Lesson 2 - The Authenticity of Scripture





Every orthodox Christian denomination believes in the authenticity of scripture – it is one of those absolute doctrines we hold as being essential to the Christian faith.  Some denominations may hold to the belief that only a particular version of scripture (such as the King James Version) is valid, believing that even the translation process and preservation through time are inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Others believe that scripture is inspired and inerrant only in its original form, and while they believe that the Holy Spirit has a hand in its translation such that the truth of scripture always remains valid, they acknowledge the possibility of translation errors in some of the specific wording and details.  All orthodox groups, however, consider scriptural inerrancy to be an essential doctrine and place their faith in its truth.  However, it is precisely the authenticity of scripture that is most often challenged by those who choose to reject God.  Unless you have a firm belief that scripture is the inerrant Word of God, it is impossible to defend your faith in Jesus Christ.

The two biggest criticisms of scripture that you are likely to encounter are (a) that it is merely the work of men and (b) that it is inconsistent (that is, there are too many contradictions within it).  Both of these criticisms can be answered and, hopefully this lesson will do that.  Although it is true that men wrote down the Holy Bible, we believe as evangelical and orthodox Christians that the true author of God’s Word is God himself through the inspiration of the person of the Holy Spirit.  2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”  Likewise, 2 Peter 1:21 says that “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.“ 

Unfortunately, it does no good to use the Bible itself as proof that the Bible is really God’s Word if you are trying to convince a skeptic.  The world sees our faith in the Bible as “blind faith” or “irrational faith”.   However, God himself, through the prophet Isaiah says to “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18).  As such, just like we need to understand arguments for why God exists, we need to understand some of the reasons why we can say with certainty that God’s Word is accurate and without error with respect to our fundamental beliefs.  Once we are confident in our trust in the credibility of God’s Word, we can be even more confident in our faith and in its revelation to us.


The Unity of Scripture


The most important thing we can understand about the Holy Bible that truly demonstrates that it can be trusted is its unity within itself.  No matter how you look at the Bible, there is simply no way that it can remain inconsistent with itself and still be considered truth.  But that is precisely the area in which the Bible is often attacked. Therefore, to the extent that we can demonstrate that God’s word is consistent and in unity with itself despite all of the arguments otherwise, we go a long way towards convincing ourselves – and hopefully others – that scripture can be trusted.

The first point to consider is the time span over which the Bible was written.  Most orthodox scholars believe that a reasonable estimate is that the Bible was written over a period of about 1500 years.  Despite the huge span of time between the first book being written (probably the Book of Job) and the last book being written (probably the Revelation), the message of God’s word remains unified. 

In opposition to this statement of unity regarding the timeframe over which the Bible was written, the timeframe for when certain books were written remains a highly debated topic.  Some claim that certain books could not possibly have been written as early as we claim because the writers spoke of things that they could not possibly have known about until much later.  However, we should probably assume that there are supernatural forces behind this debate. The devil knows that if he can call into question the timeframe of when these books were written, he can put doubt into our minds regarding the unity of scripture and can even begin to persuade us that it was all fabricated for the purpose of “creating” a religion that profited certain men.

 Along those same lines is the topic of the authors who wrote the bible.  Like the time span issue, this issue is also highly debated – most likely for the same reasons.  Even under the most conservative estimates, there were probably more than 40 authors who contributed to the Bible.  And yet, when was the last time you saw 40 people in the same place who were in such unity as the authors of scripture?  For so many authors to write over such a large span of time and produce a work as unified as the Bible can do nothing but confirm the fact that the context was divinely inspired.  Indeed it is divine because we believe it was the work of the Holy Spirit.

Still, there is more to it than that.  Consider the conditions, cultures, and languages of those authors.  The many different parts of the Bible were written under a variety of conditions.  Some parts were written during times of peace.  Other parts were written during times of war.  We have scripture written from captivity and scripture written by free men.   Additionally, the cultures under which various portions of scripture were written vary widely and include portions written in three different languages, including Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

Despite all of this diversity of authors, culture, language, etc., the beauty of the Bible is that its message remains simple, clear, and in harmony with itself.  Ironically, Satan has blinded the world to the simplicity of the Biblical message.  Satan would rather cast doubt on the authenticity of scripture by deceiving us with details that he tries to convince us are inconsistent.  However, to those whom God has opened their eyes, the simple message of his word is obvious and consistent from Genesis to Revelation:  God is making for himself a people that he will redeem through faith in the Messiah, Jesus Christ.


