13th May 2019

A Multitude of Counsellors

“Whom will he teach knowledge?…For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little. For with stammering lips and another tongue he will speak to this people…”
Isaiah 28:9-11 (NKJV) 

Someone was asking me about my collection of English Bibles. With the latest acquisitions I now have around 225. I’m just about to ‘stock take’ again for the coming year. Not all of them are complete Bibles; some are special translations of a single book or a collection of books, such as the Minor Prophets.

My friend was somewhat nonplussed. “Surely,” he mused, “you can only read them one at a time, and a Bible is a Bible is a Bible.” Yes, true. But my premise for starting the collection remains valid. All Bibles are based on the original inspired text somewhere back in history. Translated into English, today these volumes represent a mixture of good and bad, right and wrong, better and worse. And by studying a variety of texts, perhaps we can come closer to what the original intended.

Every translator, whether an individual or a committee, has bias and preferences. Many translations undertaken by individuals and fellowships have, even where they have taken steps to avoid it, unconsciously or consciously, allowed their beliefs to filter in and overtake what the original text says in places—sometimes in many places.

And then there is the phenomenon of consensus. Many of the books, especially in the Hebrew Bible of the Old Testament, have language written in the flowery and imprecision of poetry and lyricism. Here, especially where the Hebrew word appears only once, the honest translator puts (as many do) “Hebrew unclear”. Translators down the centuries have come to a consensus as to what the passage or word means. The original texts they have used, compared with other texts from the Latin or Syriac (both early translations of the Hebrew), not forgetting the Greek translation made of the Old Testament back in the 4th century BCE, the Septuagint, have given a meaning which, after much consideration, the modern translator just accepts. And yet sometimes it becomes very obvious that the consensus translation is not always the best for our understanding today, or may not now give the complete meaning. Here’s where the collection I have begins to prove of value in study. Of course, each translation believes that it is as close to the autograph meaning as English can get. Recent studies in Psalms have shown, however, that up to eight different layers or purposes for the text to have been written, have today been isolated. And each ‘layer’ may be understood better with slightly different translations, because the consensus understanding usually only considers one layer.

And yes, a Bible is a Bible is a Bible. God can work with the worst of translations and can still call, convict and convert someone.

Gracious Father, you have given us your Word in the differing translations to add depth and understanding for us. All we have to do is keep studying. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Study by John Stettaford


About the Author:
John Stettaford is an Elder in the Reading Congregation of the Worldwide Church of God UK.

Local Congregation:
Worldwide Church of God Reading
Prospect School, Room A1 (Main Building)
Honey End Lane
RG30 4EL

Meeting Time:
Saturday 11am

Local Congregational Contact:
John Stettaford
Phone: 01923-241426
Email: pastor@wcg-reading.org.uk

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