Often people will ask, what is the best Bible translation to use? Bible and translation seems to have become synonymous but keep in mind that unless you read Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic the Bible you read is really a translation of ancient manuscripts that are distant copies of the original autographs. All ancient manuscripts are not equal and all translations of those manuscripts are not equal.
Therefore, in order to know which are the most reliable translations, we first have to know something about the manuscripts that they were translated from. I think I can make some generalizations that may help you decide on a good English translation. I will also get into some other issues about manuscripts that you probably do not know. I am no expert on Bible translations and texts, so if I get something a bit wrong here you might grant me an indulgence.
There basically are only two major families of Greek texts that our Bible translations come from. About 95 percent of the ancient Greek manuscripts are in the Byzantine Family of Greek texts and these are often known as the Majority Text and also by a few other titles.
The Textus Receptus (Received Text) that the “King James Only” believers get so worked up about is based on the work of a Catholic priest named Desideriu Erasmus who reportedly used five late Byzantine manuscripts (of the thousands that exist), one other Greek manuscript, and the Latin Vulgate. This all gets very complicated so let me try to oversimplify it for you.
Some King James only proponents believe that Erasmus knew of most of the Greek manuscripts and that the Holy Spirit guided him to use only the best manuscripts to deliver to us the Greek word of God without error.
It probably is worth noting that Erasmus personally favored his Latin New Testament more than his Greek work. The Greek was actually done as a comparison to the Latin. Nevertheless, his Greek New Testament was better received by the people so he is mainly known for that work. The last part of Revelation was not available in the Greek manuscripts so Erasmus translated this part of Revelation back from the Latin. The Greek New Testament work of Erasmus many years later became what is known as Textus Receptus (Received Text).
King James only people often believe that the King James came directly from the Textus Receptus. That really is not true. The original King James Bible relied heavily on earlier translations like the Geneva Bible and the Tyndale Bible. The instructions to the translators even tells them to follow the texts of earlier Bibles as much as possible. The versions they copied probably used the Textus Receptus but they may not have used it exclusively either. The known facts indicate that only 39 percent of the 1611 King James is original material, the rest was copied from the Geneva, Tyndale, the Vulgate or from some other known source. Ninety percent of the King James New Testament follows the earlier Tyndale New Testament word for word.
The King James was published by British scholars in 1611 who did not even have access to any Greek manuscripts before 1628. As new Greek information came to light the King James version was changed. That is most likely the reason why there were about 150 revisions in a very short period. All versions used by the Protestant reformers used mostly the Textus Receptus directly or indirectly in their Bibles but the King James version obviously is not an uniquely inspired English translation.
The logical way of finding out what God said in the original autographs is to look at all the ancient texts and use the ones that are most in agreement with each other and what is known from other sources. In addition to early text manuscripts there were early translations, and citations of scripture by the early fathers. There are about 86,000 such citations before the year 325 AD.
Having said all that, the differences between what is called the Majority Text and the Textus Receptus are rather minor. They are in close agreement. Since there are not many major disagreements between the Majority Text and Textus Receptus they are often used as if they were synonymous. Most modern Bible translations that say they favor the Textus Receptus or the Majority Text actually consider both.
The other family of texts are most often called the Alexandrian family of texts, Critical Text, or Minority Text, they make up less than 5 percent of ancient Greek scripture manuscripts. However, the Alexandrian manuscripts have quite a few differences with the Majority Text and have so much disagreement with each other that they hardly should be called a family at all, unless you want to call them a dysfunctional family. The two major manuscripts are the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus but there are about 3000 differences between the manuscripts in the four gospels alone.
Most of our modern translations have favored these two Alexandrian manuscripts because they are believed to be the oldest Bible manuscripts. Text scholars tend to think the closer to the original autographs that the texts are, the less time there was to introduce error. However, even if these are the oldest existing Greek manuscripts, there are older translations of the Bible, and there are the citations of the New Testament from the writings of the early Church fathers. The Church before 350 AD agrees more with the Majority Text than the Alexandrian manuscripts.
Codex Vaticanus was found in the Vatican Library in 1481 and is said to date back to the 4th century. (I guess nobody wanted to read it for that thousand years and that is why it was found in such good shape.) The Vaticanus conveniently omits whole sections of the scripture that might shed a negative light on the Vatican. It has insertions, omissions, and amendments throughout the Codex. One scholar said, “in the gospels alone the Vaticanus leaves out 237 words, 452 clauses and 748 whole sentences”. The Vaticanus also has more grammar mistakes and misspellings than any other Bible manuscript. The Codex seems to have been totally edited in the 15th century and maybe that accounts for why this Codex removes scriptures that would contradict Roman Catholic theology.
