God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

What percentage of your Bible translation is accurate? (Trying again.)

My last attempt to see how people understand the accuracy of their Bible translations didn’t work. I got a lot of responses, but not one answer to the basic question.

So I’m trying again, with a poll:

Please feel free to comment after you’ve answered the poll.


January 20, 2012 - Posted by | translation practice, translation theory | , , ,


  1. Joel, my own reason that I haven’t answered, and others might have not answered is that the question doesn’t have an answer for me. I don’t have a translation I rely on. As others mentioned, I work with several. I use the KJV as my springboard into other resources because I have so much committed to memory and can do a search readily, etc. Sorry, I’m usually prolix, but can’t help out here.

    Comment by bibleshockers | January 20, 2012

  2. There is another reason not to answer such a question..
    Does the question really make sense?
    What does “accurate” mean, in this context? There are so many way to try to approach the original meaning, that I am not sure one can be considered as more accurate as another.
    Of course I did read what you said about Heart and Soul etc.
    But still I am not convinced that your question makes sense. Sorry!

    Comment by Philippe Lestang (France) | January 20, 2012

    • Maybe narrow it down to “How accurately does your go-to translation of Genesis 1:1 convey the Hebrew of Genesis 1:1”?

      Comment by bibleshockers | January 20, 2012

      • I was thinking of asking something like that next.

        Comment by Joel H. | January 20, 2012

  3. Or perhaps we should also ask, “accurate for whom?” Mr. Hoffman is quite sure (and I agree) that the KJV was a much more accurate translation 400 years ago than it is today because of the ways and degree to which the English language has changed. So then, “what percentage of your Bible translation do you think is accurate for you?” I dunno. I’ve never tried to do the math on it.
    The we must somehow quantify how the Bible’s authors may have depended on form to contribute to meaning and somehow take into account that written English may not have equivalent forms. Hmmm. I still don’t know.
    Maybe we should ask the question, “Is it even possible to have a translation that would be 100% accurate?”
    “Reading the Bible in translation is like kissing your new bride through a veil.” –Haim Nachman Bialik (Jewish Poet, 1873-1934)

    Comment by Steve Driediger | January 20, 2012

  4. Accuracy? Very odd. The REB is the reading bible at our church. Sometimes it reads so well, you wouldn’t think it was a translation. Sometimes it really is a revised Bible not a revised translation. It is accurate if you accept the textual adjustment and the unsubstantiated professional opinion that ‘the Hebrew doesn’t make sense’. I find a lot of notes to translations are like that. I much prefer if the translator says, I am guessing at this, or this is perplexing to me. But ‘making sense’ is God’s business. It is not a scholarly opinion when unsubstantiated. How would I substantiate accuracy? In a translation, it is the job of the translator of the Bible to open the text, not to close down possibilities. We’re quite good at closing down possibilities with our confessional and sectarian prejudices.

    Comment by Bob MacDonald | January 20, 2012

  5. I’m not convinced anyone can answer such your important question, Joel. Occasionally we can find a particular translation that, based on the evidence we have, we might consider inaccurate. But the translation team might have other evidence and consider their translation accurate. Also, as much as I wish it were otherwise, there are different understandings of the meaning of many Bible words and phrases. We can’t question the original authors to find out exactly what they meant to compare that with translations of when they wrote.

    The best I can do after many years of studying different English versions of the Bible is a subjective guess about the accuracy of any translation. I have found very few instances of translation in Bible versions which I can categorically consider inaccurate. I do consider some instances of translation closer to a “consensus” of biblical scholarship (if there is anything resembling a consensus) or farther away from such a consensus. Even in cases where I might consider a translation to be inaccurate based on theological bias, in almost every case, if not every case, a reasonable scholarly case can be made for the translation decision made.

    We have a lot more lexical and other linguistic study of the biblical languages needed before we can say with much confidence, I suggest, that a particular translation is inaccurate or accurate.