In addition to the internal unity of scripture is the external unity of scripture – its textual survival throughout the ages.  Even though we have none of the original copies of scripture, we can have absolute confidence that we know what the originals said.  Over the last 2000+ years, hundreds of thousands of manuscripts of Holy Scripture have been found and preserved.  For the New Testament alone, over 7500 Greek copies of the New Testament have been found/preserved, over 10,000 Latin copies have been found/preserved, and there are literally millions of references by church fathers and historians.

Based on these surviving texts, scholars can determine with absolute certainty the original language for over 99% of the New Testament.  However, with that many copies of hand-written documents, it is not surprising that a number of variations will exist; and it is against that point that Satan focuses his attack on the reliability of the New Testament.  Skeptics will point to these variations as evidence the New Testament cannot be trusted.  How can we know with certainty what the original said, they ask, when there are discrepancies in the surviving manuscripts?  Again, this is nothing more than a misdirection to confuse those whose faith may be weak.  In reality, the overwhelming majority of these variations are easily identifiable and easily corrected.  They fall mostly into these simple categories:


       Spelling variations – the scribe intended to use the same word, but spelled it differently - but it is obvious what was intended.

       Synonyms – the scribe used a different word, but the word had the same meaning as the original – so again it is obvious what was intended.

       Homonym – one scribe reads a word that another scribe hears as a different word – this is easily identifiable by Greek scholars and so it is obvious what was intended.

       Complete nonsense – the scribe made an obvious and easily identifiable error because what was written simply makes no sense.

       Repeats or skips  - the scribe lost his place in his transcription, repeating or skipping a word or phrase; but with very little effort the original intent is discernable.

       Word order in a sentence – in the Greek, word order is not as important as it is in other languages (such as English) such that some scribes may have changed the word order without impact to meaning


In other words, for over 99% of the variations in the surviving texts, we know exactly what was intended to be written.  Of the less than 1% for which we cannot accurately determine the original, the differences are theologically inconsequential.  Most of these appear to be additions that were possibly made by a scribe in a later version of the manuscript.  One explanation might be that perhaps the addition was made as a marginal note or commentary to explain the meaning of the text.  Later scribes, not knowing otherwise, incorporated the notes into the original text.  None of these additions affect any point of doctrine.   Of these, the two most significant passages in question are John 7:52-8:11 (the adulterous woman) and Mark 16:9-20 (Mark’s account of the Great Commission).  Neither of these passages appears in the earliest manuscripts and scholars are uncertain why.

Despite the overwhelming internal and external unity, there will be those who will make it their mission to find inconsistencies in scripture.  With such intentionality in their motivations, it is no surprise that they are able to find something to justify their disbelief.   These skeptics will point to what they believe to be inconsistencies even while we insist that such inconsistencies do not exist. 

To be certain, there are a number of places in the Bible where, if one wanted to make such a case, they could claim an “apparent” contradiction.  Each and every one of them can be explained away in some form or another.  Generally speaking, these seeming contradictions fall into one of several categories:

Variations in human witness on the same event result in irrelevant or insignificant differences in the written report.  For example, different reports of the same events in Jesus’ life in the 4 gospels can result in minor differences in the account.  These differences may either be intentional for a reason or are inconsequential in nature, but they are never specifically contradictory – different, but not inconsistent.  Similarly, the stories in the Kings and in Chronicles are similar and can have slightly different, but not contradictory, details.

Improper interpretation and/or understanding of the intent of the author can result in a belief that a contradiction exists.  Different passages written for different purposes can appear to have contradictory meaning if not understood in their proper context.  For example, Paul and James both speak of the relationship between faith and works, but they do so in such a way that seems contradictory.  However, Paul speaks from the perspective of the unsaved looking forward to salvation, whereas James speaks from the perspective of the saved looking back on their salvation.  Salvation is by grace through faith without works.  However, faith that does not result in works is truly dead.  This distinction must be understood in its proper context.

