3 Terrible Reasons You Should Trust Modern Evangelical English Bible Translations

Introduction

I recently watched this video by Mark Ward entitled, “3 Reasons Why You Should Trust Modern Evangelical English Bible Translations” and thought it would be helpful to write an article demonstrating just how ridiculous these points are. Without any further introduction, I will evaluate each of his reasons which are as follows:

  1. You have to
  2. Trustworthy people made them
  3. Trustworthy people use them

You Have to Trust Modern Evangelical Bible Translations

The simple and obvious answer to Ward’s first point is that no, you actually don’t have to trust or use any modern Bible versions. Now, Ward may have meant that “you have to trust a Bible translator” as he talks about that briefly, but the video says “3 Reasons Why You Should Trust Modern Evangelical Bible Translations.” So if point one is, “because you have to,” it’s clearly wrong. I have read the NIV, ESV, HCSB (CSB), and NASB and I can happily say I will never be returning to them other than for research. Most of my scripture memorization is in the ESV, and in my opinion, it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on compared to the KJV.

The basic point Ward makes here is that everybody, for the most part, has to trust a translator of some sort, so why not trust a modern translator? If you don’t know Greek and Hebrew, then you can’t actually make a determination one way or the other as to the quality of a translation. On that point, he is only correct in that most people don’t know Hebrew and Greek. He is wrong when he acts as a Gatekeeper to the conversation, telling Christians that if they do not know the original languages, then they cannot know if a translation is trustworthy. Using a slightly different and better argument, Christians can know if a translation is trustworthy by looking at the scholarship (not the scholar) of other Christians. Christians do not have to understand Hebrew and Greek if they are able to read an accurate analysis of the Hebrew and Greek in their original tongue.

Further, Ward tries to normalize the idea that Bible translations cannot be “perfect”, or rather, do not contain translational errors. This is a common strategy used by men of the Critical Text. They make the equivocation between “perfect” and “accurate”. A Bible can be 100% accurately translated, and why would Christians want to be comfortable with a Bible that isn’t? If it is discovered that a translation has made an error, it should be fixed in the next edition, right? Shouldn’t we hold these trustworthy men to that standard? They have a text before them in one language, and their task is to translate it into a target language. The expectation isn’t that a translation come out of the translators committee perfect on the first go, but shouldn’t it get there eventually? Greek and Hebrew are languages that can be known and translated, and if Mark Ward thinks something has been translated incorrectly in the Bible he reads, why doesn’t he tell all of his translator friends that they made an error so they can fix it? Apparently having a poorly translated Bible is something Christians should just accept. Why would a Bible version that isn’t accurately translated, by Mark Ward’s own admission, be considered trustworthy? This seems to actually be an argument against his point.

Trustworthy People Made Modern Evangelical Translations

In this segment of the video, Ward appeals to the character of the people on various translation teams to demonstrate why we should trust modern versions. According to Ward, somebody being able to hike the Grand Canyon and having a good sense of humor are among some of the reasons to trust a Bible translation. Plainly stated, it is remarkably absurd to say that we should trust a Bible because the person who translated it virtuous Christian. There are plenty of trustworthy people in the church that have error in one area or another. It is astounding that an argument like this could even make a list of 3 items. According to Ward, if a Bible translation is made by somebody trustworthy, the translation therefore must be trustworthy.

If this is the case, let’s take Dan Wallace, who Mark Ward lists as a trustworthy source for whether a Bible translation is trustworthy or not, at his own words.

“We do not have now – in any of our critical Greek texts or in any translations – exactly what the authors of the New Testament wrote. Even if we did, we would not know it. There are many, many places in which the text of the New Testament is uncertain.”

Dan Wallace

According to Mark Ward, the trustworthiness of our Bibles should be at least in part based on the trustworthiness of the scholars who created them and use them. If this is the case, it seems that there actually aren’t any Bibles that can be trusted. In opposition to Ward’s conclusion, if we are to trust these men, it doesn’t appear the Modern Evangelical Bible translations are trustworthy at all if we as Christians are concerned with exactly what Paul wrote.

Trustworthy People Use Modern English Bible Translations

This is the same form of argument as the second point on Mark Ward’s list, only it is applied to those that use these Bibles as opposed to those who created those Bibles. Ward appeals to the Holy Spirit for this argument to say that God would not let so many Christians read a bad text. I don’t have to engage further because Ward actually refutes his own argument in the video itself when discussing a pamphlet called “Trusted Voices on Translation”.

“It doesn’t prove that any given Modern English Bible translation is trustworthy, it shows only that countless Evangelical luminaries of the past, thought it was possible to trust the KJV and newer translations of their day”

The same thing can be said about Ward’s argument in this video. According to Ward, if a trustworthy Christian uses a Bible translation, then that translation must be trustworthy. All Ward has demonstrated is that people he trusts made and read modern translations.

His argument can be further refuted by using his own logic when he says that a translation cannot be perfect because the people translating are sinners. By this logic we can easily say that a Christian can’t be the determining factor in whether a Bible is trustworthy because they are a sinner! If a sinner can be wrong in translation, they can be wrong in discernment too, and Ward’s argument again falls to the ground. It’s not God’s fault that a sinner is imperfect, and we don’t hastily blame God for the sins of men. I’m not saying that reading an ESV makes somebody a sinner, just that if we are to assume Ward’s premise of sinful men making errors in translation, we can apply it readily to sinful men making errors in which Bible translation they read.

Conclusion

In short, a response to Ward’s three points can be answered in much less words than I’ve written here. I’ll end by answering Ward’s argument simply.

Do Christians have to trust modern bible translations, because, well they have to?

No.

Do Christians have to trust modern bible translations because the scholars who produced them are trustworthy?

No.

Do Christians have to trust modern bible translations because people that use them are trustworthy?

No.

As far as I can tell, this video said nothing of significance other than, “Trust the scholars and the people who trust the scholars.” I for one am not convinced by this presentation, and I would argue that nobody should be. The scholars and people that use Modern Evangelical Bible translations may very well be trustworthy, but that has nothing to do with whether or not a translation is trustworthy. And if we do adopt Ward’s arguments as true, we have to also adopt Ward’s arguments as false simultaneously! Ultimately it comes down to what threshold we set for a translation being considered trustworthy, and Ward has set the bar extraordinarily low.

I’ll end by leaving my reader with an analogy. I am a software analyst. If I were to commit code to our production servers at work, the company I work for expects that code to work. They would expect that I have tested every line of my code. They would expect that I wouldn’t release code with errors in it. They expect it to be trustworthy. If I submitted code and it breaks the application, I’d have to answer for it. If my response to my boss was, “There are many, many places in which my code is uncertain,” I’d be fired or at the very least reprimanded for knowingly releasing bad code. It doesn’t matter how virtuous, nice, or agreeable I am. It doesn’t matter how trustworthy I am.

When it comes to our Bibles, we have to be willing to hold our translators to at least the same standard that a secular company holds its employees to, even if they do happen to be the nicest and funniest and well-meaning people in the whole of the world. Christians should have higher standards than the world, not lower, and if I can’t get away with this kind of work in my day job, why should we give translators a pass for something far more important such as the translated Word of God that Christians use daily? Is this really our standard? Because somebody is trustworthy we ignore their work product? It is undiscerning and unwise to admit that the translational work product isn’t perfect and then give a pass simply because the men who made the translations are well intentioned, trustworthy people. If you want people to trust modern bible translations, it would make sense to stop advertising them as “imperfect” and then appealing to the Christian character of the people that made them.

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