    I wish it were otherwise. I wish that the meanings of Bible words and passages were clearer to a wider range of scholars. Continued lexical study helps, including yours. But I don’t know much much closer it can move specific translations toward being more accurate.

    Now, if you ask if translators have introduced ambiguities not in the biblical language texts, I can answer that more easily. If you ask if one translation has more natural English than another, I can answer that more easily. As I’ve said before, I don’t trust very much the claims of some translation teams that theirs is the most accurate Bible translation. I think they are actually claiming something else, such as that theirs is the most literal of the translations that can still be understood by many speakers of the translation target language. But I don’t think there is much relationship to accuracy if that’s what they really mean.

    Comment by Wayne Leman | January 21, 2012

  6. Having read your book, I would presume your definition of accurate would require that a translation not only transmit the proper meaning but also the proper style (poetry, etc.). I. OTOH, have little concern about the original style as long as the translated style is readable. And, then, there is the issue of you don’t ask which translation is my translation, so the data created by the poll would appear to me to be meaningless.

    Comment by Paul Wright | January 29, 2012

  7. I have been intensely studying the Koine for quite a few years, using as many good and reliable sources as I can, in order to seek understanding of the language. Doing this has dramatically altered my faith and my walk, which is probably why I voted so low on the accuracy scale of our translations. Though I’ve been a ‘Christianos’ for many years, it seemed necessary to me to begin a ‘renewal’ through God’s actual words, and actually begin again to seek Him through His words from as pure a beginning as God would empower me to muster.

    This meant trying to cleanse my thoughts from what I had been hearing for years, and seek God as if knowing nothing.

    It’s been great except for the lonliness.

    My pastor has been very suppportive, but hardly anyone I know is out there translating, so I’ve tried to spark interest and began a small class teaching the Greek in our church, but the interest is hard to drum up, since so many are even insulted if you give the impression that anything could be amiss in their translation. I don’t understand why so many people do not see a difference between the devine, inspired (‘God-breathed/spirited’) words and a translation.

    Translating very literally instead of just going for the good euphonic English sound seems to be a long and difficult task to get support for. Some see it right away, but even more are closed.

    I believe that men penned the words of scripture, but that the words are God’s. Because of this, I believe that we should all be in a state of progressive revelation concerning the scriptures that have been written. Because the scriptures are God’s, there is no way that even the men that penned the scriptures understood all that was given to them to write.

    So if you are painstakingly careful and literal in translating, and find the possibilities of deepening new insights, why are so many reluctant to even listen? We know the originals have no punctuation, so why is it so repulsive to some to consider that some statements might be questions and some questions might be statements.

    I say we should NOT add or take away anything at all from God’s words, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t seek more deeply within the words to see what God might have us find.

    Here are some of the reasons that translations may not be left-complete in their meaning:

    Untranslated words, INCONSISTENTLY translated words, plurals ignored, untranslated subjunctives, failure to present alternative translations such as when a verb might be middle or passive, imperative or indicative, or giving consideration to the possibilities of ‘aspect’ of verbs, or the HUGE one of translating with what I call so much SYNONYMITIS. Our translations make synonyms everywhere and steal from us precious discernment between words. And prepositions are a free for all.

    I could go on and on, but I do realize how difficult it is to include more of the above in translations. But surely we can do better to get more accuracy. I’m hoping and praying that
    more people will take an interest.

    When I tried to discuss what I found which I believe to be surprising and perhaps quite valid in James 2, they assaulted my character for having been ‘reworking’ a translation. They don’t even know me, and I didn’t put the comment in order to discuss my or anyone’s character flaws. They basically said how dare I. ??

    I do believe that our translations are missing much, and adding too much, and I wish more people would be concerned enough and dare to get closer to God through better understanding of what is involved in translation. I think we SHOULD seek God with all of ourselves, and though we should be always willing to learn from others, we should not be merely parroting whatever comes out from the favorite theologians of our group.

    Comment by Diane Galvacky | February 18, 2012

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