Translating the Bible

General Information

Figuring Out a Bible Translation

People sometimes wonder why there are various "Versions" or "Translations" of the Bible. After all, all of the many English language Bible Versions are translated from the exact same source text, which was in Greek (NT) and Ancient Hebrew (OT). Shouldn't really smart people be able to figure out how to translate something exactly right? Especially something as important as the Bible, where many thousands of people have been involved?

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Well, the problem turns out to be a little harder than that. First of all, many of the source artifacts that we have are incomplete. At some point in history, weather or vandalism or war or just plain age has caused some parts of documents to have disappeared. Next, even though there are several thousand existing (partial) source documents, once in a while, in one of those source documents (which are actually scribe-copied copies of earlier documents), a single character sometimes somehow gets mis-copied by some scribe along the way. After all, by the time that scribe made our source document around a thousand years ago (about as old as most existing documents actually are), that document is a scribe-copy of an earlier scribe-copy of an earlier scribe-copy, etc. All of those scribes were as careful as humans are capable of, and most of them truly believed that they would be banished to Hell if they made even a single copying error! But the Bible contains around 800,000 words and around three million characters. Extremely careful comparison between the thousands of different scribe copies that still exist have found some very minor copying errors in some of the existing copies of the earlier original Manuscripts. None of them have changed any significant wording or belief.

In addition to this, the actual way the Bible used to be written was quite different from the way we read it today. To give you the "flavor" of the problems, we are presenting Genesis 1 IN ENGLISH here in some historical formats, working our way backward in time as we go. Of course, the original source documents were not in English. Many (over 5,000) are in Greek. Others (over 10,000) are Latin copies of the Vulgate Bible (of about 400 AD). A lesser number are in a variety of other languages.

The Greek documents are particularly important, partly because that was the original language of the New Testament Manuscripts, so there was minimal chance of errors from language translation back then. Our thoughts below are based on thinking about those Greek language source documents.


Before about 1560 AD and the Genevan New Testament, Bible scripture was not divided into verses. Genesis 1 would then appear (in English) basically like the following:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day. And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that [it was] good.
And the evening and the morning were the fourth day. And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day. And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, afterour likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold,[it was] very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.


That is pretty easy to read and understand, although not quite as much so as our modern Bibles with verses separated and numbered.


Earlier than that, the Latin and Greek texts were written without spaces or breaks between words, and no punctuation. As an example, the same Genesis 1 would look very different from the above:

