The impact of Bible translation cannot and should not be underestimated. In fact, most western translation (and literary) traditions stem from work undertaken in Bible translation in the Middle Ages. The whole craft of modern translation, translation studies and translation theory can rightly be traced back to the scholarly practice of Biblical translators. In essence, Bible translation is the foundation upon which modern translation practice rests.
However, what happens when we discover that the foundation upon which modern European translation theory and practice rests is full of contradictions, inaccuracies and translation errors? We shall avoid religious arguments and points of dogma here and rather focus on the fact that a great many scholars have pinpointed errors in the translation of the Bible. If this is the case, does it have an impact on modern approaches to translation?
Modern versions of the New Testament use two source texts, the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus written in Greek, from which to produce their translations. As mentioned above, matters of dogma will not be discussed here so we will accept that these fourth century texts are the authentic versions of the New Testament. In this case, our debate begins with the translation of these two codexes into Latin and other language thereafter.
Two examples, from the English King James Bible, show certain translational ‘problems’. For example, Genesis 1:2 is translated: “And the earth was without form” (but should more accurately be:) “And the earth became without form”. Surely, this sheds new light on the Christian creation myth. Also, John 1:31 reads: “baptising with water” whereas a more accurate rendition of this would be “baptising in water”. If this is the case then the mythological and physical aspects of baptism should be re-thought.
These are only two examples of a host of errors relating to translation from the two codexes, however, what is interesting is the fact that there are many more inaccuracies and errors to be found after this point. Every successive translation produced more mistakes. The process of producing an ‘authentic’ version of the Bible took centuries. Have the mistakes made by copyists and deliberate alterations made by translators left an imprint on society? On religion? On how translators are viewed today?