Since the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek, how can we understand the Word of God in our language? What translations are suitable to use? The apostles and their associates faced this question in the first century. Our Old Testament (OT) was their Bible. It was written in Hebrew, but most people in their world spoke Greek so they wrote the New Testament (NT) in Greek. Luke, writer of one-fourth of the NT, was a Gentile who probably didn’t know Hebrew.
In their day the standard Greek translation of the OT was the Septuagint (LXX), produced by Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, traditionally thought to be seventy men, hence its name. Its translation of the books of Moses is of high quality, but the rest is uneven. Most OT quotations in the NT come from the LXX. The apostles’ use of this work doesn’t mean all its renderings are completely accurate, but it means it’s trustworthy in the places they quoted. The NT writers also used translations other than the LXX or translated directly from Hebrew.Through the use of reliable translations and careful study, we can ascertain the full meaning of God’s Word. We can have confidence that the translated Bible is the inspired Word of God for us today. Click To Tweet
In I Corinthians 2, for example, Paul quoted directly from the LXX in verse 16 (Isaiah 40:13) but used another translation or paraphrase, perhaps his own, in verse 9 (Isaiah 64:4). His letters contain about one hundred OT quotations. About half are from the LXX, four are direct translations of the standard Hebrew text where it clearly differs from the LXX, and the rest are similar but not identical to the LXX. (See Richard Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, 96.)
Bible Translations into English
Over the centuries there have been many translations of the Bible into English, beginning with those of John Wycliffe and then William Tyndale. For most of a century the most popular was the Geneva Bible (1560), used by Shakespeare and the Pilgrims. It was eventually superseded by the King James Version (KJV) of 1611. To a great extent, the KJV is a fifth revision of the Tyndale Bible. When the modern Pentecostal movement began in the early 1900s, the KJV had been the most widely used translation for over two hundred years.
Thus Oneness Pentecostal pioneers and early United Pentecostal writers typically used the KJV as their biblical text. They occasionally explored the meaning of Hebrew and Greek words and used other translations available to them. For example, The Name and the Book by Frank Ewart, who began preaching the Oneness message in 1916, cites the LXX, Revised Version (RV), and Weymouth. Our Gospel Message by Oscar Vouga (an assistant general superintendent) with a foreword by Howard Goss (first general superintendent) cites the American Standard Version (ASV), RV, and Weymouth. Articles in the first two full years of the Pentecostal Herald (1946–1947) quote from the ASV, RV, Moffatt, and Weymouth.
Today many translations are available. A few have doctrinal bias (e.g., New World Translation of Jehovah’s Witnesses) or a liberal doctrinal slant in some places (e.g., Revised Standard Version). Others exhibit a high view of and conservative approach to Scripture. A good translation is understandable and has a good literary style, but the two basic considerations are the underlying text and the translation philosophy. (For full discussion, see my book God’s Infallible Word.)
Proclaiming Fundamental Doctrines
The KJV and New King James Version (NKJV) use Erasmus’s sixteenth-century text of the Greek NT, which was based on Byzantine manuscripts. Most modern translations use a slightly different text reconstructed from older manuscripts discovered since the KJV.
Despite the differences, the major translations fully proclaim all fundamental doctrines held by Apostolic Pentecostals.
This text omits some words and phrases considered to have been inserted into the Byzantine text from parallel passages and other sources. Generally, the same phrase or teaching appears elsewhere in Scripture. Good modern translations provide notes on these matters, including significant word variations. Despite the differences, the major translations fully proclaim all fundamental doctrines held by Apostolic Pentecostals.
Most historic translations are relatively literal, striving to translate word for word as much as possible. Some modern translations attempt a freer rendering, using contemporary idiomatic expressions. Some paraphrases like The Living Bible and The Message aren’t intended to be translations; instead, they seek to express biblical ideas in the modern writer’s words.
Various translations can help us understand the text more clearly. For primary reading and study, we should use a relatively literal translation by a group of conservative scholars committed to the inspiration and authority of Scripture. In English the KJV has been the most popular historically. A modern revision is the NKJV (1982). Other helpful, conservative translations in modern English—from more literal to more idiomatic—are the New American Standard Bible, English Standard Version, New International Version (1984), and New Living Translation. The historic Spanish translation is the Reina-Valera (1602). Most Pentecostals today use the 1960 revision, but some also use newer revisions or translations.
Although no translation perfectly reproduces all the nuances of an original text, some Bible translations are excellent and have faithfully communicated the gospel over time. Through the use of reliable translations and careful study, we can ascertain the full meaning of God’s Word. We can have confidence that the translated Bible is the inspired Word of God for us today.
(A version of this article was published in Pentecostal Life.)
David K. Bernard is an author and the general superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church International, which has more than five million constituents in over 42,000 churches in 230 nations and territories. He is also the founding president of Urshan College and Urshan Graduate School of Theology.
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