A Bible, a Bible, an Inerrant Bible – But Which Bible?

Many people who reject the Book of Mormon insist that there is no need for additional scripture or revelation from God, since the modern Bible is perfect, inerrant, and complete. One anti-Mormon ministry mocks the passages in the Book of Mormon where its authors apologize for the possibility of human error in their work, arguing that God doesn’t make mistakes (yes, He’s perfect, but human authors, scribes, translators, and publishers have not yet reached that level). The Bible, we are told, is absolutely free from error – and nothing more is needed.

To those who fulfill Book of Mormon prophecy by saying that they already have a Bible and need nothing more, I would first like to ask, “Which Bible?” Might it be the Armenian Bible, which includes books such as Aseneth and Joseph that are not found in most European Bibles? Will it be the Catholic Bible with its many apocryphal books not found in Protestant Bibles? Perhaps we should use one of two versions of the Ethiopic Bible (the narrower or wider canon) with several books not familiar to most Christians?

But even if we agree upon a given collection of books, such as the standard collections in Protestant Bibles, we must then consider the problem of translations and again ask, “Which Bible?”

In a lesson the other night, just for fun, I handed out several Bible translations and asked participants to read 1 Samuel 13:1. Here are some of the results:

1. Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel,

New International Version:
1. Saul was thirty years old when he became King, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years.

New English Bible:
1. Saul was fifty years old when he became King, and he reigned over Israel for twenty-two years.

Contemporary English Version:
1. Saul was a young man when he became king, and he ruled Israel for two years.

The Jerusalem Bible:
1. . . . [yes, the entire verse is missing, with just an ellipsis showing]

New Revised Standard Version (here it is the same as the Revised Standard Version):
1. Saul was . . . years old when he began to reign, and he reigned . . . and two years over Israel.

Good News Bible:
[The verse is missing: chapter 13 begins with verse 2. Someone has subtracted yet another verse from scripture!]

You can see a few other translations at Bible.cc.

So what’s going on? As is explained in a footnote in some editions, the available Hebrew text for this verse is missing a couple words. The first number is missing entirely, and in the second number, it’s clear that it ends with a two but the first digit is unknown. I like the way the Revised Standard Version puts it: “Saul was . . . years old when he began to reign, and he reigned . . . and two years over Israel.” Other translators made guesses, it seems, to fill in the blanks.

What’s important here is not the fact that the translations differ and involved some degree of guesswork – but that the available Hebrew text itself clearly has problems. How can anyone maintain that it has been preserved without error, without any loss or corruption, when there are many examples like 1 Samuel 13:1 that clearly show corruption of the text, and even the loss of entire words?

True, this verse is not a heavy one in terms of doctrine. But if your rejection of sacred scripture from God in modern times (like the Book of Mormon) is based on the non-Biblical notion that the Bible is complete and perfect, and that no further guidance from God is needed (nor will it be accepted, thank you), then you really need to reconsider your position.

As wonderful as the Bible is, it is not perfect, it is not free from errors, it is not the final authority on all issues: God is! And when we remember that, we might remember that God has never said that He will quit speaking to us. We might realize that it’s possible that God can send prophets and new revelation and new scripture just as He did in the past (like the New Testament – all new scripture to a people who thought they already had the complete word of God). I hope we’ll be open-minded enough to read and ponder the message of The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ – a second witness that verifies the most vital truths of the Bible and confirms the divinity of Jesus Christ.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

22 thoughts on “A Bible, a Bible, an Inerrant Bible – But Which Bible?

  1. The 1982 Ensign had a series of 8 articles on “How the Bible Came to Be” by Lenet H. Read. It started in January. The link to the first article is here:
    Or try clicking here

    A good place to buy different translations of the Bible is American Bible Society. http://www.bibles.com, and their English Bibles page is here:
    Or try clicking here

    They have 15 translations:

    AMP – Amplified Bible
    ASV – American Standard Version
    CEV – Contemporary English Version
    ESV – English Standard Version
    GNT – Good News Translation
    HCSB – Holman Christian Standard Bible
    KJV – King James Version
    NAB – New American Bible
    NASB – New American Standard Bible
    NIV – New International Version
    NJB – New Jerusalem Bible
    NKJV – New King James Version
    NLT – New Living Translation
    NRSV – New Revised Standard Bible
    RSV – Revised Standard Version

    Older ones are:
    GNB – Good News Bible (predecessor of GNT)
    JB – Jerusalem Bible (predecessor of NJB)
    TLB – The Living Bible (predecessor of NLT)

    Even more translations can be found at the International Bible Society. http://www.ibsdirect.com
    NIrV – New Interational Reader’s Version.
    TNIV – Today’s New International Version.

