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Daily Devotional | In the Beginning | Genesis Part One | The Sun coming over the earth. Daily Devotional | In the Beginning | Genesis Part One | The Sun coming over the earth.

Questions and Answers | The Perfect Word of God

If the Word of God is perfect, why does the preface to my ESV Bible say, "We know no translation is perfect"?

When we describe the Bible as “perfect,” we must make a distinction among (1) the original revelation of the words of God that became the Bible, (2) the copies of those original words which were hand-copied through history, and (3) the translations of those words into the languages we read today.

Strictly speaking, the doctrine of inspiration applies to the original revelation from God (2 Tim. 3:16). It is “God-breathed,” that is to say, God was the source of the revelation that people wrote down (2 Peter 1:21). As a result, Christians described what they recorded as inspired by God, and those words are without error, or perfect, because God does not make mistakes when He speaks.

But the Bible does not give us a clear description about how God preserved His Word after the original revelation was written down. Evidence suggests that the faithful carefully copied down what they received, and later readers, including Jesus, trusted those copies (Luke 4:21). But evidence also suggests that these copies were not identical.

At times, they differ in minor details. Occasionally, some manuscripts left out verses accidentally. Why did this happen? We must remember that these manuscripts were being hand-copied. Scholars identify these differences, or variants, by comparing early manuscripts. Nevertheless, it is important to note that not a single doctrine of Scripture is put in jeopardy because of these differences. The words of the original revelation may not have been preserved perfectly, but they were preserved accurately. The level of accuracy means we can trust the copies we have and use them to reconstruct what the original said.

Finally, translating ideas between languages can be difficult. Sometimes an idea simply cannot be expressed easily in another language. Translation is a complex task and, as a result, no one does it perfectly. The editors of the ESV, and every other translation for that matter, acknowledge this with that statement. It should be no surprise that with each new edition translations get better. But it is also crucial to remember that these imperfect translations are based on very accurate reconstructions of a perfectly revealed original revelation. As a result of this process, we can have complete confidence that we have the word of God in our Bibles.

BY Dr. Steven H. Sanchez

Dr. Steven H. Sanchez is professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute. His specific areas of study include the Israelite monarchy, the Pentateuch, the Second Temple period, and biblical archeology. Steven earned his BA from Columbia University (New York), and his ThM and PhD from Dallas Theological Seminary. He was one of 30 faculty contributors to The Moody Bible Commentary.

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