WCF 1.8

The Westminster Confession of Faith

8. The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), were immediately inspired by God. By His unique care and providence they have been kept pure in all ages and are therefore authentic, so that in all controversies of religion, the Church’s final appeal is to them. However, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right to and a legitimate claim to the Scriptures, and who are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, the Scriptures are therefore to be translated into the common language of every nation into which they come, so that, the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all the nations, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner, and so that, through patience and the comfort of the Scriptures, they may have hope. (WCF 1.8)

Have you ever gone to a Christian book shop and asked for a bible or searched online for a verse that’s on the tip of your tongue and been met with the same answer; which translation would you like that in? Last count, there have been over 500 English translations in circulation, with revisions and newbies being worked on each year - it is a complete understatement to say that we have an embarrassment of riches here in the West. That’s because it has ALWAYS been the firm conviction of the church to have the scriptures in the vernacular, so that the common person can understand the Word of God for themselves (remember Wycliff and Tyndale from last week?) That is why the prophets wrote in Hebrew and the Apostles wrote in something called common (Koine) Greek; they wrote in the receptor languages of the people they were addressing so that those addressed could comprehend and treasure the scriptures for themselves. However as you may have noticed, we don’t naturally understand either of those languages anymore and thus it is the job of translators to take that which was “originally inspired” and do the hard work of getting the manuscripts to make sense to their audience in the 21st century West.

And this is where things get very difficult because different translators have different approaches to make that happen. Some (like the NIV, NET, NEB) think about translating “dynamically”, which is to say, they work hard on making sure there is no confusion on the part of the receivers. For one example - if the original states that one has a “cat in the neck”, we’re going to have a hard time understanding what on earth that means. However if the translators see that the author was using a colloquial phrase, they might translate it as “a frog in the throat” and thus the receivers won’t be left scratching their heads; they know someone was having an issue with clearing their throat (the point of the phrase in the the first place). There is another philosophy that translators take (like the ESV, CSB, NASB, KJV) that is called “essentially literal”, which approaches the manuscripts looking for the the literal equivalent of the Hebrew/Greek. For one example we don’t naturally use the word “propitiation”, yet that is the closest you’re going to get to the Greek found in Romans 3:25 and 1 John 2:2 (and so with these translations you might need a dictionary handy), but even then, these translators have to make the English work. For one example. Matt 1:18b literally states, “before came together of them found in womb having from spirit of holy”…The ESV renders this, “before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” All this to say, whatever philosophy translators take, none of them follow the original exactly because English speakers would never be able to understand what was being communicated, which would be a total failure on the translators part (1 Cor 14:6,9,11-12,24, 27-28).

And so, we live in the golden age of bible translation and all good evangelical translations communicate the exact same thing (just using different approaches). And so I say use them all - they all belong to you. I like to preach from the NIV because it is the most popular and natural English translation, yet I love the ESV and CSB and use those in personal devotion/ bible studies with the Greek and Hebrew sometimes supplementing sermon prep. And that’s why the confession states that though translations are great - it is ALWAYS the original that must be appealed to, because it is the original language that communicates the original meaning - but in saying that, our faithful translations do an incredible job of taking what God said in the Hebrew and Greek and rendering into English what He wants for us all to know so that we “may worship Him in an acceptable manner” (Col 3:16). Of that we can be most sure.

Published: March 15, 2024

Updated: March 15, 2024