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Interlude: Inspiration and Translation

November 22, 2010

A question has come up a couple times in this series of articles that I think is worth making a quick diversion to briefly consider.  The question goes something like this.  What good does it do to argue for the inspiration and infallibility of the original manuscripts since we have no existing copies of those originals?  Here’s the simple answer, if the original Word of God was not inspired we most certainly do not have an inspired copy or translation today.  However, since the Word of God, as given to Holy men, was inspired in its generation we can be confident that a faithful and accurate copy or translation of that original communicates to us the inspired Word of God.

The distinction between translation, copy and original is an important distinction.  Removing or minimizing the distinctions opens the door for the severe error of claiming one translation or copy as the only inspired version of the Bible.  To the best of my knowledge, there has never before been a debate about the rightness of a translation- never before the last 50 or so years, that is.  In the late sixties and early seventies, suddenly the issue of translation became a matter of full contact combat within fundamentalism.  Prior to this, the only extensive instance of translation centered conflict was the opposition to the RSV, which had made several translation choices that seemed bent on opposing the fundamental doctrines.  One example being the decision to replace “virgin” with “young maiden” in Isaiah 7:14.   The issue of accuracy and faithfulness of a translation, or ancient copy, is a valid matter for discussion.  There is a legitimate need to be concerned about the integrity of a translation, however, the concern of the early fundamentalists, even in their rejection of the RSV in the mid 50’s, was the translations faithfulness to the original inspired texts.

Inspiration is a very different issue from preservation and translation.  Inspiration is God’s breathing out, speaking to holy men, His Word to be inscribed for the benefit of His people.   Preservation is God’s providential protection of His inspired Word so that it is available to later generations.  Translation is the efforts of men to accurately transfer God’s preserved Word from its original languages into the common language of a people or culture.  A translation can only claim to be the inspired Word of God if it is an accurate and faithful representation of what we have preserved in existing copies of the original manuscripts.  Translation and inspiration are most definitely two different, though closely connected, issues.  No translation can claim of itself inspiration, that claim is only due it as a faithful transmission of what God spake.

For more information on this and other non-issues, read this article “Doctrinal Non-Issues in Historic Fundamentalism.”

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