Section Three - TranslationWe must now ask ourselves the question: Which Bible did God preserve for us who speak English? Which English language translation is the best, and why is one superior to the others? When studying Bible translation we must divide our study into three areas: 1. The text from which we are translating. 2. The translators that are doing the translation. 3. The technique, or rules that the translators use in producing the translation. Herein, or course, lies the controversy. Let's look deeper into the identity of the texts.
The Old Testament Texts.In 1516, Daniel Bomberg published a text of the Old Testament under the name "First Rabbinic Bible." This text was followed in 1524 by a second edition that had been compiled from ancient manuscripts by a Hebrew scholar and converted Jewish Rabbi named Abraham Ben Chayyim. Today this work is called the Ben Chayyim Masoretic Text, and is the text that underlies the Old Testament of the King James Bible. The word "masoretic" comes from the Hebrew word "mesor" meaning traditional. The Masoretes were the scribes that were given the responsibility of guarding and keeping the text of the Old Testament, and keep it well they surely did, as we shall soon see.
The Ben Chayyim Masoretic text was the uncontested text of the Old Testament for over four hundred years. The Ben Chayyim text was used in the first two editions of "Biblia Hebraica" by Rudolph Kittel, usually referred to as BHK, published in 1906 and 1912. However, in 1937, Kittel changed his Hebrew text from the Ben Chayyim to the Ben Asher text.
The Ben Asher text was based on a text call the Leningrad Manuscript (B19a; also called simply L), which was dated around 1008 A. D. Using the peculiar logic of that day, which believed that older must always be better, Kittel published his 1937 edition based on this "older" text. His 1937 edition had about 20,000 changes (most of them minor, but changes nevertheless) from the Ben Chayyim text. Both texts are still referred to as "Masoretic," so care must be taken as to which text is being referred to. It had apparently not dawned on Kittel that the Ben Asher version was based on very few minor manuscripts similar to B19a, while the Ben Chayyim text followed the vast majority of the manuscripts available. Why would Kittel throw out the evidence provided by the vast majority of manuscripts to follow only a small minority of texts? May I suggest, very carefully, that profit may have been the motive? Kittle had not published a major work for many, many years, he was growing older, funds for his retirement were low, and he was living in the rapidly fading glow of past glory. One final work would not only propel him back into the limelight of scholarly recognition, but would provide the funds for his impending retirement. He found a large and receptive market in the rapidly growing modernist camp that had grown to hate the traditional texts of both the Old and New Testaments.
In 1966 there was a further revision of Kittel's "Biblia Hebraica" called "Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia," which was also based on the "older" Ben Asher text. This new edition of Kittel is generally referred to as BHS. The revision was the work of unbelieving German rationalists, and represents theologically liberal modernism in its worst form. The 1937 BHK and the newer BHS are not only based on a few minor Hebrew manuscripts which contain many erroneous footnotes, but "corrections" were often made to these already inadequate and corrupt texts by referring to such things as the "Septuagint" or "LXX", which is nothing more than the Hebrew Scriptures translated into the Greek language. The "Septuagint" is a poor translation at best of the Hebrew due mainly to the fact that it does not follow the verbal and formal rules of translation, but is largely a paraphrase, changing the wording wherever the translators desired, seeking to "clarify" the meaning of the original.
The Syriac Version. This was a version of both the Old and New Testaments translated into the Syriac language. The source language is in doubt, some insisting it was translated by Jews from the Hebrew, and others insisting it was translated by early Christians from the Greek.
The Latin Version was the complete Bible translated into Latin, portions of which may date to the second century A. D. Jerome is generally credited with the first complete Latin version, called the Latin Vulgate, or Jerome's Vulgate, which dates to the fourth century.
God's appointed guardians of the Old Testament Text were the Jews according to Romans 3:1-2, "What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there in circumcision? Much in every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God." The methods used by the Jews in fulfilling their responsibilities as the guardians of these sacred texts is an interesting study. There were eight rules that the Jewish copyists used in the copying of the texts:
1. The parchment must be made from the skin of a clean animal (clean meaning ceremonially clean according to the Old Testament sanitary laws); must be prepared by a Jew only, and the skins must be fastened together by strings taken from clean animals.
2. Each column must have no less than forty-eight, nor more than sixty lines. The entire copy must be first lined.
3. The ink must be of no other color than black, and it must be prepared according to a special recipe.
4. No word nor letter could be written from memory; the scribe must have an authentic copy before him, and he must read and pronounce aloud each word before writing it.
5. He must reverently wipe his pen each time before writing the word for "God" (Elohim), and he must wash his whole body before writing the name "Jehovah" (LORD in our King James Bibles), lest the Holy Name be contaminated.
6. Strict rules were given concerning forms of the letters, spaces between letters, words and sections, the use of the pen, the color of the parchment, etc.
7. The revision (to correct any errors) of a roll must be made within thirty days after the work was finished; otherwise it was worthless. One mistake on a sheet condemned the entire sheet. If three mistakes were found on any page, the entire manuscript was condemned.
8. Every word and every letter was counted, and if a letter was omitted, or if an extra letter was inserted, or if two letters touched one another, the manuscript was condemned and destroyed at once.
NOTE: H. S. Miller, writing in his book "General Biblical Introduction", says: "Some of these rules may appear extreme and absurd, yet they show how sacred the Holy Word of the Old Testament was to its custodians, the Jews, and they give us strong encouragement to believe that we have the real Old Testament, the same one that our Lord had and which was given by inspiration of God."
So then, our only choice is between the traditional Hebrew Masoretic Text that has been the standard text of the Old Testament for well over two thousand years, and is represented by the vast majority of the existing Old Testament manuscripts, or the new, modern text that has only a little minor manuscript support, and leaves out or changes between 20,000 and 30,000 words in the Old Testament. The choice is obvious, only the Traditional (Ben Chayyim) Text can lay claim to uninterrupted use for all the generations from the time of David (Psalm 12) until now.