Translation vs. Interpretation

Many people confuse translation with interpretation. The difference in skills, training, aptitude and language knowledge are substantial and few people can do both successfully on a professional level. Unfortunately, if a clear distinction between the two is not properly understood, the erroneous assumption that they are synonymous can result in a negative impact on one’s comprehension the Bible.

Before proceeding it is quite important and therefore necessary to establish that sacred scripture is the result of divine inspiration. If that is NOT agreed upon and accepted as an established fact, no subsequent arguments about deviations from its true message are worth addressing. No one needs to worry that the creator of the universe can’t insure the textual integrity of his own word.

Past ancient civilizations: Egyptian, Assyrian, Medo-Persian, Greek, Roman, all once World Empires coexisted with God’s Word which alone has survived. Indeed, it is exactly as scripture has declared for thousands of years.

“All men are like grass; all their glory is like the flowers of
the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the
word of the Lord stands forever”
– 1Pt. 1:24, 25.

Another very important fact must also be understood. That is, that the thousands of ancient manuscripts which define Scripture stand readily available to positively confirm or refute ALL subsequent translations of the Holy Bible. This simply means that if ANY translation of scripture is doubtful for ANY reason, such translation may readily be compared with available ancient original language manuscript copies to assess its accuracy or deficiency.

Regardless of how many translations are made of ancient scripture, each translation must agree with the original language testimony which exists as presented in thousands of ancient manuscripts catalogued and available in museums throughout the world. So, any  deviation in translation from the original language is easily discernible by expert linguists.

Clearly, the majority of people cannot make these assessments of  accuracy in translation themselves because they do not know original Biblical languages. Many may have learned to use modern study tools like lexicons, but not having actually learned the languages themselves prior to employing such aides prevents accurate discernment of the information such tools provide. One might just as well irresponsibly accept the word of any other novice as reliable.

Such assumptions are similar to trusting the information provided in a book on medicine, while completely disregarding the professional advice of a duly licensed practitioner. Many a novice is also ignorant to this equally important fact: the level of skill and expertise of the training one receives, directly corresponds with the quality and accuracy of the results of any research conducted employing such study tools.

In order to fully appreciate the important distinctions between TRANSLATIONS and INTERPRETATIONS the following definitions must be considered and accepted. TRANSLATIONS take text in one language and convert it to an equivalent text in another language. INTERPRETATIONS attempt to explain what the text means. TRANSLATIONS merely convert words from one language into the closest corresponding terms in another language based entirely on factual research. INTERPRETATIONS  involve the personal influence and opinion of an individual interpreter. TRANSLATIONS can and should be tested for accuracy, while INTERPRETATIONS must remain a matter of individual faith.

In addition to these facts, it must be also understood that a third discipline – TRANSLITERATION – is regularly employed. It  concentrates on mere words and terms as they were originally written, without regard for punctuation, grammar, or sentence structure. Since the original Bible languages used none of these modern writing techniques, a TRANSLITERATION differs from a competent TRANSLATION accordingly. Of course, to the layman, a TRANSLITERATION won’t make much sense, but can be of great significance in determining proper INTERPRETATIONS.

Any issues that arise concerning Bible translation can be quite easily resolved by simply comparing a number of other translations. Aside from a few minor stylistic variations, a beautiful, sure and multi-faceted confirmation of the solidity of the inspired texts upon which they are based clearly exists. A single EXCEPTION to this general approach is well noted and detailed below, but ALL other translations virtually agree in the original essential message found in the copies of the ancient manuscripts.

Another interesting thing about translations is that there was ZERO debate about the very clear message written by the original inspired authors until the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek (the Septuagint). Because Greek & Hebrew are so different in so many irreconcilable ways, many have criticized the Septuagint version, but Jesus Himself used it, without any rebuke or criticism of it being a mis-translation. Furthermore, in 340 passages, the New Testament cites the Septuagint.

Debate over reliability of translation has always originated by unregenerate man who does not possess the Holy Spirit, Who leads true believers into truth, regardless of possible errors made by translators or the erroneous interpretations of man. Besides, of ALL the thousands of translations into various languages that exist, there are ZERO changes in the specific message, EXCEPT for those “versions” published by the Watch Tower Society (WTS).

While EVERY other translation has substituted words here and there to clarify their true meaning to a different language group, the WTS purposely changed the MESSAGE by either omission or addition to the original texts. Although they deny it, testimony in over 60 cases brought to court proved that they are liars and purposely perpetrated a hoax by introducing their publication as a new translation of the Holy Bible.