InthebeginningGodcreatedtheheavenandtheearthAndtheearthwaswithoutformand voidanddarknesswasuponthefaceofthedeepAndtheSpiritofGodmoveduponthefaceof thewatersAndGodsaidLettherebelightandtherewaslightAndGodsawthelightthatit wasgoodandGoddividedthelightfromthedarknessAndGodcalledthelightDayandthe darknesshecalledNightAndtheeveningandthemorningwerethefirstdayAndGodsaid Lettherebeafirmamentinthemidstofthewatersandletitdividethewatersfromthe watersAndGodmadethefirmamentanddividedthewaterswhichwereunderthefirmament fromthewaterswhichwereabovethefirmamentanditwassoAndGodcalledthefirmament HeavenAndtheeveningandthemorningweretheseconddayAndGodsaidLetthewaters undertheheavenbegatheredtogetheruntooneplaceandletthedrylandappearandit wassoAndGodcalledthedrylandEarthandthegatheringtogetherofthewaterscalled heSeasandGodsawthatitwasgoodAndGodsaidLettheearthbringforthgrasstheherb yieldingseedandthefruittreeyieldingfruitafterhiskindwhoseseedisinitself upontheearthanditwassoAndtheearthbroughtforthgrassandherbyieldingseed afterhiskindandthetreeyieldingfruitwhoseseedwasinitselfafterhiskindand GodsawthatitwasgoodAndtheeveningandthemorningwerethethirddayAndGodsaid
Lettherebelightsinthefirmamentoftheheaventodividethedayfromthenightand letthembeforsignsandforseasonsandfordaysandyearsAndletthembeforlightsin thefirmamentoftheheaventogivelightupontheearthanditwassoAndGodmadetwo greatlightsthegreaterlighttorulethedayandthelesserlighttorulethenighthe madethestarsalsoAndGodsettheminthefirmamentoftheheaventogivelightuponthe earthAndtoruleoverthedayandoverthenightandtodividethelightfromthedarkness andGodsawthatitwasgoodAndtheeveningandthemorningwerethefourthdayAndGod saidLetthewatersbringforthabundantlythemovingcreaturethathathlifeandfowl thatmayflyabovetheearthintheopenfirmamentofheavenAndGodcreatedgreatwhales andeverylivingcreaturethatmovethwhichthewatersbroughtforthabundantlyafter theirkindandeverywingedfowlafterhiskindandGodsawthatitwasgoodAndGod blessedthemsayingBefruitfulandmultiplyandfillthewatersintheseasandlet fowlmultiplyintheearthAndtheeveningandthemorningwerethefifthdayAndGodsaid Lettheearthbringforththelivingcreatureafterhiskindcattleandcreepingthing andbeastoftheearthafterhiskindanditwassoAndGodmadethebeastoftheearth afterhiskindandcattleaftertheirkindandeverythingthatcreepethuponthe earthafterhiskindandGodsawthatitwasgoodAndGodsaidLetusmakemaninour
imageafterourlikenessandletthemhavedominionoverthefishoftheseaandover thefowloftheairandoverthecattleandoveralltheearthandovereverycreeping thingthatcreepethupontheearthSoGodcreatedmaninhisownimageintheimageof GodcreatedhehimmaleandfemalecreatedhethemAndGodblessedthemandGodsaid untothemBefruitfulandmultiplyandreplenishtheearthandsubdueitandhave dominionoverthefishoftheseaandoverthefowloftheairandovereveryliving thingthatmovethupontheearthAndGodsaidBeholdIhavegivenyoueveryherb bearingseedwhichisuponthefaceofalltheearthandeverytreeinthewhichis thefruitofatreeyieldingseedtoyouitshallbeformeatAndtoeverybeastofthe earthandtoeveryfowloftheairandtoeverythingthatcreepethupontheearth whereinthereislifeIhavegiveneverygreenherbformeatanditwassoAndGodsaw everythingthathehadmadeandbeholditwasverygoodAndtheeveningandthe morningwerethesixthday


OK. That's still somewhat easy to figure out. But, earlier yet, the Greek manuscripts were written without differences of upper and lower cases, so our example text would appear as the following:

inthebeginninggodcreatedtheheavenandtheearthandtheearthwaswithout formandvoidanddarknesswasuponthefaceofthedeepandthespiritofgodmoved uponthefaceofthewatersandgodsaidlettherebelightandtherewaslightand godsawthelightthatitwasgoodandgoddividedthelightfromthedarknessand godcalledthelightdayandthedarknesshecallednightandtheeveningandthe morningwerethefirstdayandgodsaidlettherebeafirmamentinthemidstofthe watersandletitdividethewatersfromthewatersandgodmadethefirmamentand dividedthewaterswhichwereunderthefirmamentfromthewaterswhichwere abovethefirmamentanditwassoandgodcalledthefirmamentheavenandthe eveningandthemorningweretheseconddayandgodsaidletthewatersunderthe heavenbegatheredtogetheruntooneplaceandletthedrylandappearanditwas soandgodcalledthedrylandearthandthegatheringtogetherofthewaters calledheseasandgodsawthatitwasgoodandgodsaidlettheearthbringforth grasstheherbyieldingseedandthefruittreeyieldingfruitafterhiskind whoseseedisinitselfupontheearthanditwassoandtheearthbroughtforth grassandherbyieldingseedafterhiskindandthetreeyieldingfruitwhose seedwasinitselfafterhiskindandgodsawthatitwasgoodandtheeveningand themorningwerethethirddayandgodsaidlettherebelightsinthefirmament
oftheheaventodividethedayfromthenightandletthembeforsignsandfor seasonsandfordaysandyearsandletthembeforlightsinthefirmamentofthe heaventogivelightupontheearthanditwassoandgodmadetwogreatlights thegreaterlighttorulethedayandthelesserlighttorulethenighthemade thestarsalsoandgodsettheminthefirmamentoftheheaventogivelightupon theearthandtoruleoverthedayandoverthenightandtodividethelightfrom thedarknessandgodsawthatitwasgoodandtheeveningandthemorningwerethe fourthdayandgodsaidletthewatersbringforthabundantlythemovingcreature thathathlifeandfowlthatmayflyabovetheearthintheopenfirmamentofheaven andgodcreatedgreatwhalesandeverylivingcreaturethatmovethwhichthe watersbroughtforthabundantlyaftertheirkindandeverywingedfowlafter hiskindandgodsawthatitwasgoodandgodblessedthemsayingbefruitfuland multiplyandfillthewatersintheseasandletfowlmultiplyintheearthand theeveningandthemorningwerethefifthdayandgodsaidlettheearthbring forththelivingcreatureafterhiskindcattleandcreepingthingandbeast oftheearthafterhiskindanditwassoandgodmadethebeastoftheearthafter hiskindandcattleaftertheirkindandeverythingthatcreepethuponthe earthafterhiskindandgodsawthatitwasgoodandgodsaidletusmakemanin
ourimageafterourlikenessandletthemhavedominionoverthefishofthe seaandoverthefowloftheairandoverthecattleandoveralltheearthandover everycreepingthingthatcreepethupontheearthsogodcreatedmaninhisown imageintheimageofgodcreatedhehimmaleandfemalecreatedhethemandgod blessedthemandgodsaiduntothembefruitfulandmultiplyandreplenishthe earthandsubdueitandhavedominionoverthefishoftheseaandoverthefowl oftheairandovereverylivingthingthatmovethupontheearthandgodsaid beholdihavegivenyoueveryherbbearingseedwhichisuponthefaceofallthe earthandeverytreeinthewhichisthefruitofatreeyieldingseedtoyouit shallbeformeatandtoeverybeastoftheearthandtoeveryfowloftheairandto everythingthatcreepethupontheearthwhereinthereislifeihavegivenevery greenherbformeatanditwassoandgodsaweverythingthathehadmadeandbehold itwasverygoodandtheeveningandthemorningwerethesixthday


