On the Making of Many Translations…

Preliminary Remarks

It was the Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle, translating the phrase from German, that wrote: “Silence is golden,” in his book, Sartor Resartus (1831/32.) This phrase should hold considerable weight in the minds of all who find themselves in exchanges concerning issues of which they are uninformed or deficient in. Thus, I am often quiet (though, I sometimes break that trend due to my personality) in dialogues concerning Finance, Math, etc., because my knowledge of these disciplines is limited. My statements can only go so far (smile.) Thus, I admit that it is hard to follow certain principles even when we know them to be true.

Having said that, allow me to present a disclaimer. People tend to read more into statements than authors intend. The principle stated in the paragraph above should not be seen as a platform constructed to elevate some to the position of the ‘elite’. Rather, it is presented in hope that contemplation occurs before articulation. Knowing when to speak (or write) is just as important as knowing when not to at all.


One of the topics that have caught the attention of many young people in the church is the one on Bible translations. They are so deeply involved that many have gone as far as to debate (arguing really) about which versions to use. Before I comment further, a little compassion is needed. These young people are speaking passionately concerning what they believe and/or been taught. Patience is required as we speak to them concerning these issues. All things must be done in love.


The so-called ‘authorized’ version, known as the KJV, is the one that is being presented as the only true translation. Their claims do not arise from a prophetic announcement in scripture or conclusions from research of the biblical manuscripts and languages (Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic). They are based on tradition and the video presentations of one man (among many)—Walter Veith, professor of Zoology. The fact that he is not a theologian does not disqualify him from speaking concerning what he has researched. A degree in Theology is not necessary for one to rightly divide the word (2 Tim. 2:15), for “Spiritual things…are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:13, 14.)

The KJV is a good translation. [1]Written in the language of “seventeenth-century England” by scholars under the command of King James VI (of Scotts, also known as James I of England and Ireland), the version replaced the Latin Vulgate. The word ‘authorize’ has no spiritual implications and should not be presented as such. Since its arrival in 1611, it has gone through its own revisions, to the point where it does not read like the original.[2] The NKJV came about because a need was felt for a more thorough revision.

[3]The manuscripts that were used in the translation of the KJV came from what is referred to as the ‘Byzantine family.’ These manuscripts came from a similar location, namely Istanbul of modern day Turkey (formerly known as Constantinople; Byzantium prior to that.)  The manuscripts that belong to this family are extensive and read similarly. It has been argued that the Byzantine Empire, which is really the Roman Empire (eastern Roman Empire), had all the capabilities necessary to facilitate the extensive copying of their manuscripts and to preserve them.

Arrival of the Modern Bibles

[4]Since 1611, researchers have discovered manuscripts that pre-date the Byzantine era. These discoveries have brought about new translations such as “the British Revised Version” (1885) and the “American Standard Version” (1901), which are (really) attempts to revise the KJV so that it may line up with the “new textual discoveries.” Some may argue against these attempts, but on what real basis. Taking a dogmatic stance is appropriate when one can identify the dogma.

[5]In 1952, the RSV version arrived on the scene. Though some were not happy with some aspects of it, it was “far superior in fluency and accuracy to any other English version available.” It was updated in 1971 and the NRSV came out in 1990. The NASB (1971), a revision of the ASV, and the NIV (1978, Evangelical translation) came soon after. Though philosophies of translation (by this I mean, ‘systems of principles for guidance’ concerning translations) vary, the goal was the same; giving the public something to read and study in a language that is understandable.

Ellen White and Translations

[6]In an article by Arthur L. White, The E. G. White Counsel on Versions of the Bible (Biblical Research Institute), he discusses E.G’s views on; inspiration, God’s preservation of the Bible, and the versions that were coming out. Concerning the latter, he quotes W. C. White’s (her son, “who was closely associated with her in her public ministry and in the preparation and publication of her books”) report that Mrs. White spoke approvingly of the revised version and led him to believe that it would be “a matter of great service.”[7] In the section that deals with Mrs. White’s use of the newer versions in her writing, he lists; The Great Controversy, Ministry of Healing, Steps to Christ, Desire of Ages, etc.

Finally, when it came to the revision of her books, Mrs. White was call to discuss the use of the revise version. She would study each text carefully and then make a decision. In some cases, she wanted a revised version use and in others, she wanted the KJV. W. C. White also states that she never condemned the American Revised Version and the reason she did not use it on the pulpit is because the church was familiar with the KJV rendering of the texts and that use of new words may cause ‘confusion.’[8]

Conclusion…for now

Solomon, the wise man, writes: “Of making many books there is no end” (Eccl. 12:12 NIV.)  This is a wise saying and has shown itself to be true since this translation debate has started; there has been many books written about translations, and more will be. This discussion will go on as long as there are people with opinions. I hope that this attempt to help stir some from becoming ‘translation critics’ will result in reflection.

This was not an attempt to attack the KJV, as I said above: “The KJV is a good translation.” Rather, it is an attempt to set the foundation for the real issue; what is the translation philosophy of the version(s) under discussion. If you do not know the difference between ‘literal,’ ‘Formal equivalent,’ ‘dynamic/function equivalent,’ and ‘paraphrase’ translations, perhaps it is best for you to just declare your preference for a version instead of presenting against others.

[1]William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publisher, 1993), 127.
[2]For example, words like ado, ague, anon, apothecary, bray, etc., are not part of our common vernacular.
[3]Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, 127.
[4]Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, 128.
[5] Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, 128.
[7] W. C. White, DF 579 (1931); Ministry, April, 1947, p. 17.
[8] White Estate DF 579; Ministry, April, 1947, pp. 17, 18.