Which is the most accurate translation of the Bible in contemporary English?
Answer (Addendum A):
Please remember the “Disclaimer” in the first post.
It is natural to add to the question asked: What about the end of Mark and the beginning of John 8? These are the largest and arguably the most significant “variants” we find in the modern translations of the New Testament. I will look specifically at these in a future post. Unfortunately, the complexity of a discussion of these variants requires that I defer them to a later time. For this post, I can only give my reasons for using the DBY (or JND) translation.
Why do I use the DBY translation?
The New Translation by J. N. Darby is not in common use today, yet I frequently turn to it as an authority. This requires an explanation. Although I cannot dwell on all the reasons in a short post, I can outline two basic reasons. There is an historical reason and a reason based on my examination of the internal consistency of doctrine.
The Greek text that the venerable KJV was translated from is called the “Textus Receptus” and was compiled by Erasmus in the 16th Century. By the time Mr. Darby lived in the 19th Century, many more Greek manuscripts had been discovered. This allowed many corrections to the text that could be considered a representation of the autograph.1 The great advantage of the DBY Bible is that it incorporates many improvements, but also with a substantial number of footnotes explaining the sense of the Greek text. This is very helpful to the English reader.
But, many more Greek manuscripts have been discovered since Mr. Darby did his work. Why not trust a modern translation that reflects this additional information and the continued scholarship that goes with it?
In some cases, the scholarship has been helpful. The new translations are helpful especially in the use of words and phrases that are more meaningful to the modern reader. However, there is more to translation than mere scholarship. One real problem is when the method overrules spiritual insight. The most obvious example of this is when an older manuscript is assumed to be more accurate and its reading accepted when there are other reasons to be suspicious of the reading. The question of the end of Mark is an example which I will discuss later.
It is important to realize that the history of the Church has not been one of continual advance. Those who depend on the so-called Church Fathers and speak of “historic Christianity” and refer to “the Creeds” as an authority fall into this trap. History and Scripture both witness to the fact that truth given is soon lost. Only the work of the Spirit in faithful men brings it to light.
So, it is the work of the Spirit of God to recover truth to the Church, if and when He chooses. And, those proven faithful in responding to that truth are worth special attention. Not because they are better than others in themselves, but because God in his mercy has given them to the Church for the blessing of all (Eph. 4:7–16).2
This brings me to the second point. Paul wrote to Timothy “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). In the 16th Century during the Reformation and again in the 19th Century, a great deal of truth which was largely ignored since the days of the Apostles was brought out into the open. So, the question is: if the Spirit of God was at work in the 19th Century to recover truth, should we not also expect that such an important work as a new translation of the Scripture be the special object of God’s merciful guidance? It would appear that the admonition to Philadelphia is very relevant: “Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” (Rev. 3:11b)3 This is the primary reason that I have confidence in the accuracy of the DBY translation. Specifically, it is part of a general work of the Spirit of God to recover to us truth that had been long forgotten.
What about textual variations?
Most good modern translations include important variations in footnotes. It is always important to look at them. Some give a better sense to the text than the text in the body. Before looking at some examples I want to return to the basic issue of why there are variants at all.
In Part 2 of this series, I mentioned that the game of “telephone” misrepresents the way in which New Testament manuscripts were copied. Many copies of the autographs were made and sent to various locations. The different copies had various differences. In fact, today there are about 500,000 known variants.4 It is an arduous task for scholars to analyze these. A large majority of differences are easily recognized as simple errors by the copyist. A well-known example is the intrusion of “who walk not according to the flesh” into Romans 8 verse 1 from verse 4. Nevertheless, over the years a fairly good consensus has been established as to the reliability of the New Testament.5
Significant issues still remain. As mentioned above, when we begin to discuss some of the specific variants things can get complicated and I do not want to gloss over what may seem to be reasonable arguments. I want to conclude this post with two observations.
- No variant abridges any central Christian doctrine. As said before, Scripture is very robust. When you consider the depth of truth it contains, this is truly remarkable and shows just how certain God’s sovereign care has preserved to us His Word.
- The existence of the variants themselves validate that God has preserved Scripture to us. This may seem counterintuitive. But, it shows us that no group or faction had control over the entirety of Scripture and that therefore we can be assured that we have what is very close to the autograph. A contrasting example is that of the Quran which has no (or, few) variant readings. So, there is no assurance that the present text of the Quran is what was originally given because its uniformity was enforced by a 7th Century council (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quran).
A future post will examine some of the variants that show up in the margins of modern translations. As mentioned above, this is a complex topic. When the final post (Addendum B) that examines this subject is available it will be linked here. Thanks for your patience.
1. See Introductory Notice, in The New Translation, by J. N. Darby, (London: G. Morrish, undated). An interesting feature of this Notice is the list of Unical manuscripts, cursives, “ancient versions”, and “principle ecclesiastical writers” that Mr. Darby referenced.
2. I apply this just as much to the outpouring of the Spirit during the “Reformation” as to the recovery of much truth during the 19th Century.
3. I do not mean by this that there may be no further development, only that what was given deserves our studied attention. See F. W. Grant, The Numerical Bible: Hebrews to Revelation, (Neptune: Loizeaux Brothers, 1932), pp 353–356.
4. Gurry, Peter J. The Number of Variants in the Greek New Testament: A Proposed Estimate. New Testament Studies 62, no. 1 (2016): 97–121.
5. Craig Blomberg, Can We Still Trust the New Testament (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1587433214). See the review of this book (specifically its first chapter on the copies of the Bible) by Daniel Wallace on his blog (https://danielbwallace.com/2014/03/24/can-we-still-believe-the-bible/).