    I’m partial to two.

    I like the NIV because it contains many corrections to the KJV which are already in the footnotes of the LDS edition of the KJV Bible. If you look in the LDS KJV Bible, in the footnotes you’ll see alternate translations marked “OR”, “GR”, or “HEB”, and many of those are the same alternate words that the NIV translators chose. I’m not saying anyone copied the other, but that in many cases the NIV translators and the LDS footnote writers were in agreement.

    The NIV is a good secondary Bible for those passages where the King James English is confusing in grammar or word usage. (And sometimes Paul’s sentence structure throws me for a loop, and I end up using two or three alternate Bibles to figure out what he meant.)

    My other favorite Bible is the Jerusalem Bible Reader’s Edition, (the old one not the new) because that is the first one I bought and studied on my own. It’s more a paraphrase than a word-for-word, but it was great for a teenager, and it taught me a lot about Christ’s gospel and it prepared me to eventually join the true church.

    I love the Bible, and carry copies in about 15 languages in my car to give out with the Book of Mormon.

    If someone truely knows the Jesus of the Bible, I think they will recognize that He’s the same Jesus of the Book of Mormon

  2. Just a thought on the New English Translation, 1 Cor. 15:29 spell it out for those who were being baptised for the dead. Was it a non-Christian practice? Paul seems it was consistent with the gospel. As I read the scriptures in other translations, They all point out at the wondrous times of the Restoration.

  3. When I was in seminary (Master of Divinity type), and I was studying NT Greek, I really looked at the English translations to see which was closest. In my opinion, New American Standard is the best in that regard. I refer to mine a lot and except for the footnotes, it is excellent.

    An example of one of the footnotes; Acts 2:38 isn’t about being baptized for the forgiveness of sins, water baptism doesn’t do that. So baptism is simply a thing you do because you have already been forgiven. Very Baptist. What is scary is he mentions the Greek word translated ‘for’ could be ‘because of,’ in other words, get baptized “because of your remission of sins.” Kind of turns the whole verse on its head.

    Looking at the sentence in Greek, even I as a first year NT Greek student could tell you that the author was wrong (with a ThD and a PhD). The Greek word eis in this sentence can only be translated as ‘for’ because of the word it modifies (eis can be translated as ‘because of’ in certain cases. But not here.)

    But just imagine someone who reads Acts 2:38 and thinks boy I need to get baptized and then reads the footnote and says oh never mind. Scary to me.

    How many people are turned from the simple teachings of the gospel because of the false doctrines of learned men?

  4. I think it’s too bad that many Mormons are locked into a KJV-only sort of belief in the Bible. (I’ve known people who actually believe that the Church uses translations of the KJV in non-English-speaking countries.) I, for one, didn’t much appreciate the Bible until I started reading the New English Bible many years ago. I continue to stumble over the 17-century English of the KJV, and nowadays I take a KJV/NIV parallel Bible with me to church (unfortunately, the NIV is far from my favorite translation).

    Contrary to what many LDS think, the modern translations don’t “take out” parts of the Bible, nor do they rewrite it. Although all translators (even those of the KJV) have some theological preconceptions, nearly all of the modern translations have been done by those who are sincerely trying to be accurate in their translation. (The problems you’ll find, as has already been noted, are usually in the footnotes, not the translation itself.)

    The example Jeff gave in the blog was a good one. The differences in the translation come about because of problems with the Hebrew text, not because the translators are playing games with us. Facing a text that has a verse missing in some manuscripts and that is incomplete or nonsensical in other manuscripts, the translators did their best and came to different conclusions. But I doubt if any of them are trying to pull anything over on us.