Codex Sinaiticus was found in the trash in a Catholic monastery in 1844 according to most reports. Sinaiticus also is said to date back to the 4th century. Sinaiticus has recently been put on the Internet and some are now claiming that it is the oldest Bible. Some are saying that the version that you use in your church is not the original Bible. They are really using an inferior text manuscript to try to discredit the Textus Receptus or Majority Text Bible versions. By the way, the Sinaiticus was not a complete Bible, half of the Old Testament is missing and it adds two books that are in nobody’s Canon.
In reality, the Sinaiticus was not the Bible that was being used in the 4th Century either. Most Christians in the 4th century were using a universal text that generally agrees with the Majority Text. There are about 23,000 errors in the Sinaiticus. The Sinaiticus is said to have been gone over by 10 different scribes and the whole manuscript is very carelessly written.
There are different theories as to why these two major Alexandrian manuscripts are so corrupted. One theory is that there was a universal text being used by Christians and this text was brought down to Alexandria Egypt where unbelieving scribes did not have the necessary skills or do due diligence in their copying. They may have even changed or omitted scriptures that they did not like. Others say that the teaching of Origen had influenced the scribes. Still others say that some kind of chicanery was going on over the centuries through the Roman Catholic Church.
Chris Pintos of Noise of Thunder, in his documentary, “Tares Among the Wheat” presents a thesis that the Sinaiticus may have been a later forgery and not a 4th century text at all. I believe his theory is that the Sinaiticus forgery was created at some point in the medieval era. Then later the Jesuits got hold of this forgery full of errors and used it to try to muck up the inerrancy waters and discredit the Protestant claim of Sola Scriptura. Others are disputing the forgery claim of Pintos, you can follow that debate on his site.
It is interesting that the early Protestant reformers rejected the Alexandrian manuscripts in their Bibles but the Vatican embraces them. These Minority Texts are also used in Jesuit infiltrated and influenced academia for higher criticism purposes to discredit the claim that scripture is actually the inerrant word of God. Keep in mind that Sola Scriptura wars against the claims of the Roman Catholic Church and Sola Scriptura has been condemned by the Roman Church. The Roman Catholic Church claims that only Rome is the rule of faith.
The manuscripts that are used for translation is one major issue with modern translations. The other major issue is all the paraphrasing that they use for various reasons today. Some “Bibles” out there are more the theology of the author than a good translation. Before you buy a Bible, read the preface and make sure they favor the Majority Text or Textus Receptus and that it uses Complete Equivalence in translation rather than Dynamic Equivalence which commonly results in paraphrases. Also, keep in mind that some “Bibles” like The Message are really pure paraphrases of the Bible and do not even claim to be the Bible.
If your Bible is “The New American Standard”, you might like to know that it gives more weight to the earlier Minority Texts than the Majority Text, but you don’t need to throw the Bible away either. Most of the major modern translations review all the text manuscripts and they should footnote when there is a difference between the manuscripts. They all get the essential doctrines of the faith correct. Just don’t quote poor paraphrases like “The Message” and call it God’s word. I use the King James and New King James. They are excellent translations based mostly on the Majority or Received Text.
Some say the scriptures that we have are reliable because there is total agreement in 85 percent of all the texts. That is true, but I say horse pucky. That means there is 15 percent of the texts that some will claim are questionable. The inerrancy critics love to flaunt any differences. One way to solve this is to demote the corrupted Alexandrian Minority Texts and then there would be much more agreement. The major problem is not really the differences between the text families, those differences do not change any major doctrines. The major problem is that the differences opened the door to liberal higher criticism that attacks the position of Bible inerrancy.
I think it was all too convenient that these two major Alexandrian texts that war against the doctrine of Sola Scriptura somehow became prominent in the mid 19th century near the very same time that the Jesuits and atheistic philosophers took over academia. Yes, this all seems to be happening on schedule for the Harlot’s Sola Ecclesia Romamus, Un solo mundo, una sola familia (only the church of Rome is the rule of faith, one world, one family) coming out party. And yes, religious leaders from all over the world will take part in the soon to be announced Queen’s pride parade that most certainly will have a Queen of Heaven float with altar boys throwing Papal indulgences for sin out to the pagans.
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Don Koenig founded www.thepropheticyears.com website in 1999 after almost thirty years of independent study on the Bible and learning from many astute teachers within Christendom. Don created his website to write about Bible prophecy, biblical discernment and his Christian worldviews. Don wrote a free Revelation commentary ebook in 2004 named "The Revelation of Jesus Christ Through The Ages". The World and Church and Bible Prophecy section of this website was started in 2007.