Which Translation of the Bible is the Most Accurate?

Got this article on Quora today. It’s the only “Q” I pay attention to! It reminded me of the Bible I class I & II took in High School as an electives in the 10th & 11th grades in 1970 & 1971. When I returned home from California in 1985 after active duty and civil service in the Navy, the ACLU (Anti-Christ Lucifer’s Understudies) had shut down the classes and expelled God from public school in NC.

Steven Sorrell

Masters of Arts in Theology & History, Evangelical Theological Seminary Feb 3

Is the King James Bible really the most accurate translation from the original manuscripts?

You will hear people say that the KJV is a horrible translation and others will say the opposite that it is the best translation ever made. Who is right? You will also hear people say the KJV is the only translation from God, and all other translations are corrupted. Before you call something corrupt, you must study it.

I feel a sense of responsibility to share the Greek side of the story. The History of the New Testament Greek Text.

God is able to preserve and preform His Word.

The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure.” (Psalms 111:7)KJV

The works of His hands are verity and justice; All His precepts are sure. (Psalms 111:7) NKJV

The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. (Psalms 111:7) NIV

The works of His hands are truth and justice; All His precepts are sure. (Psalms 111:7) NASV

The works of his hands are truth and justice; all his instructions are trustworthy. (Psalms 111:7) CSV

Shouldn’t the words of God have a powerful expression full of metaphors and other figures of speech such as the King James? In an effort to make the Bible more readable to this present culture we have dumbed it down. It was years ago when reading the Living Bible version and I came across the word “pancake” in place of the KJV word for “cakes” (Hosea 7:8) I disliked the Living Bible ever since. This is an axample of over translating. It is also an effort to close the historical distance between the languages. And it also shows your theory of translation. The weights and measures are translated for you. A lamp could be translated flashlight, This is a free or paraphrase style of translation. I personally do not like this style. It does not connect you to the original words.

Historical distance is the differences between the original languages and the one you are seeking to use for the translation. In this case English. The differences in the culture, the history, the words, the grammar, and the idioms are to be considered.

Alister McGrath has correctly stated: “the language of the King James was archaic at the time that it was published. It was archaic on purpose. They knew what Herman Melville knew when he wrote Moby Dick: An exalted subject requires an exalted style; an author should swell to his subject.”

Some of the modern English versions have cut out the grand similes and metaphors of the KJV to make the Bible more readable. In some cases these new versions are flat and not as inspiring as the KJV. The KJV also paints a picture as well as use majestic poetic words. A translation that is clear and easy to read is not necessarily a good translation. The simple prose style and modern terms may be popular but that does not make the translation accurate. The first question that should be asked is one of accuracy. This is the most important question. Does it truthfully convey the original intention of the authors of the Bible?

The ABCs of Biblical translation are:

  • Accuracy KJV gets a B. New American Standard Bible gets the A. Considered by many biblical scholar to be the most accurate English translation.
  • Beauty (KJV) gets an A+ (NIV) gets a B+
  • Clarity (KJV) gets a C. (NIV) gets the A

Although clarity should probably be 2nd in importance behind accuracy, this is debatable. Accuracy is the most important thing to look for in a English translation.

The test for accuracy is to find the original intention of the original author. An accurate translation will produce the initial feeling of the author. The original spirit of the verse in question is what we are looking for.

The model of George Campbell of Aberdeen 1789

  1. To give a just representation of the sense of the original.
  2. To convey into his version, as much as possible, a consistency of the genius of the language which you write, the authors spirit and manner.
  3. To take care that the version have, “at least so far the quality of an original performance, as to appear natural and easy.”

The first principle can not be over stated, to faithfully present the meaning of the author of the original work, this is the task of the translator.

