Bible Knowledge Made Plain Through Modern Translation
WHAT are your tastes in literature? Are they for history, poetry, philosophy, science, biographies, travel or wise sayings? Perhaps you especially enjoy heroic tales of adventure or tales of romance or something about the future. These and many other literary subjects can be found in a library that you can carry in one hand. What makes this library so fascinating is that its stories are true-life adventures. Its statements about the future are not imagination. Its literary works in the various fields of knowledge are so accurate and authoritative that they need no changing although written from 1,900 to several thousand years ago. This remarkable, compact library that brims with knowledge and wisdom is the Holy Bible, the written Word of man’s Creator.
Because the Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, its incomparable knowledge could be made available to people of many nationalities only through translations of it. It was the purpose of its Author that all people should be able to read it, not merely a scholarly minority. John Wycliffe realized this nearly 600 years ago at a time when the Bible’s knowledge was closed to the common people because it was kept in its original languages and in the dead language of Latin. So that the man on the street might have the pleasure of reading it and might benefit from its wisdom, he proceeded to make an English translation of the Bible from a Latin version. His noble effort was the beginning of a long struggle against keeping the Bible in a language the common people could not read. After a fight that lasted for centuries the Bible was finally given a wide distribution. It is now available in so many languages and in such great numbers that it has become the most popular book in the world.
WHY MANY TRANSLATIONS
When a new Bible translation is published in English many people wonder why, because a great many English versions already exist. Some may even argue that the King James Version gives us the Bible in English; so why produce new translations? The principal reason is to give the public a translation of God’s Word that accurately expresses the fine shades of meaning contained in the Hebrew and Greek of Bible manuscripts and that at the same time is understandable to the average person living today. The King James Version itself was actually a new translation in its day, really a revision of previous English versions. It met the need for a clearer translation of God’s Word then, and now new versions again meet our need for an easily understood version.
The English language has changed since 1611, when the King James Version was released. Many words that were used then are no longer used today or their meanings have changed. For example, do you understand the language of the King James Version in its rendering of Genesis 25:29? It says: “Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint.” In a new translation that uses the English we speak today this verse reads: “Once Jacob was boiling up some stew, when Esau came along from the field and he was tired.” (NW) Since the purpose in reading the Bible is to learn from it, is not that goal more easily attained when the language used in it is the English that is spoken in this twentieth century rather than that spoken in the seventeenth century?
The translations of the Bible of which the King James Version was a revision were based upon a small number of Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Many thousands of manuscripts have been found since then, some being as much as a thousand years older than those. The fact that these manuscript copies are older means they are closer in time to the original writings and are, therefore, more accurate, having fewer copyist errors. Their existence urges the production of new translations that can incorporate the refinements they make possible.
The continually improved knowledge scholars are gaining of the ancient languages of Hebrew and Greek is another factor that makes new Bible versions necessary. They have a much better understanding of these languages today than did the Bible translators of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
It was not until the close of the eighteenth century that archaeological findings revealed that the Greek-language manuscripts of the Bible were written in a form of Greek that was spoken by the common people. It differed a little from the classical Greek, just as the English spoken by a laborer often differs from that spoken by the upper class in society. Prior to this discovery scholars made their translations according to their understanding of classical Greek. This resulted in inaccuracies because word meanings according to classical Greek often differed somewhat from the common, or koine, Greek. For example, the King James Version renders Matthew 6:27 this way: “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” The word it translates “stature” or size was right in Luke 2:52 and Lu 19:3 and Ephesians 4:13, but the common, or koine, Greek also gave the word the meaning of age or time of life. Knowing the extended meaning of the word, modern translators make this verse plainer and more accurate. One version says: “Who of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his life span?” (NW) So the thought should be life span instead of stature.
NEW WORLD TRANSLATION OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES
Despite the fact that there are many fine Bible translations in modern-day English, the need for new and fresh translations has not ceased. Every refinement benefits the public by making Bible knowledge plainer and by giving them a more accurate expression of the Scriptures. Recently a new translation of the Bible was released that incorporates numerous refinements as well as eliminating certain shortcomings that were objectionable in other versions. This superb translation is called the “New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.”
To an enthusiastic assembly of more than 51,000 ministers and Bible students the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures was released in one compact volume on June 23, 1961, at Yankee Stadium, New York city. The assembled ministers were surprised at its compact size, yet with easily readable type, and delighted by its nominal price, a price that would make it easily available even to people of small financial means.
Taking advantage of the oldest Bible manuscripts that have been found as well as the improved understanding of koine Greek, the translators of this version have produced a copy of the Bible in English that is extremely accurate. It carefully expresses the fine shades of meaning in the Hebrew and Greek words. Its literalness, however, is not carried to the point where reading is made difficult. At all times an easy, expressive flow of thought is maintained. Its accuracy makes it more desirable than a free translation, that is, one in which the translator takes the general thought and expresses it freely in his own words. The extreme care taken to make the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures accurate is an assurance to readers that what they read is as near to the original thoughts as is possible to express them at this time.
An outstanding feature of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures that is a decided improvement over other versions is the faithful manner in which it restores God’s name, Jehovah, to its rightful place in the Scriptures. Wherever the Hebrew letters for it appear in Bible manuscripts this translation renders the name Jehovah instead of using one of the many substitutions for it that superstitious copyists employed centuries ago. Aside from restoring it to the Hebrew Scriptures, this version is outstanding in its restoration of the divine name to the Christian Greek Scriptures, or New Testament, wherever the Greek Scripture writers made quotations of portions of the Hebrew Scriptures containing the Name. Thus a translation of the Bible finally exists in English that magnifies the Most High by using his proper name in the 7,198 places where it belongs.
How this modern translation helps to make Bible knowledge plain can be quickly seen by comparing it with some well-known versions. Look at the chart on the next two pages and examine the selected verses listed there. See how the readability and expressiveness of this version make God’s Word more understandable.
The Bible should not be regarded as an antique showpiece that is displayed in a home but never used. Recognize its value as a library that is filled with literary masterpieces. It has a wealth of information that is vital to you. It alone records man’s history from the very beginning, and it alone records history in advance, history that has not yet been made. Its prophecies give an accurate glimpse of future events that can help you direct your life in a way that is best for your own welfare. It gives high moral standards that are essential for a happy, rewarding and healthful life. It provides wise counsel on human relationships so you can live peacefully and harmoniously with your fellow man. It reveals the basic requirements for a successful and tranquil marriage. But more important than all these, it gives instruction on how you can live in harmony with your Creator.
What you can learn from this divine library is immense if you apply yourself to reading it. Its knowledge can be made plain to you by means of a modern translation and helpful Bible-study aids. “Acquire wisdom; and with all that you acquire, acquire understanding.”—Prov. 4:7.