I enjoy these questions, as it lets me exercise the spiritual and intellectual mind and prepare me for questions when non-Christians ask me at work.
The two questions I’ll address are: 1) How can we trust the translations? (drawn from post - “I mean my question is larger than that like how do you have so much certainty that the bible was correct. Or even what translation or version is correct?”)
And 2) Why are there so many denominations? And do they matter (drawn from post – “but how are people sure christianity and their denomination is the right one? Like everyone seems certain that they are correct. I just don't know how to navigate all the different opinions.”)
- How can we trust the translations?
There are three accepted approaches to translating a text from its foreign language into a different language, which are
Each has a different philosophy of translation and has a good application for the type of study or reading that you may prefer. It is the same challenge that every translator of print or language on to present the best translation to the listener or reader.
Word-for-word translation such as ESV/KJV will try to translate the original word into the most appropriate English word in its context and meaning. It is very good for study and when you want to meditate on the words and its meaning.
Meaning-for-meaning such as the NIV will try to translate the meaning of the sentences (noting that there’s no punctuation in the Greek/Hebrew) in to the modern English meaning. They are good for everyday reading or when going through large bodies of text.
Paraphrase translations such as the NLT will try to translate the whole sections into modern English, they may add words not present in its original form but the words are added to assist with the modern translation. They are good for new converts or those who struggle to read (like myself).
For example, Rom 3:25 (the red is my own emphasis)
whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood
, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins
God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement
, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—
For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin
. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past,
Notice the different types of words used to describe Jesus act of sacrifice – propitiation/sacrifice of atonement/sacrifice for sin, and also how the translators capture the effect of it on sin – passed over former sin/left sins unpunished/did not punish previous sin.
The ESV translator has used 'propitiation' to emphasise how Jesus' sacrifice restores relationship between God and Man. The NIV and NLT used sacrifice for sin/atonement which is similiar to the Levitical sacrifices for sin with a hint that Jesus was our perfect sacrifice. Both are correct yet different however this is the challenge of translating any text into a different language because the new language doesn't quite fit the old one.
In spirit they try to convey the same message but different translators understand the text differently and will have some bias though it will not drastically diverge from the original text. This brings me to the fourth approach to translation – Corruption, which are texts driven by other religions such as JW or Mormonism to purposely change the Christian doctrine by adding or subtracting words from the original text and to effectively change its meaning.
Perhaps the best way to understand your translation is to go through the Forward or translators notes in the beginning of the Bible (usually present in big study Bibles) and understand the translator’s approach to their work.
I’ll post my response to Q. 2 in the morning, after some reflection.