Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Best Bible Translation in English?

Which English Bible translation is the best? I will quickly summarize it here - there are plenty of translations out there, and they will generally follow two translation philosophies: a word-for-word literal translation, or a "thought-for-thought" translation following a philosophy known as dynamic equivalence (or functional equivalence) - where the translator chooses a word for the idea that is conveyed. Here is a nice diagram showing where the translations fall on this spectrum:

The translations that use the "thought-for-thought" are bad, the paraphrase ones are the worst. They sacrifice accuracy for readability. Avoid those. The translation is so poor it is ridiculous, often with the translator's bias or interpretation coming through. It is also harder to do word studies in the original languages. If we look at some of the commentary of Swedenborg on the hidden spiritual meaning in the scripture, he will often go to a literal translation which is closest to the Hebrew original. So the best literal translations in my opinion can be narrowed down to the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV), or the New King James Version (NKJV). The NKJV is lower in the spectrum, but I will explain why I use it shortly. If you want to do side by side comparisons yourself, you can compare them online at Bible Gateway. Here is another chart which shows some of the history of each of the translations:


Besides translation, there is one other issue to consider: which recension of manuscripts were used for the translation. Whereas in most cases the Hebrew Masoretic has priority for the Old Testament, for the New Testament there are three major recensions of Greek manuscripts that are used:
Textus Receptus - this is based on a set of six medieval manuscripts that was used to create the German Luther Bible and the King James Version (KJV). It is fanatically supported by a "King James only" group, who somehow believe that it is the Divinely inspired selection of the majority text. It includes the spurious late addition in 1 John known as the "Comma Johanneum" which is not attested to by the majority of manuscripts.  
Majority Text (also called Byzantine text-type, Antiocheian Text, or Syrian Text) - as time progressed and scholarship on the Bible increased, more and more Greek manuscripts were gathered and collated which represented the majority reading across all the Greek manuscripts. There are more than 5,000 of these manuscripts, and most modern translations are based on the majority reading of these texts. The Textus Receptus recension is in close agreement with the Majority Text.  
Alexandrian text-type (based on the research of Westcott & Hort, later Nestle & Aland) - these represent about 1% of the known Greek manuscripts, but are older than the rest and tend to come from the vicinity of Alexandria. Extant manuscripts are about 85% identical with the majority text, and most variants cannot be translated into English. Translations that use this recension tend to operate under the theory that "older is better", but that is not the case here - critics have shown that in many cases these recensions contain corruptions or omissions of the text.
My general opinion is that the Majority Text tends to be closer to the original. Why do I say this? Because unlike most Western scholars, I am of the opinion that much of the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic, then later translated into Greek. When you see the Aramaic text of scripture, then all those minor differences in Greek disappear. Often an Aramaic word has multiple meanings, and one Greek manuscript would translate it one way, another in a different way. This becomes so obvious for one who knows Aramaic and Greek it is undeniable. Don't take my word for it, look at the evidence: read Was the New Testament Really Written in Greek?. The earliest complete manuscript of the Aramaic Peshitta dates to the 5th century A.D., but scholarship and historical evidence indicates that this manuscript dates from the 2nd century A.D.

So much for the modern translations that try to be literal for the New Testament - they are basically making a translation of a translation. However all is not lost, most mistranslations are minor and the Majority Text closely matches the Aramaic Peshitta. You can compare the Aramaic with the KJV online here: Peshitta New Testament. The NKJV, like the KJV, bases its translation on the Textus Receptus. So why do I use the NKJV? Because it lists all the variants from the Majority Text and Alexandrian text-type in the footnotes! No other translation does that. If it weren't for that, I would probably use the ESV or NASB.

