God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

The “Nothing’s Perfect So There’s No Point In Trying” Syndrome

I frequently read comments like “Every Bible translation is a paraphrase” (Abraham Piper) and cringe. The philosophy seems to be “nothing is perfect, so everything is the same.”

I agree that no translations are perfect, but that quite obviously doesn’t mean that they are all the same.

A related complaint is that we can’t know for sure what the Greek or Hebrew means, so every translation is equally valid. Again, the first part is true — it’s difficult to know for sure what a word meant over two millennia ago — but I still think that careful investigation can lead us to translations that are more likely to be correct (and perhaps more importantly help us know how confident to be in our knowledge).

The flaw in the reasoning seems so clear to me that I have to wonder why people are so attracted to the idea that “all translations are equally valid.”


November 30, 2009 - Posted by | translation theory | , ,


  1. In my experience, the reason people are attracted to that idea is either disgust with the debate, or a desire to stop worrying about which translation is best and to start worrying about obeying said translation. I think the academic tendencies to 1) ignore biblical mandates in debates (like love one another, and be humble), 2) not worry about how their comments undermine people’s confidence in a particular Bible causes many Bible users to lean toward the “lets get over it, and get on with it” side of things.

    Comment by Ryan | November 30, 2009

  2. It might be that no one wants to comment on a particular translation as being best reserved for the trash heap of history and face the scorn that loyal readers of that translation might inflict on the speaker.

    I tried it once with The Message was was roundly criticized, etc… Won’t keep me from saying how I feel about it, however…

    I prefer the NLT, finding it a valid translation for this or that endeavor, and the NASB for another type, but the KJV? I cannot find in it modern validity.

    Comment by Joel | November 30, 2009

  3. That “equally valid” meme comes from new age syncretism too. The best way to make a place for your opinion is to assert that they are all deserving of equal validity, regardless of how meaningless that ends up being.

    Comment by Jay Griffin | December 1, 2009

    • Well put.

      Comment by Joel H. | December 1, 2009

      • To expand on my point, Bible ‘users’ tend to have prejudices of varying levels (un/sub/conscious) and will use the same meme to assert their uncritically examined beliefs. What is unfortunate is how this tactic dismisses the very foundation and authority they need to give their faith substance.

        As a litmus, I’ve learned that speaking in terms of the direction I want to go versus the absolute destination, still allows me to use the absolutes as reference points without turning off those who don’t have as much tolerance for their thinking to be challenged.

        I think the type of comments you referred to above show up most when the commenters are lazy, egoistic, or simply ignorant of the implications of what they are saying.

        I recall going through a phase in my own Bible understandings when my linguistically creative ‘possible interpretations’ could get the better of me. But those wonders and doubts brought new insights and maturity to my discernment.

        I concur with Ryan’s points that some move on from the debate because they realize it isn’t edifying, but it is still disheartening that more don’t move on…and even those reasons will differ.

        My answer to “why translate?” with accurate meaningful intent is because it matters. People who feel like and believe they don’t matter or that ultimately things in life don’t matter will resign themselves that their actions don’t ultimately matter either.

        Why does it matter that a Bible version is “better” than another? Because it can make a difference between souls redeemed or lost. But I sure hope those who commit their faith understand that there is no such thing as a KJV or NIV faith. The fact that I wouldn’t choose the KJV to teach a seeker doesn’t invalidate the KJV.

        I think our modern challenge is getting people to simply read God’s Word for themselves.

        Comment by Jay Griffin | December 1, 2009

  4. […] Translation is a Valid Translation December 7, 2009 | Posted by Polycarp Read the entire post here, but Joel summarizes it here: The flaw in the reasoning seems so clear to me that I have to wonder […]

    Pingback by The New Living Translation is a Valid Translation | The Church of Jesus Christ | December 7, 2009

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