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Bible translations

The Greek translation by 70 interpreters (Septuagint)

        The most accurate translation of the original text of the Holy Bible writings are found in the Alexandrine version, known as the one produced by the 70 interpreters. This effort began in the year 271 BC by orders of King Ptolemy Philadelphus. Renowned for his thirst for knowledge, the king wanted to acquire the books of the Jewish law for his library, and to this end, directed his librarian Demetrius to obtain and translate these books into Greek, the most widespread language of that time. Six of the most talented representatives from each tribe of Israel were selected and were directed to Alexandria, bringing with them the exact replica of the Jewish Bible. These translators were stationed on the island of Faros, close to the capital, and concluded their task in a short period of time. It is this translation of the holy books by “the seventy” that is used by the Orthodox Church.

The Latin translation (Vulgate)

        Up to the fourth century of our era, among the several Latin translations of the Bible, the version translated into Ancient Latin (the Itala) was the most popular because it was based on the original content of the 70 translators and consequently, reflected the unadulterated clarity and exceptional conformity to the holy text. However, after St. Jerome — one of the most learned fathers of the Church in the 4th Century — published his translation of the Holy Scriptures in 384 AD (based on authentic Jewish writings), the Western church slowly but surely began to forsake the original Itala version in favor of this interpretation. In the 14th Century, the Council of Trent established St. Jerome’s version as the official Holy Scripture (titled Vulgate, meaning “popular edition”) of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Slavonic translation

        In the 9th century, Moravian Prince Rostislav, being displeased with the efforts of the German missionaries, requested the Greek king Michael to send him some competent instructors in the Christian faith. In response, King Michael sent two Thessalonian brothers — Saints Cyril and Methodius — accomplished scholars of the Slavonic language who had already begun the translation of the Holy Scripture while still in Greece. On the way to the Slavonic lands, the two Saints stayed for a time in Bulgaria, not only continuing their translation there but also enlightening that country with God’s word. In 863 they arrived in Moravia, continuing their translation as well as their apostolic efforts in the Slavonic lands. Upon the death of St. Cyril, St. Methodius completed the translation in Pannonia, having moved there (because of civil unrest in Moravia) under the patronage of pious prince Kotsella.

        In 988, Russia embraced Christianity under the rule of St. Vladimir, and the Slavonic version of the Holy Bible translated by Saints Cyril and Methodius became an integral part of that faith.

Russian translation

        With the passage of time, the differences between the Russian and Slavonic languages increased markedly, causing great difficulties for many in reading the Holy Scripture. As a consequence, in 1815, by order of Emperor Alexander I and with the blessing of the Russian Holy Synod, the Russian Bible Society funded the publication of the New Testament in the then modern Russian language. Of all the books of the Old Testament, only the Psalms were translated, as this book, above all others, was widely used in the Orthodox Church Services. Subsequently, during the reign of Alexander II, in 1860 a new and more accurate version of the New Testament was published, followed by the publication of the “canonical” books of the Old Testament in 1868. The following year saw the Holy Synod bless the issue of the historical books of the Old Testament, and in 1872 the wisdom books. Meanwhile, Russian translations of the holy books of the Old Testament appeared with increasing frequency in spiritual magazines so that by 1877, the complete text of the Bible was popularly available in the Russian language. However, not everyone was sympathetic with the appearance of the Russian translation, preferring the original Church-Slavonic version. Vocal supporters of the Russian version included such notable luminaries as St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow and later, Bishop Theophan the Recluse, Patriarch Tikhon and many other outstanding pastors of the Russian Church.

Other translations of the Bible

        In 1160, the Bible was translated into the French language by Peter Valde. The first translation into German appeared in 1460, followed by an updated version by Martin Luther in 1522-32. In the 8th century, Bede the Venerable was the first person to translate the Bible into the English language. The “King James” English version was produced in 1603 during the reign of James I, and published in 1611. Over the years, the Bible in Russia has been translated into many indigenous languages. Metropolitan Innocent translated it into the Aleutian languages, while the Academy of Kazan translated it into many others, including Tartar. The British and American Bible Societies were the most successful organizations to translate and disseminate the Bible in many languages.

        To conclude of these observations, it has to be noted that every translation has its advantages as well as shortcomings. In striving to translate the text in a literal sense, the interpretation suffers through the sheer ponderous and difficult understanding of the original text. On the other hand, translations that strive to impart the general meaning of the Bible in the most understandable and acceptable format often suffer inaccuracies. The Russian Synodal translation avoids both these extremes, containing in itself and in simple language, the maximum closeness to the meanings of the original text. Of the currently available English texts, Orthodox priests prefer the “King James” version for similar reasons.

In our missionary leaflets on the Bible, we propose to publish them in the following order:

1 — Introduction

2 — Five books of Moses

3 — Historical books of the Old Testament

4 — Books of wisdom of the Old Testament

5 — Books of prophets of the Old Testament

6 — The 4 Gospels

7 — The Acts and the Epistles

8 — Epistles of Apostle Paul

9 — Revelations of St. John (Apocalypse).

How to Read the Bible by Archimandrite Justin Popovich Return to the first page





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