When we get back to about the Ninth Century AD, this Greek text was written in a scriptio continua called MINUSCULE WRITING or Cursives. This had the text not only unspaced but written in a handwritten script where all the letters were connected. The appearance of our example text would now look more like:
inthebeginninggodcreatedtheheavenandtheearthandthe earthwaswithoutformandvoidanddarknesswasuponthefac eofthedeepandthespiritofgodmoveduponthefaceofthewa tersandgodsaidlettherebelightandtherewaslightandgo dsawthelightthatitwasgoodandgoddividedthelightfrom thedarknessandgodcalledthelightdayandthedarknesshe callednightandtheeveningandthemorningwerethefirstd ayandgodsaidlettherebeafirmamentinthemidstofthewat ersandletitdividethewatersfromthewatersandgodmadet hefirmamentanddividedthewaterswhichwereunderthefir mamentfromthewaterswhichwereabovethefirmamentandit wassoandgodcalledthefirmamentheavenandtheeveningan dthemorningweretheseconddayandgodsaidletthewatersu ndertheheavenbegatheredtogetheruntooneplaceandlett hedrylandappearanditwassoandgodcalledthedrylandear thandthegatheringtogetherofthewaterscalledheseasan dgodsawthatitwasgoodandgodsaidlettheearthbringfort hgrasstheherbyieldingseedandthefruittreeyieldingfr uitafterhiskindwhoseseedisinitselfupontheearthandi twassoandtheearthbroughtforthgrassandherbyieldings eedafterhiskindandthetreeyieldingfruitwhoseseedwas
initselfafterhiskindandgodsawthatitwasgoodandtheev eningandthemorningwerethethirddayandgodsaidletther ebelightsinthefirmamentoftheheaventodividethedayfr omthenightandletthembeforsignsandforseasonsandford aysandyearsandletthembeforlightsinthefirmamentofth eheaventogivelightupontheearthanditwassoandgodmade twogreatlightsthegreaterlighttorulethedayandtheles serlighttorulethenighthemadethestarsalsoandgodsett heminthefirmamentoftheheaventogivelightupontheeart handtoruleoverthedayandoverthenightandtodividethel ightfromthedarknessandgodsawthatitwasgoodandtheeve ningandthemorningwerethefourthdayandgodsaidletthew atersbringforthabundantlythemovingcreaturethathath lifeandfowlthatmayflyabovetheearthintheopenfirmame ntofheavenandgodcreatedgreatwhalesandeverylivingcr eaturethatmovethwhichthewatersbroughtforthabundant
lyaftertheirkindandeverywingedfowlafterhiskindandg odsawthatitwasgoodandgodblessedthemsayingbefruitfu landmultiplyandfillthewatersintheseasandletfowlmul tiplyintheearthandtheeveningandthemorningwerethefi fthdayandgodsaidlettheearthbringforththelivingcrea tureafterhiskindcattleandcreepingthingandbeastofth eearthafterhiskindanditwassoandgodmadethebeastofth eearthafterhiskindandcattleaftertheirkindandeveryt hingthatcreepethupontheearthafterhiskindandgodsawt hatitwasgoodandgodsaidletusmakemaninourimageaftero urlikenessandletthemhavedominionoverthefishofthese aandoverthefowloftheairandoverthecattleandoverallt heearthandovereverycreepingthingthatcreepethuponth eearthsogodcreatedmaninhisownimageintheimageofgodc reatedhehimmaleandfemalecreatedhethemandgodblessed themandgodsaiduntothembefruitfulandmultiplyandrepl enishtheearthandsubdueitandhavedominionoverthefish
oftheseaandoverthefowloftheairandovereverylivingth ingthatmovethupontheearthandgodsaidbeholdihavegive nyoueveryherbbearingseedwhichisuponthefaceofallthe earthandeverytreeinthewhichisthefruitofatreeyieldi ngseedtoyouitshallbeformeatandtoeverybeastoftheear thandtoeveryfowloftheairandtoeverythingthatcreepet hupontheearthwhereinthereislifeihavegiveneverygree nherbformeatanditwassoandgodsaweverythingthathehad madeandbeholditwasverygoodandtheeveningandthemorni ngwerethesixthday


