Translators and Truth
Bible translators have certain rules that govern how they determine the intended meaning of many words and concepts as they convert them from one language to another. Since it is rarely the case that languages have matching words that mean the same thing, the very process of interpreting and translating requires that the people doing so have to use assumptions about the intended meaning of the original author. Of course that is impossible to do if the author is not available to consult directly so as a result translators inevitably rely on their own assumptions and beliefs about what they think is true.
There are several criteria for determining the correct rendition of the meaning of different texts by translators. Primarily they try to determine from wide usage in other places and even other documents in that original language what the most common idea of that word should convey. Yet it is true that in many languages certain words can have many nuances of meaning and some of those very different. So there is room for a very wide variance of opinions as to what the end result will convey and the flavor it will give to the whole document.
Two of the main criteria for translators that determines how they choose to give expression to the text in a different language is the context, the surrounding material that might indicate the best meaning of a given word, and the other is the presuppositions and personal beliefs of the translators themselves. This last criteria is the most problematic of all the issues involved in translation, particularly when it comes to rendering the Word of God and the intents of the authors of Scriptures, for it is extremely easy to even unintentionally introduce subtle errors and deeply embed them into the text without even realizing what is happening. This is unavoidably always the case because of our limited perspective, for every translator has a personal belief system about God and about the way God has formed reality. Thus, a translator's bias will always be woven into the passage no matter how unbiased they may attempt to be.
The problem is greatly amplified however, when people then begin to adopt the translator's biases that are inherent in the text and believe too strongly that since all Scripture is inspired by God that it has to be accepted that all the insinuations and assumptions and implications of the translator's personal beliefs that are now embedded in the text are also fully inspired. This seems particularly evident in the zealous belief by many that the Authorized King James Version of the Bible is the only reliable translation and that all others are inferior at best. Some go even further and spend great effort seeking to prove that most other versions are even satanically infected and try to make people frightened against even considering any other translations as reliable for learning truth. I have even had some people insist that the translators of the King James Version were more inspired by God than even the original authors of the Bible themselves. Thus they insist that it is hazardous to even go back to examine the Greek or Hebrew to seek clarification.
One of the problems with this kind of prejudiced thinking is that it is totally rooted in fear instead of faith. People like this fail to believe that God is far bigger and more adept at conveying the truth about Himself to humanity than they want to believe. And while He has given us the document of the Bible as the primary standard of objective truth by which He expects all to measure and test every assertion and every spirit, He is certainly not dependent on our narrow and bigoted ideas for making only one version the ultimate test for all the world.
Most people with this narrow and fear-based opinion about translations of the Bible fail to take into account that mere humans with serious errors in their minds about God composed the group of men who translated the King James version into English. They lived in a time when great darkness about God and deep-seated prejudices still blanketed the whole world and were themselves under intense political pressure from the powerful and dominant Roman church to shape certain ideas into the language to vindicate some of their positions. The Church of England was not that far removed theologically from the Church of Rome and so the King James version contained many ideas and beliefs about God that were strongly tainted with dark views of Him that were far from true. That does not mean that this translation cannot be used to discover the truth about God and lead souls into salvation. However, it does mean that we cannot assume that the nuances of the wording these translators used were not reflective of superstitions and falsehoods that had greatly prevented the world from seeing the wonderful beauty of the real truth about God that had been seen so clearly right after Pentecost.
I have come to appreciate very much the multiplicity of translations and even paraphrases of the Bible over the past few years and have also been released of the superstitious fear that had gripped me from those who held very narrow views on this subject. I am always cautious whenever I read any version of the Bible and find that every version has its problems – the King James certainly not exempt. In fact, the King James is one of the most problematic for me, not only because of the many dark views of God held by its translators woven into the language but additionally because many of the words themselves have dramatically changed their meaning over hundreds of years. In addition, the religious terms derived from Latin, which was certainly not one of the original languages of the Bible, have given additional distortions to theological concepts and convey deeply entrenched prejudices from over the centuries.
