What Are the Most Common Myths About Bible Translation? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace recently wrote an informative blog post on what he considers to be the fifteen most common myths about Bible translation.  While I suggest you read his post in its entirety, I have picked out a few of the myths that I think are the most important to debunk below.

Wallace’s first myth is

that a word-for-word translation is the best kind. Anyone who is conversant in more than one language recognizes that a word-for-word translation is simply not possible if one is going to communicate in an understandable way in the receptor language. Yet, ironically, even some biblical scholars who should know better continue to tout word-for-word translations as though they were the best.

The goal of a translator is to take the meaning of the original language and capture that same meaning in a new language.  Since grammatical rules and vocabulary vary greatly from language to language, word-for-word translation will often fail to achieve that goal.

Another myth Wallace debunks is the idea that the original King James Version was a literal, or word-for-word translation.  Wallace explains:

The preface to the KJV actually claims otherwise. For example, they explicitly said that they did not translate the same word in the original the same way in the English but did attempt to capture the sense of the original each time: “An other thing we thinke good to admonish thee of (gentle Reader) that wee have not tyed our selves to an uniformitie of phrasing, or to an identitie of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done, because they observe, that some learned men some where, have beene as exact as they could that way. Truly, that we might not varie from the sense of that which we had translated before, if the word signified the same thing in both places (for there bee some wordes that bee not of the same sense every where) we were especially carefull, and made a conscience, according to our duetie.”

Even the KJV translators sought to capture the meaning, or sense, of the original language. They were not attempting a word-for-word translation.

Wallace also addresses the Apocrypha and the claim that those books are

found only in Roman Catholic Bibles. Although the Apocrypha—or what Catholics call the Deutero-canonical books—are an intrinsic part of Roman Catholic translations of scripture, a number of Protestant Bibles also include them. Even the King James Bible, a distinctly Protestant version, included the Apocrypha in every printing until the middle of the nineteenth century. To be sure, the apocryphal books were placed at the end of the Old Testament, to set them apart (unlike in Roman Catholic Bibles), but they were nevertheless included.

While Protestants deny that the Apocrypha are inspired Scripture, we still maintain that they are edifying reading.  They should not be completely ignored, as they provide valuable perspective on the Jewish people in the centuries before Jesus was born.

In part 2, we will look at a few more myths that Wallace debunks.