The fact that the Bible is often looked at as a historical record can lead to appearances of contradictions as well – especially in light of our incomplete knowledge of actual history.   Scholars who think they know history will point to stories in the Bible and claim it is inconsistent with what they know to be historically true.  It is ironic, however, that any of us would claim to know what happened so many years ago.  That, however, is irrelevant to the point. The Bible is not a historical record and never claimed to be; rather, it is a theological record – it is a history of God’s revelation of himself and his plan for mankind.  As such, not all historical events have been recorded in every case.  Even then, however, we can be assured that the historical events that are recorded in scripture are – or ultimately will be proven to be – historically accurate.  Every day new archeological finds confirm the historical evidence of God’s word – and one day God will himself reveal the ultimate truth.

Regardless of what “apparent” discrepancies people may point out in scripture, the important thing to note is that none of them have any theological impact whatsoever.  They have absolutely no impact on the message of scripture, the commands of scripture, or God’s purpose and plan within scripture.  They point to what they believe to be discrepancies and as a result discount everything else in scripture.  However, even if (God forbid) they are correct about the discrepancies (which they are not), such trivial discrepancies do nothing to alter or discredit the theological truth of God’s word.

Why, though, did God allow there to be any question at all in His word?  Wouldn’t it make more sense if no such questions existed at all?  This too, is all a part of his plan for us to live by faith.

According to his own word, God has deliberately kept some things hidden from mankind.  Deuteronomy 29:29 says “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”  We are to concern ourselves on the things he has clearly revealed to us and to have faith on those he has not.  Similarly, in Luke 10:21 Jesus prays to the Heavenly Father “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”  God’s intention is for us to live in child-like faith, and so not all truths have been revealed.

The truth is that God has left just enough seeming contradictions in his word that someone who is intent on finding a reason not to believe will find that reason.   As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:27, “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.”  This is a warning to those who set out to find such contradictions and a comfort to those of us who have placed our faith in the inerrancy and authority of scripture.   A quote from ChristianAnswers.net says it this way: “If an ungodly man refuses to humble himself and obey the gospel, and instead desires to build a case against the Bible, God gives him enough material to build his own gallows.”[1]

At the end of the day, believing that the Bible is God’s word is just as much an act of faith as believing in Jesus Christ as savior. When you consider all of these facts about the Bible, there is no other conclusion that can be made except that a higher power directed not only its writing, but its survival, how it was put together, and everything about it.


The Parts of Scripture


Just as important as the issue of the dependability of scripture is the issue of what is – and what is not – considered to be scripture.  The question of what is included in scripture is another area that is often challenged by those who wish to discredit the Bible.  In fact, the issue of what constituted inspired scripture remained a significant debate in the early church until the early church leaders came together and finally established The Canon.  A canon is a standard or criteria against which authenticity is measured, and so from the perspective of scripture, The Cannon is that set of scriptures established to be the authentic work of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.


The Old Testament


The Old Testament has been canonized by virtually every “Christian” sect, including The Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church (as well as other “Orthodox” branches of the church), Protestant churches of all kinds, and even the Jewish “church”.   The Old Testament in its traditional Jewish form is comprised of 39 books.   The Law (or Torah) contains the five books written by Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  The Prophets consist of the “Former” prophets – Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings – and the “Latter” prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Book of 12 (or the Minor Prophets – Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi).  Finally, The Writings consist of the Poetry (Psalms, Proverbs, and Job), the Five Rolls (Song of Songs/Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, and Ecclesiastes), and the History (Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles).  In this original Jewish form – that is, the form by which Jesus would have known it – the Old Testament appeared in this order – The Law, followed by the Prophets, and then the Writings.


The New Testament


Like the Old Testament, the New Testament has been canonized by all of the major sects of “Christianity”.   It is comprised of 27 books, including the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the Acts of the Apostles, The Pauline Epistles (Romans, 1&2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1&2 Thessalonians, 1&2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and by some scholars, Hebrews), the General Epistles (Hebrews, James, 1&2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude), and then the Apocalypse of John (Revelation).


The Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical Books


The Deuterocanonical books were 13 books of Jewish literature (history, teachings, devotionals) written between 300BC-70AD.  They were commonly used by Jews and early Christians for teaching and instruction, but were not canonized by either the Jews or by early Christian leaders.  However, they remained an un-canonized part of the Bible up through the first half of the sixteenth century.  The Roman Catholic Church canonized these books in 1546 as a direct response to the fact that Martin Luther removed them from his Protestant version of the German Bible.  However, they were never intended to be canonized by either the Jews or the early Christian fathers.  Since Martin Luther’s time, all Protestant versions of the Bible have excluded the Apocrypha whereas all Roman Catholic Bibles have included it.  As a result, Protestants have often ignored the historical relevance of the Apocrypha to their own detriment.  The books of Apocrypha – even for Protestants who do not believe they are inspired works of scripture - should be given the same level of consideration as any other (non-inspired) book written by any other author today.


Psuedepigriphal Writings


Psuedepigriphal writings make up a wide range of writings of Jewish or early Christian origin written any time between 200BC-200AD.  "Pseud-epigrapha" means “fake written”.  As such, many of these writings are often attributed to ideal figures in Israel's past as if those ancient saints actually wrote them.  However, they were never included in either the Jewish or Christian cannons and few orthodox scholars believe they were actually written by these early saints.   For example, there are a number of “lost” gospels supposedly written by the Apostle Peter or the Apostle Thomas.  Critics and skeptics will say that these scriptures have somehow been hidden or suppressed as a result of the canonization process – making Christianity somehow a made up religion that suppresses dissenting views.  However, it is precisely because of the canonization process that we have come to know that these writings are neither legitimate, were not written by their namesake authors, and were certainly not inspired by the Holy Spirit.


The Canonization of Scripture


The only way to be confident that the canon we hold today is the “right” canon is to have a proper understanding of the canonization process itself.  From that process, we can see how the Holy Spirit of God worked to bring the early church fathers to a right understanding of those works considered to be inspired of God.


The Jewish (Old Testament) Canon


There is actually no scholarly consensus as to when the Jewish Canon was finalized.  However, there is general consensus that, at the time of Christ, the 39 books that we know as the Old Testament were the only works included in that canon.   In other words, our Old Testament is what Jesus – as a Hebrew – would have considered “scripture.”  It is generally accepted that the following criteria were used when establishing the Old Testament canon:


1.     The writing had to be composed in Hebrew with only a few exceptions that were written in Aramaic (Daniel 2-7, Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26 and Jer. 10:11). Hebrew was the language of Sacred Scripture, Aramaic the language of common speech.

2.     The writing had to be sanctioned by usage in the Jewish community. The use of Esther at Purim made it possible for it to be included in the canon.

3.     The writings had to contain one of the great religious themes of Judaism, such as election, or the covenant. By reclassifying the Song of Songs as an allegory, it was possible to see in this book an expression of covenantal love.

4.     The writing had to be composed before the time of Ezra, for it was popularly believed that inspiration had ceased then. Some believe Jonah was written after Ezra, but it was accepted because it used the name of an early prophet and dealt with events before the destruction of Nineveh, which occurred in 612 BCE.  There is still debate today over the exact date of writing for the book of Jonah, but most orthodox scholars still hold to an early writing rather than a late one.


When the early church was established at Pentecost, the canon of the Old Testament was accepted without question.  All 39 books of the Old Testament were inspired scripture.


The Christian (New Testament) Canon


The New Testament, however, took some time to develop and establish itself before being canonized. There was a good deal of initial debate over precisely which works should be included.  The gospels, Paul’s epistles as well as other epistles, and even numerous other “Christian” writings were all circulating around the early church.  Not all of the writings were consistent in their teaching, which caused theological debate.  Because of this, errors began to creep into the church and early church leaders spent much time battling these errors.  Even the Apostle Paul wrote many times about the dangers of false teachings and the importance of keeping the gospel message pure. In addition to these writings that were inconsistent in their teachings, there were other works, such as Hebrews, James, and Revelation, which were being actively questioned as to whether or not they were valid works of scripture.

 The early church needed to know which writings were considered valid and which ones contained error.  Many suggested versions of a canon were developed in the second and third centuries.  However, the first definitive New Testament canon was developed by Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, who listed the current 27 books as being “the canon” in 367 AD.  This list was then brought forward for affirmation at the Synod of Hippo in 393 AD and then again at the Councils of Carthage under the leadership of St. Augustine in both 397 AD and again in 419 AD. 

At that time, St. Augustine declared the canon to be closed with no further debate.   Although the councils only affirmed the 39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament books as “scripture,” they did mention that the 13 Apocryphal books – while not canonized or considered to be inspired - were valid for reading and teaching. 

