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 Blaine Robison, M.A., M.R.E.


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Greek Texts and Translation

Believers in some quarters carry on a vigorous debate on the merits of various versions or translations of the Bible, largely because of the manner of translation. Four types of approaches have been identified in translating the Scriptures: formal equivalence, dynamic equivalence, optimal equivalence and paraphrasing. Formal equivalence approaches the text word-for-word. Dynamic equivalence attempts to express “thought-for-thought.” Optimal equivalence attempts to meld the best aspects of the formal and dynamic approaches. Paraphrasing exercises the greatest latitude to interpret the text into a contemporary idiom. Contrary to its detractors a paraphrase is a translation. All of these approaches represent different emphases on literal faithfulness to the original text and readability, respectively. There is no sharp boundary between these translation philosophies; they represent rather a continuum of translation possibilities. The King James Version is an example of formal equivalence, the New International Version is an example of dynamic equivalence, the Holman Christian Standard Bible is an example of the optimal equivalence and the Living Bible is an example of paraphrase.

While Christians debate about the best translations virtually all of the available manuscripts of the New Testament are written in Greek, not English. There are over 5,000 hand-written Greek manuscript copies (the earliest dated from about 200 to the latest in 1560) containing portions or all of the New Testament. Over the past several centuries dedicated scholars have studied and compared these manuscripts to develop a reliable Greek text (referring to a book put on the market for sale) that reflects the most likely reading of the New Testament. Although manuscripts were all meticulously copied by hand a number of spelling and grammatical differences do exist in various manuscripts that are of interest to scholars. Yet, there is an incredible and miraculous consistency between manuscripts. Any differences between the manuscripts or the Greek texts have no negative effect on any Scriptural doctrine, and pose no hindrance to interpreting and applying the Word of God to practical matters of life.

Four Greek texts were consulted in preparation of commentary notes. The first Greek text is the Textus Receptus (Latin for “Received Text” and referred to herein as “TR”), originally published by a Roman Catholic scholar, Desiderius Erasmus, in 1516. For the book of Revelation Erasmus had only one MS (which lacked the last six verses of the book), dating from the 12th century. This MS contained extensive commentary that was so mixed up with the Scripture text as to be indistinguishable and in such places Erasmus relied heavily on the Latin Vulgate and translated the Latin into Greek to produce his Greek text. Erasmus even invented several words not found in the Greek language, most of which are in chapter 22 (Metzger, 99). The fifth edition (1552) of the TR was used to produce the King James Version in 1611, well before the earliest Greek manuscripts were discovered or made available for scholarly use in the 1800s.

With hundreds more manuscripts to research new Greek texts began to appear, perhaps the most influential of which was published by B.F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort in 1881 (referred to herein as “WH-Text”). Westcott and Hort followed the principle of using the earliest and best MSS to develop their Greek text. Benefiting from the work of Westcott and Hort, the German scholar Eberhard Nestle (1851-1913) developed the Greek text most widely used for modern translations. Later his son Erwin Nestle and Kurt Aland collaborated to continue the publication of this Greek text including a footnote apparatus containing comparisons of variant manuscript readings (referred to herein as “NA-Text”). The NA-Text as the WH-Text gives weight to the earliest and best manuscripts, which seems to me to be the most sensible translation philosophy to follow.

The third Greek text of special interest is the Byzantine Text, which is actually a name given to a type of lettering used in the countries around the Black Sea. Over 80% of the Greek manuscripts belong to the Byzantine text type (many of which are dated well past the fifth century CE) and thus the agreed reading of these manuscripts is known as the Majority Text (referred to herein as “Maj-Text”). All of these NT Greek texts are available at various Internet websites. Those passages where the TR, Maj-Text and NA-Text differ from one another are identified in the footnotes of the New King James Version. For the historical development of the Greek text and the English Bible, see F.F. Bruce, The English Bible: A History of Translations; Ralph Earle, How We Got Our Bible; and Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament.

For study purposes I prefer a formal equivalence version and I prefer to use the New American Standard Bible for study and preparation of exegetical notes. However, comparisons are made from time to time to other versions, especially the Complete Jewish Bible, in order to emphasize the Jewish roots of the apostolic writings. With the aid of scholarly linguistic tools I have sought to clarify and amplify the meaning of the original Greek and Hebrew texts throughout biblical exegesis to better aid understanding.

Copyright © 2011 by Blaine Robison.  All rights reserved.