No Translation Is Perfect

When Better Translation Helps
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By men of strange lips and with another tongue will he speak to this people.—Isaiah 28:11, RVIC

James Parkinson

At times, a Scripture may seem difficult to understand, either in what it says ..or in its context. In this case it may be worthwhile to see what other translators say. At times it may be necessary to go back to the original Hebrew or Greek to find the allowable range of translations.

Given below are some of the more notable corrections to the King James Version (KJV = AV), often with comments. (This list is by no means exhaustive.)

A Few Significant Old Testament Corrections

Job 19:26 read “And after my skin is destroyed, even this body, Yet apart from this my flesh shall I see God;”

Proverbs 8:22 read “Jehovah 1 acquired me as the beginning of his way, The first of his works of old.”  [The means of acquiring is not implied, although a change of condition is implied. Referring this text to Jesus Christ makes it theologically sensitive.]

Isaiah 53:8 read “By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who among them considered that he was cut off out of the land of the 2 living for the transgression of my people 3 to whom the stroke was due?”

Zechariah 12:10 read “and they shall look unto me whom they have pierced” for “…upon me…”  (The Hebrew preposition, el , means “towards,” “into,” or “unto.”)

1 Samuel 13:1 should probably read “Saul was 4 in his first year when he began to reign; and when he had reigned two years over Israel.”  (This verse can hardly mean Saul reigned only a year or two, considering David’s growth from 1 Samuel 17:42 to 2 Samuel 5:4, comparing the age of Ishbosheth in 2 Samuel 2:10 with Saul’s age in 1 Samuel 9:2, and noting that Acts 13:21 gives Saul’s reign as 40 years.)

Sometimes the KJV translation is to be preferred. Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore 5 Jehovah himself will give you a sign: behold, the young 6 virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name 7 Immanuel.” [“Virgin” is better than “maiden.” The contrast between Hebrew bethulah in Genesis 24:16 and ghalmah (the word in Isaiah 7:14) in Genesis 24:43 is noteworthy: the former was further qualified by “neither had any man known her,” while no such qualification was needed for the latter word. Thus, it seems implied that no stigma is to be attached to the virgin/maiden here or in Isaiah 7:14. Nor is any prior impurity implied in any other of the seven uses of the word in the Hebrew Old Testament.]

 English New Testament Corrections

Theologically sensitive, four different translations of John 1:1c (c = third clause) are shown in Table 1, together with condensed arguments for and against each translation.

Click here for:
Table 1:  Four Translations of John 1:1c Compared


Can an individual honestly and objectively evaluate the evidence for and against all four translations? Those whose minds are made up to any one of these will likely think: “Of course my view is right, it has support, and advocates of the other three views just confuse the issue.” Nevertheless, an inquiring individual should be able to observe that each view has some support, and each view has one or more weaknesses. The arguments are not all of equal strength, however, so the question is: Can one by honest process of elimination select a single best translation?

Colwell’s Rule (which does not claim 100% accuracy), only argues that John 1:1c can be translated “And the Word was God;” it does not rule out other ways. Harner’s argument regarding New Testament use of anarthrous predicate nouns weighs against this, the conventional translation, and suggests, “And the Word had the same nature as God.”

Dodd, the driving force behind the New English Bible, pushes his translation “And what God was, the Word was” with facts, strong opinion, and a few arguments which are patently false. It is likely that a somewhat better case could have been made without the false arguments. (Dodd’s view shares some similarity with Harner’s.)

Harner’s analysis examines different ways John 1:1c could have been expressed in order to mean each of the above translations (#1, #2, or #4, but not #3). The grammatical arguments against the remaining translations (#2 and #4) do not appear strong. If one considers that the word qeoV is not a name, but means “a mighty one,” the choice of translation might be between “The Word also was a Mighty One,” or, “and Mighty was the Word!”

Recommendation on John 1:1c. “The Word also was a god.” Only one other translation is as literal: “And the Word was a god” is just as grammatically allowable, but it could be understood to mean the Word was just one among many gods—contrary to the context, which is exalting the Word.

Selected English New Testament Corrections

Matthew 1:18 read “holy spirit” for “Holy Ghost” (and in all other texts, numbering about 85).

Matthew 5:22 read “Gehenna” for “hell” (and in Matthew 5:29,30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6).

Matthew 13:39 read “consummation of the age” for “end of the world” (and in Matthew 13:40, 49, 24:3, 28:20; and similarly in several other texts).

Matthew 23:33 read “judgment of Gehenna” for “damnation of hell.”

Matthew 24:3 read “presence” for “coming” (and in Matthew 24:27,37,39; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1,8; James 5:7,8; 2 Peter 1:16; 3:4,12; also in 1 Corinthians 16:17; 2 Corinthians 7:6,7. The meaning of parousia —presence—is illustrated in 2 Corinthians 10:10 and Philippians 2:12, where ‘coming’ does not fit the sense. (Similarly today a lady would answer roll call in Greek, saying, “Parousa!”, i.e., “Present!”)

Matthew 27:50 read “breath” for “ghost” (and in Mark 15:37,39; Luke 23:46; John 19:30; Acts 5:5,10, 12:23).

Mark 12:40 read “condemnation” for “damnation” (and in Luke 20:47; Romans 3:8, 13:2; 1 Corinthians 11:29; 1 Timothy 5:12).