Because of all these problems with the biases and assumptions of translators that are unavoidably woven into every text, I find it quite helpful not only to consider a wide variety of translations to compare different interpretations but also to seek additional light from looking up the original words myself in the Greek or Hebrew when I have serious questions about some passage or word. Many might think that this is impossible or totally unreliable for anyone not trained in those languages to do, but that is not the case contrary to what some theologians might insist. While it is certainly a great advantage to have many years of expertise in those languages to be able see much more clearly what the original intent of the authors might have been, it is amazing how much a simple examination of the definitions of the Greek or Hebrew words can shed light by using inexpensive or even free computer software. We live in a time of unprecedented availability to resources that allows most to access more accurately the truth for themselves if they are willing to take the time to avail themselves of it.
However, the far more important ingredient in coming to know the real truth about truth is the attitude of the learner themselves. No matter how educated or experienced a person is in understanding the original languages or how theologically trained they may be, all of that may sometimes serve to obscure the real truth about God rather than to expose it. For all educational training necessarily involves immersing oneself into the deep biases of the mainstream belief system that tend to often obscure rather than expose truth. While the tools acquired through higher education can be extremely useful for ferreting out clearer truth, it is all too often accompanied by the infection of unbelief and superstitious accepted norms about what God is like that can be so subtle that they can infect one subconsciously and color everything thereafter considered.
All of us have many prejudices and preconceptions about what is truth and what is not. This is a given and is totally unavoidable. However, it is what we choose to do about this handicap that can determine whether we will move away from these false ideas or whether they will force everything we consider to be shaped into their molds. If we truly desire to know God better, which will always involve challenging our own prejudices and being willing to give them up in exchange for fresh revelations of God's glory, then we must seek the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide our study, to allow Him to continually convict us of the deeply embedded false assumptions deep inside us and to be humble enough to admit over and over again that our views and opinions are always up for His questioning.
This does not mean that we can never have any solid or secure sense of belief. It does not mean that we cannot have assurance about the beliefs that we hold. However, there is a very fine line between having solid assurance about what we believe and having stubborn bigotry about what we believe; and many times stubbornness is mistaken for loyalty. A person who is truly loyal to God will have a keen sense of their own ignorance, an attitude of humility and a willingness to always have even their most deeply entrenched beliefs examined openly time and again. For the real truth is that truth is never afraid of open examination and testing. Truth is never dependent on fear, prejudice or intimidation for it to stand. Pure truth about reality and God (and they are both one and the same ultimately) is so solid that it is never endangered by people having differences of opinion.
Jesus stated emphatically that He Himself was the truth. This is not just a euphemism or a religious concept but is far more profound than any of us can yet imagine. When we come to realize that through Jesus all the universe was created and all the laws of science were designed, then we are beginning to get closer to comprehending to a small degree how large the implications are of these words. To know Jesus Christ is to know God; and to know God is to begin to see the perfect harmony of all existence and how it all operates within the principles of the true perceptions of reality in which we were originally created.
God has chosen to have the most important of these principles recorded by various people throughout the history of this world and collected into what we now call the Bible. The vast majority of the content of these writings is how these principles are to be seen operating in many and various circumstances through the stories in these writings. However, since most of these stories took place after sin entered this planet and distorted much of the truth about our Creator, it is not so easy to discern on the surface the underlying principles of God that He has sought to convey. Nevertheless, it is still the official record given us by God by which we may establish the real truth about reality if we are willing to learn.
Because of the great confusion caused by the pervasiveness of lies about God and reality that have blanketed this earth since sin entered, God sent His Son as an extension of Himself in order to explicitly reveal to us far more clearly than any of the other stories, the principles and attributes of God's way of relating and God's characteristics. So when Jesus inferred that He was the same truth that was obliquely conveyed in the Scriptures that the Jews were studying, He was speaking authentically. He Himself had interacted with mankind all throughout history and He had personally inspired all of those very writings they were studying. However, because of their tenacious insistence on clinging to false ideas about what God was like and their preferred meanings of Scriptures interpreted through bigoted religious assumptions, they resisted the clearest explanation of the true meaning of the Scriptures in the revelation of God's Son. They became so angry with His persistence in disagreeing with their views of God and Scripture that they finally had to kill Him to try to stop the spread of His counter-cultural ideas.
Today we still find ourselves in a strikingly similar situation. If Jesus were to come and walk on this earth again He would meet with the very same intense resistance to the truth about God that He represented 2,000 years ago. Religion still obscurs to a very great degree the truth as it is in Jesus and has put a false spin on all the religious words and phrases God gave us to change our minds about Him. Because we lean so heavily on our filters of prejudice and put too much faith in the biases of translators of the Bible instead of seeking to discover the real truth for ourselves, we find ourselves in the same danger of rebellion and ignorance that caused the Jews to reject Jesus and His picture of God.
But God is not going to let this cycle of prejudice and ignorance go on forever. Without resorting to force or any other tactic of His enemy, God is going to shape circumstances in such a way so that there will come a polarization in this world as has never been seen before. Events and attitudes are even now quickly taking shape that are forcing people to either reject the revelation of God as revealed through the life and death of Jesus in favor of traditional religious views, or they will be so attracted by the incredible beauty and perfection of a new, clearer view of God never before seen or experienced that they will come to stake their physical and eternal life on embracing it wholly.
This time of history has been foretold in Revelation chapter 18 as represented by a powerful angel from heaven flooding the whole earth with the glory of God. We are on the very edge of this incredible time and I personally believe we are starting to see the beginnings of it. There is an awakening taking place in people's hearts all over the world who are being convicted that we have been lied to about God all of our lives and that the good news about God is in reality far better than we could have ever imagined. At the same time there is a counterfeit revival of the power of the false views of God that is energizing those who want to keep the traditional dark views of God that have been so widely taught for centuries.
All of this is leading to a final showdown between these two views that will culminate in the greatest spiritual battle that has ever taken place. This war will quickly spill over into physical conflict as those who insist on believing in a God more in their own image rather than like Jesus, will resort to violence in attempts to force others to agree with them or suffer terrible consequences. They will do this precisely because they firmly believe that this is how their God conducts business and they reflect the teachings of false theology about the way God plans to deal with sinners.
The few believers who cling to their newfound revelation of God as being consistently good, kind, compassionate and loving while totally just and fair, will find themselves the object of fierce attacks to convert them back to the darker assumptions about God most widely embraced. They may suffer extreme abuse in every respect but will allow the inner presence of Jesus to fortify their hearts to respond as He responded under similar abuse as He made His way to the cross. They will in reality demonstrate once again in human form the true attributes of God before the whole universe as they vindicate the truth about God's real character in contrast with the counterfeit views of God held by those who persecute and kill them. This time is prophesied in Daniel as the greatest time of trouble this world will have ever seen. And this very time, soon to explode upon this planet comes just before Jesus Himself comes to take with Him all those who have allowed Him to demonstrate through them and before all, the ability of God to reproduce His character in the lives of all kinds of sinners who have been willing to be transformed by God's power of love alone.
How we chose to approach the Bible will largely determine the picture of God we find there. If we continue to allow prejudice and bigotry to filter all that we read or even the translations we insist upon, we will only tend to reinforce what we want to believe rather than allowing God to reveal things outside our narrow opinions. But if we trust that God is eager and willing to reveal the truth about Himself using the Scriptures that have come from a variety of translators, along with the wisdom promised through His Spirit to guide us, God is faithful to draw us into a much purer knowledge of Himself that will always shatter our previous paradigms about Him. But the breaking of these chains will only liberate us into the freedom of real truth that is only to be found in an intimate relationship with the very essence of truth – Jesus Christ and the Father who sent Him to reveal all truth.