Problem #2. What exactly are New Age Bibles "Translating"?

Previously, we have seen that there are different approaches to translating. The approach taken to translating naturally depends on what is being translated. If you were translating a simple children's fairy story, you would want a nice, simple, easy-to-read translation. It would probably be okay to adapt the story a little, to make it more understandable for those who come from a different background and culture.

On the other hand, at the other end of the spectrum, if you were translating a legal contract, or a technical reference book, then you would want a translation which was as accurate and precise as you could possibly make it. You would want to make sure the translation understood every detail, and did not misunderstand or mis-interpret something. That might mean that the translation needed some additional time and effort to read, and was no longer a fun bed-time novel, but the results would be worthwhile if you really wanted to understand the original text.

We have seen, therefore, that the approach which modern, New Age Bible translations take to translating the Bible text is the worst possible approach - if, that is, you want to actually understand what the Bible actually says. New Age Bible versions are misleading, they simplify the text, and they don't help you to get behind the translation, into understanding the original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek.

But as if all that was not bad enough already, there are other problems with New Age Bibles. Generally, the translators themselves are fully-trained theologians - qualified in all the philosophy and learning that is taught in seminaries, divinity colleges and theological universities. But while they may well have done courses in Hebrew or Greek (and who knows, maybe even a semester or two in Aramaic!) they are nearly always native speakers in anything other than those languages, and either cannot, or would struggle, to hold a fluent conversation in the languages they are translating from.

Let me ask you a question - if you wanted a text in Japanese translated into English, who would you go to? Would you go to a theologian? Would you go to a priest? Would you go to someone who had never been to Japan? Would you go to someone who could not speak Japanese? Would you go to someone who had not experienced Japanese culture, and had never lived in Japan? Hopefully you would go to someone who was bilingual in Japanese and English, who had lived in both countries, who knew both languages, who had experienced both cultures and understood them intimately.

But somehow, when we come to translating the Bible, the most important text the world will ever have - the inspired Word of God - it is completely normal for the translators never to have visited the Middle East, never to have lived in Israel, or in an Arab country, or in Greece, and not to speak Hebrew, or Aramaic, or Greek. It is imagined that the translator can make a competent translation, from the original languages of the Bible, by simply studying a few optional language modules as part of a theology degree, without being able to hold a conversation in the languages involved, let alone being fluent in them; without visiting the countries involved; without knowing their culture and being steeped in it for decades; and relying on previous translations and a dictionary and/or lexicon to tell them the meanings of the hundreds of words they did not already know...

And so, with New Age Bibles, we consistently get an approach to translation (dynamic equivalence) which is approximate at best, where accuracy and precision are secondary in importance, and where the translators get away with it because they are theologians and everyone thinks they are competent, even though they are not language experts, and do not even fully understand the original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) which they are translating. This would not be acceptable with translating in any other context in life. Why, then, is it acceptable when translating the Bible today?

But there are further problems - many more problems, in fact. Being learned divines, being theologians at heart rather than language experts or bi-lingual experts or bi-cultural experts, modern New Age Bible translators are steeped in the background and culture of theology and modern thinking in humanism and philosophy. They have spent years in theological colleges studying the church TODAY, modern church teachings, what church beliefs are today, what modern Christianity and/or Judaism has become. And modern Christianity and/or Judaism is a long way from the simple faith that was once delivered unto the saints, in the first century.

Therefore, modern Bible translators, in New Age Bibles, can't help but inject their own understanding and beliefs into the Bible text which they are translating. It is impossible to avoid doing. They are so steeped in those beliefs that their beliefs just come across without them even thinking about it. And since they are using a dynamic equivalence approach, it is so much easier to read the whole passage and translate its "meaning" (or what you believe it means) into the translation. The translators believe they are "helping" to translate, whereas they are helping to bring their own beliefs (and prejudices) across to the translation. By contrast, if a "literal, word-for-word" approach is used, there is much less scope for injecting the translators' own beliefs into the text. You don't have to look far into the world of New Age Bibles to find examples of doctrinal bias and translators' opinion - you just have to look at how other denominations have criticised each New Age Bible translation to see the translators' own theological bias shining through, warts and all.

New Age Bible versions should best be thought of as paraphrases of the Bible (in fact, some explicitly say they are paraphrasing, rather than translating). But you will never really know when they are "translating" and when they have lapsed, subconsciously or otherwise, into paraphrase. They themselves aren't necessarily even aware of when they are doing it.

New Age Bible versions should best be thought of as adaptations of the Bible, in the same way that a film director adapts a book to the movie screen, where the details of the plot become secondary, and a dramatic rendition becomes the most important priority. Just as the film is "based on" the book, so modern New Age Bibles should be regarded as a new literary work which is "based on" the Bible, rather than a direct, honest, accurate and precise translation.