Since the 1950s, the WTS has promoted a doctrine allowing Jehovah’s Witnesses to deceive anyone outside of their religion if doing so protects the organization. They call it “theocratic warfare.” The WTS grants permission to Jehovah’s followers to hide the truth from “enemies” of the religion.

The religion further teaches that the world outside the organization is controlled by Satan. The WTS has stated, “in a time of spiritual warfare it is proper to misdirect the enemy by hiding the truth, today God’s servants are engaged in a warfare, a spiritual, theocratic warfare, a warfare ordered by God against wicked spirit forces and against false teachings.”

The theocratic warfare doctrine teaches that refusing to cooperate with criminal investigations is sanctioned by God because outsiders are not entitled to the truth – or at least the WTS’s version of truth. As the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they are their own ultimate and exclusive authority.

Proclaiming that they receive direct guidance from Jehovah himself, they ALONE are responsible for all the rules and policies of Jehovah’s Witnesses along with their doctrines and teachings, and are above anyone and everyone else in the religion (effectively unchecked and  unaccountable to anyone either within or outside the organization). The WTS teach that they are God’s ONLY mouthpiece on earth.

If the WTS were comprised of a truly objective and non-biased panel of duly respected theologians from varying denominational persuasions, criticism of them as Bible translators would be invalid. However, the WTS purposely “translated” their version of the Bible without ANY conference with globally known experts in the field of scriptural languages. NONE of the WTS panel commissioned to create the New World Translation (NWT) had ANY formal training or proper education in linguistics – as have ALL other Bible translators.

NEVER in ANY field of research are the results considered legitimate until and unless they are presented to professionals outside of some exclusive inner circle. This is true universally where ever truth is compared. But when such scrutiny is rightly applied to the NWT by experts outside the WTS, it fails to meet the universal requirements of legitimacy on all points.

Some have argued that no two translations fully agree; too many intricate nuances exist between languages in syntax, grammar, semantics, and verbiage to declare any translation as completely valid. However, the WTS has gone far beyond simple mistakes in idiom, verb tense or appropriate adjectives. They ALONE have introduced Christ as some lesser god, even inferring that He is an angel, but NOT God Incarnate. THAT single un-repented lie makes them FALSE PROPHETS, even by their own translation of scripture!

Another popular argument suggests that none of us are infallible, especially when it comes to breaking down and understanding scriptures. While this may indeed be true when applied to unregenerate man, I trust Christ’s promise and put more faith in THAT.

“When He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide
you into all truth”
– Jn. 16:13.

An important part of receiving truth is learning how to properly research the available evidence and rightly apply a prayerful analysis to the conclusions. We must read scripture expecting God to speak to us through it, NOT read into scripture what we have already preconceived it to declare. Indeed all translations have some flaw. But the NWT is UNIQUE when compared to ALL other so-called translations for reasons merely partially cited herein. It is NOT a legitimate TRANSLATION, but a mere paraphrase based entirely upon the interpretation of scripture peculiar to the WTS.

As has been introduced above, TRANSLATION of the Bible is reasonably consistent, reasonably trustworthy and, in any case, verifiable! INTERPRETATION of the Bible, on the other hand, is a considerably different matter! Unlike TRANSLATION, which is a reasonably finite and manageable task, INTERPRETATION is much broader in scope and considerably more complex! Furthermore, because interpretation is so freely open to the masses who routinely confuse it with TRANSLATION, it lends itself to hopelessly endless possibilities as to meaning, and obscures the honorable tradition of TRANSLATION by assigning to it the nebulous and winding characteristics of INTERPRETATION. Therefore, most people who lack the time and/or resources sense the seeming impossibility of the task, and simply, blindly and conveniently merely accept whatever their favorite Bible commentator teaches them.

The primary intent of this article was to simply make clear the difference between TRANSLATION and INTERPRETATION and to dispel any myth that the Bible is corrupted by TRANSLATION and therefore, unreliable. What has been shown is that the Bible has been a consistent and reliable document throughout its long and venerable history. TRANSLATION has NOT compromised that consistency and reliability.

In other words, the SAME DOCUMENT that was produced by the ancient and divinely-inspired writers of scripture is available TODAY to virtually all of mankind, from all walks of life through legitimate TRANSLATION. The task that remains incumbent upon all mankind is to figure out what it means, which is a matter of INTERPRETATION.