This text might have been presented in either Greek or Latin in that era. We might as well look at what this sort of situation would have looked like in Greek, except we don't have available a computer font that can represent connected Greek script:
inthebeginninggodcreatedtheheavenandtheearthandtheearthwaswith outformandvoidanddarknesswasuponthefaceofthedeepandthespiritof godmoveduponthefaceofthewatersandgodsaidlettherebelightandther ewaslightandgodsawthelightthatitwasgoodandgoddividedthelightfr omthedarknessandgodcalledthelightdayandthedarknesshecallednigh tandtheeveningandthemorningwerethefirstdayandgodsaidlettherebe afirmamentinthemidstofthewatersandletitdividethewatersfromthew atersandgodmadethefirmamentanddividedthewaterswhichwereunderth efirmamentfromthewaterswhichwereabovethefirmamentanditwassoand godcalledthefirmamentheavenandtheeveningandthemorningwerethese conddayandgodsaidletthewatersundertheheavenbegatheredtogetheru ntooneplaceandletthedrylandappearanditwassoandgodcalledthedryl andearthandthegatheringtogetherofthewaterscalledheseasandgodsa wthatitwasgoodandgodsaidlettheearthbringforthgrasstheherbyield ingseedandthefruittreeyieldingfruitafterhiskindwhoseseedisinit selfupontheearthanditwassoandtheearthbroughtforthgrassandherby ieldingseedafterhiskindandthetreeyieldingfruitwhoseseedwasinit selfafterhiskindandgodsawthatitwasgoodandtheeveningandthemorni ngwerethethirddayandgodsaidlettherebelightsinthefirmamentofthe
heaventodividethedayfromthenightandletthembeforsignsandforseas onsandfordaysandyearsandletthembeforlightsinthefirmamentoftheh eaventogivelightupontheearthanditwassoandgodmadetwogreatlights thegreaterlighttorulethedayandthelesserlighttorulethenighthema dethestarsalsoandgodsettheminthefirmamentoftheheaventogiveligh tupontheearthandtoruleoverthedayandoverthenightandtodividethel ightfromthedarknessandgodsawthatitwasgoodandtheeveningandthemo rningwerethefourthdayandgodsaidletthewatersbringforthabundantl ythemovingcreaturethathathlifeandfowlthatmayflyabovetheearthin theopenfirmamentofheavenandgodcreatedgreatwhalesandeveryliving creaturethatmovethwhichthewatersbroughtforthabundantlyafterthe irkindandeverywingedfowlafterhiskindandgodsawthatitwasgoodandg odblessedthemsayingbefruitfulandmultiplyandfillthewatersinthes easandletfowlmultiplyintheearthandtheeveningandthemorningweret hefifthdayandgodsaidlettheearthbringforththelivingcreatureafte rhiskindcattleandcreepingthingandbeastoftheearthafterhiskindan ditwassoandgodmadethebeastoftheearthafterhiskindandcattleafter
theirkindandeverythingthatcreepethupontheearthafterhiskindandg odsawthatitwasgoodandgodsaidletusmakemaninourimageafterourlike nessandletthemhavedominionoverthefishoftheseaandoverthefowloft heairandoverthecattleandoveralltheearthandovereverycreepingthi ngthatcreepethupontheearthsogodcreatedmaninhisownimageintheima geofgodcreatedhehimmaleandfemalecreatedhethemandgodblessedthem andgodsaiduntothembefruitfulandmultiplyandreplenishtheearthand subdueitandhavedominionoverthefishoftheseaandoverthefowlofthea irandovereverylivingthingthatmovethupontheearthandgodsaidbehol dihavegivenyoueveryherbbearingseedwhichisuponthefaceofalltheea rthandeverytreeinthewhichisthefruitofatreeyieldingseedtoyouits hallbeformeatandtoeverybeastoftheearthandtoeveryfowloftheairan dtoeverythingthatcreepethupontheearthwhereinthereislifeihavegi veneverygreenherbformeatanditwassoandgodsaweverythingthathehad madeandbeholditwasverygoodandtheeveningandthemorningwerethesix thday