The canon remained unchanged and unchallenged until 1546. When Martin Luther, realizing that many were treating the Apocrypha as having equal weight to scripture, removed the Apocrypha from German versions of the Bible, the Roman Catholic Church retaliated by declaring the Apocrypha officially canonized – for Roman Catholic use.

A few years later, the Church of England (the Anglican Church) developed its Thirty-nine Article, which reiterated the original canon - without the Apocrypha - and so the 66 books of the Old and New Testament became the basis for the development of the King James Version of the English Bible.  Later, in 1647, the Church of England developed the Westminster Confession of Faith, again reaffirming the original canon.  Shortly thereafter, in 1672, the eastern Orthodox churches adopted their canon at the Council of Jerusalem and included a number of the Apocryphal books.

Throughout the process of canonization, the following criteria was generally used for evaluating the authenticity of scripture:

1.     Apostolic Origin – the work had to be written by – or in close relation to – one of the original 11 Apostles plus the Apostle Paul

a.     The Gospel of Mark is traditionally considered to have been written in conjunction with Peter

b.     Luke was a close companion of Paul, and though his books were commissioned by Theophilus, they are generally considered to be highly influenced by Paul

c.      The author of Hebrews is generally unknown, but was considered to be written either by – or in association with – Paul or one of Paul’s companions

d.     James and Jude were both half-brothers of Jesus and leaders in the 1st Century church and were ultimately held in equal stature to the Apostles

2.     Universal Acceptance – the works had to be generally accepted by the early churches in the Mediterranean regions

3.     Liturgical Use – the works had to be considered practical for use in worship and discipleship

4.     Consistency – the works had to present a consistent theological message – in particular with respect to both the humanity and the divinity of Jesus.


This last criteria is what ultimately disqualified a number of early church writings.  Through the early teachings of the church and such creeds as The Apostles Creed, there was very little debate over the core aspects of the gospel.  A number of these early writings contained teachings that were not consistent with that understanding of the gospel and would have altered the essence of the gospel itself.  It is important to realize that men of God, having prayed and fasted and debated these issues at length, came to a determination that categorizing these excluded works as scripture would have introduced dangerous heresies into the church. 


The Testimony of Scripture


Given that we have established how and why certain scriptures were canonized, we can now look at those scriptures and examine what scripture has to say about itself?

The two most amazing phrases in scripture are “Thus says the LORD” and “The word of the LORD came to _____.”  Both of these phrases testify to the important truth that the Bible is God’s revelation of himself to us – it is his word spoken to us.  New Testament scriptures such as 2 Timothy 3:16, John 10:34-36, and 2 Peter 1:20-21 all remind us that our scriptures – at least the Old Testament as referenced in these verses – come from the very mouth of God.   However, there are other scriptures that speak to the fact that our New Testament scriptures are also directly from God.  Acts 12:24 speaks of how the word of God – in reference to the Gospel of Jesus Christ – spread and was multiplied.   Acts 13:5 speaks similarly of the gospel as the word of God.  In Colossians 1:25, Paul essentially claims that his teachings (and thus his writings) are directly from God.  Most importantly, though, we find in John 1 and in Hebrews 1 that Jesus himself was the very incarnation of the word of God.  From this, we can rest assured that both the Old Testament and the New Testament are included in our understanding of scripture as God’s revelation to us.

But why is it so important that we understand and believe in scripture as being without error? 2 Samuel 22:31 reminds us that "[God’s] way is perfect;” and that “the word of the Lord is tried”  - meaning that since God is perfect and without error, if scripture claims to be the word of God, then it too must be perfect and without error.  Because God cannot lie and because there is no untruth in God, if scripture is found to be in error, then it cannot rightly be considered the word of God.

Furthermore, why is it then important that scripture be considered the word of God?  If scripture is not the word of God, then the Bible is just another piece of man-made literature – just as its critics claim.  If scripture is not the word of God, then we have no confidence that God is who we think he is.  In fact, it is more likely that God is a liar, since he claims scripture as his word – and that is not good news for anyone. If scripture is not the word of God, then we have no assurance that God can keep his promises.  If scripture is not the word of God, Jesus is not the Messiah and there is no guarantee that good ultimately triumphs over evil.  If scripture is not the word of God, then we are infinitely pitiful and without hope.

