Can We Trust The Bible's Translation?

I wasn’t churched as a kid. In high school, I considered becoming Muslim because one of my dearest friends and her family are Muslim. They are one of the most caring family units I have ever known. They still are. In my search for God, meaning and love I was led to Christ. I was awakened to the thought that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and died for my sins while visiting another friend’s Pentecostal church in Brooklyn, New York. On a cold December night during Revival week, my second year in college, I accepted an invitation into an ongoing journey of revealed truth. Thanks to Christ. Despite my salvation experience and belief that Christ is the only true way, I still have questions. And I imagine you do too. As we should. Here is one of them:

Q: Muslims read the Qur'an in its original language. But Christians read translations of the Bible. How can Christians trust the Bible if through the translation process we have lost some of the nuanced meanings available only through knowing the original languages of the Bible?

Recently, I was asked this question by a member of the youth group. One of her Muslim friends had asked it of her. My initial response pointed to the trustworthiness of the translation process undertaken by Biblical scholars. Colonies of scholars prayerfully, painstakingly and with God’s direction attempt to render an as accurate as possible understanding of the original text. I still believe in the integrity of this process. But God pointed me to an even more trustworthy source - himself.

The starting point of our thinking must not be to run from the assumption of an untrustworthy God. Instead we begin from a position of the acceptance of his untainted goodness and unfathomable wisdom. For this reason, we glean a truer understanding of the God we serve and his character through the allowance of translated text to draw the world nearer to him.

We serve a God who desires to meet us where we are – in our specific cultural context. We serve a God of great grace who desires that we come and reason with him (Isaiah 1:18). He longs that we worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). For these reasons, he brings his text to us rather than demand that we go to it in its original form.

Yes, the Bible has been translated countless times. Yes, this process suggests we may not benefit from the depth of nuanced meaning expressed in the original languages of Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic. However, our hope is not in the meaning of the text. Our hope is in the author of it.

Yes, the Bible was inspired and authored by God, yet recorded by mere human hands. Yes, translations may not have the exact meaning as the original text. But an immutable Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today, and will be forever guides the translation process.  

Here is great evidence that God brings the text to us rather than us to the text:

He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation…” - Mark 16:15
 

Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim...- Romans 10: 5-8

All Scripture is God-breathed useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the servant of God will be thoroughly equipped for every good work.- 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgements, his paths beyond tracing out. - Romans 11:33

Call To Action

Thank God that he does not wait for us to learn an unfamiliar language before we may reason with him. I pray that you and I are compelled to delight in the glory of the author of this rich text that remains sharper than any double edged sword piercing the dark murky places, even of our own limited understanding. I pray that scholars who continue to translate the Bible into the 7,102 languages of the world (and counting!). I also pray that when posed with challenging questions we would not run from but instead embrace the opportunity to humbly yet boldly seek and share God’s perspective. I also encourage you to doubt your doubts as poet Brent Rivera implores of us here.

And remember that love is the most excellent way. Therefore avoid vain arguments about mere words but with boldness, conviction and unashamed trust in our God proclaim the Gospel, as we should.  For it is the only way.

Do you have any questions you'd like to have answered? We invite you to share them with us, that we may reason together with Him! Scroll down and ask UI Bloggers to answer any question you may have!

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Noack, R., Gamio, L. World Views: The world’s languages, in 7 maps and charts. The Washington Post. April 23, 2015.

Amelia E. Thompson loves to see God create possibility out of what appears to be impossible. She became a Christian during her sophomore year in college. She and friends developed We Write Life into a platform for building community around issues of justice, reconciliation and forgiveness. Thanks to God’s guidance and kindness, she completed studies at Vassar College and St. John’s University and is completing a certificate in Youth and Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary.