4: About Translations

KJV PS 119 framed    Psalms 118, 119 (KJV) with margin

Throughout these chapters I have mainly employed the New International Version of the Bible.1 For that reason you might find differences between Bible texts as quoted by me and the equivalent texts in the translation you usually read. There are good reasons for these differences.

The New International Version, which was first published in the 1970s, provides explanations in its footnotes.2 The editors of The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, which was first published about 15 years earlier (in the 1950s), were, even then, well aware of the reasons for differences between translations. So they provided explanatory notes on these and the reasons why some texts in the King James Version, which was first published in 1611, should be altered or even omitted.3 Anyone who has questions about the New International Version and other modern English language translations of the Bible in this respect would therefore do well to first consult the aforesaid Bible commentary.

Having said that, the reader should be aware of the value of marginal readings in the King James Version (KJV).4 Let the translators of that version speak for themselves about the importance of these alternative readings. They did this in “The Epistle Dedicatory“, a lengthy statement at the beginning of the translation dedicated to King James I, who had authorized the translation. While The Epistle Dedicatory is no longer included in the King James Version (also known as The Authorized Version) it is available to all on the internet. The relevant portion reads, in part, as follows:

REASONS MOVING US TO SET DIVERSITY OF SENSES IN THE MARGIN, WHERE THERE IS GREAT PROBABILITY FOR EACH

Some peradventure would have no variety of senses to be set in the margin, lest the authority of the Scriptures for deciding of controversies by that show of uncertainty, should somewhat be shaken. But we hold their judgment not to be sound in this point. … it hath pleased God in his divine providence, here and there to scatter word and sentences of that difficulty and doubtfulness, not in doctrinal points that concern salvation, (for in such it hath been vouched that the Scriptures are plain) but in matters of less moment, that fearfulness would better beseem us than confidence, … There be many words in the Scriptures, which be never found there but once, (having neither brother or neighbor, as the Hebrews speak) so that we cannot be holpen by conference of places. … Now in such a case, doth not a margin do well to admonish the Reader to seek further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that peremptorily? … S. Augustine saith, that variety of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures: [S. Aug. 2. De doctr. Christian. cap. 14.] so diversity of signification and sense in the margin, where the text is not so clear, must needs do good, yea, is necessary, as we are persuaded.

Finally, this series of articles is about the English5 translation of the Holy Bible, a collection of books which originally had appeared in written form in other languages. The Old Testament was written mainly in the Hebrew language with some portions being in Aramaic.6 Before Christianity arose, however, it had already been translated into Greek for the use of Jews living in Egypt. That translation is known as the Septuagint, abbreviated as LXX.7  The LXX was so popular among early Christians that many portions of the Old Testament that are quoted in the New Testament are from the LXX and not from the Hebrew Old Testament.

Although Christianity began in the days when the Romans were governing Judea, Greek was the “international” language in that part of the Empire. The earliest manuscripts that we have of the New Testament are in the Greek language of the day.

Endnotes

1. The Holy Bible, New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 1985).
2. See, for example, 1 John 5:7, 8 (NIV)
3. See Nichol, Francis D., ed., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1978) Volume 7, page 10. Here the SDABC addresses and explains five points about the strength of textual evidence for the translation of a given text where there are variations in the relevant manuscripts.
4. For a recently written history of the King James Version see:
McGrath, Alister, In The Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and how it changed a Nation, a language and a culture (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2001).
5. Not the French, German, Russian or translations into other languages. They, no doubt, have their own idiosyncrasies.
6. Daniel 2:4b-7:28; Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26; Jeremiah 10:11. There are also some phrases, words and statements that Jesus had made in the Aramaic language that were recorded in the New Testament. These have been preserved, translated into Greek and, consequently, into English. See, for example, Mark 15:34.
7. LXX = 70, in Roman numerals.

© 2010, Angus McPhee