Online Articles

Online Articles

Is the Bible Incomprehensible?

A growing number of articles in the last few years emphasize difficulties in the translation of the scriptures. Perhaps they are slightly helpful in giving pause to some “hyper rationalists” who declare that all the Bible is easy if you’ll just let them interpret it for you! However, such essays need to be read with discretion, lest they undermine confidence in the word of God and the importance of following it carefully.

The dominant philosophy of our times is Postmodernism and those affected by it question the ability of language to communicate ideas. (Radical postmodernists don’t mind using language to promote their slogans such as “language is oppression,” but neither do they mind self-contradiction.) At any rate, challenging the understandability of language, especially translated language, can be a threat to disciples who believe that it is by words that they will be saved (Acts 11:14). The gospel message is the power of God to salvation! Any efforts to undermine the power of words threatens that concept.

There is no doubt that many nuances and idiomatic expressions in biblical languages, especially ancient Hebrew, can be difficult to understand and translate. However, there also should be no doubt that the essential message of God’s love and our responsibility to respond to it also comes through clearly in good translations. When travelling to different countries, we have no alternative but to depend on interpretation and translation. Sure, some of the local flavor is lost in the translation, but if there's a fire in the hotel, we’ll follow interpreted instructions to get out! Jesus and his apostles endorsed the ability to know God’s will through translations because they quoted freely from the Septuagint, evidently a translation that left much to be desired.

The Blue Letter Bible quotes the translators of the KJV on this matter. Even if their Shakespearean English may be a little tough, their idea comes through. (Isn’t that the point here?)

“We do not deny, nay we affirm and avow, that the very meanest [worst] translation of the Bible in English, set forth by men of our profession, containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God. As the King’s speech, which he uttereth in Parliament, being translated into French, Dutch,Italian and Latin, is still the King’s speech, though it be not interpreted by every translator with the like grace, nor peradventure so fitly for phrase, nor so expressly for sense, everywhere… No cause therefore why the word translated should be denied to be the word, or forbidden to be current, notwithstanding that some imperfections and blemishes may be noted in the setting forth of it.”