On the other hand, if scripture really is the word of God, then it is completely trustworthy in every respect.  We have assurance of salvation through it.  We have hope of eternal life because of it.  It gives our lives true meaning, and to disobey it would be to disobey God himself.


The Transmission of Scripture


How to you know that the translation of the Bible that you are reading is reliable and how did it survive from the time of Christ until now?  The key is to understand the nature of the surviving texts upon which the translation was based and the process that the translators used when developing the translation.

 As this section of this lesson will focus primarily on how various modern translations of the Bible have been developed, it should be noted that a number of Christian denominations have established doctrines or preferences around which translations they feel are acceptable or approved for use in their churches.  By far, the most widely accepted translation and the one more organizations establish as approved for use in their churches is the English King James Version.  Many organizations even use the English King James Version as the basis for translating the bible into other languages.  For this fact, the discussion will focus primarily on how various English translations have been developed – with an emphasis on the King James Version, but acknowledging the other English translations as well.

The discussion in this section is not intended to either promote or challenge any particular translation of the bible, but rather to explain how these versions have been developed so that you can have confidence that the scripture you read and study is trustworthy.

Given that qualification, there are seven (7) major categories of surviving texts that have been used in developing modern translations of the bible.  They are as follows.

1.  Masoretic Texts – these texts represented the basis for the authoritative Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible.  The oldest fully complete copy dates to the 10th Century AD, but fragments of much older copies exist.

2.  The Septuagint (LXX) – these texts are the Greek translation of the Old Testament (translated by a team of 70 Hebrew scholars) translated between 300BC-200BC.[2]

3.  Latin Vulgate – the official Roman Catholic text, written in Latin, and based mainly on the 4th Century work of Jerome.

4.  Byzantine Texts – Greek copies of New Testament manuscripts maintained and copied through time by the Greek Orthodox Church.

5.  Alexandrian Texts – Greek copies of New Testament manuscripts as they were copied and maintained by the church of Alexandria in Egypt.  These texts were generally written earlier than the available Byzantine texts.

6.  Textus Receptus – The surviving copies of the Greek New Testament texts as they came down through the ages from the Byzantine texts.  The Textus Receptus is the primary basis for the English King James Version of the Bible.

7.  Dead Sea Scrolls – Old Testament texts found between 1946-1956 at the ancient Essenes settlement of Qumran on the Dead Sea.  The Dead Sea Scrolls tend to validate the Masoretic texts versus the Septuagint texts.  Most of the texts date from 150BC – 70AD.


Before looking at how these different texts were used to develop various translations, you also have to understand that there are different types of translations.   In general, translations can be categorized as one of three translation types, with varying degrees of combinations between them.

1.  Literal (or Complete Equivalence) – At one end of the translation spectrum are the “literal” translations. These are translations that are translated word for word from the original, irrespective of idiomatic or cultural influences on meaning.  The biggest problem with literal translations is that modern understanding of the original meaning can be difficult without a thorough understanding of the language and culture of the original text.  Basically, with these translations, it is up to you to take what was originally said and figure out what it means to you today.  There can be varying degrees of exactly how literal the translation is made.  English translations that are considered literal translations include Young’s literal translation, the New American Standard Bible, the King James Version, and the New King James Version.

2.  Paraphrase – At the other end of the translation spectrum are the “paraphrase” translations.  These versions translate words and thoughts into one’s own interpretation of the meaning of the original text.  The biggest problem with paraphrase translations is that the translator’s own personal doctrine plays a huge role in the translation.  Therefore, the translation is more about what the translator thinks was originally meant and to a certain extent how to apply it rather than what was originally said.  Essentially, these translations are telling us what the translator believes the text means to us today.  English translations that fall into this category include The Message and The Living Bible.

3.  Dynamic Equivalence – Between the sometimes difficult to understand literal translations and the doctrinally influenced paraphrase translations are the Dynamic Equivalence translations.  These translations attempt to make a thought for thought translation of the original text into modern language based upon an understanding of the original language and culture.  Essentially, they try to perform a literal translation, but they also allow limited paraphrasing when the language of the original text would be difficult to understand.  They attempt to limit paraphrasing to “equivalent thoughts” and try not to let doctrine influence the translation.  However, it would be naïve to think that such never happens. Fortunately, it happens much less with a Dynamic Equivalent translation than with a paraphrase translation. These translations are attempting to tell us what the original author said in the equivalent of today’s language.  English translations that are considered Dynamic Equivalent translations include the New International Version, the English Standard Version, and the Holman Christian Standard Version.  The New Living Translation is really a hybrid that is half-way between a Dynamic Equivalent and a Paraphrase.


