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The infallibility of the Bible is clouded by the confusing debate regarding which copies of original texts and which translations best represent the Word of God as it was originally given to Bible writers. The following viewpoints may help to put the problem in perspective. 

1. The original texts (called autographs) do not exist any more. They were written on animal skins or papyrus sheets, which unavoidably fell apart after a century or two. These materials only survived for many centuries in dry climate and when sealed in jars or covered by sand.

2. When believers saw that the originals were deteriorating, they meticulously made copies by hand. However, human effort is never perfect. Some minor variations did sneak in. When copies were later made from earlier copies, those variations were carried over, and so different text families emerged. However, none of these variations cancels any fundamental Christian doctrine.

3. The Hebrew text of the Old Testament shows fewer variations due to the policy of the scribes to copy exactly, whether they understood the sentence or not. They even counted the letters of every column and scroll to ensure it was a true copy of the original. Thanks to the Dead Sea Scrolls of the first century Essenes, and the work of the medieval Masoretes, the Hebrew text of the Bible has been preserved at near perfection, supported by old Greek and Latin translations.

4. Copiers of the Greek text of the New Testament did not always exercise the same precision as the Hebrew scribes, thus causing more text variations than we find in the Hebrew text. Eventually two main groups of New Testament text traditions emerged:

a. The Byzantine texts (also called Textus Receptus) was used by Erasmus (1516), Luther* (1523), Tyndale* (1526), and the translators of the Geneve Bible* (1557) and the authorized King James Version (KJV, 1611). The Textus Receptus was improved by the Majority Text of Hodges & Farstad (1982). This text group can be abbreviated as TR-MT. (*These translators did their work in hiding or exile. Tyndale and two of his friends were executed for their translations).

b. The Alexandrian texts (Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Alexandrinus) surfaced in the middle 19th century, and was combined into the Critical Text by Westcott & Hort (1881), and later improved by the Nestle-Alant Text. This text tradition was used for amongst others the Revised Version and the New International Version (NIV). The text missing from these Codices was borrowed by the translators from the TR-MT.

Each group has devout supporters. However, moderate scholars believe that both text traditions make unique contributions, thus translators should use both to get closer to the original. This stance seems more scientific than the extreme either/or approaches.

Recent translations follow one of two methods:

(a) Literal (word-by-word) translation, also called formal equivalence, like the KJV.

(b) Free (phrase-by-phrase) translation, also called dynamic equivalence, like the NIV. The KJV and NIV thus differ in two ways: Greek text used and translation method used.

Using the KJV and NIV together gives the Bible student a good idea of the original words as well as the original meaning. Both translations indicate in footnotes alternative texts. Reference to “better” texts should be avoided. No Greek text of the New Testament is in entirety better than others; one text may be better than others regarding certain verses. 

In order to fulfill Christ’s command to love each other as He has loved us (John 13:34), Christians from different traditions should try to see the vast common ground between them, instead of splitting hairs about small differences. Let us debate viewpoints without slandering persons. It goes for the debate on texts and translations too.