How is this accomplished? Do we use a word for word literal type of translation or a free style, a paraphrase, or Dynamic equivalent. This involves a theory of translation:

Formal equivalent / Literal Translation. (Word for word) (KJV), (ESV),

Paraphrase. A free translation which is not concerned with conveying the exact wording of the original. (Phillips Version) Living Bible(LB) (NLB) (Barclays)

Dynamic Equivalent. (Thought for thought) translates the meaning of the text. (NIV),(NET)

Optimal Equivalent (Combines the Literal and Dynamic Equivalent approaches to translation, but is mostly Literal. (CSV)

What is the most accurate English translation? This is the question we all want to know. I spent a lot of time in my life thinking and researching this question. I’ve changed my mind a few times and have grown from it. I became more opened minded about the newer translations. I have read the KJV most of my life and had a distrustful feeling about most of the other translations. Then I started to see the accuracy and clearity of some of the new versions, not all. Nothing is as beautiful as the King James Version, but we want accuracy and clarity above beauty. The original intent of Scripture means one thing to the original hearers, not many things.

The 2 History’s of the Manuscripts

Which manuscripts were used? There are no original manuscripts, no original autographs but we have over 6000 fragments and copies of the originals. Hundreds of Lectionaries, translations in other languages, and the evidence from the church fathers which also helps us understand the manuscripts. This is a complex question as to which manuscripts you are referring to.

The King James Bible basically formed the the English language. William Tyndale was one of the greatest saints in church history. He worked alone most of the time translating the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts into English which were few in number compared to what we have today.

But He was faithful to these manuscripts. This is the formation of the “Textus Receptus” the manuscript he used or was being formed at the time. He took Erasmus’ translation (1516) which Erasmus did rushed to complete, then he later revised 1519, then revised again 1521. And 1525. Tyndale takes Erasmus’ translation of the Greek manuscripts which he translation into Latin and continues his work to translate it into English.

Erasmas’s NT. In Latin. The Greek is on the left, Latin to the right.

Tyndale then uses Martin Luthers New Testament translation into German. Luther had used the same manuscripts as Erasmus, but added one. Tyndale completes his N.T the first Bible translated into English in 1526. Robert Estienne (Stephanus) published the Greek New Testament in 1546, 1549, 1550, and 1551, the first use of a critical apparatus and 15 manuscripts. Theodore De Beza was the predecessor of John Calvin in Geneva. In 1564 he published many Greek Texts. In 1582 he included the Codex D and the Codex Claromontanus D, in his new addition of the N.T. Greek. Much of Tyndale’s N.T. will make its way into the King James Bible in 1611. The Beza texts were used heavily in the King James Bible known as the Textus Receptus, plus the other manuscripts he added.

The 1611 KJV was the most accurate translation of its time. It was a refinement of the work of Tyndale, Coverdale, the Matthews Bible, the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible, and the Bishops Bible and the Beza Texts. The 1550 Estiennes (Stephens) and the Elzevir 1624 Edition are both considered the Textus Receptus.

Brian Walton edited the Polyglot with 7 languages in London in 1655–57)The text was from the Estiennes 1550 of the Bible with footnotes from the Codex Alexandrinus

In 1707 John Mill reprinted the Estiennes 1550 N.T. which is the Textus Receptus but included 30,000 variants in a book with 100 different manuscripts which alerted the public to other manuscripts besides the Textus Receptus. Richard Bentley and Johann Albrecht Begel gathered many manuscripts and early translations and studied them. Bentley swayed other scholars to use the older manuscripts. Bengel developed a Canon of textual criticism after gathering all the manuscripts and early translations. This is the start of textual criticism. A war against Erasmus and the Textus Receptus, the Byzantine manuscripts, is now gaining momentum. The view that the oldest manuscripts are more reliable took root during this time among Bible scholars. The Textus Receptus was much newer and full of errors, said the scholars of this new age. Johann Jakob Wettstien was the first to developed an apparatus with unicals (capital letters) and minuscules (lower case letters). This helped classify the manuscripts.

The Textual Apparatus was further developed by J.J. Griesbach (1774–1777) He divided the ancient biblical manuscripts into catagories.

  • The Byzantine or Constantinopolitan, ( the text of Erasmus)
  • The Western type found in D and Old Latin versions
  • The Alexandrian Mss. Manuscripts

Griesbach published his New Testament Greek Text in 1775.

