Testimonies about Bible Translations by past leaders of Bible Christianity

Topic:   Bible Translations Type:   Articles Author: L. Gaussen

Louis Gaussen
August 25, 1790—June 18, 1863

It is objected that the fallibility of the translators of the Bible, renders the infallibility of the original text illusory; . . .

The first objection may be stated thus. It is sometimes said to us, You assert that the inspiration of the Scriptures extended to the very words of the original text; but wherefore all this verbal exactness of the Holy Word, seeing that, after all, the greater number of Christians can make use of such versions only as are more or less inexact? Thus, then, the privilege of such an inspiration is lost to the Church of modern times; for you will not venture to say that any translation is inspired.

This is a difficulty which, on account of its insignificance, we felt at first averse to noticing; but we cannot avoid doing so, being assured that it has obtained some currency among us, and some credit also.

Our first remark on this objection must be, that it is not one at all. It does not bear against the fact of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures; it only contests the advantages of that inspiration. With regard to the greater number of readers, it says, the benefit of such an intervention on the part of God, would be lost; because, instead of the infallible words of the original, they never can have better than the fallible words of a translation. But no man is entitled to deny a fact, because he does not at first perceive all the use that may be made of it; and no man is entitled to reject a doctrine for no better reason than that he has not perceived its utility.

. . . It must be acknowledged, then, that this objection, without directly attacking the dogma which we defend, only questions its advantages: these, it tells us, are lost to us, in the operation of translating from the original, and in that metamorphosis disappear.

We proceed, then to show how even this assertion, when reduced to these last terms, rests on no good foundation.

The divine word which the Bible reveals to us, passes through four successive forms before reaching us in a translation. First, it was from all eternity in the mind of God. Next, it was passed by Him into the mind of man. In the third place, under the operation of the Holy Spirit, and by a mysterious process, it passed from the prophets’ thoughts, into the types and symbols of an articulate language; it took shape in words. Finally, after having undergone this first translation, alike important and inexplicable, men have reproduced and counter-chalked it, by a new translation, in passing it from one human language into another human language. Of these four operations, the three first are divine; the fourth alone is human and fallible. Shall it be said, that because the last is human, the divinity of the three former should be a matter of indifference to us? Mark, however, that between the third and the fourth–I mean to say, between the first translation of the thought by the sensible signs of a human language, and the second translation of the words by other words–the difference is enormous. Between the doubts that may cleave to us respecting the exactness of the versions, and those with which we should be racked with respect to the correctness of the original text (if not inspired even in its language), the distance is infinite. It is said; of what consequence is it to me that the third operation is effected by the Spirit of God, if the last be accomplished only by the spirit of man? In other words, what avails it to me that the primitive language be inspired, if the translated version be not so? But people forget, in speaking thus, that we are infinitely more assured of the exactness of the translators, than we could be of that of the original text in the case of all the expressions not being given by God.

Of this, however, we may become perfectly convinced, by . . . .

1. . . . In order to a man’s expressing exactly the thought of God, it is necessary, if he be not guided in his language from above, that he have thoroughly comprehended it in its just measure, and in the whole extent and depth of its meaning. But this is by no means necessary in the case of a mere translation. The divine thought being already incarnated, as it were, in the language of the sacred text, what remains to be done in translation is no longer the giving of it a body, but only the changing of its dress, making it say in French what it had already said in Greek, and modestly substituting for each of its words an equivalent word. Such an operation is comparatively very inferior, very immaterial, without mystery, and infinitely less subject to error than the preceding. It even requires so little spirituality, that it may be performed to perfection by a trustworthy pagan who should possess in perfection a knowledge of both languages. The version of an accomplished rationalist who desires to be no more than a translator, I could better trust than that of an orthodox person and a saint, who should paraphrase the text, and undertake to present it to me more complete or more clear in his French than he found it in the Greek or in the Hebrew of the original. And let no one be surprised at this assertion; it is justified by facts. Thus, is not De Wette’s translation, among the Germans, preferred at the present day to that even of the great Luther? At least, is there not greater confidence felt in having the mind of the Holy Spirit in the lines of the Basel professor than in those of the great reformer; because the former has always kept very close to the expressions of his text, as a man of learning subject to the rules of philology alone; while the latter seems at times to have momentarily endeavored after something more, and sought to make himself interpreter as well as translator? . . . No longer, therefore, be it said, "What avails it to me, if the one be human, that the other is divine?"

2. A second character by which we perceive how different these two operations must be, and by which the making of our versions will be seen to be infinitely less subject to the chances of error than the original text (assuming that to be uninspired), is, that while the work required by our translations is done by a great many men of every tongue and country, capable of devoting their whole time and care to it–by men who have from age to age controlled and checked each other, and who have mutually instructed and perfected each other–the original text, on the contrary, was necessary to be written at a given moment, and by a single man. With that man there was none but his God to put him right if he made a mistake, and to supply him with better expressions if he had chosen imperfect ones. If God, therefore, did not do this, no one could have done it. And if that man gave a bad rendering of the mind of the Holy Spirit, he had not, like our translators, friends to warn, predecessors to guide, successors to correct, not months, years, and ages in which to review and consummate his work. It was done by one man, and done once for all. This consideration, then, further shows how much more necessary the intervention of the Holy Spirit was to the sacred authors than to their translators.

3. A third consideration, which ought also to lead us to the same conclusion, is, that while all translators of the Scriptures were literate and laborious persons, and versed in the study of language, the sacred authors, on the contrary, were, for the most part, ignorant men, without literary cultivation, without the habit of writing their own tongue, and liable, from that very circumstance, if they expressed fallibly the divine revelation, to give us an infallible thought in a faulty way.

[After two more arguments he concludes this section by writing–aal] Between the passing of the thoughts of God into human words, and the simple turning of these words into other words, the distance is as wide as from Heaven to Earth. God was required for the one; man sufficed for the other. Let it no longer be said, then, What would it avail to us that we have verbal inspiration in the one case, if we have not that inspiration in the other case? for between these two terms, which some would put on an equality, the difference is almost infinite.

[Gaussen, Louis, Theopneustia: The Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. Rev. ed., no date, Kilmarnock: UK, John Ritchie. Pages 153-161].

Bob Jones, Jr. William B. Riley James M. Gray

Louis Gaussen

R. A. Torrey Charles H. Spurgeon
John Gill

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This Page Last Updated: 12/09/98 A. Allison Lewis aalewis@christianbeliefs.org