Instead of arguing which translation is better, I decided to look at some of the major differences between the Textus Receptus (KJV and NKJV) and the Majority Text (ESB and NASB) in the book of Revelation, using the Aramaic Peshitta as a guide. For a discussion of how the book of Revelation still bears evidence of an Aramaic original, see Revelations Excerpt. At first some of the differences look minor. But when examining these differences, they alter the pattern of the wording, which affects the hidden spiritual symbolism behind the literal words.


The first difference comes in Rev. 1:5-6. The Textus Receptus (KJV and NKJV) has this:
To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Instead of "kings and priests" the Alexandrian and Majority text has "a kingdom, priests." The Aramaic Peshitta has "a priestly kingdom." In support of the Textus Receptus, we have this passage later in Revelation:
And have made us kings and priests to our God (Rev. 5:10)
However if it is "kingdom" and not "kings", an interesting pattern appears: the first part of the book of Revelation follows a pattern laid out in Lord's Prayer in the Gospel of Matthew. First, the Lord's Prayer, divided into seven statements:
1. Our Father
2. Who art in heaven,
3. Hallowed be Thy name.
4. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
5. Give us this day our daily bread.
6. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from evil.
7. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Compare the pattern of the Lord's Prayer with the pattern of Revelation 1:4-6
1. Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come,
2. and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne,
3. and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead,
4. and the ruler over the kings of the earth.
5. To Him who loved us
6. and washed us from our sins in His own blood,
7. and has made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
The word "kingdom" is the correct one: the beginning of the book of Revelation matches the pattern of the Lord's Prayer, in fact, it can be considered a response to the Lord's Prayer. So in the Lord's Prayer, everyone says "Hallowed be Thy name." What is the name of the Father? Jesus Christ is His name. And this is the error that many Christians make: having been taught that there is a trinity of three beings, many pray to the Father as a separate person and ignore Jesus Christ. This is not so: the Father is the Divine itself, which resides bodily in human form in Jesus Christ: He is one Being, one Person.

Statements #5 and #6 have reference to the Communion or Eucharist, and in the symbolism of scripture bread is symbolic not just of the body of Jesus but also the Divine Love which flows from Him, and His blood is a symbol of the Divine Truth. For it is the Divine Truth which cleanses from sin, not literal blood.

Another point: in the Lord's Prayer in Matthew, many have considered that the last statement, the doxology, was a late addition. The parallel in the book of Revelation shows that it is not a late addition. So look at the amount of information one can receive when one pays attention to a word, and asks why that word was used and not another.


The next main difference comes in Rev. 1:8. The Textus Receptus has this:
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord,
which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
According to the Alexandrian, Majority Text, and Aramaic Peshitta this passage should be:
I am Alpha and Omega, saith the Lord God,
which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
The phrase "the beginning and the ending" was likely added to explain the meaning of Alpha and Omega, perhaps as a marginal note, which then made its way into the text. But should it be "Lord" or "Lord God"? The title "Almighty" is almost always used in conjunction with "God." The reason for that is that the title "Lord" refers to the Divine Love, and the title "God" refers to the Divine Truth, from which God exercises His power. However in the book of Revelation we have for the first time "Lord God Almighty":
"Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!" (Rev. 4:8)
"We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, The One who is and who was and who is to come" (Rev. 11:17)
"Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty!" (Rev. 15:3)
"Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments." (Rev. 16:7)
"But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple." (Rev. 21:22)
And in two places we have "God Almighty" in the cases where the evil make war with God, as they do not acknowledge the Lord as God Almighty:
For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. (Rev. 16:14)
He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. (Rev. 19:15)
Considering that Lord God Almighty is combined with the phrase "who is, who was and who is to come" in two other instances, "Lord God" is probably the correct reading.

