My Anglophile colleague, Matthew Walther, took Jim Wallis to task for his “biblical” case for immigration reform. Jim Wallis has long held interesting interpretations of the Bible, and I find his assumption that it serves as a public policy handbook dubious at best.
Nevertheless, Mr. Walther also took the time to trumpet the King James translation and called Wallis’ use of the New International Version of scripture “the annoying habit of employing the least euphonious translation of the Bible he can find.”
Let me disagree. Preference for the NIV doesn’t represent a capitulation to the modern times. Translators must strike a balance between communicating the overall meaning of a passage versus translating word for word. Many translations today occupy different places on this scale. But I think the most important factor in Bible translations is not the beauty of the language, but rather faithful adherence to the original texts.
“The Message” Bible certainly represents an example of colloquialism gone too far. The NIV is recognized by many academics as leaning slightly toward the more readable “general meaning of the text” and away from the word-for-word translation. For my money, it doesn’t get much better than the recently published English Standard Version, which comes closer to word-for-word translation than either the NIV or the King James.
Further, the King James Version is not without problems. New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace dives into this topic.
The Greek text which stands behind the King James Bible is demonstrably inferior in certain places. The man who edited the text was a Roman Catholic priest and humanist named Erasmus. He was under pressure to get it to the press as soon as possible since (a) no edition of the Greek New Testament had yet been published, and (b) he had heard that Cardinal Ximenes and his associates were just about to publish an edition of the Greek New Testament and he was in a race to beat them. Consequently, his edition has been called the most poorly edited volume in all of literature! It is filled with hundreds of typographical errors which even Erasmus would acknowledge.
Wallace gives two examples, starting with Revelation 22:
In the last six verses of Revelation, Erasmus had no Greek manuscript (=MS) (he only used half a dozen, very late MSS for the whole New Testament any way). He was therefore forced to ‘back-translate’ the Latin into Greek and by so doing he created seventeen variants which have never been found in any other Greek MS of Revelation! He merely guessed at what the Greek might have been.
The second example comes from the Gospel of John.
For 1 John 5:7-8, Erasmus followed the majority of MSS in reading “there are three witnesses in heaven, the Spirit and the water and the blood.” However, there was an uproar in some Roman Catholic circles because his text did not read “there are three witnesses in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit.” Erasmus said that he did not put that in the text because he found no Greek MSS which had that reading. This implicit challenge—viz., that if he found such a reading in any Greek MS, he would put it in his text—did not go unnoticed. In 1520, a scribe at Oxford named Roy made such a Greek MS (codex 61, now in Dublin). Erasmus’ third edition had the second reading because such a Greek MS was ‘made to order’ to fill the challenge! To date, only a handful of Greek MSS have been discovered which have the Trinitarian formula in 1 John 5:7-8, though none of them is demonstrably earlier than the sixteenth century.
For more reading on the King James Translation from Wallace check out his piece on why he doesn’t think the KJV is the best translation available. You can also check out the video below.
Bible translation is a fascinating and loaded topic, but this is a case where a more recent translation remained more faithful to the original manuscripts than the KJV in 1611.