Prior to around 900 AD, essentially all texts in most languages were written with only the consonants presented, without ever recording any of the vowels! (Dots above or below a character sometimes indicated the specific vowel that belonged there.) So consider this same text, first in English and then in Greek!:

Please note that this first one is actually in English! Could you have studied it or even read it back then? Since you know much of the wording, you can pick out some familiar words. But could you fully understand everything presented here? Pick some random spot in the middle of this text and see if you can figure out the wording. Find the part where God Created mankind! (It is about ten lines up from the end). THAT is the only form of Bible texts that was available to anyone prior to around 900 AD, and it was generally only available to Churches and virtually never to individuals, unless they were permitted to copy it themselves.

The Actual Form of the Bible Text at that time

nthbgnnnggdcrtdthhvnndthrthndthrthwswthtfrmndvdnddr knsswspnthfcfthdpndthsprtfgdmvdpnthfcfthwtrsndgdsdl tthrblghtndthrwslghtndgdswthlghtthttwsgdndgddvddthl ghtfrmthdrknssndgdclldthlghtdndthdrknsshclldnghtndt hvnngndthmrnngwrthfrstdndgdsdltthrbfrmmntnthmdstfth wtrsndlttdvdthwtrsfrmthwtrsndgdmdthfrmmntnddvddthwt rswhchwrndrthfrmmntfrmthwtrswhchwrbvthfrmmntndtwssn dgdclldthfrmmnthvnndthvnngndthmrnngwrthscnddndgdsdl tthwtrsndrthhvnbgthrdtgthrntnplcndltthdrlndpprndtws sndgdclldthdrlndrthndthgthrngtgthrfthwtrsclldhssndg dswthttwsgdndgdsdltthrthbrngfrthgrssthhrbldngsdndth frttrldngfrtftrhskndwhssdsntslfpnthrthndtwssndthrth brghtfrthgrssndhrbldngsdftrhskndndthtrldngfrtwhssdw sntslfftrhskndndgdswthttwsgdndthvnngndthmrnngwrthth rddndgdsdltthrblghtsnthfrmmntfthhvntdvdthdfrmthnght ndltthmbfrsgnsndfrssnsndfrdsndrsndltthmbfrlghtsnthf rmmntfthhvntgvlghtpnthrthndtwssndgdmdtwgrtlghtsthgr
trlghttrlthdndthlssrlghttrlthnghthmdthstrslsndgdstt hmnthfrmmntfthhvntgvlghtpnthrthndtrlvrthdndvrthnght ndtdvdthlghtfrmthdrknssndgdswthttwsgdndthvnngndthmr nngwrthfrthdndgdsdltthwtrsbrngfrthbndntlthmvngcrtrt hththlfndfwlthtmflbvthrthnthpnfrmmntfhvnndgdcrtdgrt whlsndvrlvngcrtrthtmvthwhchthwtrsbrghtfrthbndntlftr thrkndndvrwngdfwlftrhskndndgdswthttwsgdndgdblssdthm sngbfrtflndmltplndfllthwtrsnthssndltfwlmltplnthrthn dthvnngndthmrnngwrthffthdndgdsdltthrthbrngfrththlvn gcrtrftrhskndcttlndcrpngthngndbstfthrthftrhskndndtw ssndgdmdthbstfthrthftrhskndndcttlftrthrkndndvrthngt htcrpthpnthrthftrhskndndgdswthttwsgdndgdsdltsmkmnnr
mgftrrlknssndltthmhvdmnnvrthfshfthsndvrthfwlfthrndv rthcttlndvrllthrthndvrvrcrpngthngthtcrpthpnthrthsgd crtdmnnhswnmgnthmgfgdcrtdhhmmlndfmlcrtdhthmndgdblss dthmndgdsdntthmbfrtflndmltplndrplnshthrthndsbdtndhv dmnnvrthfshfthsndvrthfwlfthrndvrvrlvngthngthtmvthpn thrthndgdsdbhldhvgvnvrhrbbrngsdwhchspnthfcfllthrthn dvrtrnthwhchsthfrtftrldngsdttshllbfrmtndtvrbstfthrt hndtvrfwlfthrndtvrthngthtcrpthpnthrthwhrnthrslfhvgv nvrgrnhrbfrmtndtwssndgdswvrthngththhdmdndbhldtwsvrg dndthvnngndthmrnngwrthsxthd


