by Matt Slick
This is a common misconception. Some people think that the Bible was written in one language, translated to another language, then translated into yet another and so on until it was finally translated into the English. The complaint is that since it was rewritten so many times in different languages throughout history, it must have become corrupted . The "telephone" analogy is often used as an illustration. It goes like this. One person tells another person a sentence who then tells another person, who tells yet another, and so on and so on until the last person hears a sentence that has little or nothing to do with the original one. The only problem with this analogy is that it doesn't fit the Bible at all.
The fact is that the Bible has not been rewritten. Take the New Testament, for example. The disciples of Jesus wrote the New Testament in Greek; and though we do not have the original documents, we do have around 6,000 copies of the Greek manuscripts, some of which were made very close to the time of the originals. These various manuscripts, or copies, agree with each other to almost 100 percent accuracy. Statistically, the New Testament is 99.5% textually pure. That means that there is only 1/2 of 1% of of all the copies that do not agree with each other perfectly. But, if you take that 1/2 of 1% and examine it, you find that the majority of the "problems" are nothing more than spelling errors and very minor word alterations. For example, instead of saying Jesus, a variation might be "Jesus Christ." So the actual amount of textual variation of any concern is extremely low. Therefore, we can say that we have a remarkably accurate compilation of the original documents.
So when we translate the Bible, we do not translate from a translation of a translation of a translation. We translate from the original language into our language. It is a one-step process and not a series of steps that can lead to corruption. It is one translation step from the original to the English or to whatever language in which a person needs to read. So we translate into Spanish from the same Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. Likewise we translate into the German from those same Greek and Hebrew manuscripts as well. This is how it is done for each and every language into which we translate the Bible. We do not translate from the original languages to the English, to the Spanish, and then to the German. It is from the original languages to the English or into the Spanish or into the German. Therefore, the translations are very accurate and trustworthy regarding what the Bible originally said.
The following chart represents a compilation of various ancient manuscripts, their original date of writing, the earliest copy, the number of copies in existence, and the time span between the originals and the copies. If the Bible is singled out to be criticized as unreliable then all the other writings listed below must also be discarded.1
|Earliest Copy||Approximate Time Span between original & copy||
Number of Copies
|Accuracy of Copies|
|Lucretius||died 55 or 53 B.C.||1100 yrs||2||----|
|Pliny||A.D. 61-113.||A.D. 850.||750 yrs||7||----|
|Plato||427-347 B.C.||A.D. 900.||1200 yrs||7||----|
|Demosthenes||4th Cent. B.C.||A.D. 1100.||800 yrs||8||----|
|Herodotus||480-425 B.C.||A.D. 900.||1300 yrs||8||----|
|Suetonius||A.D. 75-160.||A.D. 950.||800 yrs||8||----|
|Thucydides||460-400 B.C.||A.D. 900.||1300 yrs||8||----|
|Euripides||480-406 B.C.||A.D. 1100.||1300 yrs||9||----|
|Aristophanes||450-385 B.C.||A.D. 900.||1200||10||----|
|Caesar||100-44 B.C.||A.D. 900.||1000||10||----|
|Livy||59 BC-AD 17||----||???||20||----|
|Tacitus||circa A.D. 100.||A.D. 1100.||1000 yrs||20||----|
|Sophocles||496-406 B.C.||A.D. 1000.||1400 yrs||193||----|
|Homer (Iliad)||900 B.C.||400 B.C.||500 yrs||643||95%|
|1st Cent. A.D. (A.D. 50-100).||2nd Cent. A.D.
(c. A.D. 130 f.)
|less than 100 years||5600 Greek mss.||99.5%|
As you can see, the New Testament documents are very accurate. Therefore, when the scholars translate from the Greek into the English (or into any other language), we can trust that what is translated is accurate and reliable.
- 1. This chart was adapted from three sources: 1) Christian Apologetics, by Norman Geisler, 1976, p. 307; 2) the article "Archaeology and History attest to the Reliability of the Bible," by Richard M. Fales, Ph.D., in The Evidence Bible, Compiled by Ray Comfort, Bridge-Logos Publishers, Gainesville, FL, 2001, p. 163; and 3) A Ready Defense, by Josh Mcdowell, 1993, p. 45.