Book Review: Understanding English Bible Translation

Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach by Leland Ryken

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach
Leland Ryken
ISBN-10: 1433502798
ISBN-13: 9781433502798

The one who avoids this book due to a fear of it being overly scholarly and hard to understand will certainly make a mistake. While the book is indeed well researched and intelligently written, it is also easy to read and to understand.

Ryken deals with the differences between dynamic equivalent translations of the Bible (those that translate in a more thought by thought manner) and formal equivalent translations (those that attempt to translate word for word).

Ryken claims that an essentially literal translation, or a formal equivalent translation is more to be desired than a dynamic equivalent.

Why? He gives a number of reasons. Two of these reasons stand out to me above all others. One is that the dynamic equivalent translations are not consistent. They vary from one translation to the other so that one is not sure which translation is correct. This leads to a destabilized text. It leads people to wonder which is correct. Another reason is that dynamic equivalent translations often present commentary instead of translation. Thus the reader gets the understanding of the translator, but doesn’t always get the understanding of the underlying text.

An essentially literal translation, however, seeks to translate word for word the original language into the receptor language. For the subject at hand, that language is English, because that is the language with which Ryken deals. (As an aside, I read one person who took issue with Ryken because things don’t always work as well when translating into languages other than English. Ryken specifically states, however, that he is only dealing with English and understands that other languages present significant challenges in this respect.) With an essentially literal translation, there may be variance in the words used to translate, yet they will still yield basically the same understanding when compared one to the other. An essentially literal translation will also present essentially the same words and phrases as the original texts so that the reader will be reading basically the same thing that the Biblical writers presented to their original readers.

As one who grew up under the King James Version and still uses it today, I was impressed that this author respects the KJV instead of breezily dismissing it. In fact, he claims (and I think, rightly so) that all essentially literal translations follow the same philosophy as the translators of the KJV.

In a day when there is much confusion over Bible translations and translating philosophies this book is a breath of fresh air. I believe it also brings some needed clarity to the debate. I could only wish that everyone saw the need for an essentially literal translation.

(This book provided for review by Crossway Publishers.)

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The Providentially Preserved Manuscripts

chester beatty revelations papyrusIn this post, I want to lay out the manuscript evidence, or at least a synopsis or summary.  This is what God has preserved that we can observe today. We’ll look at both Old and New Testament texts.

The Old Testament Text

Deuteronomy 17:18 And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites:

A. The Masoretic Text

The Masoretic text of the Old Testament is the basis of our OT Bible today.  The name comes from “editors” who produced and safe guarded the OT manuscripts for many years (AD 500-1000).  These men carefully formed a system by which to copy scripture.

EG: They counted the number of times each letter of the alphabet occurs in each book; they pointed out the middle letter of the Pentateuch and the middle letter of the whole Hebrew Bible and made even more detailed calculations than these.  The Masoretic text comes to us from the influence of the Ben Asher family in the 9th-10th centuries.  There are also manuscript witnesses to another family of texts from the family Ben  Naphtali and between the two, there are very little differences.  Within the Masoretic text family, there was a particular manuscript of great importance called the Leningrad Codex, which is the oldest complete manuscript of the entire Old Testament which was probably copied in the year 1008.  Most translations after 1937 have used this text and others before, such as the KJV were translated from 1524-25 Blomberg edition prepared by Jacob Ben Chayyim who was a Jewish Christian.  Both manuscripts are Masoretic texts and the differences are very small and inconsequential.

B. Other Hebrew MSS

The Dead Sea Scrolls – discovered by a shepherd throwing rocks in the caves in 1947. These were preserved for thousands of years by the Eseenes, an ancient Jewish sect of isolationists. The scrolls were copied in the first century. The difference in these manuscripts in comparison to the other extant manuscripts of the OT is amazingly small. God certainly preserved His OT words with intense care and accuracy.

Other MSS of the OT were found at the Masada site where the Jews held out against the Romans and were finally crushed. Those few manuscripts date back to 66-73AD. A few others that date back to the first and second century have also survived.

2. The New Testament Manusripts

There are, at this time over 5000 partial or whole manuscripts of the New Testament text and only 50 of these contain the entire NT. These MSS range from the time of the first century to the 12th century and they also represent a wide array of different types of writing, paper, and geographical locations from where they originated from. These copies of NT MSS can be put into five main categories:

Papyri – Made from papyrus. It was a kind of paper made of reeds in the marshy areas of the Nile River and other waterways. Few of these MSS survived since this kind of paper easily disintegrates over time. Unicals – This term refers to MSS written in all CAPS. This was the writing used of literary works in its day. It’s more formal, takes longer to write and was mostly written on Vellum (animal skins) for longer lasting life of the document.  There are over 260 extant manuscripts of this style.

Minuscules – About the 9th Century a reform in handwriting took place, with the result that a cursive script using smaller letters was adopted to produce books. They were faster to write, took less space on a page and as a result, most extant MSS of NT books are minuscules.