    When I try reading the KJV, it’s like trying to study Shakespeare in school. But when I read one of the better translations, it’s like reading something that has been written for me to study, enjoy and understand. Some distinctly LDS doctrines are even clearer — particularly the “separateness” of the persons of the Trinity/godhead — in modern translation than in the KJV.

    Finally, I’ll agree with what Mike Parker said. The NET is terrific and does an excellent job of explaining many of the translation problems of the text.

  5. Anon at 8:10 am. “Although all translators (even those of the KJV) have some theological preconceptions, nearly all of the modern translations have been done by those who are sincerely trying to be accurate in their translation. … The differences in the translation come about because of problems with the Hebrew text, not because the translators are playing games with us. “

    Granted that translators are sincere. However, I have run across a few passages, not just footnotes, where theological preconceptions come into play.

    I don’t have the verse reference, but I remember cross-checking a verse of Paul’s that read “dead works” in the KJV. One translation used “sinful acts” and another translation used something along the line of “meaningless ritual”.

    If the original Greek does literally translate as “dead works”, then we’d have to ask Paul if what he meant was more along the lines of sinful acts, or along the lines of meaningless ritual, such as the parts of the Mosaic Law that had been done away with, or whether he was referring to Pharisaical extensions of the Mosaic Law.

    Even when we talk in the same language, there is plenty of opportunity to ask “What do you mean by that?”

    The theological preconceptions are more apparent in the paraphrase translations or what they call “thought-for-thought” translations than in what are called “word for word” translations.

    It’s really a tough job, because of the idioms in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, and because some word usage has changed since King James English.

    Example “let” in King James in Romans 1:13 actually means “hindered”, and in 2 Thes 2:7 means “restrain”.

  6. As well, in the same verse I mentioned (Acts 2:38), the Greek work baptizo was basically made into an English word, baptize, rather than translating its meaning of immerse. I take it this is because King James I had not been immersed when baptized. And it allows for a misunderstanding of the word’s meaning for future generations. So I do believe translators ‘rewrite’ it in a sense to fit their own theological viewpoint (or that of the guy paying the bills.) 🙂

  7. At least one NT teacher at BYU, Dr. Griggs, is now requiring students to read from at least one non-KJV translation. I imagine there are many more that do a similar thing. Purhaps we’re on our way towards opening our minds, in this regard, as a church.

  8. I think the lack of willingness to read non-KJV translations among the younger LDS generations is due to having familiarity not only eith the KJV text, but with the LDS footnotes, Bible dictionary, etc. This is in contrast to older generations which take the view of translators purposely mucking up the text.

  9. I’d like to see the church publish bilingual editions of the Book of Mormon. Foreign langauge in the left hand column, and English in the right. I think a lof of people overseas would request copies in order to help them learn English. I know that the people to whom I give out 2-language pairs of books really love it.

    I wrote someone at church HQ about it, but got a letter back saying “There’s no demand for it.” Well piffle. There’s no demand because no one has tried it.

    I wrote the translation department, even offering to do fund-raising to get enough money to do it, and cover typesetting costs plus printing costs, but they still don’t catch the idea.

    Does anyone here want to invest in printing a minimum batch of a bilingual edition Book of Mormon? Such as Spanish/English, French/English, Chinese/English? Those seem to be the biggest users.

    If the church sells their print run, fine, if not, the investors would be stuck owning the books to cover the church’s expenses.

  10. Along those lines, I’ve wanted to see a Bible printed with the KJV and RSV (I believe the RSV is what James E. Talmage was always referring to as the Revised version) side-by-side.

    The thing that made me like non-standard translations of the Bible was my mission in Brazil. The Church uses one translation there, but it’s rather thick and didn’t fit well in my bag. I bought a smaller one with a similar translation and used that.

    On the other hand, the LDS version of the KJV still seems to be the clearest translation to me. Other translations do have a lot of strong points (easier reading, newer translations, helpful guides), but they often lose important doctrinal points.