And so, if you have followed along thus far, you will hopefully agree that the Bible is the most important book in the world - the inspired Word of God. Translating it as a daunting task, and the approach to translation must be accurate and precise, if you wish to understand what the Bible says. But using the dynamic equivalence approach to translating the Bible leaves it wide open to all manner of problems:

  • The translation is mis-matched, and inappropriate, to the Bible.
  • It leaves you open to bad, inaccurate translations.
  • It exposes you to the lack of knowledge of the original languages of Scripture which the translators inevitably have.
  • It leaves you open to their own theological views, which come across clearly in the texts.
  • It leaves you open to a paraphrase, an adaptation of the Bible, or something which is merely "based on" the Bible.

Will a New Age Bible be easy to read? Very likely. Will it have pictures? More than likely. Will it match your own conceptions of the Bible? Probably. Will there be extensive footnotes with the translators' opinions on the meaning of the Bible? Almost certainly.

But will a New Age Bible be a precise and accurate translation? No.

Now, if a New Age Bible was only a poor translation, that would be bad enough. If it was only misleading, that would be bad enough. If it was only biased, that would be bad enough. If it only injected theological beliefs into the Bible text, that would be bad enough. If it only conformed your thinking into modern church teaching and beliefs, rather than the original Bible beliefs from the first century believers, that would be bad enough. But modern New Age Bibles do all of that at the same time. And if all that is not bad enough, there are more (even worse) problems to come.

Let's just ask a simple question. What EXACTLY are modern New Age Bibles actually translating? What are they translations of, exactly?

That might seem a silly question, at least at first. They are translating the Bible, of course!

Unfortunately, just as New Age Bible translators have complete and utter discretion over how they "translate" (or paraphrase) "the Bible", and can translate "the Bible" any which way they like, they also have complete and utter discretion over what exactly they call "the Bible". Put another way, New Age Bible versions are completely in control of what they are translating TO, and what they are translating FROM. When you are in control of both the translation and the text to be translated, you can make the Bible say anything!

So what is meant by the rather Orwellian-sounding phrase "they have complete and utter discretion over what exactly they call the Bible"?!

Well, ideally, many thousands of years ago, God would have carved the books of the Bible onto large tablets of stone, the originals of which would be kept in a sacred library protected by guardian angels. Only authorized copies would be made, and we would all study certified copies of the original tablets of stone. Only authorized translations would be made, and those would be made by going back directly to the original tablets. God could have controlled His Word, the Bible, in that way. But He chose not to.

Instead, the Scriptures are God-breathed. God chose to reveal His Word through holy men of old, the prophets, who wrote His inspired Words on scrolls, or other available material, in Hebrew, or Aramaic, or Greek. Copies or translations were made, into Aramaic, or Greek, or Latin. Anyone could then copy these, or translate them, or alter them. This way, everyone could have access to God's Word, if they wanted it.

And so, today, we have many manuscripts and partial manuscripts of books of the Bible in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin and many other ancient languages. We have individual copies of individual manuscripts. Hundreds of them, in fact. Thousands of them. And we have printed copies spanning centuries.

There is, for example:

  • The Old Testament in Hebrew, preserved faithfully by Jews for millennia.
  • The Samaritan Pentateuch, the Torah as used by Samaritans (rather than Jews) for millennia.
  • The Aramaic Targums, the Jewish Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament.
  • The Peshitta Tanakh or Aramaic Peshitta Old Testament, a very early, accurate and reliable Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, which again has been preserved very faithfully.
  • The Old Latin, pre-Jerome translations of the parts of the Hebrew Scriptures.
  • The Aramaic Peshitta New Testament, a Syriac (Aramaic) version of the New Testament going back to the first century A.D., preserved with only minor variants, hailed by churches of the East as the original New Testament, and highly revered in the West until about 1900.
  • The LXX or Septuagint, a collective name given to various Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible. Actually there were many translations into Greek spanning centuries, and these vary in quality from terrible to okay. What we call the Septuagint today is one such translation, from specific manuscripts revered by the Catholic Church.
  • The Greek New Testament, a loose term given to hundreds (thousands!) of copies of individual fragments or portions of books of the New Testament, with fragments going back to the second century A.D. Copies vary enormously, significantly, and doctrinally, in myriad places. Manuscripts vary from reliable and well-written witnesses of the Biblical text, through to those which are badly written, historically ill-regarded, with no pedigree, and full of corrections and errors.
  • Jerome's Latin translation of the Old and New Testaments, preserved with known variants, but relatively intact, for more than 1600 years, until the Catholic Church abandoned it by Papal decree in 1978, and replaced it with the Nova Vulgata, or New (Age) Vulgate.
  • The writings of the Church Fathers, mainly Greek and Latin converts to Christianity, who became increasingly astray from the original first-century Christianity, introducing new ideas and changing church doctrine and practice over time.