Lectionaries – These are church reading books containing select portions of Scriptures to be read on set days according to liturgical order.

Early Church Fathers’ testimony – The other source of NT MSS is to look at the quotations of Scripture from the sermons and letters of the early church fathers as a witness to what they would have been reading as the Bible, even if there are no extant MSS to back up one of their quotations.  There are so many commentaries and sermons by the early church fathers, that if all of the copies of MSS were to disappear, you could still reproduce almost the entire NT with just their quotations! Continue reading

NC Church to Burn Bibles for Halloween

Based upon a twisted view of Scripture, a NC church intends to burn Bibles and other literature on Halloween.  (See story here and here.)

It seems that Amazing Grace Baptist Church (Where is the grace in the sort of activity that they are carrying on?) is a King James Only church and considers all other English translations of God’s Word to be satanic.  They also consider Southern Gospel Music, Contemporary Christian Music, and the books of Billy Graham to be satanic, it seems.

The list of authors whose books will be burned is as follows:

“Westcott & Hort , Bruce Metzger, , Rick Warren , Bill Hybels , John McArthur, James Dobson, Charles Swindoll , John Piper, Chuck Colson, Tony Evans, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swagart, Mark Driskol, Franklin Graham , Bill Bright, Tim Lahaye, Paula White, T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn , Joyce Myers, Brian McLaren, Robert Schuller, Mother Teresa , The Pope , Rob Bell, Erwin McManus, Donald Miller, Shane Claiborne, Brennan Manning, William Young, etc.”

Let it be known that this is not right.  It is not gracious.  It is not charitable.  It does not show the Spirit of Christ.  It is not Biblical.  It is not the behavior of a Biblical Fundamentalist.  Historically, Biblical Fundamentalists have respected God’s Word wherever it was found.  This burning of Bibles is simply a new form of modernism that sets up man as the authority over God’s Word so that he can judge right and wrong by his own standards.  It seems that Scripture is not sufficient for this sort of “fundamentalist”.  He must go beyond Scripture, but in so doing, he condemns Scripture, thus making himself the final judge and arbiter of what is right.

It is my prayer that Bible believers all over our nation will lift up their voices and cry out against the graceless wickedness of Pastor Marc Grizzard and Amazing Grace Baptist Church.

(Originally published on Fundamentally Changed.)

KJVO’ism, John 1:18, And The Eternal Sonship of Jesus

The Eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ

(Originally Posted on Fundamentally Changed)

The eternal sonship of Jesus is a very important doctrine. It is also a doctrine that cannot be fully comprehended by mortal man. On the other hand, mortals must this doctrine as being true. Remembering that God is spirit and is not bound by time, space, and material/bodily constraints, will help us to more readily accept this truth. Being the Son of God means that Jesus is God. The Son has the nature of the Father. This means that the Son is eternal. Though He was begotten and not made, the Son is eternal. While these things are hard to be understood, let us attempt to attain a rudimentary knowledge of them.

God The Father Begat God The Son

As we consider the fact that God the Father begat God the Son we must see that the nature of God demands the understanding that this begetting is neither temporal nor physical. It is an eternal begetting because the Son is God and God is eternal. The Father did not beget the Son in time. Neither is it a physical begetting, but it is spiritual in nature. Numerous New Testament verses testify that God the Father is the Father of Jesus (2Cor 1:3; Eph 1:2,3;3:14; Col 3:19;1Pet 1:3 are a few examples.).

John gives us a wonderful and rich passage concerning the eternal generation of the Son by the Father. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. ” (John 1:1-3,14) KJV The Father’s glory shines forth in His only begotten Son who is the image of the Father.

Before Jesus was ever begotten in the womb of the virgin Mary He was the Son of God. The sonship of Jesus is not a physical sonship, but a spiritual one. As Isaiah prophesied of the coming of Jesus, he told us, For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” ( Isaiah 9:6) KJV This passage tells us that Jesus was the Son before He became a man; He was given as the Son. Not only so, but He is one with His Father, which tells us that the Son of God is God. We again read, “ For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” ( John 3:16,17) KJV The Son was given and sent thus testifying to the fact that Jesus was the Son before He became a man.

There has never been a time when God in all of His glorious perfection did not have a complete comprehension of who He is. Never has there been a time in which God did not have a full understanding of all His nature and His deeds. In the midst of this perception that God has of Himself is to be found the fact that God delights in Himself; He is the happy God (1Tim 1:11). This idea, love, delight, and contemplation of His own perfections is so complete that it stands forth as another person. This person is the second person of the Godhead, the Son of God. This is a begetting in a spiritual sense because the One begotten is truly the eternal offspring of the Father. The Son is eternally begotten, because there has never been a time that God has not had this perfect delight in, and understanding of, who He is. This means that the Son is eternal, having no temporal beginning. It also means that the Son is indeed divine in all facets of His nature. “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.” (Hebrews 1:1-8) KJV This passage speaks volumes about this wonderful truth. It tells us that the Son is of the same character as the Father, that He is the Son who is begotten of God, is due worship, and is God. God the Father plainly declared that He begat the Son, saying “ For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?” ( Hebrews 1:5) KJV God the Father spoke from Heaven on two different occasions acknowledging Jesus as His Son. “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” ( Matthew 3:16,17) KJV “While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” ( Matthew 17:5) KJV

