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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Answering Bible Difficulties

Don Stewart :: Since All Bible Translations Are Imperfect, How Can We Speak of an Inerrant Bible?

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Question 31

Since All Bible Translations Are Imperfect, How Can We Speak of an Inerrant Bible?

It is objected that the Scripture today cannot be called inerrant because each translation made from the original is imperfect. Indeed, no matter what language the Bible is translated into, there will always be imperfections. How, therefore, can the Bible today be spoken of as the inerrant Word of God when most people read it in an imperfect translation?

Response

We respond to this accusation with the following points:

  • The Message Comes Through in Translations

    Admittedly, there is no translation of Scripture that is perfect. Each has its deficiencies. Those who translate the Scripture recognize this. Yet the meaning of the passages can be adequately communicated from one language to the next. For example, a simple comparison of good English translations of Scripture will demonstrate that the meanings of each passage will be shown to be the same, even if the wording is different. The message of Scripture comes out crystal clear.

  • Translations Have More Things Right than Wrong

    With respect to the major Bible translations that have been produced, there is much more right with them than things that are wrong. The things that are wrong are usually insignificant and they do not affect the central message. Consequently, people can read these translations with the confidence that they are reading the Word of God.

  • A Lesson from the New Testament and the Septuagint

    An example of how an imperfect translation can still be the inerrant Word of God is found in the usage that the New Testament writers make of the of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. The New Testament quotes the Septuagint about one hundred and sixty specific times. Thirteen of those times, when quoting the Old Testament, the New Testament writers call the Septuagint, “Scripture.” This shows that the Septuagint, an imperfect Greek translation of the Hebrew original, is still considered to be Holy Scripture.

  • These quotations are as follows:

  • Matthew 21:42

    Jesus cites the Septuagint when speaking of His predicted rejection by His own people—the Jews. We read in Matthew:

    Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes?’” (Matthew 21:42 NKJV)

    This cites Psalm 117:22-23 in the Septuagint. It is Psalm 118:22-23 in English translations. Jesus believed the Septuagint could be equated with Scripture.

  • Luke 4:18-19,21

    The Septuagint was cited by Jesus when He read from the scroll of Isaiah in a synagogue in Nazareth. It reads as follows:

    Now Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to tell them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read.” (Luke 4:16-21 NET)

    Jesus is citing Isaiah 61:1-2, He called the passage from which He read “Scripture.” Again, the Septuagint is considered to be Scripture.

  • John 13:18

    When Jesus said the Scriptures predicted His betrayal by one who was close to Him He cited the Septuagint. We read the following in the Gospel of John:

    I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.’ (John 13:18 NKJV)

    This cites Psalm 40:9 in the Septuagint (Psalm 41:9 in English translations). The Greek text of the Old Testament is cited here, and declared to be Scripture.

  • Acts 8:32-33

    When leaving Jerusalem, the Ethiopian eunuch was reading the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament about the prediction of God’s suffering servant. The Bible records it as follows:

    Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” (Acts 8:32-33 NRSV)

    This is citing Isaiah 53:7-8, in the Septuagint.

  • Romans 4:3

    Paul quotes the Septuagint when referring to the faith of Abraham. He said to the Romans:

    For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, so God declared him to be righteous.” (Romans 4:3 NLT)

    The passage cited is Genesis 15:6 and it is called Scripture.

  • Romans 9:17

    Paul cites the Septuagint when speaking of God’s reason for the raising up of the Pharaoh of Egypt. He wrote to the church at Rome:

    For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Romans 9:17 ESV)

    The New Living Translation says:

    For the Scriptures say that God told Pharaoh, “I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you, and so that my fame might spread throughout the earth.” (Romans 9:17 NLT)

    Paul is citing Exodus 9:16 in the Septuagint and calls it Scripture.

  • Romans 11:3-4

    The Septuagint is cited when referring to Elijah’s complaint that all the prophets had been slain. We read the following in the Book of Romans:

    I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (Romans 11:2-4 ESV)

    Here, Paul is citing 1 Kings 19:10,14, and 18 in the Septuagint translation.

  • Galatians 3:8

    Paul quotes the Septuagint in the passage that says Gentiles would be blessed through Abraham. He wrote the following:

    And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” (Galatians 3:8 NRSV)

    The passage cited is Genesis 12:3. Paul cites the Greek text rather than the Hebrew text.

  • Galatians 4:30

    The illustration that the promise of the inheritance will come through Sarah, rather than Hagar, is quoted in the Septuagint. Paul wrote:

    But what does the Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” (Galatians 4:30 TNIV)

    Here Paul is citing Genesis 21:12 in the Greek text.

  • 1 Timothy 5:18

    Paul quotes the Law of Moses in the Septuagint version. He wrote the following to Timothy:

    For the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves to be paid.” (1 Timothy 5:18 NRSV)

    Deuteronomy 25:4 is cited here in the Greek text.

  • James 2:8

    James cites the Septuagint with respect to loving one’s neighbor. He wrote:

    Yes indeed, it is good when you truly obey our Lord’s royal command found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (James 2:8 NLT)

    James is citing Leviticus 19:18 in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.

  • James 4:6

    James quotes the Septuagint concerning God blessing the humble. He said:

    He gives us more and more strength to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, “God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble.” (James 4:6 NLT)

    The passage cited here is Proverbs 3:34 in the Septuagint.

Each of These References Calls What They Are Citing “Scripture”

We find the evidence convincing. On a number of occasions, the New Testament writers, in citing the Old Testament, cite the Greek text, the Septuagint, instead of citing the Hebrew text. The Septuagint is called “Scripture” in thirteen passages where it is cited.

Conclusion: the New Testament Writers Believed They Were Citing Scripture When Quoting the Greek Old Testament

Therefore, the New Testament teaches that the Septuagint, a translation, is Scripture. Since all Scripture is divinely inspired, then the Septuagint, along with other Bible translations, are divinely inspired in the sense that they convey God’s truth.

Summary - Question 31
Since All Bible Translations Are Imperfect, How Can We Speak of an Inerrant Bible?

The imperfections of Bible translations are used as an argument against an inerrant Bible. Since all translations are different, how can anyone speak of an inerrant Bible?

However the problems with translations have nothing to do with the original. It is admitted that all translations have their problems. Yet the message still comes through loud and clear. The real issue is the text behind the translations. Is it error free? The evidence says that it is.

In addition, the New Testament cites the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, and calls it Scripture. Therefore, it is a biblical idea to call a translation of the Bible “Scripture.”

Aren’t Many Statements of Scripture Outside the Realm of Being Inerrant? ← Prior Section
Did Jesus Believe the Scriptures Were Without Error? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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