The Bible: Has It Been Translated Correctly?
Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. Norman Geisler
Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome. What evidence does the Bible offer that it comes from
Almighty God? Well today, Dr. Norman Geisler continues to present the evidence that
shows that fact. The question we want to address today is this: “How Do We Know That
the Bible Has Been Translated Correctly?” What about all the modern translations? As
you will hear, we think some of the new translations are very bad; some of them are good;
and some of them are better. Which are which? I thought you might be interested. Listen:
Dr. Norman Geisler: The Bible: Is it translated correctly? We’ve asked some very
important questions in preceding programs. We asked, “The Bible: Who wrote it? The
Bible: Are there any errors? The Bible: Is anything missing? The Bible: Which books
belong in it? And now we want to ask the question, “What about modern translations? Is it
Well, basically, the answer to that is, there are many, many translations of the Bible.
Some of them are bad; some of them are good; and some of them are better.
First of all, let’s take a look at some of the translations. The translations of the Bible
actually go back hundreds and hundreds of years in English–back to the 700s. We’ve
listed over 1200 translations of the Bible into English alone since 700 in our book, General
Introduction to the Bible. So we have a lot of translations. But some of the main ones
are listed here. We all know about the King James, and the American Standard Version,
and the Revised Standard Version, and the New International Version, and the New King
James. I think what we’re all asking ourselves is, of all of the numerous Bibles out there,
numerous translations, are any of them really bad, really dangerous? Are any of them
really good? And what about the ones in between?
First of all, let’s talk about the bad ones. I’ll mention just one here. Some of the cults
have made their own translations of the Bible. The New World Translation of the
Jehovah’s Witness cult is a bad translation. Take, for example, John 1:1. They translate it:
“In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was a god.” That’s
a bad translation. As any good Greek scholar can tell you that when the definite article is
not used, it’s referring to the nature rather than the individuality of it and it should be trans-
lated: “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was of the
very nature of God.” In fact, Jesus is called God many times in the New Testament. He-
brews 1:8 uses the definite article, saying to the Son, “You are God.”
So that’s a bad translation. They tend to distort the verses on the immortality of the soul,
the Deity of Christ, and a number of others. So stay away from translations like that.
On the other hand, I would say most translations of the Bible are good. And by “good” I
mean, all the essential doctrines, all the fundamental doctrines, all major and minor doc-
trines come through correctly in the translation. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s the King
James, which I’ll say more about in a moment, which is archaic and the language is out-
dated, right on up to the NIV, the New International Version–none of them deny the Deity of
Christ. None of them deny the substitutionary atonement or the bodily resurrection, or any
of the fundamentals of the faith.
So they’re all good in that sense. Now, some of them are better than others. For ex-
ample, I personally believe that the King James is archaic–it’s out of date. The words don’t
even have those meanings anymore. For example, anyone who thinks the King James
was let down on a string from heaven–it was good enough for Paul and it’s good enough
for them–I’d like to give a quiz to. What does, “He that letteth will now let” mean (2 Thess.
2:7)? It means “hinder.” See, the word “let” which means “permit” today meant just the
opposite in 1611. So if you’re reading the original King James, you’re getting the wrong
meaning because you’re getting a meaning that is just the reverse of what it meant in 1611.
Or try this one: “The superfluity of naughtiness” in James 1:21. What does that mean?
You don’t have the foggiest idea. It means, “The overflowing of wickedness.”
Or what does this mean: “We do you to wit of the grace of God” (2 Cor. 8:1). We do you
to wit? We just don’t talk that way anymore. It means “We want you to know of the grace
Or, “Quit ye like men.” What are they quitting about? Actually it means, “Be strong like
men” (2 Cor. 16:13).
So here we have verses that people don’t even know what they mean and they say this
is the Bible to be used. It’s a good Bible; it was very good in its day. It lasted for a long
time–hundreds of years. It was beautifully translated, has beautiful poetry and rhythm to it.
But it’s archaic and needs to be retranslated. So we move to what I would call the better
translations of the Bible.