Karl Lachmann in (1842–50) published his Greek N.T. With notes on the Textus Receptus at the end, but I believe this was the first translation using only the oldest manuscripts, the Alexandrian mss. His mission was to restore the oldest manuscripts. This turned the tide toward dethroning the Textus Receptus and the King James Bible.

Then Tischendorf’s discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus gave fuel to the search for older manuscripts and textual studies. Tischendorf then published His findings in (1862)

Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (1813–75) is responsible for driving the English away from the King James Bible. Henry Alford (1810–71) wrote many commentaries and also led a crusade to get rid of the Textus Receptus.

Then the 2 big names in textual criticism, Westcott and Hort developed the Textual apparatus into a long standing model. Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort published their own “New Testament in the Original Greek” in 2 vol. in Cambridge and London (1881–82) published in 1 vol. in 1895)

This Greek N.T. Is called the Critical Text and is the foundation of all modern translations. They further developed Griesbach’s textual apparatus and put the manuscripts into groups or families:

  1. The Syrian (the Byzantine) Textus Receptus is in this family. (later Mss.) Their view is this group should not stand along. Must be mixed with another family of Mss.
  2. The Western. (Earlier documents D Bezae Cantibigiesis and the Old Latin, and Old Syriac.
  3. The Neutral (the oldest and best documents) this is obviously their view) some would say older is not better. This would include the Codex Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and Alexandrinus.
  4. Alexandrian. (Sometimes included Codex Sinaiticus, Ephraemi Rescriptus and L. (and scholarly corrections)

The Caesarean family of manuscripts were found after Westcott and Hort, and added into the apparatus.

The Critical Text was used in the English Revised N.T. In 1885

It is Wescott and Hort who have shown us how to do find the best way to examine a text. Textual criticism became more defined by Wescott and Hort. The science that try’s to discover the original texts. There are 2 guides the “internal evidence” which looks at copyist errors or scribal mistakes and the variants. The “external evidence” addresses the age of the manuscripts and their quality or condition. When these 2 approaches are balanced together then the original meaning of the text is most possible.

There were revolvers against the theory’s of Wescott and Hort. First there was John W. Burgeon and F.H.A. Scrivener. They fought against the critical text saying the Byzantine manuscripts (Textus Receptus) are the established manuscripts and the most numerous. Why are you trying to replace it? After Burgon and Scrivener died the momentum shifted to the critical text among the scholars.

Bernard Weiss (1827–1918) Alexander Souter and Herman Freiherr von Soden (1852–1914) still kept up the fight against the theory’s of Westcott and Hort with Von Soden’s German texts and his theory of an older manuscript of the 4th. century.

“The struggle between the received text which is also the Textus Receptus and the Critical Text has been waged, with the latter emerging as the victor. While scarcely a modern scholar seriously defends the superiority of the “receive text.” it should be pointed out that there is no substantial difference between it and the “critical text.” The differences are merely technical, not doctrinal, for the variants are doctrinally inconsequential. Nevertheless, the “critical” readings are often exegetical helpful to Bible students.” -Norman L. Geisler

My experience has proven the same thing when looking at the Greek texts. The Textus Receptus which is the Robert Estienne Greek N.T. of 1550 and later the Stephanus of 1624 an improvement of Erasmus’ text, the compare it with the Majority Text, and the Critical Text, which are the 3 different Greek text from which we can use for translation. When you compare them you do not see much differences in the Greek words. Some of the oldest manuscripts do not include (Mark 16:9–20) The older manuscripts were shorter. Some may suggest that scribes added lines after hundreds of years of coping. So when some one says the new translations have parts of verses taken away, then the Biblical scholars answer and say that those parts were never there in the older manuscripts in the first place.

This is my Greek N.T. which is the eclectic critical text. Mark 16:9–20 is included in the text. Westcott do not believe the ending sounded like Mark the evangelist, but had a different author. This is where you use textual criticism to solve the problems of the text.

