of these literal translations is that they sometimes let the serious Bible student see something of the structure of the text in the original language, but they can also be deceptive in this regard as well. There is really no substitute for reading the text in the original language. No English translation can provide direct access to the structure of the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts.
    Other translations have been produced by people who, recognizing the inherent problems involved in overly literal translations, have attempted to translate the meaning of the biblical texts without much concern for how many English words it takes to do so. These translators have attempted to produce more accurate translations by being less literal. They have attempted to translate meaning-for meaning rather than word-for-word.
    Some good examples of non-literal translations are the New International Version, the Today's English Version (Good News Bible), the Contemporary English Version, and the Revised English Bible. While these translations avoid the problems of overly literal translation, they depend heavily on the ability of the translator to correctly understand the context in which each verse of scripture was written and how each verse fits into the larger passage around it. As you will see later in this class, it is not always easy to uncover the social background of some biblical texts.
    Many readers find it helpful to compare several different translations of the Bible. Reading both a literal and a non-literal translation can be particularly instructive. Read both and see how they differ, and ask yourself what the differences indicate about the way the translator understood the passage you read.
    If you are a Religion major, or just want to seriously improve your Bible study skills, you might also consider studying at least one of the biblical languages.
 
          2)    Manuscripts
    Another factor influencing Bible translations is the particular manuscripts (hand-written copies) of the Bible the translator(s) used. Translators must decide which copies to translate. Some of the differences between the modern English translations stem from the fact that the translators used slightly different manuscripts. Many of the oldest and most reliable copies we now have were not available when the King James Version was written, for example. Many of the more recent translations are based on these more reliable manuscripts.
 
 
    C.    The Bible Used in This Class
    I will normally read from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). This translation has become recognized as an extremely accurate one and is now used in many of the most respected scholarly study Bibles. It is fairly literal, but abandons a literal reading when a less literal reading produces a more accurate translation.
    I will sometimes discuss other translations in class, but it is important for you to have the NRSV text as a point of reference. You may be asked to read from it in class, so you should bring your copy to class with you when we start discussing the biblical texts.
 
    D.    Conclusion
    The Bible has been translated into many languages, and has been translated into some of them multiple times as scholars have gained a better understanding of the form of the original texts and their meanings. Translation became necessary even before the birth of Jesus, and it has remained necessary as Christianity and Judaism have spread into new areas where other languages are used.
    The King James Version was for many years the favorite translation of the Bible into English, but it was not the first.
    The invention of the printing press made the publication of new translations easier, with the result that today we have multiple translations available to us in any of several of the world's must used languages.
 

V. Accuracy and Authority of the Biblical Text(s)

    Canonization, transmission, and translation may all impact the level of confidence readers may reasonably place in the accuracy of the biblical texts. How should this knowledge be related to one's view of the authority of the text?
    While some views of biblical inspiration claim that the authority of the text is directly dependant upon its accuracy, the issues of accuracy and authority are not necessarily directly tied to each other. Examine the following graph of views of the accuracy and authority of the text.

What would a person with view A say about the accuracy and authority of the text? What about B, C, and D?

    A person whose view of the text is represented by point A on the graph might say something like this:

The text is extremely accurate, and for that reason it is extremely authoritative. If the Bible says don't commit adultery, then I must not commit adultery because I believe firmly in the authority of the text.
    A person whose view of the text is represented by point B might say something like this:
Yes, the text is extremely accurate. We have an amazing number of manuscripts which provide us with a wealth of information about the exact wording of the text, so we can do an unbelievably accurate job of reconstructing the original text.
This person, though, might commit adultery, or steal, or do other things prohibited by the text because she or he does not believe the text has any authority. "It may be accurate," she might say, "but so what? Who cares anyway?"
 

    A person whose view is represented by point C might say something like this:

We can't possibly reconstruct the biblical texts accurately. There are thousands of manuscripts and none of them are identical. How can we have any chance of doing an accurate job of reconstructing the original text. And even if we did, how could we know that the translations we have accurately represent the meaning of the original. Look at the differences between them. Surely you can't think that they all accurately represent the original text. Which one is right?
And after making this argument she or he would ignore the advice and council of the text, assuming that an inaccurate text can't possibly have any authority.
 

    A person whose view is represented by point D would say something like this:

I don't believe we can really know what the original text said. At least not the exact wording. The evidence is just too diverse. And yes, I know there are serious differences between the translations, and I don't really know which one is best. Buy you know, for me it really doesn't matter. When I read the text I hear the voice of God. The text doesn't have to be perfect for God to use it. God uses poeple who are not perfect. Why can't God use a text which is not perfect. When I hear God speak, even through an imperfect text, I know it is the voice of God, and God's voice has authority for me. If God says, don't commit adultery, then whether he said it with an active voice verb or a passive voice one, it still means don't do it. So I'm not going to.
    The issue of the authority of the text is fundamentally an issue of faith. It cannot be proven or disproven by examining the history of  canonization or transmission or translation. Still, failure to understand the processes of canonization, transmission, and translation can easily lead to inauthentic faith based on false assumptions.
 
 


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