Ankerberg: Next, what do we consider to be the better translations of the Bible, and
what evidence shows that they ARE better translations? Listen:
Geisler: The better translations of the Bible in my opinion fall into two classes: those that
are more literal and those that are more literary.
Those that are more literal would be like the New American Standard Bible. I person-
ally believe that is probably the best literal translation of the Bible. It was done by conser-
vative scholars. It was done by a group of scholars, not just one person. It gives you the
literal meaning of the original language. I believe it is the best study Bible. If you want to
know accurately what the original said, get yourself a NASB–New American Standard
Study Bible and start studying it.
On the other end of the spectrum, those Bibles that are translated by conservative
scholars and a group of scholars that are more literary. Anyone who studies the NASB
knows that it’s literal but it’s kind of wooden. It doesn’t flow well. It’s not very memorizable;
whereas, the New International Version is much more literary and done by all good schol-
ars, all basic doctrines are the same. And by the way, those who say that the NIV left out
certain verses on the blood, you know, this simply isn’t true. What they’re doing is, they’re
going by the earlier and better manuscripts. In the same chapter that they supposedly left
out a verse on the blood, there’s another verse on the blood in that same chapter. And if
they were trying to get the verses on the blood out, they would have taken them all out.
That’s not the point. The point is, after 1840–from 1840 and following–we discovered a lot
of earlier manuscripts. When the King James Bible was translated in 1611, we had no
manuscripts of the Bible that went back into the second, third, fourth, or fifth, even the sixth
century. All of the manuscripts were very late. Just Beza, around 550, was used a little bit
in the King James and that was the earliest manuscript that was even used. From 1840
and following we found Vaticanus manuscript around 325 A.D., Sinaiticus 350; Chester
Beatty Papyri 250 B.C.; Bodmer papyri 200; John Ryland fragment from the first quarter of
the second century–maybe as early as 114 A.D.
And so what they did, these earlier manuscripts had a little different wording and differ-
ent verses in certain places than others. Classic example. 1 John 5:7 says, “There are
three that bear record in heaven: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are
The reason it’s important to take a look at these earlier manuscripts is because they
were closer to the original. If your manuscript comes from 1000 A.D. and the book was
written on the time of Christ, then you’ve got a thousand-year gap between it and you can’t
be sure how accurately it was copied. But if you have a manuscript from 200 A.D. and 300
and 400, then you’re closer to the original. And these earlier manuscripts give us some
different readings on certain verses. For example, 1 John 5:7: “There are three that bear
record in heaven: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are One.” You
say, “That’s a great verse on the Trinity. It’s right in the King James.” But if you look in the
NIV, you won’t find the verse there at all. They take part of one verse and make another
verse, but you won’t find what I just quoted there.
You say, “Why did they cut that verse on the Trinity out of the Bible?!” Because, when
Erasmus did his Greek Testament in the 16th century, there was not a single Greek manu-
script that had that verse in. In fact, he challenged anyone of his day because they said,
“You’re taking the Trinity out of the Bible.”
He said, “I’m not taking the Trinity out of the Bible!” Matthew 28:20 is still there: “Baptize
in the name”–singular–“of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Matthew 3:16 is still there, Father
speaking from Heaven. Holy Spirit’s descending. Christ is being baptized. We’ve got all
kinds of verses on the Trinity.
“Well, why did you not put that verse in your Bible, then, Erasmus?”
He said, “Because I can’t find a single Greek manuscript with it in. And if you can find
one, I’ll put it in.”
So a few days later they came back and said, “Here’s one.” The ink was still wet on it,
and Erasmus was forced to put it in his Greek Testament. That became the basis ulti-
mately, the Textus Receptus, the Received Text, from which the King James was based
and it got in the Bible.
Then from 1840 and following, when scholars discovered that we don’t have that in any
Bible in the second century, third century, fourth century, fifth century–that it was not in any
of the early Bibles at all, they said, “Look, we’ve got to be honest and say that was a little
gloss, a little note written in the margin of some Bible that some later scribe incorporated
into the text and it really wasn’t in the original. We’ve got to be faithful to the original.” And
it was taken out.