(Shorter ending added as well.) You can see the critical apparatus in the above text, and by detailed research and gathering there was much involved to produce the most accurate text. Gleason L. Archer, Jr. formed a modern canon or rule for textual criticism:

  1. The older reading is to be preferred
  2. The more difficult reading is to be preferred
  3. The shorter reading is to be preferred
  4. The reading which best explains the variants is to be preferred
  5. The reading with the widest geographical support is to be preferred

In the UBS Greek Text this eclectic Greek text used 100’s of manuscripts, translations, lexicons, and 100’s of quotes from the Church Fathers. There are so many quotes from the Scritures by the Church Fathers that a whole New Testament can be form just from their quotes. There is so much to work with and draw from that it’s rather easy for the skilled translator of the Bible to find the original meaning. It’s amazing how the two different approaches to translating the Bible using different manuscripts, the old manuscripts verses the newer manuscripts and still we have basically the same Greek text.

Some of the Greek scholars of the time thought the Textus Receptus was in the way and only older manuscripts will lead them to the original intent and the original meaning of the Biblical text. In the end those scholars who rigorously developed a system for grading the variants and kept working on the textual difficulties established their Greek N.T. as the standard for the future in textual criticism. These highly intelligent agnostic scholars really developed a disciplined textual apparatus and made some bad manuscripts into a critical text which is very reliable with safeguards to protect the Greek text.

“We now know beyond a reasonable doubt that the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, the critical text, are a 99% reflection of the content that was in those ancient original manuscripts.” Inerrancy of Scripture by Edward D. Andrews.

What are the Most Accurate English Translations ?

You have to give a new translation a chance by spending time reading it.

  1. New American Standard Version.(NASB)
  2. English Standard Version.(ESV)
  3. Christian Standard Bible(CSB))
  4. New English Testament. (NET) 60,000 footnotes on the possible of interpretation of verses. Really helps you learn how to translate a verse of the Bible. You become the translator. Good insights into the Greek verb tense.
  5. King James Version / New King James Version. And (KJV)(NKJV) The (NKJV) I believe is taken from the Textus Receptus alone and no other manuscripts.
  6. Young’s Literal Translation. William Young was a bookseller in Edinburgh, well known for his Analytical Concordance. Published in 1882 a very literal translation of the Bible that sought to bring out the original intent. Young’s Literal Translation is a word for word translation.
  7. New American Bible. (Catholic) follows the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece with special attention to critical apparatus.
  8. J. B. Phillips Paraphrase Translation 1960
  9. William Barclays free translation 1968

Many are the good translations that are not listed above, but there are some really bad translations as well. This is where the tampering and the corruption takes place. The New Testament Greek is not corrupted, Some English Translations are:

  1. The Message. (Corrupted) Not even a version or translation, it is more like a bad commentary.
  2. The Mirror- (Corrupted) subtracted words, omitted and wrongly phrased words. New Age deception included.
  3. The Passion- Added words. Not a competent translation.
  4. The Living Bible. Just not very accurate. (But not corrupted)
  5. The New World Translation. False doctrinal views.
  6. The New Revised Standard Version has produced a new 2021 online only version the (NRSVu) with the printed one coming in May 2022. There are 20,000 edits to the existing version making it more gender inclusive and less offensive to certain groups of people. I have not read it, that’s all know. It doesn’t sound good.

These translations are probably not worthy of your time or energy. I am not sure if they even tried to follow any of the manuscripts.

In Hebrew 9:16 the King James is more accurate than the New American Standard. The Greek word here for covenant can also mean will or testament. Although Hebrews speaks often of covenant, here in this verse according to the context “will, or testament is a better translation.

“For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it.” (Heb. 9:16) NASB

“For where a testament is, there must of necessity be the death of a testator” (Heb 9:16) KJV

“Where a will exists, the death of the one who made it must be established.” (Heb. 9:16) CSB

“For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. (Heb. 9:16) ESV

“For where there is a will, the death of the one who made it must be proven.” (Heb. 9:16)NET

The NASB made the mistake of over consistency because the word covenant is used so often. The NASB is very consistent in balancing closeness to the original languages and conveying the true meaning in English.