Luke 23:43 read “I say unto thee today, Thou shalt be with me in Paradise” for “I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” (Either is grammatically allowable, as Rotherham and Lamsa both note. If Acts 2:22-32 implies that Jesus was in hell until the third day, then putting the comma before ‘today’ would make these words scant consolation.)

John 5:29 read “resurrection of judgment” for “resurrection of damnation.”

Acts 7:38 read “living oracles” for “lively oracles”  (as contrasted with nether-world oracles).

Acts 17:29 read “the divine nature” for “Godhead.”

Romans 1:20 read “divine nature” for “Godhead”  (similarly in Colossians 2:9).

Romans 5:18 read “So then as through one trespass condemnation cometh unto all men; even so through one act of righteousness justification of life cometh unto all men.”  [Reduces the number of supplied words to the bare minimum. In verse 19 read “the many” for “many” (twice).]

Romans 8:15 read “placing as sons” (or, “responsible sonship”) for “adoption” (and in Romans 8:23, 9:4; and for variations in Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5).

Romans 8:19-21 read “creation” for “creature” (three times).

Romans 9:3 read “For I was praying that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren’s sake” for “For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren.”

Romans 9:27-28 read “it is the remnant that shall be saved: for finishing it and cutting it short, the Lord will perform his word upon the earth”  (or, “…cutting the rest short…”).

1 Corinthians 1:7 read “revelation” for “coming.”

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 read “love” for “charity”  (entire chapter, and many other texts).

1 Corinthians 15:23 read “during the presence” for “at (unto) the coming” (and in 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 John 2:28).

2 Corinthians 5:21 read “a sin-offering” for “to be sin”  [either is grammatically allowable].

2 Corinthians 6:2 read “And in a day of salvation did I succor thee: behold, now is an acceptable time; behold, now is a day of salvation)” for “and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (Cited from Isaiah 49:8, which also reads “a day of salvation.” “The day” is often cited to prove no future age of salvation; but it is contrary to the original.)

Ephesians 1:11 read “we were chosen as his inheritance” for “we have obtained an inheritance.”

Ephesians 5:20 read “unto God, even the Father” for “unto God and the Father.”

Philippians 1:26 read “presence with you” for “coming to you.”

Philippians 2:6-7 read “who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a 8 servant.”

2 Thessalonians 2:7-10  read  “…only there is one that restraineth now, until he cometh to be out of its midst.  8 … whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the appearing of his presence;  9 even he, whose presence is according to a working of Satan with all power and signs and wonders of a lie,  10 and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that are perishing …”

2 Thessalonians 2:12 read judged for damned

1 Timothy 6:10 read For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil:

Hebrews 7:3 read “without father, without mother, without genealogy, neither beginning of days nor end of life having been recorded.”(Hebrew/Aramaic-familiar translators D. H. Stern, Lamsa, Ferrar Fenton readily identify this Hebraism; so noted also by E. Bullinger, C.T. Russell and J.A. Meggison.)

Hebrews 9:28 read “without sin-offering” for “without sin” [either is grammatically allowable].

1 John 3:16 read “godly love” (or, true love) for “the love of God.”

Revelation 20:10 read “and they shall be put to the test” for “and shall be tormented.”  [The Greek ‘(e)basanisan’ literally means rubbed upon the touchstone, or tried for genuineness. The translation ‘tormented’ presupposes that the beast and false prophet are truly animate and therefore capable of being tormented. The expression ‘put to the test’ is more suitable here, just as for the ship in Matthew 14:24 (‘tossed’). The similar thought reveals richer meaning also in Matthew 8:29, 2 Peter 2:8, Revelation 11:10, 14:10-11, 18:7, 10, 15.]

How Accurate are our English-Language Bible Translations?

Which English translation of the Bible is best for the sincere person? How faithful is it to the Testament in the original Hebrew/Aramaic or Greek? And how much should he entrust himself to that translation? Table 2 tabulates the accuracy of sixty-eight representative Old Testament texts.

Results of a study of accuracies of several dozen English language translations of the New Testament are given in Table 3, based on a selection of 91 texts for use of the manuscripts, and another 50 for faithfulness of translation. Differences in accuracy of more than 5 between translations should be considered significant (or 7 in the case of translation alone).

84 means slightly less than 84, though more than 83.5; 85+ means slightly more than 85, though less than 85.5. Overall accuracy is based 25% on manuscripts and 75% on translation.

The numbers in each column refer to each version’s degree of improvement over the AV text. [Comments in the Authorized Version (AV) margin allows the AV to be rated slightly better than the AV text alone.]

Table 2:  Comparative Accuracies of English Versions
 of the Old Testament

Differences in accuracy of more than six
between translations should be considered significant.

Click here for:
Table 3: Comparative Accuracies of English Versions of the New Testament

1. Or, possessed me in the beginning of his way, Before his works of old. or, bought me etc. Sept., Aram., Targ. read created me etc.

2. Or, living? for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

3. So Massoretic. Dead Sea Scroll 1QIsaa (Aram.) read he was stricken Douay says have I struck him

4. Unlike most of the Judean kings that fol lowed him, who reckoned the coronation year as a year zero (accession year). Hb. Ben-shanah, a son of a year

5. Sopherim (early Jewish text critics) changed to the Lord

6. Or, maiden Sept. reads virgin. Whether Hb. ghalmah means a biological virgin; unless virgin is meant, it would hardly seem a sign from the Lord.

7. That is,God is with us.

8. Gk. bond servant,