Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bible translations and divine revelation

I have written separately on this issue, and so I have decided in this post to put all of my various reasons why the bible is unreliable as a source of history or divine knowledge. My eighteen years of study has led me to believe that there is no such thing as a divine or divinely inspired text. The main reasoning behind this is that the written word is such an inadequate means of a deity trying to reveal him or herself to mankind.

Anyone who is bilingual can attest to the difficulty of having to translate ideas or works from one language to another. The fact that the bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek makes it easy to lose itself in translation when doing so to any other language. Not to mention that those languages have changed and evolved as languages tend to do and therefore some of the words of the ancient texts had different and multiple meanings than they do now.

According to an excellent article on this matter, there are over 500 translations of the bible in the English language alone! This article cites several problems (eight to be exact) with biblical translations which I will paraphrase here for the sake of brevity.

1.       No original manuscript of any biblical book has survived!
2.       The extant (existing) manuscripts contain numerous textual variations!
3.       Important old manuscripts were found in the last 200 years!
4.       The meanings of some biblical texts are unknown or uncertain!
5.       Ancient languages are very different from modern languages!
6.       Every “translation” is already inevitably an “interpretation”!
7.       All living languages continually change and develop over time!
8.       Cultural developments require new sensitivities in language!

The first and most important point makes it quite clear why the written word is in and of itself and inadequate means reveal divine knowledge to man. Combine that reason with eight and you have a pretty solid case. Reading ancient texts requires knowledge of the culture and practices of the people from which these works are derived. Without it you are basically reading and interpreting everything you read incorrectly and out of context.

Point six in the previous list also makes and excellent point; all translations are interpretations! Not only are you trying to interpret the text and its meaning, but you must also interpret it in its original cultural context. 

Finally, Thomas Pain in his book ‘The Age of Reason’ also made an excellent point regarding revelations. He said:

“for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and, consequently, they are not obliged to believe it.”

As seen in the above quote Mr. Paine makes quite an important point by putting the idea of revelation in its proper perspective. Basically, a believer’s faith is not on God or Christ but rather on in this case the unknown authors of the scriptures who claimed to have received their knowledge from a divine source.

When a believer tells me that they believe in the “word of God” I have to correct them and tell them that technically they believe in the word of a slew of anonymous authors who claimed to have received those texts from God. Mormonism is one of today’s modern examples of this in that Joseph Smith claimed to having been visited by an angel Moroni in response to his prayer to God regarding which was the “true” religion. Taken in perspective what is the difference between this and the origins of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam? To the intellectually honest mind there is no difference! It’s the same methodology used in different times to promulgate a religion or belief system.

Regarding translations for those of you that might be interested in reading the article I referred to in passing above in its entirety at the link provided at the end of this paragraph. You will find that it goes into the eight reasons cited above very thoroughly so that you will have a better understanding of the difficulties that translating ancient texts must face. Enjoy it and may you be more enlightened by it, for the article please click here.


  1. I doubt that Jesus would have preached/believed the bible was divinely inspired if it had been around when he allegedly walked the earth.

  2. He did have the Old Testament to refer to from time to time. Remember he spoke of the law of Moses and made mention of various prophets.

  3. A brilliant thoughtful post yes, reading does change people, usually for the better.

  4. Thanks German translator, I think that if you can discredit the bible as a whole then what's inside just doesn't matter.