All the Translation make similar claims, but some are more detailed and consistent throughout the whole Bible than others. A good translation brings all the details of the Hebrew and Greek into the English translations. We must also know that there are fewer Hebrew words that have more than one meaning. There are numerous English words to discribe these Hebrew words. We can take too much freedom in our use of the English in our translation. And this is the real issue. How well we use or translate it into English. Which English words does the translator use? I think this may be the most challenging thing to do. How well do we use the English language?

J.B. Phillips the translator of The Phillips Version of the Bible made this statement which helps us not to over examine the simple truths of the gospel. “ it is obviously right that we should have New Testament scholars, indeed I owe much to them, but it is horribly possible so to dissect your subject that you remove its life. By the time each source and component has been tagged and labeled, this vibrant and compelling body of writing is no more than a cadaver on the theological operating table.”

We need enlightened common sense. We need to hear the Holy Spirit in the pages of the Bible. The Holy Spirit will lead us to the original intent of the Scriptures. When we read a translation of the Bible we can know if it bears witness with our spirit and if it has the ring of truth. Do you hear the truth in the translation? Do you think this is what was said to the original hearers?

I know the King James Bible is one of the most accurate translations , sometimes it is not that clear, but it is the most beautiful and inspiring translation ever made. A masterpiece. It was said of the translators of the 1611 King James Version “that they wrote with pens of iron and points of diamond.”

The King James Version gets an A for beauty, a B for accuracy, and C for clarity. I did not just give you my opinion. These are the grades most biblical scholars would give from the many charts I looked at which rate the English translations.

The Biblical study tools and resources available to us are the best in history. We have no excuse for not understanding God’s message to mankind. At the same time nothing is better for us than just reading the Bible itself without any aids. We do not want to receive God’s Word second hand through human vehicles which could be tainted by traditions and bad ideas. It is not enough to hear good Bible teachers for we need to touch God’s Word directly and feel His presence through accurate translations of the Bible for ourselves.

Every word of God is pure and a shield unto them that put their trust in him add thou not into his words less he reproved Thee and thou be found liar.” (Proverbs 30:5–6)

***

Left the following comment to article:

Excellent article on history of English translation. I have used the KJV for study aided by the Hebrew and Greek language dictionary indexed to it in the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance since 1985. I think that the accuracy of the KJV is best, but some of the English terms used were not necessarily the best choice, not because of poor choosing of English terms but because terms in use today simply were not in the common English vocabulary in 1611. {“Think not that I have come to destroy (halt) the law (G3551) or the prophets. I have not come to destroy (disintegrate), but to fulfil (establish). For verily (surely) I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass (go away), not one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass (perish) from the law, till all (everything in prophecy) be fulfilled (accomplished).” (Matt. 5:17–18) The index number for commandment(s) is G1785 and they (G3551 & G1785) are never used interchangeably.} My system of study of the scriptures I call: CSI-DoD – Comprehensive Scriptural Investigation – Doctrine of Definition. Dissecting verses with a list of definitions, something like frogs in Biology class, then analyzing them and rephrasing the meaning for myself with the spirit of truth as my tutor. I will admit that the English punctuation used in the KJV can throw understanding a curve ball from time to time. Will not touch a “Paraphrase”! The doctrines and traditions of man has done more than its fair share of corruption to the truth found in the KJV as well as others. Philosophy is the culprit of most of the denominational chaos and confusion. (Col. 2:8) That’s the Babylon we need to come out of. The time is near!

LOLGB+

2 Comments

  1. Julia says:

    There are so many things wrong with the translations of “The living bible”. I believe if one does not have the Holy Spirit it is so easy for people to be misled by this bible as they twist so many scriptures. I have read other translations and always return to my KJV, and it is easy to see why God had to write woe to those who add to scripture and take from as read in Revelation 22:18,19 for so many have done just that. Blessings Always over you.
    Julia

    Liked by 1 person

    1. eze33 says:

      True! I remember reading through a translation called the “The Living Bible” and it was a “paraphrase”. I also remember throwing it in the trash! LOLGB+

      Liked by 1 person

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