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Chess, Coffee, and God: Conversations with an Atheist (Part 2, Translations)

Welcome back to Chess, Coffee, and God: Conversations with an Atheist. This is the second in a series of articles recounting conversations I had with an atheist friend of mine. We used to meet twice a month to play chess and discuss religion (and drink coffee, for science, of course). While I have tried to remember the specifics of our conversations, my goal is not literal accuracy, but rather a general recounting of the topics we covered. I have fond memories of my friend and our conversations, so it is my hope that I paint him in a favorable light.

I mentioned last time that my friend raised the issue of translations as it relates to the trustworthiness of the Bible. His objection can be summarized like this: “If the Bible has been translated a hundred times over two thousand years, how can we know what it really says?” He is not alone in this objection, as I’ve heard a dozen variations of it when speaking with non-believers from all walks of life. This single objection is really two objections in one. First, how do modern translations come to be? Second, how did the ancient scribes copy their own writings in order to preserve them? The first objection will be discussed in this article, while the second will be come in the near future.

There is a YouTube channel called Twisted Translations that, among other things, takes popular songs and runs them through various languages on Google translate, then back to English, finally singing the results. The lyrics become rather absurd rather quickly (link below for some humorous singing of Disney songs). And, while my friend didn’t reference this channel to make his point, I feel this is a good summary of how he viewed Biblical translation. In his mind, it’s silly for us to read our modern Bible with any sense of clarity, given how many language filters it has gone through.

Turning this analogy to scripture, it assumes that our modern Bible has gone from Hebrew and Aramaic, to Greek, to Latin, to Old English, and finally to modern English (or Spanish or Korean, etc.). This method of translation has the potential to cause all kinds of problems. And, if that is how modern translations came about, we would certainly have issues.

Yet, this is an easy objection to put to bed. All modern translations go back to the earliest manuscripts. What this means is that our modern English Bibles (or Spanish or Korean) are translated directly from the Hebrew and Aramaic of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament. These are the original languages that they were written, and all modern translations use them as their source. There is no Twisted Translation. As an example, let’s quote the English Standard Version’s opening lines:

“Each word and phrase in the ESV has been carefully weighed against the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, to ensure the fullest accuracy and clarity and to avoid under-translating or overlooking any nuance of the original text.”

The second half of the objection (How did the ancient scribes copy their own writings in order to preserve them?) will be discussed in a future article. Obviously, something as complicated and important as Biblical translation is far more in-depth than anything that can be written in a 500-word blog post. For further reading, please see Paul D. Wegner’s Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible, link below. Additionally, if you’re looking for a good laugh, checkout Twisted Translation’s Disney playlist, also below.

Chess, Coffee, and God: Conversations With an Atheist (Part 1, Introduction)

Paul D. Wegner’s Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible

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