With that background – and to finish out this lesson – the following is a brief history on the development of a number modern English Translations.

The King James Version (KJV) and the New King James Version (NKJV).  By far and without challenge, the KJV of the Holy Bible is the most widely acknowledged, recognized, and accepted version of scripture.  For almost 400 years, it remained the standard for use by all English-speaking Christians worldwide.  The KJV was commissioned by King James and completed in 1611.  For the Old Testament, the translators essentially used the Hebrew Bible, basing their translations first on the Masoretic texts but then conforming them to the Septuagint and Latin Vulgate where it differed.  For the New Testament, they primarily used the Textus Receptus and the Latin Vulgate.   The NKJV is a 1980s era update of the King James Version into modern language (removing “thees” and “thous”) but essentially based upon the same sources.

The Revised Version (RV) and American Standard Version (ASV).  Despite the fact that the KJV remained the authorized standard, many scholars believed that certain translation errors existed in the KJV.  As such, the RV was a British attempt in the late 19th Century to revise the King James Version to correct some of these perceived translation errors.  The ASV was a similar American attempt in 1901.  Neither translation gained much support. The ASV was revised to become the Revised Standard Version (RSV) in 1971. The RSV gained some limited support, but was eventually shadowed by other modern English translations.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB).  The NASB was developed in the 1960s.  It was developed as a literal translation and alternative to the ASV, but with the goal of using the oldest available texts (Dead Sea Scrolls, Alexandrian texts, etc.).  The NASB is still in wide use today.

The New International Version (NIV) – The NIV was originally developed in the 1970s using 15 primary scholars and a team of over 100 translators from a broad range of denominations.  The team used a broad range of the available text sources.  Where discrepancies occurred, they attempted to determine which was the “right” text to use, but generally gave deference to older texts.  The NIV was updated in 1984 and then again in 2010.  The NIV was widely used in the 80s and 90s but has lost favor among a number of Christian groups since the release of the 2010 update due to changes made to remove gender preferences.

The English Standard Version (ESV).  The ESV was originally published in 2001 as a revision to the RSV.  The translators’ intent was to be as literal as possible, but understandable with respect to idiomatic phrases.  It is more literal than the NIV, but contains slightly more paraphrasing than the NASB.   Unlike the NIV, the ESV did not automatically give deference to the older texts whenever discrepancies in texts occurred.   Instead, the translators attempted to look at all available information and make a determination as to which text is most likely to be the “right” text.  The ESV is quickly gaining support among evangelical Christian groups.

The New Living Translation (NLT).   The NLT is a widely used English translation because it is so much easier to read and understand than the KJV, the NASB, the NIV, or the ESV.   The NLT was developed in the late 1990s and early 2000s as a revision to the very highly paraphrased Living Bible.  However, the effort transformed more into a whole new translation rather than just a simple revision.  While the NLT still has some influences from The Living Bible, it is considered more of a Dynamic Equivalence than a paraphrase, but it is much more “interpreted” than any of the other major Dynamic Equivalence translations.  For this reason, while it may be widely used for “devotional” purposes, it is not widely used for in depth bible study.


Regardless of which version of scripture you use, no other literary work in the history of the world can claim the same level of absolute dependability in its authenticity than the Bible.  Given the number of surviving texts and the extremely high level of continuity in those surviving texts, one can have unfailing confidence that the scriptures we read on a daily basis accurately reflect precisely what the original authors – under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – intended to say.  Based on that, we can have confidence in the use of those scripture as the basis on which we establish our doctrines and beliefs.  With that confidence, our subsequent lessons can now use these scriptures to explain those beliefs and doctrines.

[2] There are some very minor discrepancies between the Masoretic texts and the Septuagint texts – possibly due to translation issues or errors.  Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, the Septuagint texts were older than any existing Masoretic texts.  Therefore, early translators have historically given deference to the Septuagint over the Masoretic texts. Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, some later translations have given greater authority to the Dead Sea Scrolls than to the Septuagint.