The infallibility of the Bible is clouded by the confusing debate
regarding which copies of original texts and which translations
best represent the Word of God as it was originally given to Bible
writers. The following viewpoints may help to put the problem in
original texts (called autographs) do not exist any more. They were
written on animal skins or papyrus sheets, which unavoidably fell apart
after a century or two. These materials only survived for many centuries
in dry climate and when sealed in jars or covered by sand.
believers saw that the originals were deteriorating, they meticulously
made copies by hand. However, human effort is never perfect. Some
minor variations did sneak in. When copies were later made from earlier
copies, those variations were carried over, and so different text
families emerged. However, none of these variations cancels any
fundamental Christian doctrine.
Hebrew text of the Old Testament shows fewer variations due to the
policy of the scribes to copy exactly, whether they understood the
sentence or not. They even counted the letters of every column and scroll
to ensure it was a true copy of the original. Thanks to the Dead Sea
Scrolls of the first century Essenes, and the work of the medieval
Masoretes, the Hebrew text of the Bible has been preserved at near
perfection, supported by old Greek and Latin translations.
of the Greek text of the New Testament did not always exercise the
same precision as the Hebrew scribes, thus causing more text variations
than we find in the Hebrew text. Eventually two main groups of New
Testament text traditions emerged:
a. The Byzantine texts (also called Textus
Receptus) was used by Erasmus (1516), Luther* (1523), Tyndale* (1526), and
the translators of the Geneve Bible* (1557) and the authorized King James
Version (KJV, 1611). The Textus Receptus was improved by the Majority Text
of Hodges & Farstad (1982). This text group can be abbreviated as TR-MT.
(*These translators did their work in hiding or exile. Tyndale and two of
his friends were executed for their translations).
b. The Alexandrian texts (Codex Vaticanus, Codex
Sinaiticus, and Codex Alexandrinus) surfaced in the middle 19th
century, and was combined into the Critical Text by Westcott & Hort
(1881), and later improved by the Nestle-Alant Text. This text tradition
was used for amongst others the Revised Version and the New International
Version (NIV). The text missing from these Codices was borrowed by the
translators from the TR-MT.
Each group has devout supporters. However, moderate
scholars believe that both text traditions make unique contributions, thus
translators should use both to get closer to the original. This stance
seems more scientific than the extreme either/or approaches.
Recent translations follow one of two methods:
(word-by-word) translation, also called formal equivalence,
like the KJV.
(phrase-by-phrase) translation, also called dynamic equivalence,
like the NIV. The KJV and NIV thus differ in two ways: Greek text used
and translation method used.
the KJV and NIV together
gives the Bible
student a good idea of the original words as well as the
original meaning. Both translations indicate in footnotes
alternative texts. Reference to “better” texts should be avoided. No Greek
text of the New Testament is in entirety better than others; one text may
be better than others regarding certain verses.
order to fulfill Christ’s command to love each other as He has loved us
(John 13:34), Christians from different traditions should try to see the
vast common ground between them, instead of splitting hairs about small
differences. Let us debate viewpoints without slandering persons. It goes
for the debate on texts and translations too.