Bible Translated So Much it's No Longer Reliable?
In December 2014, Newsweek magazine launched an all-out attack on the Bible. One of the arguments given was the following.
No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we’ve all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.
As with so much of what Newsweek presented, this statement is misleading and factually wrong. The English Bible is based on a translation of manuscripts that were originally written in Greek (for the New Testament), Hebrew (for the Old Testament), and a small amount of Aramaic. Ancient translations of the Greek New Testament (into languages such as Latin, Syriac and Coptic) also exist but scholars are not dependent upon these translations to determine the original Greek text; they can examine the Greek manuscripts directly. Therefore it is simply incorrect to claim that the Bible is based on “translations of translations of translations…”
Dr. Daniel Wallace is an expert in textual criticism (i.e. the issue under consideration) and he responds to the Newsweek article in the following quotes. He also points out that the manuscript evidence for the New Testament is far better than any other Greco-Roman literature. And since scholars are quite confident of the content of those texts, we should be even more confident of the New Testament.
This is rhetorical flair run amok so badly that it gives hyperbole a bad name. A ‘translation of translations of translations’ would mean, at a minimum, that we are dealing with a translation that is at least three languages removed from the original. But the first translation is at best a translation of a fourth generation copy in the original language. Now, I’m ignoring completely his last line—’and on and on, hundreds of times’—a line that is completely devoid of any resemblance to reality…
…we have Greek manuscripts—thousands of them, some reaching as far back as the second century. And we have very ancient translations directly from the Greek that give us a good sense of the Greek text that would have been available in those regions where that early version was used. These include Latin, Syriac, and Coptic especially. Altogether, we have at least 20,000 handwritten manuscripts in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic and other ancient languages that help us to determine the wording of the original. Almost 6000 of these manuscripts are in Greek alone. And we have more than one million quotations of the New Testament by church fathers. There is absolutely nothing in the Greco-Roman world that comes even remotely close to this wealth of data. The New Testament has more manuscripts that are within a century or two of the original than anything else from the Greco-Roman world too. If we have to be skeptical about what the original New Testament said, that skepticism, on average, should be multiplied one thousand times for other Greco-Roman literature.
Kurt Eichenwald, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” Newsweek, December 23, 2014, https://www.newsweek.com/2015/01/02/thats-not-what-bible-says-294018.html.
Daniel B. Wallace, “Predictable Christmas Fare: Newsweek’s Tirade against the Bible,” Daniel B. Wallace (blog), December 28, 2014, https://danielbwallace.com/2014/12/28/predictable-christmas-fare-newsweeks-tirade-against-the-bible/.