Monday, 20 April 2009

The Greek Text Behind JCTP


It is probable that when the Jamaican Bible is published, Jamaicans will compare it with the Bible version they revere most – the Authorised Version (AV) also known as the King James Version (KJV). The careful listener/reader will notice several textual differences or variances between the translations. In my experience, lack of awareness of the issues involved in textual differences has led well-meaning persons to accuse most modern Bible translators of "taking away" (i.e. deleting words or alas, whole sections!) from the word of God and to warn them [translators] that "God will take away" their "share in the tree of life
and in the holy city" (Rev.22:19)!

This is a charge that must not be taken lightly; therefore our Translation Team needs to be able to respond to it appropriately. Seeing that, for the immediate future, the JCTP is concerned with the New Testament (NT), I shall limit our discussion to the text-form for the NT that BSWI has decided upon.

To illustrate a textual difference between the AV and the JB would look like, let's have a look at the Lukan Temptation Narrative - Luke 4:1-13. Of particular concern to us in this passage is v.4

First, let's parallelise the AV and JB translations of the verse:

AV: "And Jesus answered him, saying, 'It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.'"

JB: "Jiizas ansa, 'It rait dong iina Gad buk se, man kyaahn liv pan bred wan.'"

Have you noticed a major difference? I'm sure you have! It's the last phrase of the AV rendering – "but by every word of God."

The textual note of the standard Greek text, the United Bible Society's Greek New Testament in its 4th edition (GNT4), indicates that many of the Manuscripts (MSS) available to us, including A (D) Q Y (0102) ¦1, ¦13 33, complete the citation with avllV evpi. panti. r`h,mati qeou/ (all' epi panti rheÒmati theou, "but by every word of God"). The quoted text shared by both translations is: Ouvk evpV a;rtw mo,nw zh,setai o` a;nqrwpoj.

The NET Bible's textual note on the verse concludes: "The shorter reading, on both internal and external grounds, should be considered the original wording in Luke."

But, you might ask – and rightly so - if the adversative phrase is witnessed to by so many MSS, why, then, is it not included in the vast majority of modern translations, including the JB? Well, this is where the science (and art) of Textual Criticism has influenced Bible translators. In the view of most NT textual critics the shorter reading, found in a B L W 1241 syrs copsa, bo, is original and the longer reading is the handy work of copyists who had a tendency to assimilate texts. In the case Luke 4:4, scribes are believed to have assimilated the Matthean parallel (Matthew 4:4) which is a quotation of Deuteronomy 8:3 in the Septuagent, the Greek translation of the Old Testament which was widely used in the New Testament period.

I've brought up the issue for this very reason: most Jamaicans are unaware that the text-form underlying the AV is different from that which underlies most modern translations, including the JB!

So, what is the text-form of the AV and most modern translations of the Scriptures? Answer: It is known as the Textus Receptus (TR), a compilation of very few MSS that were copied by scribes no earlier than the 10th century. The TR it is also the underlying text of most translations until the 20th century. The textual basis of the JB and of most modern translations of the Bible is an Eclectic Greek Text (EGT) as is found in GNT4. The EGT is believed to be superior to the TR as it draws on thousands of NT MSS, some of which were in existence from as early as the 2nd century.

Whilst differences between the TR and GNT4 are many, it's worth being reminded that of the disparities are of little theological significance – i.e. "No major doctrine of the Christian faith is affected because of textual differences."


The JCTP's Translation Team does not seek to "take away" from God's word; rather, it endeavours to add nothing to Scripture that, based on its translator's best understanding today as to its original form, should not be there.


  1. Aland, B., Aland, K., etal The Greek New Testament 4th Ed (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 2001)
  2. ------------------------------ Nouvum Testamentum Graece 27th Ed (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 2001)
  3. Metzger, Bruce M., A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament ­2nd Ed (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 1994)
  4. ----------------------- The Text of the New Testament – Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration 2nd Ed (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967).
  5. Omanson, R., (ed) Discover the Bible – A Manual of Biblical Studies (Colombia: United Bible Societies, 2001)
  6. The Sea Island Translation Team in co-operation with Wycliffe Bible Translators, De Nyew Testament (New York: American Bible Society, 2005)
  7. Wegner, Paul D., The Journey from Texts to Translations – The Origin and Development of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999).

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