Really. Just one time from the original language to the language and version of your Bible. The original writings were copied many times, but the Bible you hold was only translated once. This is one of my favorite lessons in apologetics (defending the Christian faith) because it is such a simple and accurate explanation to a common and important objection.
Many people – including some Christians – are quick to say that the Bible has been translated and changed so many times over the centuries that we don’t know what the original writings said. For example, I saw a video clip where Deepak Chopra (alleged religious expert) claims that the King James was the 13th iteration of the Bible.
But contrary to that myth, the books of the Bible have only been translated once and the copying process was very robust, dependable and verifiable. This is an easy way to politely correct people on one of the most common errors they make, so please commit this response to memory. I’ve used this to persuade agnostics and Mormons, among others, in literally a minute or so. They didn’t concede that the writings were divinely inspired, but it was easy to correct them about the translation myth.
For example, Paul wrote in Greek, and we have Greek manuscripts to make translations from. That is one translation.
Conventional wisdom: Tranlations from one language to another to another . . .
Greek original ==> Latin translation ==> other translations ==> King James version ==> English Standard Version, etc.
What actually happened
Greek original ==> copies of Greek original ==> Latin version
Greek original ==> copies of Greek original ==> King James version
Greek original ==> copies of Greek original ==> English Standard Version
So the real issue is how accurate and reliable the copying process was. The science of textual criticism shows that the copies of the New Testament are 99.5% accurate and that the differences are minor and have no impact on Christian theology. Even atheist textual critics like Bart Ehrman, an “ex-Christian” who makes a living attacking Christianity, will concede that.
Regarding the Old Testament, here are some notes from the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry. The existence of the Dead Sea Scrolls provided spectacular evidence to refute the myth that the Old Testament had been changed significantly.
The OT does not have as many supporting manuscripts as the NT but it is, nevertheless, remarkably reliable.
- The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew OT done around 250 B.C., attests to the reliability and consistency of the OT when it is compared to existing Hebrew manuscripts.
- The Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 also verify the reliability of the OT manuscripts.
- The Dead Sea Scrolls were ancient documents that were hidden in a cave in Israel about 2000 years ago. The scrolls contained many OT books, one of them being Isaiah.
- Before the Dead Sea scrolls, the earliest existing manuscript of the OT was dated around 900 A.D. called the Masoretic Text. The Scrolls contained OT documents 1000 years earlier. A comparison between the manuscripts revealed an incredible accuracy of transmission through copying, so much so that critics were silenced.
In summary, the Bible you hold has only been translated once, and the copying process was very robust, dependable and verifiable.
Also see Is the New Testament Text Reliable? and Hasn’t the Bible been rewritten so many times that we can’t trust it anymore?
This was a favorite updated for your reading pleasure.