So let's go back again, and examine the phrase "they have complete and utter discretion over what exactly they call the Bible".

New Age Bibles are not only free to translate as they see fit - they can, and do, choose anything they like from the above list to form the basis of their translation. If they see something from the above list which suits their doctrinal bias, they will select it from the list, then translate in a way which enhances, or brings out, the theological point better, confident that this must be the best translation, because it brings out the meaning better.

In other words, New Age Bible versions are no longer based on the sure and solid foundation of the best quality manuscript(s) of the Hebrew Old Testament, and the best quality manuscript(s) of the Aramaic Peshitta New Testament, or the best quality Greek New Testament manuscripts, but instead the translators have complete discretion to pick-and-mix what they feel like translating.

Unfortunately, too, as we shall see elsewhere on this website, New Age Bibles do NOT gravitate towards the best quality manuscripts, but instead they consistently gravitate towards poor quality manuscripts that have little historical authority or relevance; they abandon early and reliable manuscript traditions, and they gravitate towards a self-reinforcing doctrinal bias that chooses the manuscripts or traditions which most favours modern church teaching.

And all this is openly admitted. Frequently and typically, when you look at the Foreword or Preface to New Age Bibles to find what they are actually translating, they will admit that they are translating from "an eclectic text".

"Eclectic" is just a fancy word to beguile the simple. It means "from a mixture of various sources". It is a clever way to hide what we have just said - that modern New Age translators simply look around at the possibilities, then pick the source text (from Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, or the Church Fathers) which most closely suits what they believe to be true, then translate it in a way that brings out their own beliefs. It is a vicious circle, a self-reinforcing approach. But they genuinely believe this is the right approach, since it brings out the "true" meaning of the Bible, which is their own beliefs.

It would be better - much better - to just translate the words of what the best quality Bible manuscripts say, and let the reader decide what those words mean. That way, there will be little or no doctrinal bias - little or no interpretation, and much less scope for introducing opinion and bias.

Think of the situation as being like the parable of the two men who build a house - one on the ever-shifting foundation of sand, and the other on the solid foundation of a rock. Rather than build on a solid foundation of rock, on the sure foundation of reliable Bible manuscripts that have stood the test of time, New Age Bibles are built on an ever-shifting foundation of sand. This is why there appears to be a new translation every other year - the sands of opinion are constantly shifting, new ideas are coming out constantly as the translators are blown about by every wind of doctrine.

But even worse, not content to choose the manuscripts that favour them the most, the "Bible" ITSELF is being changed, over time, to reflect the beliefs of the modern church, before anyone even gets to translate it. The intention is to change the Greek from which translations are later taken.

Take a simple but fascinating example. In the New Advent Catholic Encyclopaedia, in the article on the Trinity, it says that the Bible does not "as yet" have a single term for the Trinity. That means the Greek text of the Bible will be changed to introduce such a term, and to explicitly teach the Trinity. The day will come when the Trinity will be explicitly taught in the Greek text. The Bible texts, themselves, will be changed to make sure the Trinity is explicitly taught. And other Bible texts will also be revised, or changed, systematically to make sure that all the other church doctrines are also taught, and that current church practices are also taught, even if they were not originally in the Bible. It is exactly like the continuous revisions of the historical record so vividly predicted in George Orwell's classic novel, 1984. Except that it is no longer a work of fiction. It has now become a frightening reality.

How are these changes being done? How is the Bible itself being changed? It is done partly through the magic of "scholarly" critical editions of the Greek New Testament and the Greek Septuagint, which themselves pick out the "best" or most favourable Bible readings (the ones which most fit current church doctrine). Hundreds of changes are being systematically introduced from edition to edition, as the church steadily makes background changes to the Greek text. Future translations, if they are not based on an eclectic text, are based on a scholarly edition which is itself an eclectic mix of sources which reflect church teaching. Again, it is a vicious, self-reinforcing circle.

But there is a goal behind all this. It is not an "accident" or chance. The nations are being brought steadily and surely towards a New World Order through New Age Bibles, which re-invent themselves every year or so, through a new translation, bringing both the Greek text, and the translations, ever closer to whatever it is the churches want people to believe next.

We shall examine the goals and implications of all this in the next few articles. Then we will go on to discuss the conclusions, and what you should do about it...

In the meantime, make sure you read George Orwell's 1984. By an astonishing coincidence, this was the year that yet another revision was made to the New International Version of the Bible... When the new revision was published, previous revisions became unavailable...