How We Got the Bible – Transmission and Translation

TITLE: How We Got the Bible – Transmission and Translation


PROPOSITION: In this lesson we will examine how we got the Bible. We will briefly look at the canonization, the transmission, and the translation of the text.

OBJECTIVE: The student should be able to briefly discuss the concepts of canonization, transmission and translation.

AIM: To help all understand that the Bible has been accurately preserved throughout the ages for our benefit and that we have what they had.


1. Read: Ephesians 3:3-5

2. About the Text:

1) Paul is writing to the brethren in Ephesus.

2) He wants them to know the mystery of the gospel.

3) That mystery was revealed to him.

4) When they read what he wrote, they can know what he knew.

5) But what if we don’t have what he wrote?

6) In order to know what the first century church knew, we must have the documents that they had.

7) How do we know that we have what they had?

8) The answer to this question is the story of the History of the Bible.

3. Ref. to S, T, P, O, and A.

DISCUSSION: We received the Bible as we know it today through the process of canonization, transmission, and translation.

I.   Transmission

1. The original autographs of the Bible are not available to us.

1) Perhaps they were used so much that they merely wore out.

2) Perhaps they were destroyed for fear of people worshipping them.

3) Whatever the case may be, we must depend upon copies of the Bible to have what we have today in Bible.

2. Old Testament Copies

1) Copies of the Old Testament dating older than the 10th century A.D. are very rare.

2) This is because those who copied the text believed that old worn out texts should be destroyed in fear of using God’s name in vain.

3) We do, however, have a fairly recent discovery of some of the Old Testament texts.

4) These are called the Dead Sea scrolls and they date to about 100 B.C.

5) The Dead Sea scrolls help us understand that the scribes who copied the Old Testament text were VERY faithful to the original text.

a. Some of the book of Daniel is written in Aramaic instead of Hebrew.

b. There is a specific place in the text where this change occurs and then where it changes back to Hebrew.

c. The Dead Sea scrolls contained a copy of the book of Daniel. The change from Hebrew to Aramaic and then back to Hebrew occurs exactly where it does in our transmission of the text as well.

d. Hebrew scribes had VERY strict rules for copying the scriptures and if it was not done correctly, then the copy was destroyed.

6) Based upon this information, we can be sure that we have a faithful copy of the Old Testament text.

3. New Testament Copies

1) The New Testament is a little different from the Old Testament.

2) Those who copied the New Testament were not as careful as the Hebrew scribes and they made mistakes in their copies.

3) However, we have SO MUCH MORE evidence for the New Testament. There are over 5000 extant sources for the New Testament.

4) Some of these are mere fragments, but many are complete books.

5) The oldest fragment dates to the beginning of the second century (P52).

6) The oldest New Testaments date to the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D (Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Alexandrinus).

7) There is so much evidence that scholars who study this can know what was in the original text and what were mistakes in the original text.

8) Out of all of the New Testament 7/8th is not disputed.

9) Out of the other 1/8th, most of these are changes in letters or word forms that do not change the meaning of the original text.

10) There are a few passages, however, that are in the King James Version for which we have limited evidence. However, it is clear that these passages are, nonetheless, authoritative because the evidence we have dates very far back.

11) Even well known atheists and agnostics admit that the text is genuine (Anthony Flew).

II.  Translation

1. Jesus and the Apostles approved of using translation of scripture as authoritative.

1) Many of the quotations that we in the New Testament of the Old Testament are from the Septuagint.

2) The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament.

2. The Original Languages

1) The books of the Old Testament were originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic.

2) The books of the New Testament were originally written in Greek (there is some Aramaic).

a. Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtahni

b. Maranatha

c. Ephathah

3) In order to understand the Bible, someone must know these languages and translate it for us.

4) We are fortunate that the New Testament was written in Greek because Greek is a precise language.

5) New Testament Greek is also a dead language. This means that the language is to a certain extent fixed and doesn’t change.

6) Ancient Hebrew also is a dead language.

3. The English Language

1) The English language today is a “living” language.

a. It is being used by people every day.

b. The language is changing and growing.

c. We have new vocabulary added each year.

d. We use different words in different ways each year.

2) Sometimes the meanings of words change.

a. Gay today does not mean what it meant 50 years ago.

b. Some language in the New Testament is no longer acceptable in public use today (Hebrews 12:8 KJV).

c. It is necessary to make modifications and additions to translations to reflect the new usage of words in the English language.

d. However, it is not necessarily appropriate to change words just because they CAN be changed.

e. Some of the vocabulary that is found in the Bible is ONLY found in the Bible and we need to keep that vocabulary alive. Such words as: righteousness, justified, propitiation, sin, saint, sanctified, and holy are words which we must let stand regardless of their usage.

4. The English Version of the Bible

1) In 1525, William Tyndale first started translating from the Greek and Hebrew the English Bible.

2) In 1611, King James authorized a translation of the Bible into the English language. This was largely a revision of William Tyndales work.

3) In 1885 the first major revision of the KJV was finished in America and called the ERV.

4) In 1901 the ASV was born as an American version of the ERV.

5) From that point on, we have had many revisions and versions.

5. Method of Translation

1) The way a translator approaches the text is critically important. Because the result is what you and I will hold in our lap and refer to as authoritative.

2) Before we talk about translation methods, we need to say a word about Bible inspiration.

a. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:10-13 regarding inspiration.

b. He said that the Spirit reveals the mind of God through words (vs. 13).

c. In essence, God is telling us that words are the primary vehicle through which he communicates his message.

d. If we are going to be faithful to God regarding inspiration, we should respect each word in the Bible.

e. I.E. The word is the basic unit of meaning.

3) There are two known methods of translation today.

a. Functional Literal

a) The method of translation involves translating the Greek text word for word into the English language.

b) It assumes that the word is the basic unit of meaning.

c) The translators translate so as to reflect accuracy to grammar and meaning of words.

d) Sometimes there are idioms that are translated idiomatically (Romans 6:1).

e) Most of the time, the translation is word for word.

f) Examples of this kind of translation are: KJV, ASV (1901), RSV and NKJV.

b. Dynamic Equivalence (Functional Equivalence)

a) In the 50’s a gentleman named Eugene Nida came up with a new method of translation.

b) Nida said that translators should focus upon the sentence as the basic unit of meaning, instead of the word.

c) To do this involves three three steps.

A. You must read the original language.

B. You must translate the original language word for word.

C. You must then translate the resulting sentence into a “meaningful” English sentence.

d) This last step is where many disagree with this translation method today.

e) In essence this step puts the translators interpretation of what he thinks the basic translation means into the text.

f) Examples of this kind of translation method are: NIV, ERV, TNIV.


1. We have briefly looked at the History of the Bible and how we received it.

1) The process of Transmission

2) The process of Translation

2. We can be sure that we have God’s word.

3. We can be 100% sure that we have the original text of the Bible.

4. There is a concern, however, in the area of translation.

1) We, as Christians, should respect the word for word inspiration of the scriptures.

2) We should, therefore, always look for purity of translation in worship and study.

3) It is not wrong to use other translations to try to understand the meaning of the text here and there, but we should be very careful how we consider the “interpretations” of some of these translations.

4) These translations should be evaluated much as we would evaluate a commentary. The commentary is not inspired of God and could be wrong in its interpretation of the scripture.

5) We must always seek to have authority from the pure word of God.