Another point that’s very important is, when they were making up the Creeds and debat-
ing the Deity of Christ and the Trinity, this verse, 1 John 5:7, was never quoted. If it had
been there in the original Bible and had been in the manuscripts of their day, they surely
would have quoted an important verse like this.
Ankerberg: All right, we’ve seen that one example of a bad translation of the Bible is the
New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s bad because the translators were
not honest in translating the words. They inserted their own ideas into the text rather than
allowing the text to accurately convey the meaning of the biblical writers. Second, we have
talked about the good translations. These translations convey all major and minor doc-
trines of the Bible correctly. Next, what should you keep in mind when you are looking to
purchase a translation of the Bible? Dr. Geisler explains. Listen:
Geisler: So we’ve got really three kinds of translations–the bad ones like the Jehovah’s
Witnesses’ that are distorting the essential truths; good ones where all the essential truths
are there, but better ones. And I would think that “better ones” would include the New
American Standard Bible, but it’s very literal; the New International Version, which is more
literary; and then there’s some that are kind of halfway in between, that improve on the
King James and are literary but still literal–that would be the New King James Version of
the Bible. It still has the rhythm and cadence of the old King James but it got rid of the
archaisms like “He that letteth will now let” and “Quit ye like men” and so forth and then
updated it in modern language, but it’s not very much of a paraphrase or interpretive.
Here’s what you have to keep in mind when you’re looking at translations of the Bible.
Who are the people that translated it? Were they biased? Now, obviously the people who
translated the Revised Standard Version were biased. These were liberal scholars and
when they came to Isaiah 7:14, they said, “Young maiden” instead of “virgin.” Well, it had
to refer to virgin because the verse is quoted in Matthew 1:21ff. It says, “A virgin shall
conceive.” So it’s a bad translation and it comes out of the bias of the particular translators.
Whereas, the New American Standard Bible, the New International Version are not done
by biased liberal scholars, and another important thing about these translations is they’re
done by a committee of several scholars, not just one person ultimately like say, for ex-
ample, the Living Bible that was done by Ken Taylor. Fine Christian, fine believer, doing it
for his children, paraphrased it. But it’s not a literal translation, it’s a paraphrase and often
it’s a devotional paraphrase and people get blessed by it. But it’s one person and it’s a
If you want a more accurate Bible, you need to get a Bible where a committee of people
[translated it] and it’s not really a paraphrase but is a translation, and that would be Bibles
like the New International Version and the New King James Version of the Bible. But
again, let me emphasize, all of the translations are good. We’re not talking about bad
versus good, we’re talking about good versus better. Because all the essential truths are
there. They haven’t been distorted. And you can pick up any of these translations apart
from the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ and a few other cultic translations and all of the essential
truths of the Gospel are present.
Ankerberg: Now, before we move on, I asked Dr. Geisler to quickly summarize the
evidence that proves the Bible came from God. Listen:
Geisler: Let me put this thing in focus. We’ve been talking in this whole series about the
Bible from God to us, a chain reaching from God right down to the Bible in our hands. The
first link in the chain is, who wrote it? Inspiration.
The second link in the chain is really transmission. Has it been transmitted down the
centuries correctly? And we saw that the original was written by men of God, inspired by
God. We show that it has been copied accurately down through the years.
The third link is canonization. Which books belong in it? How did we get these 66
books? Now, once you get it inspired, transmitted accurately, collected correctly, then the
next and final link is translations into modern language. And we must remember that all
these translations are based on the same Bible, the same Hebrew Old Testament and
Greek New Testament. The question is, if you put it French, if you put it in German, if you
put it in English, you put it literally in English, you put it in a paraphrase in English–that’s
the same Bible. It’s just different renderings of the same Bible–some more literary, some
more literal. But we’re not talking about different Bibles. We’re talking about the same
Bible based on the same Hebrew and Greek that brings the same truths across to us in
different ways of stating it.