Now in Rev. 1:11 the Textus Receptus has the phrase "I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and..." This phrase is superfluous, and is properly omitted in the Alexandrian, Majority and Aramaic Philoxenian. When the passage is omitted, then the term "Alpha and Omega" is mentioned a total of three times in Revelation, a sign of completion:

"I am the Alpha and the Omega" (Rev. 1:8)
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End." (Rev. 21:6)
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End." (Rev. 22:13)

And each statement adds on to the other. However note that for Rev. 22:13 the Textus Receptus and Aramaic Peshitta probably have the correct reading, except that the Textus Receptus flip-flopped some of the word order. The Alexandrian and Majority texts omit the phrase "the Alpha and the Omega." Note that in Aramaic the letters are not Alpha and Omega but rather Aleph and Tau, the first and last letters of the Aramaic and Hebrew alphabets.


The Textus Receptus has this passage for Rev. 2:20:
Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.
However in the Majority Text of Greek manuscripts, instead of "that woman" they have "your wife." So what is it, "that woman" or "your wife"? The answer comes from the Aramaic Peshitta: it is "your wife." However the Aramaic word can be translated as "woman" or "wife"! One set of Greek manuscripts chose the Greek word for woman, the other set chose the Greek word for wife. With the possessive it obviously should have been translated as wife. This is one example among many that the New Testament was written in Aramaic. How come scholars say it was written in Greek? That is what they were taught - originally the west had no access to the Aramaic manuscripts, and the tradition has persisted despite the evidence. I would say the majority haven't even looked at the evidence.

"Your wife" is very harsh. Not even the NASB or ESV versions translate this correctly. This is directed against the church of Thyatira, which in his visions Swedenborg said portrayed the Protestant churches who promote a dead faith separate from good works and repentance. Coincidentally, a Protestant minister of a large church just confessed that his wife has had multiple adulterous affairs, and has gone into rehabilitation. There are several examples of Protestant ministers who have committed adultery, because they themselves have adulterated the scripture with their doctrine, that one has to just believe without regard to the sins of their life.


For those of you who want to pursue this further, use Bible Gateway to bring up the NKJV with footnotes, as well as a parallel passage with the ESV and NASB, and then compare with the Aramaic Peshitta for the New Testament at Peshitta New Testament.

For the entire Bible, the best translation in English is the New American Standard Version (NASB) and the English Standard Version (ESV). Hopefully there will be another scholarly edition that comes out that uses the Aramaic Peshitta for the New Testament. And what do readers discover when you read the New Testament from the Aramaic? In the phrase "Lord Jesus" the word for "Lord" is the Aramaic word "Maryah." And the Aramaic word "Maryah" is the word used for the Hebrew tetragrammation YHWH, the name for Yahweh or Jehovah. It becomes quite clear: in the earliest Christian Church of the Middle East, Jesus is declared to be Jehovah in human form.

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to follow up on this blog post. I have been translated the Psalms from the original Hebrew and other ancient sources, and I am seeing quite a few mistranslations in the KJV that are still, after 400 years, propagated in the New American Standard Bible and English Standard Version. At this point I do not know what to say on providing a good recommendation: in practically every Psalm I am finding at least 1-3 mistranslations, and even more translation inconsistencies. No one has the time to go and pull out a concordance and find these, I just want to open the Bible and read in English what the original said, or at least close to it.

    Some may ask, did I find any major mistranslation that will cause a doctrinal issue? Yes. For one, many translations translate the Hebrew word "Sheol" as "hell" or "Hades." That's not quite accurate, Sheol is describing an intermediate area for both the good and evil that lies between heaven and hell, something Swedenborg called "the world of spirits" in his visionary experiences. The translation is obscuring this. Another major one, which some translations have corrected, is that the name Jehovah is translated as "LORD." Lord, or Hebrew Adonai, was read by the Jews when they encountered the name of Jehovah, but the text says Jehovah (or YHVH, without the vowels). If Jehovah is a personal name for a personal being, its not so easy to divide Him into multiple persons as the doctrine of the Trinity would have us believe.

    I am thinking about publishing this research, showing the mistranslations, in the hope that in the future we will have a better translation closer to the original in the future.


Comments, questions, corrections and opinions welcome...