Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Has the text of the Bible been corrupted during its translation?

First, let’s introduce New Testament scholar Daniel B. Wallace:

Daniel B. Wallace, Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary

B.A., Biola University, 1975; Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979; Ph.D., 1995.

Dr. Wallace influences students across the country through his textbook on intermediate Greek grammar. It has become the standard textbook in the English-speaking world on that subject. He is a member of the Society of New Testament Studies, the Institute for Biblical Research, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the Evangelical Theological Society.

[...]He has been a consultant on four different Bible translations.

[...] He works extensively in textual criticism, and has founded The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (csntm.org), an institute with an initial purpose of preserving Scripture by taking digital photographs of all known Greek New Testament manuscripts.

[...]His postdoctoral work includes work on Greek grammar at Tyndale House in Cambridge, textual criticism studies at the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung in Münster, and the Universität Tübingen, Germany.

And here is an article by Dr. Wallace that corrects many misconceptions about the transmission and translation of the Testament.

He lists five in particular:

  • Myth 1: The Bible has been translated so many times we can’t possibly get back to the original.
  • Myth 2: Words in red indicate the exact words spoken by Jesus of Nazareth.
  • Myth 3: Heretics have severely corrupted the text.
  • Myth 4: Orthodox scribes have severely corrupted the text.
  • Myth 5: The deity of Christ was invented by emperor Constantine.

And here’s the detail on number one, which I think is important:

This myth involves a naïve understanding of what Bible translators actually did. It’s as if once they translated the text, they destroyed their exemplar! Sometimes folks think that translators who were following a tradition (such as the KJV and its descendants, the RV, ASV, RSV, NASB, NKJB, NRSV, and ESV) really did not translate at all but just tweaked the English. Or that somehow the manuscripts that the translators used are now lost entirely.

The reality is that we have almost no record of Christians destroying biblical manuscripts throughout the entire history of the Church. And those who translated in a tradition both examined the English and the original tongues. Decent scholars improved on the text as they compared notes and manuscripts. Finally, we still have almost all of the manuscripts that earlier English translators used. And we have many, many more as well. The KJV New Testament, for example, was essentially based on seven Greek manuscripts, dating no earlier than the eleventh century. Today we have about 5800 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, including those that the KJV translators used. And they date as early as the second century. So, as time goes on, we are actually getting closer to the originals, not farther away.

All the translations that we have today are one step away from the Greek originals. There is no chain of translations that was corrupted.

Check out the rest of the myths, especially for those who favor one Bible translation over others – you know who you are!

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3 Responses

  1. Lookingforachristianhusband says:

    If this is true, then why is it, when comparing the NIV to the KJV, are several scriptures throughout the NIV missing? And also words here and there as well, important words like Spirit (capital s referring to the Spirit of God) has been dropped off of scriptures? I would wholly disagree with these statements.

    • Paradox says:

      I remember one time, when I found this website, “jesus-is-savior”, and they were giving a one-sided critique of the English Standard Version. I only got to the part where the admin complains that the ESV is missing an `affirmation of the parts of the Trinity`, found in the KJV (“Thank God for the reliable King James’ Version!”). The insight involved in this might help to resolve this argument:

      FIRSTLY, the original manuscripts (the autographs were lost long ago) used to translate are still intact. The total corruption of the Old Testament is ~10% between all known extant manuscripts, but the errors are scattered: small slips of the brush that couldn’t be mistaken for letters, and changes in spelling that occur over time type things. The total corruption of the New Testament is ~5% between all known extant manuscripts, except that words, phrases, and even paragraphs exist where they are missing in other manuscripts. The key is to find the oldest extant manuscripts, and use these, to get a better idea of what the author originally intended.
      SECONDLY, because the older manuscripts are probably closest to the autographs, if we find something missing in the majority of these manuscripts, it would be responsible not to feature that portion of the text in the translation (or at least, put it in braces, with some commentary on it). Likewise, if we find something in the majority of the manuscripts, it would be responsible to put that in the translation.

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