The same in Greek, without Greek vowels:

nthbgnnnggdcrtdthhvnndthrthndthrthwswthtfrmndvdnddrknsswspnthf cfthdpndthsprtfgdmvdpnthfcfthwtrsndgdsdltthrblghtndthrwslghtnd gdswthlghtthttwsgdndgddvddthlghtfrmthdrknssndgdclldthlghtdndth drknsshclldnghtndthvnngndthmrnngwrthfrstdndgdsdltthrbfrmmntnth mdstfthwtrsndlttdvdthwtrsfrmthwtrsndgdmdthfrmmntnddvddthwtrswh chwrndrthfrmmntfrmthwtrswhchwrbvthfrmmntndtwssndgdclldthfrmmnt hvnndthvnngndthmrnngwrthscnddndgdsdltthwtrsndrthhvnbgthrdtgthr ntnplcndltthdrlndpprndtwssndgdclldthdrlndrthndthgthrngtgthrfth wtrsclldhssndgdswthttwsgdndgdsdltthrthbrngfrthgrssthhrbldngsdn dthfrttrldngfrtftrhskndwhssdsntslfpnthrthndtwssndthrthbrghtfrt hgrssndhrbldngsdftrhskndndthtrldngfrtwhssdwsntslfftrhskndndgds wthttwsgdndthvnngndthmrnngwrththrddndgdsdltthrblghtsnthfrmmntf thhvntdvdthdfrmthnghtndltthmbfrsgnsndfrssnsndfrdsndrsndltthmbf rlghtsnthfrmmntfthhvntgvlghtpnthrthndtwssndgdmdtwgrtlghtsthgrt rlghttrlthdndthlssrlghttrlthnghthmdthstrslsndgdstthmnthfrmmntf thhvntgvlghtpnthrthndtrlvrthdndvrthnghtndtdvdthlghtfrmthdrknss ndgdswthttwsgdndthvnngndthmrnngwrthfrthdndgdsdltthwtrsbrngfrth
bndntlthmvngcrtrthththlfndfwlthtmflbvthrthnthpnfrmmntfhvnndgdc rtdgrtwhlsndvrlvngcrtrthtmvthwhchthwtrsbrghtfrthbndntlftrthrkn dndvrwngdfwlftrhskndndgdswthttwsgdndgdblssdthmsngbfrtflndmltpl ndfllthwtrsnthssndltfwlmltplnthrthndthvnngndthmrnngwrthffthdnd gdsdltthrthbrngfrththlvngcrtrftrhskndcttlndcrpngthngndbstfthrt hftrhskndndtwssndgdmdthbstfthrthftrhskndndcttlftrthrkndndvrthn gthtcrpthpnthrthftrhskndndgdswthttwsgdndgdsdltsmkmnnrmgftrrlkn ssndltthmhvdmnnvrthfshfthsndvrthfwlfthrndvrthcttlndvrllthrthnd vrvrcrpngthngthtcrpthpnthrthsgdcrtdmnnhswnmgnthmgfgdcrtdhhmmln dfmlcrtdhthmndgdblssdthmndgdsdntthmbfrtflndmltplndrplnshthrthn dsbdtndhvdmnnvrthfshfthsndvrthfwlfthrndvrvrlvngthngthtmvthpnth rthndgdsdbhldhvgvnvrhrbbrngsdwhchspnthfcfllthrthndvrtrnthwhchs thfrtftrldngsdttshllbfrmtndtvrbstfthrthndtvrfwlfthrndtvrthngth tcrpthpnthrthwhrnthrslfhvgvnvrgrnhrbfrmtndtwssndgdswvrthngthth hdmdndbhldtwsvrgdndthvnngndthmrnngwrthsxthd


