A Paraphrase Of The Bible Is Not The Bible
We are pleased that permission has been given to reprint this excellent article by Dr. Woychuk. Sane words of caution are necessary to protect the Christian from the sophistries of men.
It is obvious in the very nature of the case that a paraphrase of the Word of God is not the Word of God. It becomes, to some measure at least, the word of the person doing the paraphrasing. “Paraphrase” means “a free translation, a statement of the same thing in other words”.
In conservative circles, where the Bible is reverenced as the inerrant, infallible revelation of God, we believe that not “one jot or tittle” of God’s law should be slurred or allowed to pass as unimportant (Matt. 5:18), that the Scripture itself builds an entire argument on the very form of a word, where one single letter makes a difference (Gal. 3:16), and that our Lord Himself expressed unlimited respect for the Word of Scripture, even in its smallest segments (John 10:34, 35).
A very great responsibility, therefore, rests upon the person who would translate the Scriptures because he must recognize that it is not his right to “add” or to “take away” from the precise declaration of God (Rev. 22:18, 19). The Christian translator will strive diligently to preserve and to transmit the exact form of words and phrases used in the original. Idioms have to be coped with, and there are considerable problems latent in the task of translation, but nowhere will the language scholar lose sight of the fact that here he is dealing with the Sacred Text, which is eternally inviolable. His job is not to make it “read like the morning newspaper,” but to make it say precisely just what God said, to the very fullest extent that the science of language translation allows. Anything less than that is deplorable and utterly inadmissible. The words which God gave in the original are not arbitrary symbols. God intends that each word should convey a certain meaning — His meaning — the meaning that He couched into those words, the meaning that the Holy Spirit’s illumination will surely bring out for each child of God who reads them attentively.
Presumably, the reason for a Bible “paraphrase” is that it should serve as a kind of commentary, not intending that it should ever be mistaken for the Word of God. This, however, creates a very serious danger because many people will take it as the very Word of God, thinking that it is a reliable translation into modern English. Recently, a student approached me with a Bible problem. He read a passage, and when I asked him what he was reading, he showed me one of the present-day, widely circulated “paraphrases.” I said to him, “Why don’t you see what the Bible says?” He acted surprised at my words, turned to the often-derided King James Version, and with a mixture of puzzlement and relief, he said, “I see it.” The problem was created by the “free translation.” The other day I was reading a book where the author said, “Now, the Apostle Paul said,” — and then the author quoted a lengthy passage from a “paraphrase.” But actually the Apostle Paul did not say that, and the author would have done much better to have introduced the quotation with the name of the paraphraser instead of the name of the Apostle Paul.
The paraphrases of the Bible, despite their wide acceptance in our day, pose several serious problems: 1) They seriously, undermine our historic position in the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scriptures; 2) They are mistakenly accepted as translations and regarded as the very Word of God; 3) As “free translations,” they are generally inclined to slur over the exact words and exact shades of meaning which God intended when He gave the Word in the original languages.
In the matter of accuracy, I want to cite an example from one of the most widely circulated paraphrases in our day. In Psalm 101, verse 6, we read, “He that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me.” The paraphraser renders it, “Those who are truly good shall be my examples.”
Dr. B. K. Waltke, in a Bibliotheca Sacra review (January 1968) effectively sums it up thus, “These are bold changes without linguistic foundation which do not clarify the thought of the Psalmist but obscure it. By what right, for example, is the familiar root sharat, ‘to serve,’ rendered by the contrary thought ‘to be an example’? This is no longer a paraphrase but a rewriting of the Psalm to suit one’s own fancy.”
The Religious News Service carried an article in 1967 in which it stated that David Ben-Gurion, the former Prime Minister of Israel, is a devout student of the Scriptures, and maintains that they cannot be fully appreciated unless read in the original Hebrew. Reading a translation of the Bible “is like kissing one’s bride through a veil,” he remarked. We might carry this a step further with the observation, which may at first sound rather exaggerated, that reading a paraphrase of the Bible is like kissing one’s bride through a pane!
Many people seem to have the mistaken idea today that if they could just find that one supreme modern version they would bask in the full blaze of God’s revelation after one reading and no longer find it necessary to read, search and study the Bible. Their zealous search for such a translation is comparable to that of Ponce de Leon, otherwise a sensible enough fellow, who went up and down the whole world looking for a nonexistent fountain of youth.
In the last year or two an old, well-renowned Bible House published a new version of the New Testament which the press said “is so colloquial and up-to-date that it’s known in religious circles as ‘The Swingers’ Bible’.” But though it has already gained wide acceptance, even a casual examination reveals some of its serious defects: In 1 Peter 2:2, we are told that by drinking the “pure spiritual milk” a person “may grow up and be saved.” It omits “begotten” in John 1:14, 18 and in John 3:16, 18. This weakens the meaning of the original word “monogenes,” which claims that Christ was the only person who ever had God for the father of His physical nature. The so-called “Swingers’ Bible” also perpetuates rather obviously the Ritschlian “moral influence” theory of our Lord’s expiation by substituting the word “death” for “blood” in such passages as Acts 20:28, Romans 3:25, 5:9, Ephesians 1:7, 2:13, 1 Peter 1:19, Revelation 1:5. The strong wind “agorazo” which declares the very foundation of our redemption and means to “buy out as in a market place by paying a specific price,” is rendered simply and weakly “set free.”
The February 22, 1968, issue of the Baptist Courier, quotes Dr. Robert G. Bratcher, the translator, thus: “The New Testament writers probably never intended their work to be the gospel record for the future —so there is not a sterile order to the Scriptures.” It is not surprising, therefore, to find a translator who feels that way about the Scriptures taking certain liberties with the “God-breathed” Word which is “forever settled in heaven.”
Let not all this be interpreted by any reader to mean that we are opposed to having the Word of God translated into modern English. Not at all. There are some very good translations of the Bible in modern English. An accurate, thorough translation of God’s Word into dignified, acceptable language of our day is helpful and often brings a fresh sparkle of light into some passages which we may be inclined to glide over without much understanding. But let us always make sure that we are reading a real translation of God’s Word. We are in grave danger of supplanting the words of God with the interpolations of men whenever we choose to read a paraphrase or a loose translation. If you don’t know what an accurate translation of God’s Word is, then stick with the Authorized Version or discuss the matter with a well-grounded pastor or Bible teacher.
The forty-seven noted scholars who translated the Authorized Version in 1607-1611 were most diligent. They were divided into three groups. They consulted all the old manuscripts that were available. They all translated, and then they met together, compared their translations, and adopted the reading, which in their united judgment best accorded with the original text. It is little wonder that it has stood the test of centuries and for accuracy and beauty of diction, in the estimation of many, it still surpasses all rivals.
No book in all the world has had the fastidious treatment throughout the centuries as has the Bible. The ancient Hebrew scribes copied and compared painstakingly and counted not only the words, but each letter. The Greek copyists worked diligently to avoid the slightest error, and if only one wrong letter was discovered the entire copy was rejected. One solemn warning to the scribes reads as follows: ‘Take heed how thou doest thy work, for thy work is the work of heaven, lest thou drop or add a letter of the manuscript and so become a destroyer of the world.”
Everyone who considers the transmission of the Scriptures through the many centuries marvels at the special providence of God that has brooded over them and protected them from the very moment of their divine birth. The Bible is God’s Word because God gave it and because God has preserved it. As Sir Frederick Kenyon, one time director of the British Museum said so comprehensively, “The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries.”