  11. Thank heavens we have living prophets to clear the muddy water. After reading all of your comments, it is clear that we cannot rely on the intellect of mankind to interpret ancient scripture. One sentence of a true prophet speaking in behalf of the Lord as the prophets of old would end all of this debate over the errors and versions of the Bible.

  12. Doka,

    Although I agree with what you are trying to say, I think there is a fundamental difference between interpreting the author of scripture’s intent/formulating doctrine based on interpretation and doing all we can do to understand the words themselves as they were originally written. I see nothing wrong at all with seeking a more clear understanding of what Paul, Peter, Luke, ect., actually taught.

    As latter-day saints, with our solid doctrinal foundation built on Christ’s teachings as revealed through His modern-day prophets, we are in an excellent position to interpret biblical teachings. Thank heaven for modern-day prophets! With that foundation, we stand to benefit more than any other people from the teachings of prophets from former days. An accurate and detailed translation of the bible gives us the opportunity to unlock many spiritual truths that would have otherwise remained hidden from us.

    Yes, the living God is our foundation, not the Bible. However, in our satisfaction in having living prophets, let’s not discount an in-depth understanding of thousands of years of prophets’ teachings. We have so much to gain!

  13. The “Revised Standard Version” which we know as the RSV, had the New Testament published in 1946, and the Old Testament in 1952. This is an update of the American Standard Version (ASV), which was published in 1901.

    What Talmage called the “Revised Version” may have been the “English Revised Version” which was published by the Church of England in 1881-1885, and is an update of the KJV.

    The “American Standard Version” of 1901, is merely a variant of the Church of England’s “English Revised Version” embodying the preferences of the American scholars associated in the work.

    The above information comes from the preface to the Revised Standard Version.

  14. I’m a former Mormon turned Baptist, and I think it’s important to point out that most modern translations will have some kind of footnote anytime something like this isn’t very clear. I’m partial to the English Standard Version, which takes the high road with the RSV and NRSV by simply omitting the numbers in 1 Sam. 13:1. The omissions are accompanied by footnotes that clearly point out that the numbers are unclear in the original manuscripts.

    Jeff, I think you’re being a little unfair pointing the finger at all these modern translations and they way they try to “fill in the gaps”. They aren’t trying to be deceitful in any way. They’re just trying to be as true to the original manuscripts as possible and in my experience they tend to be quite honest about what they’re doing if you pay attention to footnotes. Your LDS edition of the KJV has no footnote about the translation issues surrounding 1 Sam. 13:1, so, if you were relying on that alone, you wouldn’t get the whole picture.

  15. I want to comment reg. “inerrant Bible”

    le-havdil, First some important information: A analysis (found here: http://www.netzarim.co.il (that is the only legitimate Netzarim)) of all extant source documents and archaeology using a rational and logical methodology analyzing the “gospel of Matthew” proves that the historical Ribi Yehosuha ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth and his talmidim (apprentice-students), called the Netzarim, taught and lived Torah all of their lives; and that Netzarim and Christianity were always antithetical.

    Regarding “NT”:

    “Even according to the most authoritative Christian scholars, e.g., The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, acknowledges:

    "A study of 150 Greek MSS of the Gospel of Luke has revealed more than 30,000 different readings… It is safe to say that there is not one sentence in the NT in which the MS tradition is wholly uniform… But there are many thousands which have a definite effect upon the meaning of the text. It is true that not one of these variant readings affects the substance of Christian dogma" ("Text, NT," 2nd edition (Abingdon, 1962).

    Of course Christians redacting the Jewish texts made Christian redactions to make the Jewish texts compatible with "the substance of Christian dogma." Duh.” [Quote from the previous mentioned Netzarim-website.]

    Clearly the “NT” is not inerrant.
    The Nәtzâr•im′ never changed their mind about it, maintaining that only the Jewish Ta•na"kh′ is Scripture and only their own TheNәtzâr•im′ Hebrew Ma•tit•yâh′u (NHM) was a legitimate account of the life and teachings of Rib′i Yәho•shu′a.

    The Nәtzâr•im′ haven't changed from this position, and won't change from this position.

    Anders Branderud

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