This is only Genesis 1, a tiny portion of the Bible. Imagine that you were a Monk responsible for precisely copying about 300 times this much text (the whole Bible), in that connected (English) script format above, by hand, one character at a time, are you SURE that your entire copy would be absolutely free of even a single copyist error?

It truly is a remarkable achievement by the many hundreds of Scribes who had to copy the entire Bible that they made astoundingly few copying errors! (We know that there were a few, and we now know where they were, because thousands of existing copies of those Scribe written Manuscripts have been carefully compared to see if and when they had any tiny differences.

An Experiment

If you're part of a Bible Study Group or some other Christian Small Group, why not try hand copying just this Genesis 1 (not the Greek text, but the script style continuous English text without the vowels) as carefully as you can. Then give YOUR copy to a different member of the group to copy. Then THAT copy would be given to a third person, and so on through the Group. Once everyone has copied their given source text as precisely as possible, you would finally get back a final copy. As long as all of you had done a perfect job of being able to read each others handwriting and of copying, that final copy should read EXACTLY like the original. But it will probably have at least a few minor variations. Even though each of you copyists are familiar with the Genesis story, and even though each of you was extremely careful, small errors are bound to appear. Such an experiment definitely increases one's respect for the multitude of anonymous Scribes that copied the Bible over the many centuries.

The situation with the Bible and its extensive size seems like it would have caused massive copyist errors over the centuries because of the scale of the task and the format that is being copied. It is truly a sign of how incredibly careful the copyists all were that there were as few (minor) errors as are found in a few of the manuscripts. Fortunately for us, there are so many source manuscripts that exist that the few variations that have been found have been checked in all the source documents and scholars are now extremely certain of the accuracy of modern translations.

As an additional element to think about, many early Old Testament source manuscripts are written in Hebrew. Before about 900 AD, Hebrew was also written without any vowels. Can you imagine the possibilities of what might happen if copyists were even slightly careless? By the way, this is closely related to YHWH, the Name of God, becoming Yahowah or Jehovah (or Yahweh), when the vowels from Adonai (another ancient Name for God) were inserted into YHWH many centuries later.

This discussion has been presented so you might better appreciate the amazing efforts put forth by the many copyists of the Bible Manuscripts over the centuries, and also in the task that Bible translators face in making sure they have the absolutely most accurate translation that can be made. It's not quite as easy as translating Buenos Dias into Hello! (even though that phrase could equally mean goodbye!)

Finally, we have here really only been considering here the difficulties of perfect copying (for the Scribes) and in confirming the perfect accuracy (for the Bible scholars). There is yet another level of complication in the translators' job. Many ancient words had several different meanings, often very different from each other. We created a separate little presentation to give you a taste of that aspect of the problem, at Literal Translation.


Also, see:
Romanized Bible Text
Transliteration of Hebrew
Literal Translation
History of the Bible Septuagint and early Manuscripts
Jewish Genesis (Advanced), Bereshit. A Thorough Presentation of Jewish Genesis 1 text which shows the Hebrew characters.

This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in December 1997.

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