Ankerberg: Now, what about the so-called errors in the Bible? Well, there is an illustra-
tion that Dr. Geisler gave to us which I asked him to repeat that will help you understand
copyists’ errors. We do not believe there are any errors in the original manuscripts. Today,
we believe we have accurate copies that have come down to us conveying what the bibli-
cal writers wrote. Now, in some of those copies we notice mistakes were made by the
copyists. But because we have so many thousands of manuscripts that have come down
to us, we know where the mistakes were made and what should have been written. Dr.
Geisler presents the evidence for this fact. Listen:
Geisler: Let me return to an illustration we used several programs ago to get the point
across here. Let’s take a look at the visual. Now, notice the first one. It’s pretty clear it
means you have won $10 million, even though there’s an error in the first letter. And the
second line, there’s an error in the second letter. But they all say the same thing, even
though each one has an error in a different point.
Now, a lot of people are concerned about the so-called errors in the translations–why
does this one put it that way and the other one put it another way? Because you can get
the same meaning across even though there are minor errors in translation. There is no
one that wouldn’t pick up their $10 million if they got that telegram or got that message
saying that they’ve won 10 million dollars. And you shouldn’t put your Bible away because
you’re afraid that there are little errors in the translation. One hundred percent of the mes-
sage comes through even though there are minor errors in the translation. Just like 100
percent of the message in this visual comes through. You look at that and 100 percent of
that message – You won 10 million dollars – and that’s a big message that came through
even though there’s an error there. Likewise, the minor errors in translation don’t obscure
getting 100 percent of the message that God loves you, Christ died for you, rose from the
dead, and you can be saved just by believing in Him and trusting in Him. That’s the mes-
sage of the Bible. It comes through clearly in almost all of the major translations of the
Another point we should keep in mind is that we have 5,686 Greek manuscripts of the
New Testament and maybe 10,000 of the Hebrew Old Testament in fragments and com-
plete manuscripts. That’s a neat thing, you know. We don’t have the originals but the fact
that we don’t have the originals doesn’t really hurt anything. Number one, if we had the
originals, somebody probably would be worshipping it. Remember the snake in the wilder-
ness that was put on the pole. They were later worshipping it.
Number two, if we had the original, somebody has to be custodian, right? They could
tamper with it. But if you don’t have any one original in the custodianship of any one group,
and that group would claim to be the true Church, of course because they have the origi-
nal, then you have it spread all over the world. Some of it in Russia, some in England,
some in the United States. There’s no way that anyone can tamper with all the copies.
God has actually preserved His originals in the copies and He has preserved it from the
possibility of worship and He has preserved it from the possibility of distortion.
Ankerberg: Now, after hearing all of this evidence proving the accuracy of the Bible,
how should this impact you? How should you read and live your life in relationship to the
Bible’s teachings? Dr. Geisler explains. Listen:
Geisler: Let me kind of summarize this whole thing, the entire series. This book in our
hand can be trusted because originally God inspired the writings that were given through
Apostles and the Prophets who were given miracles to prove that they were men of God
who made supernatural predictions. Jesus confirmed it to be the Word of God. Archaeol-
ogy has confirmed it. The unity of the Bible. And furthermore, it has been so accurately
transmitted down through the ages that whereas Homer’s Iliad is only 95 percent accurate
and the Mahabharata 90 percent accurate, this has been 99.9 percent accurately copied.
And the point one doesn’t affect any doctrine, any major teaching of the Bible. The transla-
tions of the Bible are good, so when you pick up this Bible, you’ve got the Word of God,
confirmed by acts of God, confirmed by the Son of God, accurately transmitted, and you
have the very voice of God in your language speaking to you and to me.
Now, that puts the burden on us. If this is the Word of God and we can pick it up and
read it, then we are obligated to obey its message. We are obligated to live by this book.
The Bible, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. If you need something that you
can count on, remember the words of Peter when he said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall
we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”
Check in the Theological Dictionary section for four articles by Dr. Geisler on “Alleged
Errors in the Bible.” (August and September 2000)
This article is part of the transcript for our series “Is The Bible Unique or Just Another
Religious Book?” Check our catalog for the complete series which is available in video,
audio and transcript formats.