The Father’s Witness to The Son

The Father bore witness to the Sonship of Jesus at least three times while He was on earth. The first was at His baptism: “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16,17) KJV The second time was when He spoke to Peter, James, and John in the Mount of Transfiguration: “ While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” (Matthew 17:5) KJV Finally, the Father testified of the Sonship of Jesus when He raised Christ from the dead. Paul said that He was “ declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” (Romans 1:4) KJV This is, I believe, a faithful representation of the Sonship of Jesus Christ, our Creator and Redeemer.

Why This Issue on The KJVO Debate Blog?

Someone may ask why we would choose to deal with this doctrine on the KJVO Debate blog. The reason is that there are those who declare that the differences between the King James (Authorized) Version and the post KJV versions in John 1:18 are heretical differences. This aim of this article is to show that calling Jesus the only begotten God is by no means heresy. In fact, we have used the much revered (and worthily loved) KJV to do so.

Here is the verse as seen in the KJV, ESV, and NASB:

No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995 (electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version.) (Jn 1:18). Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

No one has ever seen God; ?the only God, who is at the Father’s side,?he has made him known.

The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Jn 1:18). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

?No one has seen God at any time;?the only begotten God who is ??in the bosom of the Father, ??He has explained Him.

New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Jn 1:18). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

We grant that there is indeed a difference to be found. The difference is in words, but not in doctrine. The difference could probably be explained to us by scholars on either side of this issue. It is not our intention to deal with the textual issue in this article. It is our intent to show that the doctrine of the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ is in both the KJV and the newer versions.

It is not heretical to declare that Jesus was begotten of the Father. Jn 1:14 tells us that He is the only begotten of the Father. The ancient confessions declare that He was “begotten, not made.” We have seen above that it is orthodox truth to believe that Jesus is the only begotten of the Father. To call Jesus the only begotten Son of God is to declare that Jesus is God from all eternity; to declare that He has no beginning nor ending.

Sadly, in their zeal for the truth of God’s Word, many King James Only-ites are found guilty of heresy by denying the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ. The heresy is not found on the part of those who accept the newer versions, but on the part of many KJVO believers. (The newer versions actually make the deity of Christ clearer in this verse. ) KJVO believers would do well to open up their Bibles and a good theology so as to learn of God the truth of His Word on this point.

A Play On Words And A KJV Translation

Evangelical Textual Criticism blog posts about a newly published fragment on 1 Pet. 2:3.  Peter Kirk at Better Bibles Blog explains how it reveals a play on words in 1Pet 2:3.

It seems that the fragment presents Christos (Christ) instead of chrestos (good). Thus the verse would read “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is Christ” instead of “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (ESV)

That is very interesting.

Even more interesting is the fact that the KJV says “If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” The thing is that “gracious” does not seem to be anywhere as near the meaning of chrestos as “good”. After all, the average, well-read Christian who does not consider the Greek will think of “gracious” as related to unmerited favor in some manner, and not to kindness and goodness.

I wonder why this was translated by the KJV translators in this manner?

A Chick Tract “Attack”

If you have heard of “Chick tracts”, you have earned “authentic fundamentalist pedigree” status.  They are the favorite of many a fundamentalist I knew.  Some of them are quite good, and the comic strip draws you in to the message of the tract.  But the sensationalist nature of a comic-strip gospel is secondary to the over-the-top conspiratorial tone and the in-your-face ultra conservative Christian message.

I have seen quite a few Chick tracts in my day, but I’m not sure I had stumbled across this one.  Or if I had, I wasn’t yet free of my fundamentalist KJV onlyism.  “The Attack” is a tract about Satan’s attack on the Bible.  And yes, some of the biggest conspiracy theories of all time play second fiddle to the tale you’ll read here.

The tract is filled with half truths, bare assertions, and undocumented slander.  Apparently the Jesuits teach in most evangelical Bible colleges, incognito.   The Vulgate is to be avoided, yet 1 John 5:7 is the litmus test for having a proper, unadulterated Bible.

I can’t say any more right now, I might say more in the comments.  But the tract speaks for itself.  And thanks to the world wide web, you can read it all for yourself.  Check out Jack Chick’s “The Attack”.  Let me know what you think!

One last thought: if you see no problem with the exaggerations and ultra-simplification of this important issue, as given in Chick’s tract, then you deserve the “tin-foil hat” title, that Fred Butler so astutely explains.

Free Book Giveaway


Jason hasn’t mentioned this over here, but he is giving away a free book on his personal blog: Pastoral Musings.  The book may interest some of our readers here.  It is Crossway’s Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach by Leland Ryken (Crossway).  I’m guessing in time, Jason will have a review of that book up on this site.  Be sure to go over and enter his contest!